This could be the NFL's most competitive division this season
The Houston Texans have won three of the last four AFC South titles but have fizzled in the playoffs each time. The Tennessee Titans are coming off of a surprise run to the AFC Championship Game as a wild-card team and the Indianapolis Colts are just a season removed from making their last postseason appearance. The Jacksonville Jaguars are the last team other than the Texans to win the division (2017) but have fallen on some hard times since.
Each AFC South team entered the 2020 NFL Draft with specific needs to fill. Here is how they fared last week.
Objective Achieved: Help on defense
Houston only had five draft picks due to trades that brought in left tackle Laremy Tunsil prior to the start of last season and wide receiver Brandin Cooks a few days before the draft. As a result, the Texans didn't pick until the second round but they still found good value in TCU defensive tackle Ross Blacklock (No. 40 overall). The team also selected Florida edge rusher Jonathan Greenard, who should quickly become part of the rotation at outside linebacker. The other three picks (offensive tackle Charlie Heck, cornerback John Reid, wide receiver Isaiah Coulter) will add depth to their respective positions.
Objective Achieved: New weapons for new quarterback (and the next one?)
Even before Philip Rivers signed with Indianapolis following his release by the Chargers, Colts GM Chris Ballard knew he had to add some more firepower on offense. Mission accomplished. Wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. could become Rivers' favorite target very quickly and running back Jonathan Taylor could emerge as the workhorse before the season ends. Sixth-round pick Dezmon Patmon also should help bolster the receiving corps, which struggled last season due to injury and poor quarterback play.
Speaking of quarterback, the Colts got everyone's attention when they selected Washington's Jacob Eason in the fourth round (No. 122 overall). Jacoby Brissett should remain the backup this season, but he's in the final year of his contract and Rivers, who is 38, is signed for just this season. Whether Eason is the long-term answer remains to be seen, but he certainly landed in a great spot where he can learn from Rivers and develop under head coach Frank Reich.
And while Indianapolis may not have added an instant-impact defender through the draft (third-round pick Juilan Blackmon should be a factor at safety), don't forget the Colts traded their first-round pick to San Francisco in March for DeForest Buckner, who serves as a huge upgrade to the defensive line.
Objective Achieved: New defensive building blocks, wide receiver depth
First-round pick CJ Henderson (No. 9 overall) should immediately take over as the Jaguars' top cornerback following the departure of A.J. Bouye, who was traded to Denver in March. Fellow first-rounder K'Lavon Chaisson may not start right away but that could change depending on what happens with disgruntled pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue, who has made it clear he wants to be traded.
On offense, Jacksonville added a pair of wide receivers to bolster that group – Colorado's Laviska Shenault Jr. and Texas' Collin Johnson. All told, the Jags used their 12 picks to hit on numerous positions and several more rookies could become valuable reserves sooner rather than later. Defensive tackle Davon Hamilton, offensive tackle Ben Bartch, linebacker Shaquille Quarterman, and safety Daniel Thomas fall into that group, and quarterback Jake Luton could claim the backup job to Gardner Minshew before the season is out.
Objective Achieved: New starting tackle, depth elsewhere
With fewer picks (six) than most teams, the Titans did their best to maximize their opportunities. First-round pick Isaiah Wilson will likely replace Jack Conklin (signed with Cleveland) as the starting right tackle. With so much of the offense built around running back Derrick Henry and quarterback Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee also added some new faces to those positions in Appalachian State's Darrynton Evans and Hawaii's Cole McDonald. Evans is much likelier to have an impact as a rookie with last year's backup, Dion Lewis now in Philadelphia. Cornerbacks Kristian Fulton and Chris Jackson will vie for their spots in the rotation while defensive tackle Larrell Murchison also will get an opportunity to carve out a role following the trade of five-time Pro Bowler Jurrell Casey.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.