Houston is the reigning AFC South champion and could be even more dangerous on offense this season after adding quarterback Brock Osweiler and running back Lamar Miller in free agency. Indianapolis is banking on a bounce-back year from Andrew Luck, who missed nine games a year ago because of injuries. Jacksonville and Tennessee are two teams that bear watching because of their young quarterbacks and the moves each made in the offseason.
In order to get an accurate assessment of how the AFC South breaks down entering the 2016 season, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Texans, Colts, Jaguars and Titans
Note: These scouting reports come directly from NFL scouts and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
“Bill O’Brien was hired by the Texans to figure out their QB situation, and after two seasons of managing Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Hoyer, they went all in on Broncos free agent Brock Osweiler as their long-term, get-us-over-the-hump signal-caller. Osweiler inked a four-year deal worth $72 million with $37 million guaranteed and had never met O’Brien, which shows the fallacy of pro free agency as compared to the college draft, where every prospect is vetted to the nth degree."
"DeAndre Hopkins emerged as one of the NFL’s best wide receivers with 111 receptions and 11 touchdowns in 2015; he is really athletic and knows how to make plays on the football."
"The offensive line is just ordinary, but the true calling card for the Texans has been their defense led by arguably the league’s best player in J.J. Watt. Despite facing constant double-teams, all he did was rack up another 17.5 sacks."
"Whitney Mercilus quietly accumulated 12 sacks and has come into his own, while the overrated, straight-line Jadeveon Clowney did start nine games and register 4.5 sacks. Imagine if Houston had taken Khalil Mack rather than Clowney at No. 1 overall."
"Brian Cushing and Benardrick McKinney are solid on the inside, while Kareem Jackson, Johnathan Joseph and Kevin Johnson give them a trio of capable cornerbacks.”
“Andrew Luck went through a car-wreck of a season when he suffered a lacerated kidney and partially torn abdominal muscle, which shelved him for the final seven games of the season. Despite starting three different quarterbacks, the Colts finished 8-8, and Chuck Pagano actually received a somewhat surprising extension from owner Jim Irsay. This is a prove-it year for Pagano."
"While the AFC South has been the weakest division in football, that’s about to change with Houston, Jacksonville and Tennessee all being young teams on the rise with potential franchise-level QBs. Therefore, the bottom-line reality for Indy is they have to protect Luck and play better defense."
"They drafted four offensive linemen, with Alabama center Ryan Kelly being their primary target in the first round. He will step right into the starting lineup."
"They have high hopes for 2015 seventh-round pick Denzelle Good at right tackle."
"T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett bring big speed to the table, but offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski must find the right mix of run/pass for Luck. "
"Indy doesn’t have one player on defense that scares anybody."
"Nose tackle David Parry was a rookie surprise and very good against the run."
"Their secondary is just ordinary, although cornerback Vontae Davis has the size and speed to match up with most No. 1 receivers.”
“It’s time to win in Jacksonville after owner Shahid Khan has shown amazing patience in allowing GM Dave Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley to build this roster over the past three years."
"Despite getting sacked 51 times, Blake Bortles made significant progress with 35 touchdown passes but needs to cut down on the 18 interceptions in 2016."
"T.J. Yeldon showed signs of being a quality NFL back, and with free agent Chris Ivory on board they should have a reliable running game."
"Allen Robinson latched on to 80 catches for 14 touchdowns and is a rising star in the league, while Allen Hurns caught 64 passes and 10 touchdowns of his own. Both of these receivers, along with tight end Julius Thomas, give Bortles forgiving targets on the outside and down the middle of the field."
"The Jags expect left tackle Kelvin Beachum to be recovered from his ACL and ready for the season."
"The offensive line is the biggest area of concern, because there is not a single all-star candidate in the group."
"The defense gave up a ton of points last year, but they have remade the unit with difference-making talent at each level. Malik Jackson, signed away from Denver, will make a big difference, and they get Dante Fowler Jr. in the lineup; he missed his rookie season with an injury."
"An 8-8 record or better is a realistic opportunity for this club; otherwise, not sure Bradley and Caldwell will get another year.”
“With a potential franchise QB in his back pocket, new GM Jon Robinson tried to maximize the value of the No. 1 overall pick and traded out with the Los Angeles Rams to No. 15 before moving back up to No. 8 and selecting tackle Jack Conklin."
"With Robinson spending 12 years of his career in New England, maybe his approach will be to feather the nest around Marcus Mariota by running the football for a few years, before putting more of a burden on him in the future."
"After signing DeMarco Murray and drafting Derrick Henry, coach Mike Mularkey will have a chance to play ball control in a division that features some up-and-coming quarterbacks. The line was a weakness last year but should be improved."
"Tight end Delanie Walker is an excellent player and grabbed 94 passes last year, but their three top wide receivers [Kendall Wright, Dorial Green-Beckham and Harry Douglas] all had fewer than 40 receptions each."
"The defense is sort of nondescript."
"Defensive end Jurell Casey and outside linebacker Brian Orakpo both bagged seven sacks. Linebackers Avery Williamson and Wesley Woodyard are active and can range to the perimeter of the field. The secondary is in flux and will likely be the weakest part of the team; look for Robinson to try and fix this unit next offseason."
"If the Titans can improve their rushing attack and protect the football better, they have a chance to double their three-win season from a year ago."