What does Andrew Luck's return mean for Indianapolis? Scouts give their thoughts on the Colts, Jaguars, Texans and Titans
Jacksonville came out of nowhere to win the AFC South last season and then gave New England all it could handle in the conference championship game. After addressing a few weak spots in the offseason, the Jaguars are looking to prove their 2017 performance was no fluke.
Tennessee also made the playoffs but decided to make a coaching change, as the Titans are hoping Mike Vrabel can build on last season's success and new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur can maximize Marcus Mariota's talent and potential. Houston has its own dynamic quarterback in Deshaun Watson, who's recovering from a torn ACL, one of several key Texans hoping for better health in 2018 as the team looks to bounce back after going 4-12.
And in Indianapolis, the narrative remains the same -- the Colts will go as far as Andrew Luck can take them. First thing first is getting their franchise quarterback on the field, and then hopefully doing a better job of protecting him.
In order to get an accurate assessment of how the AFC South breaks down entering the 2018 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.
"Everything with the Texans will center around quarterback Deshaun Watson. In six starts, he was brilliant and looked like a budding superstar. However, he has sustained two significant knee injuries now, plus he has not been through the batting order yet of the AFC South defensive coordinators, who will have an offseason to study his strengths and weaknesses."
"Lamar Miller has been a quality free-agent signing, but their offensive line is a wreck and the weakest part of their roster. Can they truly rely on second-year pro JuliÃ©n Davenport to start at left tackle?"
"They drafted Jordan Akins and Jordan Thomas at tight end to add to an already crowded depth chart."
"DeAndre Hopkins is a 'Wow' player. It’s amazing how well he produces despite the quarterback carousel that has been in Houston."
"Jadeveon Clowney is now showing why he had to be their No. 1 choice in 2014. He is a devastating pass rusher and game-plan wrecker."
"People across the league worry about J.J. Watt; no one really believes he will return to prominence again."
"Kareem Jackson stepped up in 2017, but Johnathan Joseph has slipped with age, and Kevin Johnson was well below average. So they signed Aaron Colvin away from Jacksonville, and Tyrann Mathieu fell into their laps in the second phase of free agency."
"With Rick Smith no longer the GM, Bill O’Brien will have a bigger voice with new GM Brian Gaine, so this team should start to show more toughness and togetherness in the future."
"If Watson stays upright, they can be .500 or better, but a deep run in the playoffs is still a year away."
"Needless to say, without Andrew Luck at the controls, this team had virtually no chance of posting a winning record in 2017. Jacoby Brissett did an admirable job filling in, but the truth of the matter is that this roster is devoid of front-line talent and depth outside of a couple players."
"With several of their own free agents jumping ship in March, GM Chris Ballard opted to trade down from No. 3 to No. 6 and collect draft picks to re-tool their depth chart. He bolstered the bottom of the pocket for Luck by selecting Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo has quietly continued to play at a winning level, but the rest of the offensive line really struggled after center Ryan Kelly went down."
"Tight end Jack Doyle is a reliable player but not a matchup problem for defenses. T.Y. Hilton is their most explosive offensive player, but he is the only real threat outside."
"Defensive end Jabaal Sheard was a solid pickup for Ballard, but they cut ties with tackle Jonathan Hankins after only one season, and the front seven is in full makeover mode with linebacker Darius Leonard and ends Kemoko Turay and Tyquan Lewis all being picked in the second round."
"Their linebackers are generally small and limited, highlighted by the ineffective play of Antonio Morrison. And the secondary, despite the raw ability of Malik Hooker, will be a work in progress in 2018 after Rashaan Melvin signed with the Raiders."
"Truth be told, in an ever-improving division, Ballard and new coach Frank Reich have a major rebuilding project ahead of them -- and yet 90 percent of their future success hinges on the health of Luck’s shaky shoulder."
"In Tom Coughlin’s first season back with the Jaguars, they seemed to make all the right moves."
"Calais Campbell had an amazing year, A.J. Bouye was as good as advertised, and Leonard Fournette made an immediate impact."
"Everyone was focused on Blake Bortles, and he was ordinary for much of 2017 before playing like a different QB during the playoffs. They extended him just before free agency through 2021, so the offense is tethered to him in regards to third-down conversions and fourth-quarter comebacks."
"Allen Robinson hit the market after missing the entire season with an ACL, so Donte Moncrief was the free agent of choice, and they drafted LSU’s DJ Chark in the second round as a vertical threat."
"The Jaguars’ biggest signing was Carolina guard Andrew Norwell, because A.J. Cann and rookie Cam Robinson both really struggled. Cann has underachieved in college and the NFL, while Robinson was overhyped out of Alabama."
"This defense is really talented."
"Campbell is such a force against the run and pass, while Yannick Ngakoue has developed into a very good edge player."
"The Jags will miss Paul Posluszny in the middle, but Telvin Smith is the epitome of the modern era NFL linebacker, and the secondary is ridiculous."
"Bouye and Jalen Ramsey form the best tandem in the league, but the nickel position is up for grabs after Aaron Colvin left for the Texans."
"With one of the best rosters in the league, they look like an annual contender for the playoffs; the question will be if Bortles is good enough to get them to a Super Bowl."
"Despite beating the Chiefs in the Wild Card round, GM Jon Robinson felt compelled to get his own guy and let Mike Mularkey go in favor of Mike Vrabel."
"The Titans are fast becoming the Patriots of the AFC South as they signed Dion Lewis and Malcolm Butler."
"Marcus Mariota was stagnant at times under Mularkey, so look for new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur to feature more movement for the fourth-year pro."
"Corey Davis must make a big leap forward in 2018 as their No. 1 option in the passing game. Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker are both reliable targets in the short to intermediate part of the field."
"Derrick Henry is a budding star, so he and Lewis will combine power with elusiveness and provide more cover for Mariota."
"Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin are legit bookend tackles, while Ben Jones, Josh Kline and Quinton Spain are functional in the middle."
"On defense, Jurrell Casey is a disruptive force, yet no one outside the division talks about him much."
"Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan are okay, but neither requires special attention in pass protection."
"Adoree’ Jackson performed better than many expected, and they are hoping Butler is past the problems that put him on the bench in the Super Bowl."
"Kevin Byard is a gem of a player and made his first Pro Bowl in 2017."
"Vrabel has much to prove as a first-year head coach, but he inherits a slightly better than .500 club, so his job is to move them forward as a consistent Super Bowl contender. I’m not sure they are ready to make that jump just yet."