Is Indianapolis still the team to beat in the AFC South? Scouts give their thoughts on the Colts, Jaguars, Texans and Titans
Houston won a crowded AFC South last season as Indianapolis also made the playoffs and Tennessee just missed on securing one of the wild card berths. Jacksonville took a huge step backward after coming a game shy of the Super Bowl two seasons ago, but the Jaguars signed Nick Foles in free agency in hopes of finally solving their quarterback woes.
The Texans and Colts are both in good hands at the position, as long as Deshaun Watson and Andrew Luck stay healthy. The Titans are at a crossroads with Marcus Mariota entering the last season of his rookie deal and having traded for former Miami starter Ryan Tannehill.
Quarterbacks may get the most attention, but don't forget the potential impact offensive weapons like DeAndre Hopkins, , T.Y. Hilton, Leonard Fournette and Derrick Henry could play on how the AFC South plays out this season, as well as impact defenders such as J.J. Watt, Darius Leonard, Jalen Ramsey, and Jurrell Casey.
In order to get an accurate assessment of how the AFC South breaks down entering the 2019 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 has steadily kept the Texans in the mix every year."
"If the identity of an NFL team is defined by its coach and quarterback, Houston should stay competitive for seasons to come. Deshaun Watson rebounded from an injury-shortened rookie campaign to play in all 16 games. His best football is ahead of him with regard to clock management and end-of-game situations."
"DeAndre Hopkins is arguably the best receiver in the NFL. They have struggled to find a dependable No. 2 because Will Fuller cannot stay healthy."
"The biggest issue for them is their offensive line play. Last year, they put an inordinate amount of pressure on JuliÃ©n Davenport at left tackle, and he was exposed. They drafted Alabama State tackle Tytus Howard in the first, then Max Scharping from Northern Illinois in the second."
"Romeo Crennel directs the front seven, and his best asset is Jadeveon Clowney, whom they franchise tagged. Whitney Mercilus and J.J. Watt are capable, but both have been undercut by injuries. Duke Ejiofor was a pleasant surprise and should be more prominent in 2019."
"Benardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham are classic 'box' linebackers, and both are consistent producers."
"Like the OL, their secondary will be questioned going into the season. They lost Kareem Jackson and Tyrann Mathieu in free agency, released Kevin Johnson and replaced them with Bradley Roby, Tashaun Gipson and Kentucky rookie Lonnie Johnson."
"In a very balanced division, Houston will compete for the playoffs again — just not sure they can advance beyond the divisional round."
"Andrew Luck proved again that when healthy, he is the franchise in Indianapolis."
"GM Chris Ballard's 2018 draft was phenomenal when you consider that guard Quenton Nelson will be a long-time consensus All-Pro and linebacker Darius Leonard earned all sorts of praise as a Rookie of the Year candidate."
"In the meantime, guard Braden Smith played extremely well on the inside as well, so their interior is set to protect Luck."
"Marlon Mack was much better than people expected, and he looks to be the key figure in any sort of backfield-by-committee that they construct."
"They added a power forward on the outside during free agency in Devin Funchess to go along with T.Y. Hilton, who has put together an impressive career."
"One of the most amazing stories across the entire NFL landscape was the re-birth of former Detroit Lions first-round pick Eric Ebron, who caught 66 passes and 13 touchdowns after being discarded from the Motor City."
"Defensive end Denico Autry quietly put together a nine-sack season."
"Leonard was spectacular, but inside linebacker Anthony Walker put together a 105-tackle campaign."
"The Colts needed big-time help at cornerback, so they drafted Rock Ya-Sin at the top of the second round."
"In many ways, it was a blessing that Josh McDaniels backed out of the head coaching job because Frank Reich was phenomenal with his strategy, leadership and overall emphasis on the team."
"If they can stay healthy and get more from their secondary, there is no reason to think the Colts cannot challenge in the AFC."
"The lesson that there is little carryover from one NFL season to the next was painfully learned in Jacksonville last year."
"Blake Bortles teased the organization for five years, but they finally let him go."
"Nick Foles caught lightning in a bottle with the Eagles and parlayed a great run into this enormous deal. The hope is that a reunion with new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo will be the answer for their entire offense."
"Unless Leonard Fournette gets back on track and their offensive line stays healthy, Foles is not good enough to carry this team as a stand-alone entity."
"Much will be expected from wide receiver DJ Chark, last year's second-round selection, and the tight end group is unproven at best."
"Calais Campbell continues to play at a high level, and edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue is one of the most underrated players in the league."
"They were gifted Josh Allen from Kentucky in the first round, and he only adds to the talent of this D."
"The retirement of Paul Posluszny was more significant than people thought; he was a glue guy."
"Jalen Ramsey went over the top with his off-field comments, but he is still a top-five corner, and A.J. Bouye was another example of paying A+ money for B+ ability in free agency."
"The reality is that this team's problems are from the neck up. It will be interesting to see if head coach Doug Marrone can regain control of the locker room with Tom Coughlin's support, because if he doesn't, it's much easier to replace the coaches than the players."
"In a really competitive division, the Jaguars have much to prove in a make-or-break season for Marrone."
"It took former OC Matt LaFleur forever to recognize that Derrick Henry is their most dominant player; expect Arthur Smith to feature him out of the gate."
"QB Marcus Mariota will be working with his fourth coordinator in five seasons. He is maddeningly conservative and inaccurate at times."
"Corey Davis looks like a rising star. The signing of Adam Humphries along with the healthy return of both Delanie Walker and Jonnu Smith should improve their 29th-ranked passing game."
"Guard Rodger Saffold was added in free agency, and he should solidify the interior of the OL, while right tackle Jack Conklin will be back to full health."
"On defense, the Titans finished third in points allowed, and that's indicative of Mike Vrabel's New England roots."
"Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey racked up seven sacks, is super quick at the point of attack and has the agility to chase plays down the line."
"They drafted a top-10 talent in Jeffery Simmons at pick No. 19 but will have to wait on his ACL tear to heal."
"Edge pass rush is a major concern, so Cameron Wake was signed from the Dolphins. Harold Landry must increase his 4.5 sacks."
"Last year's first-round selection, Rashaan Evans, only started seven games, so he needs a better 'sophomore' season."
"Pro personnel people appreciate Wesley Woodyard, but virtually no one else realizes how productive he has been during his career."
"Kevin Byard is their most notable defensive player because of his ability to impact the run and pass games; he is extremely versatile."
"Anything less than 10 wins in 2019 will be a huge step backwards for this southern version of the Patriots."