AFC South rookie grades: Jacksonville Jaguars' class stands out

Print

As coaches and general managers prepare to make potentially franchise-altering decisions in the 2015 NFL Draft, now is the perfect time to look back and see how the choices made last year played out on the field. Bucky Brooks is reviewing and grading each team's rookie class from 2014, as well as highlighting what organizations should hone in on at this month's NFL Scouting Combine -- starting with the AFC South below. CLICK HERE FOR THE OTHER DIVISIONAL BREAKDOWNS.

Houston Texans

It's hard to fault the Texans for grabbing the most talented defensive prospect in the draft with the No. 1 overall pick, even taking his limited production in 2014 into account. Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney dealt with a series of injuries throughout training camp and the regular season that prevented him from being the perfect complement to J.J Watt, who just won his second Defensive Player of the Year award. The injury bug also kept defensive tackle Louis Nix from contributing and cut quarterback Tom Savage's season short before the coaching staff could evaluate his potential as a starter. With guard Xavier Su'a-Filo and tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz failing to make a substantial impact in Year 1, the solid play of running back Alfred Blue was the lone bright spot for this group. Grade: C-

Combine focus: The Texans are still searching for a quarterback after running through four signal-callers (Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett, Case Keenum and Savage) during the regular season. Thus, they should spend a ton of time digging into UCLA's Brett Hundley and Baylor's Bryce Petty, to see if either would be an upgrade over Savage. Veteran receiver Andre Johnson's declining performance could make West Virginia's Kevin White, Louisville's DeVante Parker and Michigan's Devin Funchess the focal points of their scouting plans at the combine.

Indianapolis Colts

It's hard to hit a home run on draft weekend without a first-round selection. That said, Colts general manager Ryan Grigson deserves credit for getting key contributions from his rookie class despite the lack of a blue-chip prospect. Offensive lineman Jack Mewhort started 14 games and showed the ability to hold his own against premier players on the interior. Receiver Donte Moncrief teased Colts officials with his athleticism and explosiveness as a WR4 down the stretch. Moncrief could assume a bigger role in 2015 if veterans Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks depart during the offseason. Indianapolis also got surprising contributions from a pair of undrafted free agents (center Jonotthan Harrison and running back Zurlon Tipton) on offense to help support quarterback Andrew Luck. But it's hard to make a living relying on diamonds in the rough at key positions. Grade: C+

Combine focus: After watching opponents stifle their offense by blanketing young receiver T.Y. Hilton with double coverage, the Colts must find a big-play pass catcher to complement their emerging star. White and Parker likely will be off the board when Indy picks at No. 29 overall, which should lead Grigson to spend more time checking out pass catchers like Ohio State's Devin Smith, East Carolina's Justin Hardy and Missouri's Dorial Green-Beckham, to see if they could be effective WR2s in a pass-heavy offense.

Jacksonville Jaguars

GM David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley are committed to rebuilding the Jaguars by drafting and developing young players. The 2014 class certainly provided a solid foundation for the team's future resurgence, with quarterback Blake Bortles and receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson showing flashes of greatness as first-year players. Of course, those contributions were expected, based on those players' relatively lofty draft status. What made the class a rousing success were the efforts of linebacker Telvin Smith, offensive lineman Brandon Linder, cornerback Aaron Colvin and receiver Allen Hurns (an undrafted free-agent signee). Though Jacksonville won just three games in 2014, that crop of youngsters could be the starting point for a legitimate run at the playoffs, provided Bortles continues to progress as a franchise quarterback. Grade: B+

Combine focus: The Jaguars must keep adding playmakers along the defensive line; thus, the team's decision-makers should cast their eyes toward USC defensive tackle/defensive end Leonard Williams. The ultra-athletic defender possesses the kind of explosiveness and versatility that Bradley covets, while displaying the pass-rush skills the team desperately needs. Nebraska DE/OLB Randy Gregory and Missouri DE Shane Ray are also possibilities, due to their prowess as pass rushers off the edge.

Tennessee Titans

Tennessee adhered to the philosophy of selecting the best player available when they plucked Taylor Lewan with the 11th overall pick in 2014 despite already having a pair of quality starters (Michael Roos and Michael Oher) at offensive tackle. The rookie validated the decision by performing well at left tackle when given his chance, providing the Titans with the confidence that they've identified a foundational player. This was further evidenced by the organization's recent decision to waive Oher -- who ended the season on injured reserve -- even with Roos' contract expiring. Bishop Sankey led the team in rushing but fell far short of the 1,000-yard mark. Questions persist about his ability to carry the load as a workhorse runner. Zach Mettenberger possesses the physical tools and confidence to be a starting quarterback in the NFL, but a shoulder injury ended his season before the team could determine if he's the right guy to build around. With just seven appearances (six starts) by Mettenberger to go on, coach Ken Whisenhunt and GM Ruston Webster must decide whether to gamble on a late-round selection or cast their eyes on a new franchise quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick. Grade: C

Combine on NFL Network
In advance of the draft, Marcus Mariota and others will look to showcase their skills at the combine (Feb. 17-23), only on NFL Network. SCHEDULE

Combine focus: The disappointing play of former first-round pick Jake Locker and the uncertainty regarding Mettenberger's long-term potential will put quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota in the Titans' crosshairs. Each player displays certain qualities needed to be a franchise signal-caller, but questions persist about Winston's character and Mariota's readiness for the NFL. How well Winston and Mariota fare in interviews and workouts could go a long way toward determining whether Tennessee goes for a quarterback or a pass rusher in Round 1.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop