Bucky Brooks is performing a division-by-division assessment of the 2014 NFL Draft, spotlighting notable picks and handing out grades for each team. You'll find the AFC South evaluation below; click here for other divisional breakdowns.
The Indianapolis Colts ran away with the AFC South title a season ago behind the steady play of a franchise quarterback and the emergence of an opportunistic defense. Each of the other teams in the division, of course, struggled to find a consistent playmaker under center and finished below .500. This deep draft provided Houston, Jacksonville and Tennessee plenty of opportunities to resolve their quarterback issues and upgrade supporting casts on both sides of the ball. The Colts only had five draft picks last week -- with the highest being No. 59 overall -- so divisional foes had a chance to close the gap. If the Texans, Jags and Titans did indeed pick wisely, we should see a more competitive AFC South battle in 2014.
AFC South notables
Despite pre-draft questions about Clowney's work ethic and scheme fit in Houston, one thing always remained clear: The South Carolina product was undoubtedly the most talented prospect on the draft board. If you bypass a generational talent like Clowney and he lives up to his pre-draft billing ... well, that's the kind of decision that costs jobs. With Clowney possessing the size, strength and length to become a dominant edge defender, the Texans have the potential to field the best front line in the AFC, with the No. 1 pick joining J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus at the point of attack.
By draft night, few expected Lewan to remain on the board beyond the top 10 picks, but watching the Titans select the Michigan standout at No. 11 was an even bigger surprise. It's not that Lewan wasn't worth the pick at that point; it's that Tennessee already had a pair of talented starting offensive tackles (Michael Roos and free-agent addition Michael Oher) in place. Thus, Lewan could be forced to play a different position as a rookie, at least until the Titans are able to settle the configuration of the offensive line. An overabundance of O-line talent certainly isn't the worst problem to have, but the decision to pass on a blue-chip corner or safety could come back to haunt Tennessee in the fall.
Colvin was regarded as one of the top cover corners in the draft before his ACL injury at the Senior Bowl, and the Jaguars were willing to snag the Oklahoma stud and use his rookie season like a redshirt year. Sure, Colvin could earn spot duty by the end of the season, but rehabbing and refining his game on the practice field for a full season could help him earn a starting spot in 2015.
Note: Click on team names to see complete draft classes.
HOUSTON TEXANS: Credit general manager Rick Smith and his staff for landing three blue-chip talents (Clowney, OG Xavier Su'a-Filo and DT Louis Nix) and a sleeper pick (TE C.J. Fiedorowicz) during the first two days of the draft. All four guys can provide significant contributions as rookies. Meanwhile, Tom Savage gives first-year head coach Bill O'Brien a young, big-armed signal-caller to groom behind Ryan Fitzpatrick for a year or so. Given O'Brien's track record of success with young quarterbacks, Savage could quickly become an intriguing option in Houston. GRADE: A-
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: The Colts entered the draft with limited ammunition, having traded away their first-round pick to land Trent Richardson in a deal with the Browns last September. Thus, Indianapolis needed to knock it out of the park with later-round selections to make amends for what appears to have been a misevaluation of Richardson's potential. It's obviously early, but looking at the results, it's tough to say the Colts hit it big on draft night. Second-round O-line selection Jack Mewhort offers some toughness and versatility as a swing player, and he has the potential to start at tackle or guard in the NFL. Donte Moncrief possesses all of the raw tools to be a No. 1 receiver, but the third-rounder needs time to refine a game that's full of promise. While observers obviously will base their evaluations of GM Ryan Grigson's draft performance on the progress of Mewhort and Moncrief over the next few years, the final grade on the Colts' 2014 class will come down to how well Richardson plays as a feature back in Indianapolis. GRADE: C
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: GM David Caldwell deserves credit for having the conviction to go after his franchise quarterback at the top of the draft in Blake Bortles. While some critics would suggest the Jaguars bypassed a few blue chippers to take a chance on a developmental prospect with the third overall pick, the fact that Caldwell wholeheartedly believes in Bortles' potential makes the selection understandable at any point in the draft. In addition, Caldwell deserves kudos for surrounding his freshly minted franchise QB with a pair of explosive weapons in Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson. Both playmakers are capable of becoming No. 1 receivers -- they're two fantastic additions to support the young quarterback. Lastly, the Jaguars added Bortles' former teammate, RB Storm Johnson, to give the young quarterback a familiar face in the backfield. With the Jaguars committed to building a cocoon around their quarterback of the future, Caldwell and Gus Bradley deserve props for their execution of a well-thought-out plan to improve. GRADE: A-
TENNESSEE TITANS: The draft process can get a little tricky at times ... Reviewing the Titans' haul, it's apparent that GM Ruston Webster and first-year coach Ken Whisenhunt stayed true to their core principles, drafting what they perceived to be the best players available. Unfortunately, some of these selections didn't exactly match the team's biggest needs. Lewan was regarded as one of the blue-chip OT prospects, but the Titans weren't really hurting at the position. (Tennessee really could've used a top-notch corner after the departure of Alterraun Verner in free agency.) Second-rounder Bishop Sankey, though, did address the Titans' hole at running back. DaQuan Jones, taken in Round 4, provides the defensive line with some depth. If you're looking for a true wild card to watch in this draft class, look no further than Zach Mettenberger. This intriguing quarterback prospect with enticing physical tools has the potential to outplay his draft slot (Round 6, No. 178 overall). With Jake Locker on shaky ground -- due to durability and consistency issues -- Mettenberger could quickly become the top dog in Tennessee. GRADE: C
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