The 2014 NFL Draft represents a prime opportunity for teams to shore up positions of need with an injection of fresh, young talent. As Day 1 in Radio City Music Hall draws closer, Elliot Harrison will be taking a division-by-division look at the draft priorities of all 32 teams in the league, continuing with the AFC South below.
See things differently? Be sure to share your take @HarrisonNFL.
Top priority: Quarterback
With all the Jadeveon Clowney chatter, it'd be a slam dunk to suggest "pass rusher" as the Texans' top priority, but that's just not the case. Would Clowney and J.J. Watt be a lethal combination? You bet. But who will make sure Houston scores more than 17.2 points per game in 2014? (Don't worry, that wasn't the lowest average in the league last season -- it was a solid 31st.) While taking the best player available always makes solid football sense, so does scoring points. Is Case Keenum or T.J. Yates the quarterback of the future? Probably not. So ... If the Falcons, who have expressed real interest in Clowney, make the Texans a sweet offer, Houston absolutely should pounce on it. Employ the old Jimmy Johnson method of trading down to acquire as many players on the "Big Board" as possible. The Houston fans reading this don't need me to tell them that the Texans finished with two wins last year (or that Rice University will never win a football title). While not devoid of difference-makers, the Texans need a lot more than just a quarterback to get past the divisional round of the playoffs; they need additional talent, plain and simple. Well, a trade-down could provide both.
Possible fit: If Houston does indeed execute a trade with Atlanta, why not take Blake Bortles in the first round? If that doesn't happen, the Texans should grab the best player available at No. 1 overall -- Clowney's obviously Mr. Popular right now, but offensive tackle Greg Robinson could be a dark-horse pick -- and then address quarterback at the top of Round 2. There should be some enticing QB prospects available at No. 33 overall. In fact, I have a hard time imagining a first-round match for Johnny Manziel beyond Jacksonville at No. 3 (more on that below), at least the way the first round is presently constituted -- obviously, draft-day trades can change everything. Derek Carr would also make sense in the second round.
Other areas of interest: Offensive tackle, defensive end, inside linebacker.
Top priority: Pass rusher
The Colts have a lot of targets, but with just five picks in this draft, they don't have the necessary firepower to address them all. The good news is, they're the only team in the AFC South that doesn't need a quarterback. Protecting Andrew Luck is always a smart idea, and I certainly could see Indy going after a center in this draft, but I don't see the Colts doing that with their top pick (No. 59 overall). No, look for Indy to use that second-rounder on defense, possibly someone who can get after the other guys' signal-caller. Robert Mathis was great last year, but realistically, the 33-year-old only has two (maybe three) years left. Erik Walden is way too inconsistent. Bjoern Werner has potential, but the jury is way out as to whether he can succeed as a 3-4 rush OLB. So I've got an idea: Draft a stand-up linebacker who can learn the ropes from Mathis while contributing on passing downs, let Werner play with his hand in the dirt in those situations and maximize the investment on all parties involved. Drafting a defensive lineman who can push the pocket could work, as well. If not, defensive back would be an excellent spot to hit.
Possible fit: One name on my radar: Jeremiah Attaochu. He's the kind of physical specimen this defense likes to have at OLB. Depending on how things play out, though, there might be better value available at defensive back by the time we reach the Colts' initial pick. Draft guru Gil Brandt has Jason Verrett and Jimmie Ward ranked as mid-second-rounders. Either could step in and immediately contribute for coach Chuck Pagano. Meanwhile, offensive tackles -- not interior linemen -- generally go in the first round, so there will be some quality guys available to Indy. Bottom line: More than any other team in the league, Indy should lean toward the best-player-available approach.
Other areas of interest: Interior offensive line, defensive back, nose tackle.
Top priority: Quarterback
Let's be straightforward here: This franchise needs buzz. Sorry, the two-tone, Bob Vila-special helmets just don't move the needle. Winning will -- yet, the earliest we'll see that is in September. And given the talent level on this roster, going 9-7 feels unrealistic. So is there a quarterback out there who can upgrade the position while simultaneously creating a ton of excitement? Indeed: Johnny Football. People can hate on him all they want, but the kid can make plays. Yes, he could afford to mature ... but how many of you were a model of maturity at 21? At that stage in my life, I was wearing tight Japanese baseball jerseys and listening to Keith Sweat. The point is, analysts need to quit demanding Steve Young's demeanor when the guy just reached legal drinking age. Furthermore, what were the biggest complaints about Blaine Gabbert? Skittish in the pocket, afraid to take a hit, hesitant to take shots downfield. Can you say any of that about Manziel? This could be the fit for Mr. Football. But, as noted above, if Jacksonville passes on Manziel, I could see him taking a slide that nobody seems ready to predict.
Possible fit: Jonathan. Football. Of course, Gus Bradley is a defensive-minded coach, so it's not hard to imagine him using the No. 3 pick on that side of the ball, especially when many people question the true value of the top QB prospects. Like Houston, Jacksonville might wait until later in the draft to address the game's most important position. The Jags need disruptive defenders, and Khalil Mack certainly fits the bill.
Other areas of interest: Wide receiver, linebacker, cornerback.
Top priority: Cornerback
Oh, how I wanted to type "quarterback" there. Yet, it appears the Titans are still riding the Jake Locker roller coaster (for now). Granted, it's tough to evaluate a player when he's hurt half the time, but that's kind of the point: A player's best ability is availability. In the interest of trying to appeal to both logic and where the Titans pick (11th overall), I'm thinking defense in Round 1. Pass rusher and cornerback seem like the most viable options, but there's a problem with the former: After Clowney, the value in this area really drops off. Cornerback, however, is a different (and much deeper) story. While Tennessee's secondary is far from the worst in the league (Jason McCourty played well last year), it is not so strong that the front office should pass on ...
Other areas of interest: Linebacker, defensive end, running back.
Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.