Projected Starters  

 

AFC South projected starters: Jags flush with talent (QB aside)

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Gregg Rosenthal will project post-draft starting lineups for all 32 teams, because he once thought that would be a good idea. The AFC South is below:

Houston Texans

QB: Tom Savage
RB: Lamar Miller
WR: DeAndre Hopkins
WR: Will Fuller
WR: Braxton Miller
TE: C.J. Fiedorowicz
LT: Duane Brown
LG: Xavier Su'a-Filo
C: Nick Martin
RG: Jeff Allen
RT: Chris Clark

DE: J.J. Watt
DT: D.J. Reader
DE: Christian Covington
OLB: Jadeveon Clowney
ILB: Brian Cushing
ILB: Benardrick McKinney
OLB: Whitney Mercilus
CB: Kareem Jackson
CB: Johnathan Joseph
S: Andre Hal
S: Corey Moore

» All of the resources spent trading away Brock Osweiler and trading up for Deshaun Watson came at a steep cost, primarily the chance to improve other sagging parts of the roster. The offensive line stands out. Houston only invested a fourth-round pick (tackle Julie'n Davenport) on the line despite an aging left tackle, a chasm at right tackle and uneven guard play. The Texans didn't rank in the top-20 in run blocking or pass blocking last year, according to Pro Football Focus, and there's little reason to believe they've improved.

» Tom Savage, like Watson, was hand-picked by coach Bill O'Brien. Savage has been in O'Brien's system for three years and should get the chance to open the season as a starter. I'll set the over/under on Watson's first start around Week 6, which might be generous to Savage. O'Brien is the man who once benched Brian Hoyer in the fourth quarter of a Week 1 loss.

» The good news in the secondary: Houston goes three deep with quality cornerbacks. A first-round pick in 2015, Kevin Johnson will return from injury and could play ahead of Johnathan Joseph or Kareem Jackson. The bad news is that Houston's safety position is among the worst in football. The Texans haven't signed a single free agent this season and they should look to bring a few warm veteran bodies to camp, such as former Saints safety Jairus Byrd.

» One year after Jadeveon Clowney broke out, the Texans are hoping nose tackle D.J. Reader can do the same. Opposing offensive lines are going to have an impossible task trying to check Clowney, J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus and Reader at the same time.

» Hidden beneath Houston's Divisional Round appearance was the team's No. 29 overall efficiency ranking by Football Outsiders. That's a troubling indication of a squad which could collapse. Another warning sign: A roster with a notable lack of depth behind its starters.

Indianapolis Colts

QB: Andrew Luck
RB: Frank Gore
WR: T.Y. Hilton
WR: Donte Moncrief
WR: Phillip Dorsett
TE: Jack Doyle
LT: Anthony Castonzo
LG: Jack Mewhort
C: Ryan Kelly
RG: Joe Haeg
RT: Le'Raven Clark

DE: Kendall Langford
DT: Johnathan Hankins
DE: Henry Anderson
OLB: Jabaal Sheard
ILB: Edwin Jackson
ILB: Sean Spence
OLB: John Simon
CB: Vontae Davis
CB: Quincy Wilson
S: Malik Hooker
S: Clayton Geathers

» New Colts general manager Chris Ballard did not waste his first 100 days in office. He did lay waste to most of the decaying defense former GM Ryan Grigson left behind. It's possible the Colts' defense could return only two starters from last year's team. Other than Vontae Davis' corner slot and probably Clayton Geathers' safety space, just about every position above is open to competition.

» Ballard knows that supporting Andrew Luck starts with a stronger defense. Forcing Luck to score 30 points every week is an even bigger problem than the right side of his offensive line.

"The good thing is, if we can get to where we are just in the middle of the pack defensively, we've got a chance to take another step," Ballard said after the draft. "The last few years, they've been at the bottom of the league."

Those are ominous words for a defensive-minded coach like Chuck Pagano, who might have one season to impress his new boss. Not every acquisition will work and the team still needs more pass rushers, but Ballard carpet-bombed the team's defensive problems with six key free-agent pickups and six more defensive draft picks.

» This is not to say the offensive line is fixed, but the Colts should feel comfortable with their C-LG-LT combination. It's a start.

» No. 2 tight end Erik Swoope could wind up playing more than No. 3 wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, if Swoope is as good as the coaching staff hopes. Swoope, a former college basketball player at Miami, is one big reason the team was comfortable trading away Dwayne Allen to the Patriots.

Jacksonville Jaguars

QB: Blake Bortles
RB: Leonard Fournette
WR: Allen Robinson
WR: Allen Hurns
WR: Marqise Lee
TE: Marcedes Lewis
LT: Branden Albert
LG: Cam Robinson
C: Brandon Linder
RG: A.J. Cann
RT: Jermey Parnell

DE: Calais Campbell
DT: Malik Jackson
DT: Abry Jones
DE: Dante Fowler Jr.
OLB: Telvin Smith
MLB: Myles Jack
OLB: Paul Posluszny
CB: A.J. Bouye
CB: Jalen Ramsey
S: Tashaun Gipson
S: Barry Church

» The invaluable site Big Cat Country put it well recently, noting that the Jaguars were named one of ESPN's most-improved teams for the fifth straight offseason. After years of resisting Jaguars hype, I am ready to believe in them now, after everyone but owner Shad Khan has seemingly given up on their buzzy-ness.

Just skip the first name in the lineup and then look at that loaded group. The defense is especially deep, with promising young D-linemen like Yannick Ngakoue and Sheldon Day not even listed above.

» OK, so about that initial name ... The Jaguars spent the offseason doubling down on Blake Bortles by not giving him competition yet also trying to limit his exposure. The offense will be built around Leonard Fournette. New grand poobah Tom Coughlin wants to run the ball so much that he drafted Fournette No. 4 overall and retained Chris Ivory as a $4.5 million insurance policy.

When the Jaguars do let Bortles pass, he has a talented trio of wideouts that he knows well. Marqise Lee's ascension last season makes this one of the more intriguing young receiver groups in football.

» For the second straight season, Branden Albert could be holding the fort at left tackle for one year while the future of the position plays alongside him at left guard. (Last year, he did so in Miami with Laremy Tunsil; this time, he'll be keeping a spot warm for No. 34 overall pick Cam Robinson.) Then again, there is no telling when Albert shows up for work, because he desires an adjustment to his contract.

» Jacksonville wants to survive on offense and win with a loaded defense that has multiple playmakers on every level. It's hard to find a weak spot in this group.

» The Jaguars' defense could go from good to great if second-year pro Myles Jack fulfills his promise as a starting middle linebacker following a quiet rookie season. Veteran Paul Posluszny figures to lose snaps while moving to strong-side linebacker.

Tennessee Titans

QB: Marcus Mariota
RB: DeMarco Murray
WR: Corey Davis
WR: Rishard Matthews
WR: Taywan Taylor
TE: Delanie Walker
LT: Taylor Lewan
LG: Quinton Spain
C: Ben Jones
RG: Josh Kline
RT: Jack Conklin

DE: Jurrell Casey
DT: Sylvester Williams
DE: DaQuan Jones
OLB: Brian Orakpo
ILB: Wesley Woodyard
ILB: Avery Williamson
OLB: Derrick Morgan
CB: Logan Ryan
CB: Adoree' Jackson
S: Johnathan Cyprien
S: Kevin Byard

» The Titans have achieved the platonic ideal of offensive team-building over the last few years. They acquired the franchise quarterback first, completed a fantastic book-end set of tackles and now have turned the focus to the perimeter. Tennessee should have two rookie pass catchers starting for them, with No. 5 overall pick Corey Davis and either slot receiver Taywan Taylor or backup tight end Jonnu Smith on the field, depending on the formation.

» Tajae Sharpe, a fifth-round pick last year, was the talk of last offseason and entered 2016 as a potential No. 1 receiver. Consider it a sign of progress that Sharpe -- who registered 41 catches for 522 yards and two scores -- might struggle to even get on the field now.

» DeMarco Murray played almost 600 more snaps than rookie Derrick Henry last season. As great as Murray was for the Titans, look for that number to decrease in 2017.

» The dramatically overhauled secondary looks far more promising on paper. It's worth noting, however, that the four projected starters above played on four different teams last year. Ryan was a great role player in New England, but he will be under the microscope after signing a $10 million-per-year contract. Second-year safety Kevin Byard is a candidate to make the leap after a strong rookie season.

» The next step in general manager Jon Robinson's overhaul should come in the front seven. The Titans don't have many young pass rushers coming down the pipeline.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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