Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks is performing a division-by-division assessment of the 2015 NFL Draft, spotlighting notable picks and handing out grades for each team. Below is his review of the AFC South. (NOTE: Click on the tabs to see other divisional breakdowns.)
The Texans landed one of the most polished defensive backs in the draft in Johnson. The 6-foot, 188-pounder is a technician with exceptional footwork, awareness and instincts. Most importantly, Johnson is a versatile player with the football aptitude to make immediate contributions as a rookie starter in Houston. Given the need to snuff out receivers in a pass-happy league, having a premier cover corner is essential to building a championship-caliber defense.
It is never surprising when a team selects a franchise-caliber quarterback at the top of the draft, but it's uncommon for an old-school play caller to scrap his offensive system for a dual-threat playmaker with extensive experience directing a spread offense. The Titans' selection of Mariota thus counts as a surprise when considering Ken Whisenhunt's history with traditional pocket passers throughout his career. If Whisenhunt truly adapts his system to fit the skills of his young QB, Mariota could thrive immediately as the leader of the Titans' offense. Otherwise, he will be the latest spread signal-caller to endure a tough transition to the NFL game.
It's hard to call a second-round pick a sleeper, but Yeldon is poised to post big numbers as the Jaguars' feature back after flying under the radar for most of the pre-draft process. The 6-1, 226-pounder is a nimble runner with exceptional balance, body control and vision. Moreover, he is a dynamic playmaker capable of delivering impact plays on runs and short passes. With Jacksonville intent on alleviating the burden on second-year pro Blake Bortles at quarterback, Yeldon could become the focal point of the Jaguars' game plan, despite his rookie status.
NOTE: Draft hauls are ranked from best to worst within the division.
1) HOUSTON TEXANS: The Texans deserve kudos for executing a draft strategy that allowed them to land three players who carried first-round grades on various boards across the league. Kevin Johnson and linebacker Benardrick McKinney are pegged as immediate starters. Both guys bring solid skills and impressive football IQs to the table, and the Texans' highly regarded defense shouldn't skip a beat with a pair of youngsters occupying key roles in 2015. Jaelen Strong gives the team a big-bodied pass catcher to line up opposite DeAndre Hopkins. He should blossom into a red-zone threat for the Texans and give Ryan Mallett or Brian Hoyer a nice target to pinpoint in critical moments. Overall, the Texans' draft haul puts them in position to overtake the Colts as the top team in the AFC South. GRADE: A
2) JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: It's unfortunate that the Jaguars' production on the field hasn't matched their talent acquisition under general manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley to this point, but the team is certainly headed in the right direction, based on the solid roster rebuild. The exceptional retooling continued with the addition of Dante Fowler Jr. to anchor the defense on the edges. A hard-nosed, energetic playmaker with disruptive skills, he can deliver impact production as a first-year starter. Offensively, the Jaguars continue to add pieces that will help quarterback Blake Bortles thrive as a playmaker. T.J. Yeldon is an electric feature back with exceptional skills as a runner/receiver. He will team with fellow rookies A.J. Cann (guard) and Rashad Greene (receiver) to boost a promising young offensive nucleus in Jacksonville. Keep an eye on safety James Sample and defensive tackle Michael Bennett as underrated prospects who could develop into key contributors. GRADE: A-
UPDATE: Fowler tore his ACL during rookie minicamp practice on Friday and will miss the entire 2015 season.
3) TENNESSEE TITANS: The Titans are ushering in a new era after selecting Marcus Mariota with the second overall pick. The Heisman Trophy winner gives the team an athletic playmaker with a high football IQ and underrated leadership skills to build around at quarterback. Although Tennessee will need to tweak its offensive philosophy to suit Mariota's talents, it is hard to fault the team for gambling on a touchdown maker with exceptional intangibles. Dorial Green-Beckham is a wild-card selection with extraordinary potential. DGB is arguably the most talented pass catcher in the draft, but a string of off-field incidents makes him a character risk. If he makes wise choices away from the facility, Green-Beckham could give the team a dominant WR1 to build around. The Titans found exceptional value on Day 3 in Jalston Fowler and David Cobb. The hard-hitting backs give the Titans the weaponry to adopt a power-based ground game to support Mariota. GRADE: B-
4) INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: Based on how the Colts' defense got pushed around by physical offenses at times in 2014, the team was expected to invest heavily in defenders with immediate-impact potential. Surprisingly, the team elected to select receiver Phillip Dorsett -- instead of a marquee defender -- in Round 1. While Dorsett certainly adds speed and explosiveness to the passing game as a WR3, he is a bit of a luxury item for a team that already has T.Y. Hilton, Andre Johnson and Donte Moncrief in place. Cornerback D'Joun Smith, defensive end Henry Anderson and safety Clayton Geathers are expected to step into the rotation as young players. Although each is viewed as a developmental prospect, the Colts need their young players to make an impact right away. GRADE: C