Heading into the 2016 campaign, Around The NFL is taking a closer look at each division over the course of this week. Which storylines -- and players -- will define the coming months within each of the league's eight sectors? Check out the AFC South entry below.
Most significant changes from 2015
Houston Texans: Aerial-attack additions. The speed the Houston Texans will deploy in 2016 makes last season's offense look like a busted 1974 jalopy. The addition of running back Lamar Miller brings breakout potential and Bugatti-like velocity to the Texans' backfield. Rookie receivers Will Fuller and Braxton Miller add speed and open-field playmaking ability that complement the explosiveness of DeAndre Hopkins. Brock Osweiler is a huge upgrade over the gaggle of replacement-level passers (Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates, Brandon Weeden) the Texans trotted out in 2015. With the bevy of weapons at his disposal, Osweiler can pick his poison to unleash on defenses.
Indianapolis Colts: A healthy Andrew Luck. That is reason enough for optimism in Indianapolis. The all-world quarterback looks fresh and back to 2014 form after injuries marred his 2015 campaign, costing him nine games. Even with question marks remaining on an already-banged-up offensive line, Luck has proven in the past he can overcome pressure when healthy. With breakout candidates in Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett alongside T.Y. Hilton, Luck has no shortage of stud targets. If Luck stays healthy, the Colts' passing game is primed to shine again in 2016.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Bulked-up defense. The Jags' defense added a host of game-changing talent to a once-deprived unit. High-priced defensive tackle Malik Jackson will immediately upgrade the interior, pushing the pocket and stymieing opposing running games. Dante Fowler Jr.'s return after missing his entire rookie season provides a potential edge-rushing star -- something the Jags have lacked for years. The additions of rookie Jalen Ramsey and Prince Amukamara at corner and the underrated signing of safety Tashaun Gipson solidified a flimsy secondary. Second-round pick Myles Jackhas first-round potential and brings sideline-to-sideline speed on the second level to complement Telvin Smith. Gus Bradley enters a pivotal year, as he is finally able to deploy talented horses in his defense after years of subpar play.
Tennessee Titans: One-two punch in the ground game."Exotic smashmouth" is a sexy term for the Titans' revamped run game. It's also quite apropos. New general manager Jon Robinson focused his offseason on surrounding Marcus Mariota with big upgrades to make the stud passer's life easier. DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry give the Titans a one-two punch that will grind down defenses. Henry, in particular, looks like a beast who will be hard to bring down late in games when he's running over linebackers and safeties on the second level. Adding first-round pick Jack Conklin at tackle should aid Mariota's pass protection and bring a significant upgrade in run blocking on the right side. Let's not forget fifth-round receiver Tajae Sharpe, who looks like Mariota's go-to target entering the season. The rookie is a stellar route runner with the ability to high-point the ball and catch in traffic. Coach Mike Mularkey admitted the Titans haven't had a receiver with Sharpe's playmaking ability "in years."
One player to watch from each team
Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, linebacker. The former No. 1 overall pick finally looks healthy. This preseason, Clowney has been a bull-rushing monster, tossing aside offensive linemen like rag dolls. There is no questioning Clowney's talent, speed and strength. Finally healthy, he provides the Texans with a destructive force alongside J.J. Watt. If Watt's season starts off slowly after offseason surgeries, Clowney looks poised to ensure there will be no drop-off from the Texans' front seven.
Indianapolis Colts: Donte Moncrief, wide receiver. The 6-foot-2 wideout is poised for a breakout season with speed, good hands and physical traits of a go-to target. The third-year pro displays tackle-breaking physicality to go along with high-wire catching ability. After mastering the route tree in his second season, Moncrief looked poised to breakout in 2015 until Luck went down with injuries. With his quarterback returning healthy, Moncrief should pick up where he left off.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Julius Thomas, tight end. The Jags' offense has the talent to be one of the most explosive in the NFL in 2016. A resurgence from Thomas will give Blake Bortles a prime red-zone target and big-bodied pass catcher down the seam. Thomas never looked right in his first year in Jacksonville after an injury marred the start of his season. When healthy, the 6-foot-5 tight end is an athletic mismatch against linebackers and safeties. Thomas could put up double-digit touchdowns in 2016, playing a role similar to the one that made him a star in Denver.
Tennessee Titans: Derrick Henry, running back. The Heisman Trophy winner might start the season behind DeMarco Murray, but the rookie will push for more snaps before long. Henry has displayed extraordinary tackle-breaking strength, agility at the second level and enough speed to get to the outside. The critiques of his lateral agility entering the draft seem over-magnified silliness in hindsight. Henry will be an intriguing player to watch grow as the season progresses.
What we'll be talking about at season's end
Once a division scoffed at by the public, the AFC South proved it's now one of the deepest divisions in the NFL. With Mariota and Bortles making the leap into the upper echelon of quarterback rankings, the AFC South is primed to be one of the most competitive divisions. Luck returned to All-Pro form, but the Colts' holes on defense squandered another season. The upstart Jags and Titans pushed their way out of the NFL cellar; however, the Texans remained atop the division with solid quarterback play and a swarming defense.