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AFC South projected starters: Did Texans do enough for Watson?

Gregg Rosenthal will project post-draft starting lineups for all 32 teams, because there's no better way to celebrate the arrival of spring.


» Tytus Howard, the team's surprise first-round pick from Alabama State, should wind up starting at one of the tackle spots. Right tackle could be the more natural place for him as a rookie, especially because the Texans' options on the blind side (Matt Kalil, Julie'n Davenport) inspire a tad more confidence than the right tackle options.

» Perhaps the Texans will be right in their evaluations of Howard, their 2018 tight end draft picks (Jordan Akins and Jordan Thomas) and in the decision to retain Lamar Miller for another year. But it sure looks from the outside that they didn't do enough to help Deshaun Watson.

» Part of my issue with the Texans' offense is depth. It's not just that the skill-position starters are so-so other than Watson and DeAndre Hopkins, but the drop-off to the reserves is steep. If the team is going to keep rolling with Miller, it should at least have a young backup with the potential to compete with him, and D'Onta Foreman has not shown that he can play that role.

» The Texans' defensive line behind J.J. Watt is quietly effective. D.J. Reader, Brandon Dunn and Angelo Blackson all rotate to shut down opposing run games.

» If Whitney Mercilus returns to form, he could make a very good front seven a sensational one. He missed 11 games in 2017 and his production last season fell off a cliff, yet he'll only be 29 years old at the start of the season.

» Jadeveon Clowney, who received the franchise tag this offseason, is always battling through injuries, yet his production and snap count have been as consistent as that of nearly any edge player in football over the last three years. I wouldn't be worried about the effect of his contract negotiation on him or the team.

» The Texans bought low on talented defensive backs Bradley Roby and Tashaun Gipson. I like the moves in a vacuum, but it's a stretch to believe they will outperform what their predecessors -- Kareem Jackson and Tyrann Mathieu -- did for the team in 2018 before exiting via free agency this offseason.

Biggest change from a year ago: Change on the offensive line in Houston is a constant, with Bill O'Brien hoping he's finally found a winning combination.


» I went into this exercise believing every team in the AFC South had reason to believe it can win a wide-open division. That may be true, but upon further reflection, it will be a massive disappointment if the Colts don't make the playoffs. My ATN Podcast colleague Chris Wesseling's adopted team has the right quarterback, the right coach and very few roster holes.

» It is so strange to write in a Colts offensive line that is not only set in stone, but should be a major source of strength. Quenton Nelson figures to be a perennial All-Pro, although the key to the entire group could be his fellow 2018 classmate Braden Smith backing up his impressive rookie campaign at right tackle.

» Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron are both listed as starters because coach Frank Reich loves to play with two tight ends. Doyle's recovery from hip surgery is an X-factor for an offense that could use his reliable hands.

» Rookie wideout Parris Campbell could have also made the list above as a third receiver. It's safe to expect Reich to carve out a role for the speedster, focusing on what he does well as he expands his route tree.

» The Colts sound content with their running back group, but a veteran addition would not be a surprise, perhaps as late as September during roster cuts.

» So many of the best teams in the NFL (Patriots, Rams, Saints) have a deep secondary. The Colts are joining that crew. Their cornerback group goes four deep in quality if 2019 second-rounder Rock Ya-Sin pans out, with 2017 second-round pick Quincy Wilson not listed above.

Biggest change from a year ago: Daily questions about Andrew Luck's health have been replaced by daily bouquets being thrown at general manager Chris Ballard's comprehensive roster-building.


» The wide receiver crew isn't as good as the Jaguars think it is or as bad as you probably think it is. In Dede Westbrook, Marqise Lee, Chris Conley, Keelan Cole and D.J. Chark, the Jaguars have enough talent for 2-3 players to step up as consistent performers. Lee is coming off a torn ACL, however, while Cole and Chark are coming off rough 2018 seasons. Conley, a free-agent pickup from Kansas City, is a sleeper.

» It's not like Nick Foles has proven options at tight end, either. Former Cowboy Geoff Swaim and third-round pick Josh Oliver should both get plenty of run.

» Other than Foles, there's no more important player to the Jaguars' offense than Leonard Fournette. The running back depth chart is weak behind him and this offensive line, buoyed by drafting Jawaan Taylor, is set up to maul opponents. If last year's Fournette shows up, the offense is sunk.

» That defensive line is absolutely outrageous. Calais Campbell is listed on the interior because that's where he'll play in Jacksonville's nickel package, which will wind up getting more snaps than the base personnel. First-round pick Josh Allen and Yannick Ngakoue should be the dynamic speed tandem flying off the edge that Ngakoue and Dante Fowler never quite developed into with any consistency.

» There wasn't room above to list stout nose tackle Abry Jones or last year's first-round pick, defensive tackle Taven Bryan. If Campbell continues to toss aside father time, this may be the best defensive line in football.

» Telvin Smith's surprise announcement that he won't play the 2019 season puts the Jaguars in a bind. Quincy Williams, the team's stunning third-round pick, would appear to be the next man up. Look for the team to sign a veteran to compete as well.

» The safeties could be the biggest concern on the otherwise-loaded defense. The Jaguars gave Jarrod Wilson a contract extension in January and they have confidence in Ronnie Harrison, but the two players have combined for fewer than 700 career snaps.

Biggest change from a year ago: The upgrade at quarterback and health on the offensive line should make all the Jaguars' skill-position talent look better.


» Even if the Titans' offense doesn't look perfect, it certainly appears to be more complete than at any other time in the Jon Robinson era. With the notable exception of Marcus Mariota, these are mostly his guys, picked up since Robinson's hire as general manager in 2016.

» Mariota shouldn't be worried about Ryan Tannehill's presence. The Titans needed a better insurance policy at quarterback, so they traded for the Dolphins' former QB1. However, it's hard to imagine Mariota losing his job due to performance unless the season goes so poorly that the Titans decide Mariota won't be part of the team in 2020.

» Robinson and Titans fans may prefer that second-round rookie A.J. Brown wins a starting receiver job over Taywan Taylor or Tajae Sharpe. The Titans have learned over the years, though, that penciling rookie receivers into the starting lineup is risky (most recently with Corey Davis).

» The return of Delanie Walker is massive for Mariota, although it's worth wondering if the impending 35-year-old will have the same juice coming off a season lost to injury.

» This offensive line underperformed as a group last year. The addition of Rodger Saffold and a healthier Jack Conklin should lead to a renaissance. The Titans want to run the ball a lot and have the players up front to do so.

» Calling Cameron Wake an outside linebacker feels misleading in such a multiple defense. Wake and Harold Landry are the key edge players in any formation, and Jurrell Casey's ability to play inside and outside helps give coach Mike Vrabel a lot of options.

» This is a solid defense top to bottom, although it needs some standout performers other than Casey. Wake should help. Malcolm Butler and Landry both have the potential to play much better than they did a year ago. The secondary has room to grow as a group considering its talent level and continuity.

Biggest change from a year ago: Mariota's surrounding talent is deeper and more mature. While this doesn't look like an explosive offense, it presents more problems for defenses than it did last season.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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