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AFC South rookie grades: Jaguars, Titans hit multiple home runs

With Super Bowl LIV in the books, the offseason is upon us. To get ready for the NFL Scouting Combine, free agency and the 2020 NFL Draft, Nick Shook and Gennaro Filice are taking a division-by-division look backward to evaluate each team's crop of 2019 rookies, weighing hits and misses -- then looking forward at areas for each squad to focus on in the coming months. Filice examines the AFC South below.

» Round 1: (No. 7 overall) Josh Allen, OLB, 16 games/4 starts.

 **» Round 2:** (35) 
 [Jawaan Taylor](/player/jawaantaylor/2562756/profile), OT, 16 games/16 starts. 
 **» Round 3:** (69) 
 [Josh Oliver](/player/josholiver/2562693/profile), TE, 4 games/1 starts; (98) 
 [Quincy Williams](/player/quincywilliams/2562954/profile), LB, 11 games/8 starts. 
 **» Round 5:** (140) 
 [Ryquell Armstead](/player/ryquellarmstead/2562622/profile), RB, 16 games/1 starts. 
 **» Round 6:** (178) 
 [Gardner Minshew](/player/gardnerminshew/2562796/profile), QB, 14 games/12 starts. 
 **» Round 7:** (235) 
 [Dontavius Russell](/player/dontaviusrussell/2562717/profile), DT, 3 games/0 starts. 
 **Notable rookie FA signings:** 
 [Matthew Orzech](/player/mattheworzech/2563097/profile), LS, 16 games/0 starts; 
 [Andrew Wingard](/player/andrewwingard/2562606/profile), S, 16 games/2 starts. 

Let's start with the most interesting development in an otherwise-forgettable Jaguars season: MINSHEW MANIA!! OK, I won't go completely overboard here, because let's be honest: At least some of the allure had to do with the mustache and the headband and the distinct je ne sais quoi that tickled the average football watcher's fancy. That said, the Jock Strap King posted a 21:6 TD-to-INT ratio and went 6-6 as a rookie starter for a team that finished the season at 6-10. Fumbles were an issue, but overall, he clearly outplayed prized free-agent signee Nick Foles. Pretty nice return on the 178th overall selection, no? Five rounds and 171 picks prior, the Jags had Allen fall right into their lap, and the no-brainer selection paid off in a major way, racking up 10.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. Resident draft guru Daniel Jeremiah ranked Allen as his No. 5 overall rookie (second on defense, behind only Nick Bosa) and offered this enticing appraisal: "He has the potential to eventually lead the league in sacks." Taylor started every game at right tackle and developed nicely over the course of the season. And Armstead, despite limited snaps, showed flashes as a change-of-pace back, especially in the passing game.

 **Combine/free agency focus:** In the wake of a second consecutive double-digit-loss debacle, Tom Coughlin's out as executive VP of football operations and Trent Baalke's in as director of player personnel. It'll be interesting to see how Baalke influences GM David Caldwell and head coach Doug Marrone, both of whom could be on borrowed time if the 
 [Jaguars](/teams/jacksonvillejaguars/profile?team=JAX) don't nail a pivotal offseason for a roster that carries far more questions than answers. Offensively, the quarterback position remains Topic No. 1: Will the Jags move forward with Minshew atop the depth chart -- and if so, can they offload Foles' sizable contract to a QB-needy team? Whoever is under center on opening day will need more help from the supporting cast. The left side of the O-line (guard 
 [Andrew Norwell](/player/andrewnorwell/2550589/profile) and tackle Cam Robinson) took a step back in 2019, while the pass-catching options beyond 
 [D.J. Chark](https://www.nfl.com/prospects/d.j.-chark?id=32462018-0002-5599-1512-af2ae612016b) leave much to be desired, especially at tight end. And sadly, the defense is even 
 *more* in flux, with glaring issues at all three levels. It begins up front with 
 [Yannick Ngakoue](/player/yannickngakoue/2555421/profile), the 24-year-old QB hunter due to get PAID on the open market. Given Jacksonville's extremely tight cap situation, the 
 [Jaguars](/teams/jacksonvillejaguars/profile?team=JAX) will have to free up some money if they hope to keep Ngakoue in town, possibly on the franchise tag. 
 [Marcell Dareus](/player/marcelldareus/2495478/profile) seems like a prime candidate for restructuring/release, and fellow veteran D-lineman 
 [Calais Campbell](/player/calaiscampbell/744/profile) could be in the same boat. Meanwhile, the linebacker corps missed Telvin Smith (football sabbatical) and saw opening-day starters 
 [Myles Jack](/player/mylesjack/2555329/profile) and 
 [Quincy Williams](/player/quincywilliams/2562954/profile) finish the season on IR. Lastly, the cornerback position has gone from a strength to a weakness seemingly overnight, with the midseason trade of disgruntled star 
 [Jalen Ramsey](/player/jalenramsey/2555280/profile) and the poor play of former big-ticket free-agent acquisition 
 [A.J. Bouye](/player/a.j.bouye/2541162/profile), who might be due for a restructuring of his own. Is Jacksonville due for a resounding roster turnover, or can Caldwell and Co. get by with incremental changes? 
</content:power-ranking>

» Round 1: (No. 19 overall) Jeffery Simmons, DT, 9 games/7 starts.

 **» Round 2:** (51) 
 [A.J. Brown](/player/a.j.brown/2562238/profile), WR, 16 games/11 starts. 
 **» Round 3:** (82) 
 [Nate Davis](/player/natedavis/2562641/profile), OG, 13 games/12 starts. 
 **» Round 4:** (116) 
 [Amani Hooker](/player/amanihooker/2562666/profile), S, 16 games/0 starts. 
 **» Round 5:** (168) 
 [D'Andre Walker](/player/d'andrewalker/2562769/profile), OLB, 0 games/0 starts. 
 **» Round 6:** (188) 
 [David Long](/player/davidlong/2562799/profile), LB, 14 games/0 starts. 

Successful drafting, quite frankly, typically comes down to crushing your first few picks. Sure, found money on Day 3 is nice, but the core of most rosters is built through premium selections. And on that front, Titans GM Jon Robinson just knocked it out of the park. Viewed as one of the most talented players in this entire class at the outset of 2019, Simmons tore his ACL in February and consequently tumbled into the second half of the first round. The Titans pounced, despite not knowing what kind of production -- if any -- they'd get out of the disruptive DT. Amazingly, Simmons took the field in Week 7 and recorded a sack in his NFL debut. His production varied the rest of the way, but he showed plenty of game-wrecking potential. Then in Round 2, Tennessee might've landed the best pure playmaker in the entire draft. An absolute terror after the catch, Brown especially flourished once Ryan Tannehill took over under center, finishing with a 1,000-yard rookie campaign on just 52 catches, averaging a whopping 20.2 yards per reception with eight catches of 40-plus yards. This was no fluke. Fast, physical and a crisp route runner, Brown gives the Titans their first true WR1 since ... Derrick Mason? Lastly, Davis had a rough start to the season after missing a big chunk of training camp due to injury, but he showed promise down the stretch.

 **Combine/free agency focus:** After occupying the AFC South cellar at 2-4 midway through October, the 
 [Titans](/teams/tennesseetitans/profile?team=TEN) forged a magical run to the conference title game behind the metamorphosis of Tannehill and sheer force of 
 [Derrick Henry](/player/derrickhenry/2556075/profile). Good times! Here's the rub, though: Both players are now set to hit free agency at the absolute height of their value. It's hard to imagine the 
 [Titans](/teams/tennesseetitans/profile?team=TEN) letting either player walk, given how crucial a role each played in Tennessee's carefully curated identity this past season, but what's the best path forward? Franchise tag? Transition tag? Multi-year deal? Robinson has to figure this out, first and foremost. Two other notable free agents-to-be: right tackle 
 [Jack Conklin](/player/jackconklin/2555279/profile), who just enjoyed his best season since his All-Pro rookie campaign, and 
 [Logan Ryan](/player/loganryan/2540162/profile), one of the league's better slot corners over the past few years. In terms of what the 
 [Titans](/teams/tennesseetitans/profile?team=TEN) could be looking to bring in, via free agency and/or the draft: edge pressure. 
 [Harold Landry](https://www.nfl.com/prospects/harold-landry?id=32462018-0002-5599-235e-089f5c1b4e99) made a nice Year 2 leap, but Cam Wake's a likely candidate for release, given that he has an out in his contract, ended the season on injured reserve and recently turned 38 years old. 
</content:power-ranking>

» Round 2: (No. 34 overall) Rock Ya-Sin, CB, 15 games/13 starts; (49) Ben Banogu, DE, 16 games/0 starts; (59) Parris Campbell, WR, 7 games/3 starts.

 **» Round 3:** (89) 
 [Bobby Okereke](/player/bobbyokereke/2562416/profile), LB, 16 games/8 starts. 
 **» Round 4:** (109) 
 [Khari Willis](/player/khariwillis/2562602/profile), S, 14 games/9 starts. 
 **» Round 5:** (144) 
 [Marvell Tell](/player/marvelltell/2562757/profile), S, 13 games/1 starts; (164) 
 [E.J. Speed](/player/e.j.speed/2562955/profile), LB, 12 games/0 starts. 
 **» Round 6:** (199) 
 [Gerri Green](/player/gerrigreen/2562275/profile), edge, 0 games/0 starts. 
 **» Round 7:** (240) 
 [Jackson Barton](/player/jacksonbarton/2562624/profile), OT, 0 games/0 starts (now with Chiefs); (246) 
 [Javon Patterson](/player/javonpatterson/2562448/profile), C, 0 games/0 starts. 
 **Notable rookie FA signings:** 
 [Chase McLaughlin](/player/chasemclaughlin/2563203/profile), K, 4 games/0 starts (plus 7 games with 49ers/Chargers). 

One year after assembling the top rookie class in the entire league -- according to many, including my fine NFL.com ranking brethren -- Colts GM Chris Ballard's selections were more hit-or-miss. On the plus side, Okereke looks like a third-round steal. Joining a stout linebacker corps that already included Darius Leonard and Anthony Walker, the rookie only received a half portion of snaps, but the dynamic athlete made the most of them, particularly with his excellent work in pass defense. Given the vastly increased coverage demands of modern linebacking, don't be surprised if Okereke takes a greater share of Walker's snaps going forward. Leonard and Okereke could become a dominant second-level duo in today's pass-happy game. This rookie class also upgraded the third level of Indy's D, with Ya-Sin and Willis each assuming prominent roles in Year 1. Ya-Sin was touted as a highly competitive and physical corner coming out of Temple, and that's exactly what he was -- sometimes to a fault, as evidenced by a few flag-flooded games. But he improved over the course of the season, and the outlook's bright entering 2020. Meanwhile, the only thing that limited Willis' highly encouraging rookie season was a spate of injuries. As an enforcer safety, he nicely complements ballhawking center fielder Malik Hooker. And one more positive development: McLaughlin could be the successor to Adam Vinatieri. On the downside, it appears Indianapolis chose the wrong Buckeye burner at No. 59 overall. Yeah, Campbell deserves the opportunity to kick the injury bug and show what he can do going forward, but his former Ohio State teammate, Terry McLaurin, immediately displayed WR1 stuff despite playing in an impotent Redskins offense. Banogu had a chance to make an impact after Kemoko Turay suffered a season-ending injury in Week 5, but the TCU product couldn't supply the consistent edge pressure Indy desperately needed.

 **Combine/free agency focus:** Ballard clearly has a wandering eye when it comes to the game's most important position. Upon completion of the 7-9 campaign, the general manager wasted no time in publicly stating that 
 ["the jury's still out"](http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000001093889/article/ballard-jurys-still-out-on-jacoby-brissett-as-colts-qb) on quarterback 
 [Jacoby Brissett](/player/jacobybrissett/2555261/profile). Such talk makes it seem quite likely that the 
 [Colts](/teams/indianapoliscolts/profile?team=IND) will look to add some fresh blood to the QB room this offseason. Will Indy pounce on a signal-caller in the 2020 draft? With the team holding the 13th, 34th and 44th overall picks in April, 
 [Colts](/teams/indianapoliscolts/profile?team=IND) fans should keep an eye on the second- (Oregon's Justin Herbert, Utah State's Jordan Love) and third-tier quarterbacks (Washington's Jacob Eason, Georgia's Jake Fromm) who hit Lucas Oil Stadium for the NFL 
 [Scouting Combine](http://www.nfl.com/combine). Given that the 
 [Colts](/teams/indianapoliscolts/profile?team=IND) have close to the most cap space in the NFL, 
 [according to Over The Cap](https://overthecap.com/salary-cap-space/), Indianapolis could also explore what could be a decorated group of free-agent QBs. 
 [Philip Rivers](/player/philiprivers/2506121/profile)' name has predictably cropped up, given the 38-year-old's previous experience working with 
 [Colts](/teams/indianapoliscolts/profile?team=IND) head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni in San Diego. Whoever's at QB for this team in 2020 could have a gaping hole in the protection, as 
 [Anthony Castonzo](/player/anthonycastonzo/2495137/profile)'s contract is up and the stalwart left tackle is considering retirement. 
</content:power-ranking>

» Round 1: (No. 23 overall) Tytus Howard, OT, 8 games/8 starts.

 **» Round 2:** (54) 
 [Lonnie Johnson](/player/lonniejohnson/2562295/profile), CB, 14 games/7 starts; (55) 
 [Max Scharping](/player/maxscharping/2562726/profile), OT, 16 games/14 starts. 
 **» Round 3:** (86) 
 [Kahale Warring](/player/kahalewarring/2562771/profile), TE, 0 games/0 starts. 
 **» Round 5:** (161) 
 [Charles Omenihu](/player/charlesomenihu/2562324/profile), DE, 14 games/0 starts. 
 **» Round 6:** (195) 
 [Xavier Crawford](/player/xaviercrawford/2562515/profile), CB, 5 games/0 starts (now with Bears). 
 **» Round 7:** (220) 
 [Cullen Gillaspia](/player/cullengillaspia/2562906/profile), FB, 16 games/0 starts. 

After Deshaun Watson took a league-high 62 sacks in 2018, Houston clearly needed to upgrade its offensive line, and the Texans did just that with two of their first three picks. Widely panned as a desperate reach provoked by Philadelphia leapfrogging Houston on draft night to select more highly pedigreed OT Andre Dillard, Howard acquitted himself quite well, making the Professional Football Writers of America's All-Rookie Team. Injuries limited the Alabama State product to just eight games, but his continual development makes it appear that Houston has a true complementary bookend across from Laremy Tunsil. Scharping took some knocks early on -- no surprise for a rookie who moved to left guard after spending the bulk of his Northern Illinois career at tackle -- but he ended up starting 14 games and significantly contributed to Carlos Hyde's 1,000-yard campaign and Watson's improved protection. And the hulking 6-foot-6, 326-pounder finished the season on a high note, as Pro Football Focus gave him the highest pass-blocking grade of any offensive lineman for the Divisional Round. Johnson remains intriguing, given his ideal length and athleticism, but Year 1 featured some definite growing pains. Granted, he was put in some difficult positions, like drawing the Travis Kelce assignment in a playoff game. That didn't go well, but Johnson's certainly not the first cover man Kelce has overwhelmed.

 **Combine/free agency focus:** Having consolidated power like a Texas oil tycoon, head coach Bill O'Brien directed a number of trades to immediately address areas of need in 2019. And to BOB's credit, a number of those moves 
 [did provide positive returns](http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000001096783/article/bill-obrien-on-texans-trades-those-moves-did-pay-off). Unfortunately, the trade-a-palooza also took a healthy chunk out of Houston's future draft capital, beginning this year, with the most prominent casualty being the first-round pick that went to Miami in the Tunsil deal. Long story short: The 
 [Texans](/teams/houstontexans/profile?team=HOU)' most impactful offseason additions are likely to come from free agency. And on the bright side, Houston's sitting on more than $50 million in cap space, 
 [per Over The Cap](https://overthecap.com/salary-cap-space/). Granted, a healthy portion of that could go toward locking up Tunsil. Seeing how O'Brien and Co. shelled out two first-round picks and a second-rounder for the left tackle's services, it's nearly impossible to imagine him hitting free agency after the coming season. A long-term extension could be in the cards this offseason. Defensively, the 
 [Texans](/teams/houstontexans/profile?team=HOU) have needs from front to back. The first order of business should be re-signing 
 [D.J. Reader](/player/d.j.reader/2555388/profile). The former fifth-round steal has developed into one of the game's best nose tackles, setting him up for a substantial payday at age 25. Houston needs to add more horses to the pass rush, too, as 
 [Whitney Mercilus](/player/whitneymercilus/2533049/profile) will be joining 
 [J.J. Watt](/player/j.j.watt/2495488/profile) on the wrong side of 30 this summer. 
</content:power-ranking>

Follow Gennaro Filice on Twitter @GennaroFilice.

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