Our Roster Reset series takes a division-by-division look at where things stand across the league heading into the 2019 NFL Draft. Marc Sessler examines the current makeup of the AFC South below.
It wasn't so long ago when the AFC South doubled as pro football's netherworld.
We wondered if a banged-up, tucked-away Andrew Luck would ever play again for the Colts, while the up-and-down Jaguars willingly attached themselves to the hyper-underwhelming Blake Bortles. In Houston, it was fair to wonder if coach Bill O'Brien would ever survive with the likes of Brock Osweiler, Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett at the controls, while the Titans floated from autumn to autumn as a punchless mirage.
Fast-forward to now, when all four clubs can be viewed as legitimate playoff contenders. Luck is coming off a glorious comeback campaign that saw Indy finally protect its star passer behind a stellar front five pieced together by heady general manager Chris Ballard. The Texans are the reigning division champions and still house a flock of stars around versatile, do-everything signal-caller Deshaun Watson.
The Jaguars replaced Bortles with Super Bowl hero Nick Foles, theoretically patching over the team's biggest weakness to pair with a still-frisky defense. The Titans, meanwhile, embark on a make-or-break season for quarterback Marcus Mariota, but wisely added veteran Ryan Tannehill as insurance while bolstering both sides of the ball with logical free-agent fits that give Tennessee one of the South's deeper rosters.
There's no weak link inside a division that feels destined to boil down to a Week 17 showdown for the title belt. In 2019, the South -- once a dangerous snoozefest -- is primed to give fans a thrill from A to Z:
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At last, the Jaguars are finished with the Bortles Experiment. Coming off a disappointing season stuffed with off-the-field in-fighting and on-the-field implosions, Jacksonville went out and did what everyone expected them to do: lasso Philly-area demigod Nick Foles to breathe new life into the quarterback position. A dash of skepticism makes sense, as Foles -- furnished with a franchise-record $50.125 million in guarantees -- lasted only nine games as a starter for the Rams in 2015 before being benched and has never started more than 11 games in a single campaign. Durability and spotty play were past issues, but the Jaguars are banking on Foles operating closer to the magic-man levels he produced in back-to-back postseasons for the Eagles. The question is how Jacksonville's run-heavy personnel adapts to an RPO-laced, pass-happy offense under new play-caller John DeFilippo -- after all, that's the scheme Foles thrives in -- but the Jaguars had no choice but to reboot the roster where it mattered most.
Not much to pick from for this category. The Titans released starting guard Josh Kline, while Colts fill-in road-grader Matt Slauson retired. The Texans waved farewell to a cadre of defensive backs in Tyrann Mathieu, Kareem Jackson and Kevin Johnson, while the Jaguars trimmed the books to make room for Foles. Jacksonville did so by cutting Jackson, who would have cost the squad $13 million in his age-29 season. Jackson gives the Eagles a solid run-stuffer who can rattle the pocket, but the Jaguars still boast Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue and Marcell Dareus along the line of scrimmage.
He didn't come cheap at $9 million per year, but Humphries gives the Titans an emerging target who served as a reliable presence in Tampa Bay. Fresh off a career-best season of 76 grabs for 816 yards and five scores for the Bucs, Humphries slides into a starting slot role betwixt Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor in Tennessee. Look for an under-the-microscope Mariota -- coming off a disappointing 13-start season that saw him post just 11 touchdown throws -- to lean on Humphries from start to finish.
Houston Texans: The Texans patched over their secondary departures by adding safety Tashaun Gipson alongside corners Bradley Roby and Briean Boddy-Calhoun. What the Texans failed to do was revitalize an offensive line that added only hot-and-cold tackle Matt Kalil after allowing Deshaun Watson to absorb more sacks than any passer league-wide in 2018. NFL Network draft analyst Charles Davis recently mocked Oklahoma offensive lineman Cody Ford to the Texans at No. 23, while colleague Lance Zierlein sees Houston grabbing Mississippi tackle Greg Little. Both prophecies make plenty of sense.
Indianapolis Colts:Colts Faithful: Sit back and trust the maneuverings of Chris Ballard, the patient general manager who warned us all along he would ignore fan-fueled temptation to chase after Antonio Brown or Le'Veon Bell. The Colts made one big move with the addition of still-productive pass rusher Justin Houston, but otherwise prioritized signing their own -- cornerback Pierre Desir and defensive lineman Margus Hunt -- before setting their sights on the draft. Armed with three of the top 59 picks and nine selections overall, Ballard will continue to develop one of the AFC's top rosters with young, homegrown talent.
Jacksonville Jaguars: With their new quarterback under lock and key, the Jaguars now turn to the draft with needs on both sides of the ball. It's telling that five of NFL.com's mock drafters see Jacksonville snatching up Florida bookend Jawaan Taylor with the seventh overall selection. Continuing to find talent along the defensive line makes sense, as does finding a playmaking tight end for Foles. Geoff Swaim and James O'Shaughnessy are a far cry from Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, the Philly duo that helped make Foles a must-watch sensation during his last run with the Eagles.
Tennessee Titans: The Titans quietly pieced together a solid free-agency haul, led by Humphries and the addition of reliable guard Rodger Saffold. Tannehill gives Tennessee security -- and possibly an upgrade -- if Mariota again refuses to stay healthy, while the ageless Cameron Wake adds a dose of pass-rushing help after Brian Orakpo's retirement. General manager Jon Robinson has built a rugged roster, but more edge-rushing help and depth on the interior of both lines figure as draft needs. Don't be surprised if the Titans also eye tight end help with Delanie Walker entering his age-35 campaign.