AFC South: Texans look for breakthrough after promising draft

NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks is handing out grades for each team following the 2009 NFL Draft. Check back daily as he breaks down each team, division by division.

After watching the draft come and go, it is time to assess how each team fared in the league's biggest event. From the acquisition of talent to the execution of various draft strategies, teams were graded on their overall ability to play the chess game that emerges on draft weekend.

Let's take a look to see how the teams from the AFC South performed during the 2009 draft:

Gary Kubiak entered the draft looking to add a few pieces to a team on the verge of making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. With an offense that ranks among the top five already in place, the Texans focused their efforts on retooling a defense that has Pro Bowl-caliber players on every level (DE Mario Williams, LB DeMeco Ryans and CB Dunta Robinson) but has yet to put it together as a unit.

In the first round, the Texans picked up a versatile "do-it-all" linebacker in Brian Cushing. The USC standout is not only capable of playing multiple positions, but he gives the team a gifted playmaker on a unit loaded with talent upfront. As the "Sam" linebacker in the Texans' defense, Cushing will cover tight ends and act as an additional rusher in some of the team's five-man pressures.

The Texans' front seven picked up another versatile weapon with the selection of Connor Barwin in the second round. The former Bearcat is a two-way player (he played three seasons as a tight end at Cincinnati before moving to defensive end during his senior season) with outstanding athleticism and movement. Keeping his versatility in mind, the Texans will deploy Barwin as a hybrid edge rusher in their nickel defense.

In addition to adding to their front, the Texans used three draft picks (Glover Quin, Brice McCain and Troy Nolan) to fortify their secondary. While each has the potential to land a key role as a rookie, the one to watch is Nolan. The Arizona State star has outstanding ball skills and could step into the team's nickel corner position with a strong training camp.

While much of the draft was used to address the Texans' defense, the team added a quality pivot in Antoine Caldwell and upgraded their depth at tight end with the selections of Anthony Hill and James Casey. Though their tight end situation appears to be in great shape with Pro Bowler Owen Daniels, the addition of two athletic pass catchers gives Kubiak the option of fielding a more diverse aerial attack.

The Texans have been on the cusp of reaching the postseason the past two seasons, but their talented rookie class may give the team what it needs to engineer a major breakthrough.

While the departure of Tony Dungy means the team is heading in a new direction under new head coach Jim Caldwell, the steadfast approach of general manager Bill Polian ensures the team will continue to rank among the league's elite due to his uncanny ability to identify hidden gems in the draft. The astute personnel man put his skills on display again by plucking an unheralded-but-talented draft class in 2009.

In classic Polian style, the Colts took Donald Brown in the first round to solidify one of the team's biggest weaknesses (the Colts ranked 31st in rushing offense) while also providing insurance against Joseph Addai's oft-injured status on game day. While some found it surprising that the Colts bypassed Chris "Beanie" Wells, the addition of Brown to their lineup is sensible due to his running style and natural fit in their offense. He excelled in a zone-based running game at Connecticut and figures to have instant success as a rookie runner in the Colts' offense.

With their most pressing offensive need out of the way, the Colts were able to turn their attention toward shoring up their notoriously leaky defense. Fili Moala gives the team a hulking interior player with the size and strength to hold the point against the run. Though the former Trojan isn't expected to compile gaudy statistics, his ability to occupy double teams inside will allow the Colts' undersized linebacker to run freely to the ball.

Jerraud Powers, the team's third-round selection, is ideally suited to be a nickel or dime defender in the Colts' sub-packages. Though Powers lacks ideal size, his footwork and ball skills give him a chance to be productive as a first-year player.

Of the Colts' remaining picks, Austin Collie could emerge as their biggest draft surprise. The BYU star is an outstanding pass catcher with sneaky speed and quickness. As a potential slot or third receiver, Collie could step into a vital role as a first-year player.

The Colts' drafts typically lack sizzle, and this year's class is no exception. But based on the team's exceptional track record, it would not be a surprise to see one or two rookies emerge as key contributors on another Colts' playoff team.

After dramatically falling from the ranks of the elite a season ago, Jack Del Rio vowed to return the Jaguars back to their roots by fielding a tougher, more physical squad. With that in mind, Jacksonville used the draft to jump start its rebuilding efforts.

In the first round, the Jaguars bypassed two potential No. 1 receivers (Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin) to select a highly regarded offensive tackle (Eugene Monroe) with the No. 8 pick. The Jaguars' offensive line was ravaged by injuries a season ago and the team was unable to get production from a running game that ranked second in the NFL in 2007. Even though the team signed Tra Thomas in free agency, the offensive line needed an infusion of young talent.

The Jaguars continued retooling their offensive line in the second round with the selection of Eben Britton. The Arizona standout was rated as a first-round prospect in many war rooms, so picking up another top-notch tackle was a major coup. Britton will team with Monroe to anchor the Jaguars' offensive line for years to come.

With their offensive line fortified, the Jaguars addressed their defensive woes with back-to-back picks in the third round. Terrance Knighton steps into the rotation at defensive tackle and gives the team a big body that was desperately needed in the middle of the defense.

Small-school standout Derek Cox will serve as a valuable sub-defender in the Jaguars' nickel defense until he develops into a full-time player at corner or safety. The team had targeted Cox as a potential contributor, so it was willing to part with its seventh-round pick and a second-rounder in 2010.

The team's adoration for small-school players continued in the seventh round with its selection of Liberty's Rashad Jennings. The big back with nimble feet surprisingly fell to the latter stages of the draft, but he could become a key contributor as Maurice Jones-Drew's backup.

The Jaguars inexplicably lost their way last season but are determined to get back to the smash-mouth style that led to 11 wins in 2007. With a solid draft that included key additions to the offensive and defensive lines, the Jaguars are one step closer to returning to their winning ways.

The Titans have been one of the best teams at developing their own talent. Their home-grown roster keyed the team to a league-best 13-3 record a season ago. However, the team entered the draft with a few holes that threatened to cripple its title hopes in 2009. With shoring up those needs as the primary objective, the Titans took full advantage of the 11 picks they had on draft day.

The Titans finally addressed their wide receiver situation by taking a pass catcher in the first round for the first time since 1998 (Kevin Dyson) with their selection of Kenny Britt. The Herculean playmaker gives Kerry Collins the big target the Titans have been missing for years in the passing game. Although Britt doesn't figure to be a first-year starter with Justin Gage and Nate Washington in the fold, the Rutgers standout will play a pivotal role as one of the outside receivers in the Titans' three-receiver sets.

Jared Cook, the team's third-round pick, will join Britt as a key contributor in the passing game. The ultra-athletic tight end from South Carolina has the speed to serve as a deep threat down the middle of the field and will become a fixture in the team's multiple tight end formations. In addition, he gives the team an insurance policy against Bo Scaife's impending free agency (Scaife will be playing under a one-year franchise tender in '09).

With those factors in mind, it is not a surprise that the Titans moved up in the third round to grab the talented playmaker with the 89th pick.

The Titans attempted to address the huge void in the middle of their defense by selecting Sen'Derrick Marks in the second round (No. 62). Although he lacks the girth and athleticism of his predecessor (Albert Haynesworth), the Titans envision Marks as a possible contributor as part of a rotation at the spot. With a motor that runs low at times, Marks will need to pick up his game to give the Titans some of the playmaking they will need to replace on the inside.

The Titans took advantage of a bevy of second-day picks to nab quality backups and special-teamers. Of the crew that the team picked in the latter stages of the draft, the one to watch is Ryan Mouton. The former Warrior is a scrappy cover man with outstanding speed and ball skills. His game and demeanor is reminiscent of Pro Bowler Cortland Finnegan, and Mouton is an ideal fit in the Titans' secondary as a potential nickel corner.

The Titans rode an unheralded roster to an AFC South title last season, but they will need key contributions from their rookie class to earn another division crown in 2009.

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