Skip to main content

Roster Reset: Colts look for challengers in AFC South

The AFC South gets no respect, and even less attention. When Roster Reset assignments are being doled out, this is the division that gets picked last. Here's to hoping that the Jaguars, Titans and Texans step up to prove us wrong because otherwise this is set up to be the worst division in football.

There is some reason to believe that things could turn around. Houston won nine games last season. Jacksonville and Tennessee each took some smart calculated chances on younger free agents. But while the teams chasing the Colts search to find or develop their Andrew Luck, the Colts attacked free agency with aggression to support the real thing. The gap is only widening at the top of the AFC South.

Our Roster Reset series ranks each team by the strength of their roster after free agency.

  • *

1. Indianapolis Colts

Why the Colts stand apart: General manager Ryan Grigson knows that winning a poor division isn't enough. The Colts haven't lost a division game since 2012, but the Colts' roster had more holes than perhaps any playoff team a season ago. Grigson attacked the offseason like the Colts were coming off six wins and his job was on the line. Perhaps it is; the pressure to capitalize on Andrew Luck's prime (starting now!) is immense. Just ask Jim Mora about his time with Peyton Manning.

Grigson replaced his biggest mistake (Trent Richardson) with a runner who defines trustworthy (Frank Gore). Andre Johnson should ably replace the Reggie Wayne we saw back in 2012. Trent Cole was a quality addition to the team's pass rush, with role players like Todd Herremans and Kendall Langford adding bulk to the Colts' lines. Luck and some of his receivers are just starting their careers: Donte Moncrief, T.Y. Hilton, Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener. But this is not a young team; it's a group heavily reliant on veteran free agents. Grigson needs to draft better on defense so he doesn't need to spend so heavily each offseason.

What's next?

» Sign T.Y. Hilton long term: It sounds like the Colts will wait until 2016 to give Andrew Luck big money, so why not lock up his top receiver first? Hilton, Allen and Fleener were all drafted together, so the team will need to prioritize soon. Hilton should come first.

» Bulk up both lines: The Colts still need to get tougher up front on both sides of the ball. It should be a focus on draft day.

» Get Robert Mathis healthy: The biggest Colts addition this season could be the healthy return of Mathis. Then again, it's hard to count on a 34-year-old coming off a torn Achilles' tendon.

2. Houston Texans

Why the Texans are closer to No. 3: The Texans closed the gap in the standings last season, but they are still in transition under coach Bill O' Brien. They are closer to Jacksonville and Tennessee than being a true title contender. Re-signing Ryan Mallett and bringing in Brian Hoyer is an uninspiring band-aid to the team's quarterback question. Watching Andre Johnson head to the Colts hurt the fan base deeply, not to mention the Texans' offense. That's not to say it was a lost offseason.

Receiver Cecil Shorts and safety Rahim Moore were good pickups for their prices, and Vince Wilfork can help the team's run defense in a limited role. This is a squad without enough weapons or reliable players in the passing game, so they will have to be great everywhere else to make up for it.

What's next?

» Continue to build up wide receiver group: The Texans need weapons, whether it's at wide receiver or tight end. In a passing league, they risk being punchless.

» Beef up at linebacker:Brian Cushing and Jadeveon Clowney are big injury questions. Akeem Dent could be forced to have a big role inside. The team needs more options on the inside and more pass rushers on the outside to make Romeo Crennel's defense work.

» Keep expectations reasonable: It's a lot harder to go from good to great in the NFL than it is to bounce back from an embarrassing season. The Texans improved their win total by seven last season, but a slide back under .500 is more likely than another step forward with this roster.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars

Why Jaguars fans can smile: It's Year 3 of the coach Gus Bradley and general manager David Caldwell regime, and they have steadily re-made a poor roster. They didn't get all the big names they wanted in free agency -- with Devin McCourty and Randall Cobb going elsewhere -- but Julius Thomas, Jared Odrick, Davon House and Jermey Parnell were young free agent signings with upside.

Thomas is the X-factor here. Blake Bortles needs help badly from his offensive line and his weapons. Thomas is talented, but also could drive Peyton Manning crazy at times. Odrick is a great versatile piece, and House could be a quality starter. The Jaguars projected bigger roles with their free agent signings, paying starter prices to players who weren't every-down players at previous stops. Caldwell knows he needs to get bang for his buck with this crop, and show his rebuilding project is starting to bear fruit.

What's next?

»Do something with Marcedes Lewis: If they can't find a taker in the draft, perhaps Lewis will take a pay cut to reduce his $8.2 million cap.

»Find help at running back: The Jaguars have two good backups in Denard Robinson and Toby Gerhart. They still need a starter.

» Work on Bortles' bad habits: Last year's No. 3 overall pick did a lot of things right despite his ugly numbers last year. But his mechanics and decision-making still need a lot of work in the offseason under new offense coordinator Greg Olson.

4. Tennessee Titans

Why the Titans are last: This is one of the most talent poor rosters in the league. Of the eight players with the highest cap figures on the team, only safety Michael Griffin has made the Pro Bowl. (And his best days are behind him.) That's why it was worth a shot for Tennessee to take a chance on linebacker Brian Orakpo, who has upper shelf talent if he can stay healthy. Bringing back underrated pass rusher Derrick Morgan at a reasonable rate was a win and gives the team a chance to build an identity with a deep pass rush.

Safety Da'Norris Searcy and cornerback Perrish Cox are also young players coming off quietly impressive seasons. These are the type of no-nonsense moves that winning teams make to build up their middle class. Now they just need to find stars.

What's next?

»Find a quarterback: We're not quite buying all the Zach Mettenberger love. With the No. 2 pick in the draft, the Titans could possibly end up with Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota or Philip Rivers. It's time to be aggressive.

»Add to the backfield:Bishop Sankey needs help, and it's not going to come from Shonn Greene.

»Sprinkle Dick LeBeau's magic dust: The Titans don't have an awful defensive roster; they just lack a cohesive guiding principle to the entire team. Perhaps the addition of LeBeau with old friend Ray Horton will create something more memorable from this vanilla squad.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast breaks down the latest moves and debates if Michael Bennett should change his tune on Jimmy Graham. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content