The AFC South was one of the worst divisions in the NFL last season. They had three teams picking in the top 11 picks and the Jacksonville Jaguars, who won the division, were only 9-8. That being said, it’s a new year and free agency and the draft can change plenty of things for teams. The NFL has teams turn it around in a hurry every year. Will any of the teams in the AFC South be one of those teams? Here is contender or pretender, AFC South edition.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Contenders
The Jaguars were expected to improve on their 2021 season, which saw them picking first in the draft for a second straight season. I’m not sure many people saw them making the playoffs, winning a game and staying right in a game against the eventual champion Kansas City Chiefs. The Jaguars’ improvement started with the quarterback position, where Trevor Lawrence went from looking like a struggling rookie to one of the best young quarterbacks in the league. The Jaguars also added their other 2021 first round pick in running back Travis Etienne, who missed his entire rookie year because of injury. Also, in a move that was pretty universally disliked, the Jaguars paid big money for a receiver in Christian Kirk, and he did not disappoint. The biggest issue for the Jaguars offense moving forward is their offensive line. Talented right tackle Jawann Taylor signed a mega deal with the Kansas City Chiefs and their starting left tackle, Cam Robinson, is going to be suspended after testing positive for PEDs. Walker Little will likely step in at right tackle and rookie first round pick Anton Harrison will have to step in at left tackle. The offensive line will have to hold up for the Jaguars to be true contenders.
On defense, the Jaguars had the 12th best scoring defense while giving up the ninth most yards. Part of their scoring defense being so much higher was they were fourth in all of football in defensive turnover percentage. The Jaguars didn’t add much to the defense in the draft or free agency, so they are going to be looking for improvements from their young defensive leaders in Travon Walker, Devin Lloyd, Andre Cisco, and Tyson Campbell. As long as they continue to progress and the defense can be at least average, the Jaguars will continue to be in good hands.
Tennessee Titans: Pretenders
The Titans were the cream of the crop of the AFC South for the last few years before the Jaguars took that crown from them last year. The Titans’ offense was absolutely awful last year. They were the fifth worst in points scored, third worst in total yards, and the worst in percentage of drives they scored points on. Yes, I know Ryan Tannehill missed some time, but even when he played, he was well below average. Derrick Henry was still Derrick Henry, but that just isn’t enough. The Titans traded AJ Brown before last season instead of paying him, and it really hurt their offense. I’m a fan of Will Levis moving forward, but he isn’t making a big impact on that team this year and I expect the offense to continue to struggle. On defense, the Titans were better, but pretty middle of the pack. They were 14th in points allowed and 23rd in yards allowed. They were a little better in the percentage of drives that ended in a score at ninth, but they also finished near the bottom of the league with the ninth least takeaways. First round pick Peter Skoronski likely helps improve their offensive line, but they have a new starting left tackle in Andre Dillard, who we will have to keep an eye on. I don’t expect the Titans to be a bottom five team in the NFL or anything this year, but I don’t expect them to be a playoff team either.
Indianapolis Colts: Pretenders
The Colts were one of the worst teams in football this past year when many thought they could win this division. However, Matt Ryan was an absolute disaster and the backup quarterbacks that played weren’t any better. On top of that, star running back Jonathan Taylor missed six games due to injury. The Colts’ offense was tied with the Houston Texans for the second least amount of points scored and were the sixth-worst offense in terms of yards. They led the league in interceptions thrown and scored on the lowest percentage of drives in the NFL. They also had the highest percentage of offensive drives ending in a turnover. As if that wasn’t bad enough, their defense also gave up the third most points and the tenth most yards in the NFL. They were also tied for the ninth least number of takeaways in the NFL. The Colts had a very good draft and decent bounce back potential this season. They have a good offensive line and good weapons on offense. If top five pick Anthony Richardson or fan favorite Gardner Minshew can bring some talent and stability to the quarterback position, that offense could be at least middle of the pack, which is a huge upgrade. On defense, they also have more talent than they showed last season. Getting a full season out of Shaquille Leonard would certainly help, and 2021 first round pick Kwity Paye needs to continue to take a step forward. While I don’t think the Colts will be as bad as they were in 2022, they certainly aren’t a contender in 2023.
Houston Texans: Pretenders
Many of the same things I said about last year’s Colts team, I could say about last year’s Texans team. The Texans just weren’t good at the quarterback position, though Davis Mills was better than Matt Ryan was. The Texans were tied with the Colts for the second-worst offense in terms of points scored, and were the second worst in terms of yards gained as well. The Texans were the third worst team in terms of percentage of drives ending in a turnover. The Texans added several players in the draft on offense that should really help them improve. First and foremost was number two overall pick CJ Stroud. Stroud should step in day one and improve their quarterback position. On top of Stroud, they also upgraded their offensive line in the draft, adding Juice Scruggs to start at center. Mills didn’t have a ton of talent at the skill positions last year, but the Texans weapons will be upgraded this year. First, last year’s second round pick John Metchie beat cancer and will be making his debut for the Texans this year.
They also added veterans Robert Woods and Dalton Schultz in free agency and rookies Nathaniel Dell and Xavier Hutchinson in the draft. Those guys added to running back Dameon Pierce and you have a young and talented offense. On defense the Texans gave up the sixth most points and the third most yards in the NFL last year. They did have the fourth most takeaways in the NFL last season with 27, so there are some things to build on with that defense where rookie Jalen Pitre led the team with five interceptions. The Texans drafted the best pass rusher in the draft in Will Anderson when they traded up for the third pick. Add him to several free agents the Texans brought in on one-year deals and that defense should be improved. I do expect the Texans to look like a much improved team this year, but they are still a ways away from being true contenders.
For more NFL content, check out the links below!
–Contender or Pretender: AFC East Edition
–The Top 10 Running Backs In the NFL Post-NFL Draft