The Jaguars are young, talented, and finally ready for success in 2016.
By: Elias McMillan
Houston Texans – Houston had so many issues last season especially at the QB position but they were able to back their way into a playoff berth and the division title. They didn’t last long in the post season but the narrative for the offseason was set: for Houston to improve, they will need to upgrade the QB position in the offseason. Houston ponied up the money to grab Brock Osweiler away from Denver but it isn’t a sure thing that Osweiler will end up as a better option that what the Texans had a season ago. I don’t think Osweiler will ever be worth the money Houston decided to pay him but when he was in Denver, he was on a team with a decent supporting cast. Houston will have the tools on offense that could help Osweiler succeed. At WR, Houston has outstanding depth led by DeAndre Hopkins, who is great no matter who is throwing him the ball. But again, the depth behind Hopkins is pretty legit with veteran Cecil Shorts and younger guys like Jaelen Strong and rookies Will Fuller and Braxton Miller. That’s as good of a 5-set of receivers that you will find in the league. The Texans continued to be the big spenders in the offseason on the offensive side again when they brought in a new starting RB, Lamar Miller from Miami. Miller was a decent player for some bad Miami teams and he might be even better here in a new location. Houston spent the money to improve on the offensive side and now, they should be able to count on the defense being as good as it was a season ago. Everyone knows that the catalyst on this defense and the entire franchise is J.J. Watt. Watt might miss the beginning of the season but he’ll return and will continue to be an unstoppable force. Houston will return most of the cast that accounted for a run defense that ranked in the top 10 in the league. In at middle linebacker, Brian Cushing and Benardrick McKinney should be a good mix of veteran leadership and youth. Houston has been waiting forever for Jadeveon Clowney to turn into something after being selected first overall in 2014. Clowney has shown flashes of his college self during the preseason and the Texans defense is going to need him to be that guy once the regular season starts. Starting opposite of Clowney, Whitney Mercilus has been a solid pass rusher in this league. Houston’s pass defense was ranked 3rd in the league last season. A solid group at CB that includes veterans Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson leads the secondary. I don’t think Houston is among the elite teams in the league but I think they’ll be good enough to win this weak division again. Prediction: 9-7 (AFC South Champs)
Jacksonville Jaguars – The AFC South is not strong division but I think this will serve as an advantage for this young Jaguars team that is looking to make the jump in 2016. I like what Jacksonville has done in the offseason. They have a great group of young talent. And I believe that they will challenge hard for the AFC South title this year. On offense, they are led by young QB Blake Bortles who really isnt known as a great QB in this league yet. I don’t know if Bortles will put up monster numbers week after week but I do know that he has a great rapport with the two talented receivers on this team. Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns are no longer the best-kept secret in the league. They are among the tops when you talk about receiving duos in the NFL currently. Bortles also has a great set of TE to throw to in Julius Thomas and Marcedes Lewis. I really like that the Jaguars put in the effort in free agency to improve the offensive line and the running game. I think the RB duo of T.J. Yeldon and newly acquired Chris Ivory will help a Jaguars rushing attack that ranked near the bottom of the NFL a season ago. I’m really excited to see what this young defense does this year too. DE Dante Fowler had a “red shirt” rookie season, as he didn’t play at all due to injury. Fowler is now back at 100% and looks every bit the third overall pick that he was a season ago. In free agency, they brought in DT Malik Jackson who was a great player on the defensive line during Denver’s Super Bowl run. Jackson will bring the veteran experience to lead this young and talented group up front for the Jaguars. I really like the group of linebackers that Jacksonville has assembled. LB Paul Posluszny is now the seasoned veteran in the middle and he’ll be surrounded by two amazingly athletically gifted LB’s in Telvin Smith and rookie Myles Jack. The speed at the LB position between Smith and Jack will be unreal to see on Sunday’s this season. The Jaguars also brought in veterans to help improve the secondary. Safety Tashaun Gipson and CB Prince Amukamara will bring a wealth of experience to this young secondary. First round pick, CB Jalen Ramsey, might be a star in the making with the way he plays physical and attacks the football. There is a lot to be hopeful for when you look at the young talent on this Jacksonville defense. I don’t know if they’ll be able to win the division this year but I think this season the league will be put on notice by these young Jaguars. Prediction: 8-8
Tennessee Titans – Tennessee found their QB for the future last season. Now, they are looking to build around that guy in order to make a return to prominence in the NFL. There was a lot I didn’t like about Marcus Mariota going into his rookie season last year. But he proved his worth in 2015 and he’ll be the starter in Tennessee for a long time. He is a much better passer than I thought and his overall athleticism will carry him to success early in his career. I think Mariota could be even better in 2016. I really like how the Titans have invested into their offensive line in the last couple years. They spent another first round pick in that area in the offseason and now they have a group of 3 first round draft picks on that offensive line. This is much like what the Dallas Cowboys did in building their offensive line. I also have to say, that I like that they acquired a veteran Center to lead the group in Ben Jones. With the big bodies they have up front, this Titans team should be ready to be a force when running the football. They traded for RB DeMarco Murray who will be ready to return to his 2014 form. Murray was a failed experiment in Philadelphia and he really had little to do with his failure. Philadelphia didn’t have him in the right offense and he didn’t have the offensive line needed to succeed as a power runner. In Tennessee, Murray will have the big guys up front to create the lanes that will allow him to be successful. The Titans will also have outstanding depth behind Murray in Bishop Sankey, Dexter McCluster, and rookie Heisman Trophy winner, Derrick Henry. As deep the Titans are at RB, they are equally short of talent at the WR position. The WR group is one with extremely average and inconsistent veterans. Rookie Tajae Sharpe has been a standout in preseason and they brought in vet Andre Johnson to maybe provide some leadership. Mariota does have a pretty reliable option at TE in Delanie Walker. On defense, the Titans are led up front by Jurrell Casey who is well respected in league circles as one of the best in his position. In the outside pass-rushing department, the Titans will return veterans Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan. Also, keep an eye out for touted rookie Kevin Dodd. As guy who can create pressure in the backfield. The secondary will be a weak point for the Titans again in 2016. CB Jason McCourty is the leader of the group but there isn’t really much around him in this unit. Tennessee is short a few playmakers at WR and in the secondary but with that power running game and with what Mariota brings to the table, the blueprint for success is starting to take shape. Prediction: 7-9
Indianapolis Colts – Last season, the Colts were brought up as Super Bowl contenders in the preseason. They built up their roster with veterans and they thought that they could easily win this division. Instead, the Colts took a massive step back and I feel like everything was blamed on the injuries to Andrew Luck. But I think this team’s problems are much deeper than that. I think Andrew Luck, now back at 100%, will be his old self in 2016. Luck is a very good QB in this league but I don’t think he will be in a position to raise the talent of his teammates around him. One thing that the Colts have to improve on in 2016 is the play of the offensive line. This was a focus in the draft but who knows how long of a process this will take. The offensive line struggled at protecting their franchise QB and at run blocking. RB Frank Gore had his worst season in his first season in Indy. Gore has vowed to bounce back in 2016 but you have to consider that Gore is getting up there in age. I think the Colts needed to find a RB for the future this offseason but I don’t think they’ve done that. The Colts also have shaky depth at WR. T.Y. Hilton is the star of the group and Donte Moncrief serves as a decent possession receiver. But behind those two guys, Luck will be throwing to some guys who don’t have a lot of experience. On defense, the Colts will return a defensive line that was among the worst in the league at stopping the run. OLB Robert Mathis returns for another season as one of the best outside rushers in football. Last year, they paired him Trent Cole who went on to have his worst season as a pro. Cole was a great pass rusher in Philadelphia but I think this is one of those cases were age just catches up to aging players. The secondary will be led once again by CB Vontae Davis who is still very good. Behind him, the Colts brought in a couple of the laziest players in the league in Patrick Robinson and Antonio Cromartie. I don’t think Indy’s disappointing season in 2015 was an abnormality. Their roster just isn’t up to snuff and they wont be able to rely on Andrew Luck to be the save all. The Colts did a bad job in the offseason at getting younger at key positions and that will show up again in 2016. Luckily for them, the AFC South isn’t a strong division so I don’t see them completely bottoming out. Head coach Chuck Pagano is one of my favorites in the league and I hope he can survive another disappointing season. Prediction: 7-9