With the position breakdown series in full swing, the next division under the microscope is the AFC South. Here’s an offensive position-by-position breakdown of the AFC South, with “the best” at each position followed by “the rest” in descending order.
2016 AFC South Breakdown by Position: The Offense
The Best: Indianapolis Colts
The Rest: Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans
When healthy, Andrew Luck runs away with this category. Luck has played all 16 games every season of his career, with the exception being last year when he only played in seven due to injury. In 2014, Luck threw for 4,721 yards and 40 touchdowns against only 16 interceptions. It would be easy to forget last season where the former Stanford Cardinal only played seven games due to a lacerated spleen. With a healthy Luck in 2016, look for the Indianapolis Colts to have their eyes set on the division title.
Brock Osweiler could make a solid case for second place due to his small sample size. Osweiler made himself a household name during the 2015 season in which he started eight games in place of the injured Peyton Manning. Osweiler threw for 1,927 yards, ten touchdowns and six interceptions. He signed with the Houston Texans during the 2015 free agency period.
Blake Bortles and Marcus Mariota both have tons of potential and tremendous upside. Both are young quarterbacks looking to make an impact in the NFL. Bortles is entering his third NFL season, and Mariota is entering his sophomore season.
The Best: Houston Texans
The Rest: Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts
Lamar Miller is going to take the cake on this one. Miller had a very productive season last year for the Miami Dolphins. The former Miami Hurricane ran for eight touchdowns and caught two more. Miller ran for 872 yards to go along with 375 receiving yards. Miller is the favorite in Houston and is seen as an upgrade from the injury-plagued Arian Foster, who signed with the Dolphins in the off-season.
Frank Gore returns in his role for the Indianapolis Colts. Gore is entering his 12th season in the NFL, a majority of which were spent with the San Fransisco 49ers. Gore is a close second in this category due to his ability to stay consistent throughout his NFL career when healthy. Look for him to have numbers similar to his 1,000-plus yard seasons in the past.
DeMarco Murray is a new name to the AFC South. Murray was traded to the Titans in the off-season from the Philadelphia Eagles, where he was unable to thrive in the offensive scheme. Look for him to be more productive in Tennessee alongside rookie Derrick Henry.
Chris Ivory seems to be the new starter for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Ivory signed with the Jags in the off-season, bumping T.J. Yeldon to the number two spot on the depth chart. Ivory is coming off a career season last year with the New York Jets. He rushed for over 1,000 yards and had a career-high eight touchdowns.
The Best: Houston Texans
The Rest: Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans
DeAndre Hopkins is hands down the best receiver in the division, and is arguably one of the best wide receivers in the entire NFL. Hopkins had his breakout season last year for the Houston Texans, securing 111 receptions for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns. All were career highs. Look for these numbers to increase in 2016 with Brock Osweiler behind center. Early reports from training camp are that the relationship between the wide out and his quarterback is strong.
Allen Robinson is also a favorite in the division. Robinson had a standout year in 2015 with the Jacksonville Jaguars, with 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns in his sophomore season. Look for him to be a major target for Blake Bortles and the revamped Jags roster.
T.Y. Hilton is another name to watch. While he’s no stranger to fans, it’s easy to get lost in such a stacked division when it comes to wide receivers. Hilton had a 1, 000-plus yard season last year despite not having Andrew Luck behind center. He was still able to make plays with Matt Hasselbeck throwing the ball for the injured Luck. With a healthy Luck, look for Hilton to be targeted frequently and to match or increase last season’s numbers.
Rishard Matthews was a new acquisition for the Titans this off-season, having played his previous four seasons with Miami. Matthews had career high numbers last year and looks to increase them alongside sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota.
The Best: Tennessee Titans
The Rest: Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts
Delanie Walker runs away with this one as the only tight end to have more than 50 receptions or 500 receiving yards. Walker put up career numbers last season, posting 94 receptions, 1,088 yards, and six touchdowns. He was one of Marcus Mariota’s primary targets and will expect to get even more looks as the quarterback out of Oregon finds his groove in his second season.
Julius Thomas out of Jacksonville gets mentioned as the second place tight end although he had less than half as many receptions and receiving yardsas Walker last season. Thomas was also getting acclimated in his first season with the Jaguars. He played in only 12 games. Look for the newly bolstered Jags offense to put up much bigger numbers in the 2016 season.
C.J. Fiedorowicz of the Houston Texans and Dwayne Allen of the Indianapolis Colts finish out the group with 17 and 16 receptions respectively. Both finished the season with one receiving touchdown. Fiedorowicz didn’t get a lot of looks due to the quarterback carousel in Houston and Allen wasn’t targeted nearly as much with Andrew Luck injured and Matt Hasselbeck filling in.
The Best: Houston Texans
The Rest: Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans
The Texans offensive line has a lot of depth, but some of their starters haven’t played their best football recently. Duane Brown peaked in 2011 and 2012 and had his worst season in 2015. Derek Newton also took a step back after an excellent 2014 season. Although they lost their best interior lineman, Brandon Brooks , they added Jeff Allen via free agent signing, and Tony Bergstrom, which could more than make up for it.
While the Indianapolis line has received a bad reputation in recent years, there is a reason to be optimistic about it going forward. Jack Mewhort’s move to guard was a big success, and Anthony Castonzo has been an above-average left tackle. Joe Reitz has generally played well, and Denzelle Good could push for a starting job after playing well on a small sample size as a rookie. Hugh Thornton’s poor play holds the line back some, and typically centers will grade poorly as rookies—even if they become great later in their careers.
The offensive line was the weak point of the Jaguars’ offense in 2015, and that will likely hold true again in 2016. There is some reason to believe it could improve going forward, though. Kelvin Beachum was a free-agent addition from Pittsburgh who missed 2015, but at his best, can be among the top left tackles in football.
Last season, the Titans played 28 different offensive-line combinations, second-most only to the Patriots. Tennessee has spent first-round picks on linemen in three of the last four seasons, so if any franchise has a lot of potential that hasn’t been fully reached yet, it’s located in Nashville.