2020 AFC South Breakdown by Position: The Offense

During the month of August, the Last Word on Sports NFL department will be breaking down every division in the league by position. This article contains a position-by-position 2020 AFC South breakdown for the offenses. The breakdown will contain “the best” at each unit followed by “the rest” in descending order.

2020 AFC South Breakdown by Position: The Offense

Quarterbacks

The Best: Houston Texans

The Rest: Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars

Deshaun Watson is the best quarterback in this division for the sole reason that he is his entire team. There is not another quarterback in this division that does more for his team than Watson. He is proven to himself to be among the best young signal callers with a career completion percentage of 66 percent and 9,716 yards passing. Watson will once again have to put his team on his back and save Bill O’Brien’s job after trading away DeAndre Hopkins

Philip Rivers is hands down walking into the best situation he could have found in his late career. Regardless if Rivers gets that elusive Super Bowl victory, it goes without saying that he is a future Hall of Famer. The Colts are one of the better built teams in the NFL that has the right pieces to make a serious run at the post season. Elite offensive line play that is amplified by a fantastic run game that will keep the pressure off Rivers in the pocket. 

Down in Tennessee Ryan Tannehill is seeing a bit of a career renaissance of sorts after replacing Marcus Mariota. He was just as much a part of the Titans late year surge as much as star running back Derrick Henry. A career low in interceptions and career high 70 percent completion percentage kept the ball out of opposing teams hands and in the arms of King Henry. 

The Jacksonville Jaguars might be ranked last in this breakdown but don not let that take away from what they might have uncovered. Sixth round pick Gardner Minshew was thrust into the spotlight after quarterback Nick Foles was injured in the first game. He then proceeded to have a better season than anyone could have predicted. Minshew showed that with the proper pieces in place he has the ability to lead an NFL franchise.  

Running Backs

The Best: Indianapolis Colts

The Rest: Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars 

Most NFL teams nowadays use a two back system when it comes to the running back position. Indianapolis has three running backs on the roster that have the ability to get hot at any moment. Incumbent starter Marlon Mack is coming off a sneaky 1,000 yard rushing season. Incoming rookie Jonathan Taylor from early camp reports appears to be everything he was at Wisconsin and more. Third string running back Nyheim Hines is a burner that could take advantage of Rivers’ passes out the backfield like Darren Sproles used to. 

The Titans would be number one on this list if it were not for the lack of talent behind Henry, who was the number one rusher last season. If Tennessee were to lose Henry for any extended amount of time the offense as a whole would come to a halt. Granted he is normally the one inflicting pain but it is a cause for concern nonetheless. 

Houston gets the nod at number three in this list for David Johnson‘s addition alone. If not for him potentially returning to the complete back he was a few years ago they would be last. Behind Johnson is career accent piece Duke Johnson who also landed in Houston via trade. Never the star of the show but a good compliment to a real number one back. Both should give Watson relief in the backfield but do not expect much from this combo. 

Running Back Leonard Fournette was released by the Jaguars after an off-season of conflict and not living up to expectations. This leaves a giant hole in the offense with Chris Thompson left to shoulder the massive load. The rebuild is definitely on and the Jaguars are unlikely to win this coming season. Ryquell Armstead should challenge Thompson for the starting position in 2020 with his versatility as a receiver out of the backfield.

Wide Receivers

The Best: Houston Texans

The Rest: Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars 

The Texans potentially have one of the more explosive wide receiving groups in the AFC south. Will Fuller, when healthy, is a touchdown threat on almost every play with his elite speed. Not the most sure handed receiver of the group but the most lethal from a defensive point of view. Both Randall Cobb and Brandon Cooks are savvy route runners who know how to get open and fast. Houston will surely miss DeAndre Hopkins in the offense this season but big plays are still there to be made. 

Indianapolis would be first on this list if it were not for a lack of real experience in this group overall. T.Y. Hilton is the leader of the group and is going into a contract year with the Colts. He has made it clear that he wants to be a Colt for life but talks have stalled since the pandemic. Rookie Michael Pittman Jr. looks to be the big downfield target Philip Rivers usually had in his past. Parris Campbell has garnered some off season buzz but Zach Pascal should get more touches. 

A.J. Brown had an inconsistent but overall good season for a rookie and looks to be the new number one. Former first round pick Corey Davis has yet to live up to expectations but going into a contract year might light a fire in him. Adam Humphries is mostly a safety valve option out of the slot for Tannehill in pressure situations. Being a run first team helps disguise the lack of explosiveness from this trio. 

There really is not a whole lot to get excited about when looking at the Jaguars receiving room. D.J. Chark appears to have what it takes to be a number one for Minshew after a big 2019 season. Chris Conley is a borderline number two who will probably lose some touches to rookie receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. as a result. Dede Westbrook is a decent third for this group but isn’t really a threat downfield or at the goaline so his impact is truly limited. 

Tight Ends

The Best: Indianapolis Colts

The Rest: Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Titans, Houston Texans

Philip Rivers does a lot of things well and one of those is making use of his tight ends. Jack Doyle takes over the starting position for the Colts and will be that dependable target Rivers loves. Behind Doyle is the oft injured Trey Burton who should see most of his time split out wide to get him in space. Mo Alie-Cox has a lot of potential to be a good back up to Doyle but is still a very raw product. 

With the loss of Delanie Walker this off season Jonnu Smith steps into the starting role with big shoes to fill. Last season the Titans really manufactured touches for Smith making use of his versatility on screens and hand offs. He is a dynamic play maker for the Titans that Tannehill should find early and often on play action passes. 

Between the Jaguars and the Texans it is truly a toss up as to who has the advantage. For the Jaguars they are putting their hope into Tyler Eifert who finished his first full 16 game season in 2019. Durability is the main issue for Eifert who has all the measurables and talent to be a top tight end in the NFL. Jay Gruden makes heavy use of his tight ends and Eifert’s toughness will be tested. 

Darren Fells resigned with Houston this off-season after securing seven touchdowns at age 33. Never a star in the league by any means and is really a backup disguised as a starter at this point. Houston has the worst tight end group in the division and possibly the NFL. 

Offensive Line

The Best: Indianapolis Colts

The Rest: Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars 

There is no doubt that the Colts have the best offensive line in the South if not the NFL overall. The star of the line is All-Pro Guard Quenton Nelson who leads Indianapolis’s top ten ground game. After years of terrible development along the line Colts general manager Chris Ballard has built a solid unit. The Colts biggest question mark being left tackle Anthony Castonzo due to age is a sign they have done a good job. 

Much of Derrick Henry’s success can be attributed to the solid play of the offensive line. Losing right tackle Jack Conklin would be a larger loss if it were not for veteran Dennis Kelly. He filled in nicely for Conklin when he was injured and would bring continuity to this unit. Left Tackle Taylor Lewan sets the tone for the offense and center Ben Jones has become elite at his craft.  

For once there will be no big changes along the offensive line for the Texans and that’s truly an improvement. Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil and Tytus Howard hold down the bookends for the Texans. Unfortunately what holds this unit back is the middle of the line as all three are questionable starters. Center Nick Martin has improved slightly in pass protection though still has lapses from time to time. Guards Max Scharping and Zach Fulton have potential to be good if they really focus on their fits along the line. 

Another unit that is not going to see any changes this year is the Jaguars to much disdain from the fan base. Head Coach Doug Marrone is confident that this group of guys can improve and prove people wrong. Left tackle Cam Robinson is finally healthy this season and appears to have cleaned up his questionable footwork. Inside Andrew Norwell and Brian Linder have improved this off-season in strength and quickness. Jawaan Taylor is the third returning starter for this line and should be much improved holding down the right side.

Be sure to check out the 2020 AFC South Breakdown for the defense and special teams!

Image: Embed from Getty Images


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.