As we reach training camp and get closer to training camp, it’s time to take a look at the best players in each division by position. Here we will be looking at the AFC South All-Division Team. They have not really had any juggernaut teams in the division for a while, but they have still had two playoff teams each of the last four seasons, so there is plenty of good talent to go around. This article will focus on the 2021 AFC South offense.
2021 AFC South Offense: The All-Division Team
Quarterback: Ryan Tannehill (Tennessee Titans)
Note: If Deshaun Watson were not holding out and also having other off-the-field troubles, he would be listed here. However, due to his circumstances right now, we will run with the assumption that he will not be playing.
Before he arrived in Tennessee, Ryan Tannehill looked like a letdown as a former first-round pick. However, it’s become clear that it was the Miami Dolphins that were the problem rather than him. In 28 regular-season games, he’s passed for 55 touchdowns to 13 interceptions as well as having 11 rushing touchdowns, as well as helping his team to two playoff berths. While he may not be as critical to the success of his team as other quarterbacks, he’s still been playing extremely well and efficiently.
Running Back: Derrick Henry (Titans)
There is not much competing here – after rushing for over 2,000 yards with 17 touchdowns and becoming the NFL Offensive Player of the Year, Derrick Henry is pretty clearly the best running back in the AFC South right now (as well as arguably the entire league). A bit unusual in that he’s more of an old-school downhill runner that will quite literally run over you if you’re in his way – or just push you out of the way, as players like Josh Norman learned the hard way. He does have a lack of receiving utility, but it’s hard to get too worked up about that when you’ve averaged more than five yards a carry two years in a row and had a total of 3,567 rushing yards in two years.
Wide Receiver: A.J. Brown (Titans)
The rush of Titans players taking spots on the All-Division team continues. A.J. Brown has only been in the league two years but has already made an impression, having two 1,000-yard seasons in a row. He also had 11 touchdown catches in 2020. He’s both fast and strong, being arguably one of the better receivers in the league after the catch. Case in point – in 2019 he had a ridiculous average of 20.2 yards per catch. He got his first Pro Bowl nod last year as well, and if he keeps up this level of play, it will be the first of many.
Wide Receiver: Julio Jones (Titans)
One might ask how it’s possibly fair that Julio Jones and A.J. Brown are on the same team. Julio Jones is well-established as one of the best receivers in the NFL. Even though he missed almost half of the 2020 season, he still had 771 yards in nine games – thus he easily would have had another 1,000-yard season if he had stayed healthy. It will be interesting to see if Jones’s new team will target him more in the red zone than the Falcons did, giving that he certainly can make things happen all over the field.
Slot Receiver: Brandin Cooks (Houston Texans)
Brandin Cooks is the only other receiver in the South right now that had a 1,000-yard season last year. Though he keeps getting passed around from team to team for unknown reasons, he’s been a consistently good threat at wide receiver with 6,880 receiving yards in seven years. While he doesn’t have the ceiling of Brown or Jones, he’s still quite capable of making plays himself. He can play on the outside or the slot, but for the purposes of this lineup, we will put him in the slot while the two overall better receivers take the outside spots.
Tight End: Mo Alie-Cox (Indianapolis Colts)
To put it bluntly, there are extremely slim pickings in the AFC South at tight end. None of them even crossed 500 yards last year, and the best one from last year (Jonnu Smith) has left the division. When the other top choices this year are Anthony Firkser and Jordan Akins… that’s not good. Alie-Cox seems to have the most upside of the bunch right now, as he put up 398 receiving yards even while splitting time with Jack Doyle. And as a receiver, he has the advantage right now over the latter. But let’s face it, if this All-Division Team was actually getting fielded, the tight end position would not get nearly as many looks as the wide receivers.
Left Tackle: Laremy Tunsil (Texans)
This could have just easily gone to Eric Fisher (a new arrival to the Colts). However, one thing we’ll factor in here is the ability to stay healthy – and Tunsil has been a little better at that lately. Not to mention he has made two Pro Bowls in a row. And considering that the Pro Bowl is a popularity contest and the Texans were 4-12 last year, still managing to get the nod in 2020 is nothing to sneeze at.
Left Guard: Quenton Nelson (Colts)
Quenton Nelson is quite arguably the best lineman in his division. Drafted at sixth overall in 2018, he has certainly lived up to that lofty billing. He has gone All-Pro all three years of his career thus far – and it’s not hard to see why considering he has only allowed one sack over the last two years. Also, he hasn’t missed a single game yet, so he has been very reliable as well. There is not much negative to be said about Nelson, and he’s easily earned his spot on this list.
Center: Ryan Kelly (Colts)
Nelson isn’t the only All-Pro on the Colts offensive line. Kelly got that honor last year as well (albeit Second Team). Both Kelly and Nelson have been the most consistent pieces of the Colts offensive lately. The team has taken notice as well since they made Kelly the highest-paid center in the league this off-season with a four-year, $50 million deal.
Right Guard: Rodger Saffold (Titans)
This is probably the weakest area among the offensive line positions in the division. Saffold has one All-Pro appearance, but that was back in 2017 before he joined the Titans. Still, he was a good part of the offensive line that helped Derrick Henry rush for 2,000 yards. Also of note is Saffold’s reliability as of late – he has only missed three games since 2015.
Right Tackle: Braden Smith (Colts)
Newcomer to the Texans Marcus Cannon has a slightly better resume, but he sat out the 2020 season and it’s hard to know what to expect from at this stage in his career. Therefore, we will instead go with the right tackle of the Colts, who had an 80.1 Pro Football Focus grade and allowed zero sacks. He hasn’t gotten a Pro Bowl or All-Pro berth yet, but given how well the Colts offensive line has been doing, if he keeps doing his part, he should get there eventually.
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