The AFC South has been a tale of teams with varying degrees of success in recent years. The Tennessee Titans made it all the way to the AFC Championship just a few seasons ago. The Indianapolis Colts have been right on the cusp of being a playoff team, but they cannot seem to find consistency at quarterback. The Houston Texans had a playoff team until Bill O’Brien made some bad decisions and Deshaun Watson decided he did not want to be a Texan anymore. The Jacksonville Jaguars have been one of the worst teams in the NFL outside of playoff success in 2017, which seems like a fluke at this point. This past weekend, each team attempted to gain some footing to lay claim to being the best team in the division. Below is a look at the 2022 draft grades for each team in the AFC South.
READ MORE: NFC South Draft Grades
2022 NFL Draft Grades: AFC South
Houston Texans: B+
The Texans had a rough go of things in the 2021 season. Though Deshaun Watson was still on the roster, he did not want to be and had some pending legal issues. The team had a first-time head coach in David Culley and utilized journeyman Tyrod Taylor and rookie Davis Mills at quarterback. In all, the team finished with a 3-14 record and in third place in the AFC South in 2021.
The Texans added nine players in this year’s draft. They had two picks in the first round and used them to add a player on each side of the ball. With the third overall pick, the Texans chose Derek Stingley Jr. Stingley who was one of the best defensive backs in this year’s class. The team also selected safety Jalen Pitre in the second round. These two additions will bolster a defensive backfield that was already ninth in interceptions last season.
Some good value picks made by the Texans were John Metchie and Dameon Pierce. Metchie could have been a first-rounder if not for an ACL tear he suffered in the SEC Championship game. Dameon Pierce averaged 5.5 yards per carry on just 329 carries in four years at Florida. Guard Kenyon Green was perhaps the best interior lineman in the draft and he will soon block for Pierce, as it should not take long for Pierce to establish himself in a less than stellar running back room. The team also added some depth on offense in Teagan Quitoriano and Austin Deculus. Quitoriano has great size but figures to be more of a blocking tight end. Deculus has a lot of work to do to make the roster but will provide depth for training camp.
Christian Harris is a fast and productive linebacker out of Alabama. He can play both inside and out and will bring youth to the linebacker room. The Texans chose Thomas Booker at 150th overall (fifth round). He will be a rotational player to start, but he is a big-bodied intelligent young man who could find a nice role for himself.
Indianapolis Colts: B
The Indianapolis Colts were a playoff team in 2020. But their fortunes changed, as they came up just short of the postseason in 2021. The Colts finished the season 9-8 after losing in embarrassing fashion to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the season finale. They would have gone to the playoffs if not for losing 26-11 in a road loss to the 2-14 (at the time) Jaguars. The Colts decided to part ways with Carson Wentz over the off-season and will now move forward with Matt Ryan under center.
Though the team did not have a first-round pick, the Colts made some good value picks in the second and third rounds. Their first three picks were offensive players. In the second round, the Colts chose Alec Pierce, a 6’3” 200 pound. receiver out of Cinncinati. Pierce should pair up well with Michael Pittman. The Colts came right back 20 picks later and selected Jelani Woods, a 6’7” tight end from Virginia. Add in the pair of offensive weapons with Bernhard Raimann and the Colts have made some solid additions to the offense. The team also selected a tight end named Alec Ogletree in the sixth round, who figures to be more of a project to start out.
The Colts selected four defensive players in the draft. In fact, the team gave up this year’s fifth-round pick and a third-round pick next year to select Nick Cross at 96th overall in the third round. Cross is a 20-year-old safety out of Maryland. He was the fastest safety prospect at the 2022 NFL Combine, boasting a 4.34 40-yard dash. Eric Johnson from Missouri State was the Colts fifth-round selection. He is a defensive tackle who should help provide depth after the team lost six linemen after the 2021 season.
The Colts selected Curtis Brooks and Rodney Thomas in the sixth and seventh rounds. Brooks is a defensive tackle out of Cinncinatti, so he will have a familiar face in Pierce. Thomas played for Yale and earned First-Team All-Ivy League honors for the 2021 season. The defensive back room is deep in Indianapolis and Thomas has some positional versatility that could come in handy for the Colts.
Jacksonville Jaguars: C+
The Jacksonville Jaguars were the worst team in the AFC South in 2020 and 2021. The Urban Meyer era was short-lived and an embarrassment for a franchise that has already suffered through years of disappointments. Yes, the team drafted quarterback Trevor Lawrence, but there was not much talent on either side of the ball. With the number one pick for a second straight year, the team is hoping to get out of the cellar of the NFL. The Jaguars started out with 12 picks, but through some trades only made seven selections this year. Out of their seven picks, the Jags selected five defenders.
Travon Walker was a bit of a surprise at number one overall, but there were rumors the team was interested in him for weeks. Walker did not have a lot of sacks in college, but he is a freak athlete who played all over the defensive line. The Jags intend to use Walker as an outside linebacker in their base 3-4 defense. Devin Lloyd was the team’s second pick, and they traded up to 27th overall to take him. Lloyd was perhaps the best linebacker in the draft, winning the Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year award in 2021. Chad Muma was selected in the third round, which was somewhat of a steal. He was one of three linebackers selected by the Jags this year, which is an overhaul in that positional group. Two defensive backs were chosen in the sixth and seventh rounds, which should provide some good depth.
The Jaguars added just two offensive players. While it is a bold strategy, it shows that the front office considers the moves they made in free agency to be sufficient to help Lawrence. Luke Fortner was the pick at 65th overall. He can play anywhere along the interior of the offensive line and it is likely he will replace Brandon Linder, who retired this off-season. The team’s other offensive pick was Snoop Conner. Conner is a 5’10” 220 pound running back out of Ole Miss. Conner will likely be a short-yardage back the Jags can employ while Travis Etienne and James Robinson fully recover from season-ending injuries.
Jacksonville definitely added some defensive talent in the draft but seemed content with the talent they acquired in free agency. Time will tell how well how the Jags fare.
Tennessee Titans: B
The Titans finished the 2021 season first in the AFC South with a record of 12-5. They were also the number one seed in the AFC. However, star running back Derrick Henry was not 100 percent and the Titans lost a close game with the Cincinnati Bengals. After losing in the divisional round the Titans had to watch from home after being the top seed in the AFC. They used eight draft picks this year to get stronger and attempt to win the AFC South for a third straight year.
The Titans started off with a surprise. They traded A.J. Brown to the Philadelphia Eagles for the 18th pick. This was a huge move. They then decided to draft Treylon Burks out of Arkansas. Burks was one of the elite prospects for this draft and ironically, his pro comp is A.J. Brown. The Titans now have a rookie receiver on a cheap deal, compared to Brown’s new contract of four years and $100 million.
The Titans also selected Malik Willis in the third round, Nicholas Petit-Frere in the third, Hassan Haskins and Chigoziem Okonkwo in the fourth, and Kyle Phillips in the fifth round. Willis looks to be the eventual replacement of Ryan Tannehill but he likely will sit for a bit. Petit-Fere and Haskins should shore up the offense and will help Derrick Henry. Haskins will be able to spell Henry when he needs to rest, and he is also a physical back. Okonkwo will start behind Austin Hooper and Geoff Swaim. Okonkwo has drawn Jonnu Smith comparisons and has great hands. Phillips was a fifth-round selection out of UCLA. He will be battling with about four others for the last three roster spots. Phillips has punt-return experience, so that should help his chances.
As for defense, the Titans chose Roger McCreary, Theo Jackson, and Chance Campbell. McCreary was a second-rounder out of Auburn who will likely play in the slot. He is strong in press-man coverage and a physical defensive back. He played against SEC talent in college and should make a good impact on the Titans defense. Theo Jackson and Chance Campbell will likely provide depth on the defense. Jackson has some position versatility and will provide special teams support. He is a hard worker who could slide into a bigger role. Campbell will battle for a spot in the linebacker room and will also be a special teamer if he makes the final roster.
The Titans biggest competition in the AFC South will be the Colts in 2022. They did some good work to fortify their team. However, Burks will have some big shoes to fill with Brown gone.