In this series, the Last Word on Sports NFL department will be selecting the best players in each division by position. Taking a look at the 2022 AFC South defenses, let’s take a look at the best of the best in the division…
2022 AFC South All-Division Team: The Defense
Defensive End: Jeffery Simmons, Titans
On the one hand, the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars both have mediocre to bad units. On the other hand, the Indianapolis Colts and the Tennessee Titans are ranked in the upper half of the league, according to The Football Database. Yet, overall, the division has talent at each and every defensive position.
In terms of defensive ends, the division has a wide range of talent. The best defensive end in the division is Jeffery Simmons. Coming off a 42 tackle, eight and a half sack year, and only 25, Simmons should be a force for offensive lines to recon with over the next decade or so. As a matter of fact, look out for Simmons to take the leap into ‘elite’ status by the season’s end.
Defensive End: Yannick Ngakoue, Colts
Since being drafted by the Jaguars in 2016, Yannick Ngakoue has spent time on the Minnesota Vikings, Baltimore Ravens, and Las Vegas Raiders before finally ending up in Indianapolis after an off-season trade. The 27-year-old is coming off a strong season where he tallied 10 sacks and two forced fumbles. While these are not superstar numbers they stand high over the likes of other players in the division like Folorunso Fatukasi and Rasheem Green.
Defensive Tackle: Deforest Buckner, Colts
The AFC South has no true sack machines at the defensive tackle position. However, the former number seven overall pick is the closest there is. Deforest Buckner had seven sacks last year, the next closest tally is Maliek Collins of the Texans with two and a half. Buckner has two Pro Bowls and one All-Pro nomination to his name. Buckner also has playoff experience, making it to Super Bowl 54 with the San Francisco 49ers. Buckner’s talent and experience will help the Colts this year in their attempt to return to the playoffs after a disappointing 2021.
Outside Linebacker: Harold Landry III, Titans
The division has plenty of young edge defenders who should be staples in their teams’ defense for years to come. Harold Landry is only 26 years old and has seen his skills improve massively from his rookie year and as a result, was elected to his first Pro Bowl in 2021. He put up an impressive 12 sacks and 51 solo tackles. The Titans made sure to secure Landry by signing him to a five-year, $87.5 million dollar deal this past off-season. Landry should continue to be a terror for opposing gameplans as his skills only improve.
Outside Linebacker: Josh Allen, Jaguars
There are plenty of talented Josh Allens in the NFL, but this Josh Allen takes the field opposite Landry as another talented youth. While his most impressive season may have been his rookie year in 2019, collecting 10.5 sacks and 31 solo tackles, Allen is still a formidable opponent to other offenses. This past year he put up seven and a half sacks as well as 46 solo tackles. This shift in numbers may have been to Allen being placed in a weak-side linebacker role instead of a traditional defensive end. Nonetheless, Allen is still an incredibly talented player who teams will continue to game plan against.
Linebacker: Darius “Shaquille” Leonard, Colts
Aside from a name change this past off-season, Darius Leonard has been the definition of consistent throughout his first four years in the league. His resume is already filled with three first-team All-Pro nominations, three Pro-Bowl visits, and a DROY award. Leonard had four interceptions and a league-leading eight forced fumbles during the 2021 season. Leonard’s role has shifted more away from an outside linebacker role, someone who can rack up sacks, and instead to a traditional central linebacker position. Leonard is the captain and de facto “quarterback” on the defense. Leonard is currently on pace for a Hall of Fame career and is one of the premier talents in the division and league.
Linebacker: Foyesade Oluokun, Jaguars
Behind Leonard, there is a steep drop in terms of talent. The likes of Zach Cunningham and Bobby Okereke just aren’t on the same level as Leonard. However, Foyesade Oluokun recently signed to the Jaguars is probably the closest proven talent. Oluokun burst onto the scene in 2021 with 102 solo tackles and a league-leading 192 combined tackles. The 2018 sixth-round pick earned himself a three-year, $45 million deal to play for Jacksonville during the off-season. While he is not Darius Leonard, Oluokun will be a contributing member of the Jacksonville defense.
Cornerback: Kenny Moore II, Colts
Kenny Moore is someone who is continuously underrated by the media and fans but is currently playing like a top 10 talent at his position. Moore was an undrafted free agent in 2017 and worked his way to his first Pro-Bowl appearance in 2021. This past year, Moore had four interceptions and only allowed six touchdowns while starting all but one of his team’s games. Moore is only 26 and can look forward to a very strong Indianapolis defense for the next few years.
Cornerback: Stephon Gilmore, Colts
Stephon Gilmore is nowhere near the player he was during his DPOY run in 2019. Injuries and age have slowed down his productivity and effectiveness against opposing receivers. His value is reflected by the relatively cheap two-year, $20 million dollar contract he signed with the Colts during the off-season. Despite this, Gilmore can still be a starter on most teams. On the Colts, he will be a nice complement to Moore and defenses will have a tough time finding areas to expose. Injuries could derail his season, but Colts faithful can look forward to one of the league’s best cornerback pairings.
Safety: Kevin Byard, Titans
In Kevin Byard’s second season with the Titans, he was nominated to his first All-Pro and Pro Bowl teams and was considered one of the league’s foremost safeties. However, his play dipped for the next few years until he returned to form during the 2021 season. Byard tallied five interceptions and 88 combined tackles. He was targeted 58 times during the season, yet only allowed a 51.7% completion rate. As a result, Byard earned another first-team All-Pro selection. Only 29 when the 2022 season begins, Byard is undoubtedly the best safety in the division and in contention for the most talented safety in the game.
Safety: Rayshawn Jenkins, Jaguars
In a similar situation to the linebackers, after Byard, there are not many great safeties. The next best choice in the division is Rayshawn Jenkins of the Jaguars. While he is not a fabulous player, he has been a solid starter for the Los Angeles Chargers and Jaguars over the past three years. Contributing 73 combined tackles and only allowing one touchdown, Jenkins is a more than serviceable player at the position.
Be sure to check out the 2022 AFC South All-Divison Offensive Team.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images