The AFC South is experiencing some offseason deja vu. The Jacksonville Jaguars are introducing a new head coach and hold the No. 1 overall pick, the Houston Texans have a new head coach as well and then the Indianapolis Colts may be looking for a new quarterback. It’s just like last year. The Tennessee Titans were the favorites to win the division in 2021 and they capitalized, clinching the division crown while going 5-1 against their rivals.
The Titans should again be the favorites to win the division in 2022, but they have needs of their own to fill. Below, we will discuss areas of need for all four teams in the AFC South, take a glance at their cap situations and see who our CBS Sports NFL Draft experts have them taking in the first round of the upcoming draft.
Note: Salary cap figures courtesy of Over The Cap.
Needs: CB, OL, WR
The Texans could stand to upgrade everywhere this offseason. I won’t list quarterback as a top need for Houston just yet, as new head coach Lovie Smith does have confidence in Davis Mills. The Stanford product did some good things in his rookie season, but obviously the front office wants to see improvement in 2022. As for the Deshaun Watson situation, Smith said it will be resolved in time.
The wide receiver position is one the Texans need to address, as Chris Conley, Chris Moore and Danny Amendola are free agents. Not only is this a spot where depth is needed, but Houston would be smart to find a true No. 1 outside threat that could help the team get a better look at its young quarterback.
Defensively, linebacker and cornerback stand out. Kamu Grugier-Hill, Neville Hewitt and Christian Kirksey are all free agents, so it will be interesting to see what Houston does there. But the Texans could absolutely upgrade at cornerback, and I think this unit as a whole would take a step forward with a true No. 1 outside defender.
The offensive line is another spot where Houston could upgrade. This week I brought up Dallas Cowboys offensive guard Connor Williams as a potential free-agent target, and several mock drafts have the Texans taking an offensive lineman such as Evan Neal if the versatile Alabama product falls to them. Houston has a good left tackle in Laremy Tunsil, but there has been some noise about a potential trade. Marcus Cannon should be slated to start at right tackle again, but at 33-years-old and with him entering the final year of his deal, who knows what will happen.
CBS Sports draft projections: (No. 3 overall):
Alabama OL Evan Neal (Ryan Wilson)
Michigan DE Aidan Hutchinson (Chris Trapasso)
LSU CB Derek Stingley Jr. (Josh Edwards)
Oregon DE Kayvon Thibodeaux (Kyle Stackpole)
Projected cap space: $16,628,359 (No. 16 in the NFL)
Needs: QB, LT, WR
The Colts are undecided on keeping quarterback Carson Wentz, as ESPN reported that they’re likely to trade or even release him. After watching his performance in the regular-season finale against the Jaguars, I could see the Colts being aggressive and trying to find a new signal-caller this offseason. Indy doesn’t have a first-round pick to take one of the top quarterbacks in this class, but there are other intriguing options to consider. Could the Colts trade for Russell Wilson? Could they hit the free agent market and sign someone like Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota or even Mitchell Trubisky? People are down on the quarterbacks available in free agency, but I don’t think that’s fair. Winston looked good playing in Sean Payton’s system before tearing his ACL, Mariota seems rejuvenated and ready for another chance at a starting spot — plus potentially playing in his old division could be motivating — and then Trubisky is a former No. 2 overall selection who said he’s had his eyes opened by his one year as a backup in Buffalo.
The Colts need to again address the left tackle position, and this is where they could look to strike in free agency. Indy took a flier on the veteran Eric Fisher last year even though he was coming off of an Achilles injury. He registered a 68.2 PFF grade, but received a grade of 61 in pass blocking. It’s possible the Colts could re-sign him and give him another shot at holding down the left side in 2022.
If the Colts don’t splurge on a left tackle in free agency, they could do so on a wide receiver. T.Y. Hilton is again a free agent, and so is Zach Pascal. Michael Pittman is a legitimate starter on the outside, but imagine if Indy added another. The Colts have the cap space to chase someone like Chris Godwin or Allen Robinson if they want. Why not throw their hat into the ring?
While I’m focused on offense when it comes to the Colts, that doesn’t mean the defense is perfect. A starting cornerback would be welcomed and so would a safety. The pass rush could be seen as a need, but I’m expecting Kwity Paye to take a solid step forward in Year 2.
CBS Sports draft projections: (No first round pick)
Projected cap space (via Over The Cap): $35,847,327 (No. 7 in the NFL)
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Needs: WR, OL, TE
Trevor Lawrence’s rookie season was underwhelming, but it was also unfair considering everything he had to deal with. Imagine going back in time and telling him that Urban Meyer would be fired before the season even ended, and that he would finish out his first year in the NFL playing in a stadium full of clowns. I see Lawrence as someone with great potential as a franchise quarterback, and that means I’m going to build around him.
The Jaguars need to add another starting receiver. I think D.J. Chark would benefit from a change of scenery, and he’s going to have the opportunity to chase that. Marvin Jones is a sure-handed veteran and Laviska Shenault Jr. is a Swiss Army knife, but the Jaguars need another legitimate starter so Lawrence has options. Speaking of options, why not add a tight end? I like Dan Arnold, but Doug Pederson signing Zach Ertz makes too much sense. Tight end isn’t a major “need” per se, but I’d like an addition. Imagine giving Lawrence three talented wideouts, two receiving tight ends and a couple of versatile running backs. That sounds fun.
Let’s talk about the offensive line. This unit could and should be upgraded, but there are also decisions to be made. Left tackle Cam Robinson is a free agent, left guard Andrew Norwell is a free agent, and so is right guard A.J. Cann. Will all three be back? Many think Jacksonville will take an offensive lineman with the top pick, which leads me to believe at least one of those three starters will be playing elsewhere in 2022.
The Jaguars defense was not as bad in 2021 as many probably thought, as it ranked 20th in the league in total yards allowed per game (353.1 yards). Obviously that’s not “good,” but it was better than teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs. The team has a couple starters who are looking for new deals, and improvements could be made in a couple spots. Still, with where the Jaguars are entering this season, I’m more focused on offensive identity and facilitating a second-year success story with Lawrence.
CBS Sports draft projections (No. 1 overall):
N.C. State OT Ikem Ekwonu (Ryan Wilson)
Alabama OL Evan Neal (Chris Trapasso, Josh Edwards and Kyle Stackpole)
Projected cap space (via Over The Cap): $56,822,427 (No. 2 in the NFL)
Needs: CB, WR, TE
The Titans actually have several needs this offseason. Depending on what happens in free agency, pass-rusher, offensive line and maybe inside linebacker could become big needs as well. Some will say quarterback is a top-three need for Tennessee, but in my mind Ryan Tannehill is the guy this year. Now, let’s see what we can do to help him out.
Tennessee went out and traded for Julio Jones last offseason, but the move didn’t pan out the way many thought it would. In 10 games, he caught 31 passes for 434 yards and just one touchdown that came in the final game of the regular season. There were a couple highlight-reel plays and a couple games where he shined, but Jones could be a post-June 1 cut. Even if Jones is on roster in 2022, the Titans could get better at wide receiver. Nick Westbrook-Ikhine and Chester Rogers stepped up at times, but there’s a free agent or rookie out there who could contribute more.
Another addition that would help Tannehill out in a big way is signing a receiving tight end. Anthony Firkser was given a shot at the starting spot and didn’t exactly thrive, catching 34 passes for 291 yards and two touchdowns. Chasing a top free-agent target like Dalton Schultz or Evan Engram would be great, but with Tennessee’s cap situation, I don’t see tight end being a position it splurges on. Thankfully, there are many legitimate starting tight ends looking for new homes. I think a flier on someone like O.J. Howard would be great, but a free agent I’ve been talking about for the Titans is Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku. He’s athletic, definitely can catch and is an underrated blocker. I say he’s someone who would greatly benefit from switching teams.
Finally, I think the Titans have some work to do in the secondary. Tennessee had the eighth-worst pass defense in the NFL last year, which is not something you would expect from the No. 1 seed in the AFC that had a dominant defensive front. Janoris Jenkins made some plays, but he’s a cut candidate. Kristian Fulton impressed in 2021, but the depth of the position and who will start opposite of him are still question marks. Some believe Caleb Farley will return next year and immediately be a legitimate starter, but to me, that first-round pick is a gamble until proven otherwise. The Virginia Tech product fell in the draft due to injury concerns. He missed the majority of the offseason/preseason while recovering from back surgery, and then tore his ACL after playing in just three games. The Titans should make multiple additions at cornerback.
CBS Sports draft projections (No. 26 overall):
Minnesota OL Daniel Faalele (Ryan Wilson)
Georgia LB Nakobe Dean (Chris Trapasso)
Northern Iowa OT Trevor Penning (Josh Edwards and Kyle Stackpole)
Projected cap space (via Over The Cap): $-8,321,578 (No. 26 in the NFL)