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Thursday, 7 March 2013

Filling The Holes: AFC South

Yesterday we ran through the AFC East teams and where they could be looking to deal with their roster holes. Today it's the turn of the AFC South to go under the microscope and have their weaknesses poked and prodded.

Remember these are just rough guides to where teams should be looking in free agency and the draft. Agree, disagree or just want to debate the specifics? Leave a comment or hit us up on facebook or twitter.

Houston Texans

Notable Free Agents: Connor Barwin (OLB), Shaun Cody (DT), Glover Quin (S)

Holes: Wide Receiver, Inside Linebacker, Defensive Back

Houston don't have a lot of their 2012 roster floating on the open market this season, but the ones they do would leave serious holes. Connor Barwin had a bit of a disappointing season sack-wise in 2012, but then again with JJ Watt around it's difficult to get to the QB before Watt's saluting the crowd. Even having drafted Whitney Mercilus last year they recognise Barwin's talents and are looking to re-sign him to a long term deal.

Houston's offense has often been limited by a lack of options in the passing game. Sure there's Andre Johnson, but you can't throw it to him all the time. A 2nd quality receiver is needed to really balance out their ground game and provide a well-rounded offense that can truly give the opposition fits.

On the other side of the ball the season-ending ACL injury to Brian Cushing exposed a horrible lack of talent and depth at the inside linebacker position, which was abused by New England in both the regular season and play-offs. As such they desperately need to bring in someone who can play in space and cover tight ends. It's far more likely that they'll find that player in the draft than in free agency. Someone like Kevin Minter from LSU has the athletic ability to dazzle if he can polish his reads and should be available at the end of the 1st round where Houston are picking.

They also need help at safety if they are to compete with elite quarterbacks. Glover Quin had a nice 2012 but they could have competition in signing him as the Jets are reportedly interested, and simply bringing him back won't provide an upgrade.

Houston don't need a lot to be competitive in 2013. But they do need some help to get past the elite AFC teams, and maybe a new quarterback soon.

Indianapolis Colts

Notable Free Agents: Austin Collie (WR), Donnie Avery (WR), Dwight Freeney (DE),  Jerraud Powers (CB)

Franchise Player: Pat McAfee (P)

Holes: Wide Receiver, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Pass Rush, Defensive Back

11-5 and a play-off berth was far more than anyone expected given the roster turnover and lack of Peyton Manning. But an easy schedule and some luck in games decided by less than a touchdown (not to mention Andrew Luck) got them there. But now the ChuckStrong ride is over many of the glaring holes in the roster are still there.

How the Colts go about plugging those holes will be interesting. A player like Barrett Jones, who can play anywhere along the offensive line, would be a very useful draftee at 24th overall. But with Dwight Freeney extremely unlikely to return to Indy they need a new edge rusher who fits in with the new 3-4 defense, which also requires more defensive lineman who can really excel in the system.

The Colts have a ton of cap space thanks to getting Dwight Freeney off their books. So veteran 3-4 players Richard Seymour and Cullen Jenkins or Glenn Dorsey who never lived up to the draft hype in Kansas could all be viable targets for a Colts team that will need a lot of improvement if they want to return to the play-offs.

Tennessee Titans

Notable Free Agents: Jared Cook (TE), Fernando Velasco (C), LeRoy Harris (RG), Will Witherspoon (LB)

Needs: Interior Offensive Line, Defensive Back

Chris Johnson will give the Titans a good base to build from offensively if he can carry his resurgent 2012 form into 2013, but they do need to get him some help along the offensive line. With Velasco hitting free agency the Titans are at risk of putting out an even shakier line than they had last year. Veteran Steve Hutchinson is no longer the force he used to be at left guard and Harris had a poor 2012 and shouldn't be returning to Tennessee.

Because of that I can see the Titans deciding that Chance Warmack is the player for them at 10. He would instantly give them a more fearsome ground game and have a hall of fame guard to learn from. While it is a little high for a guard it's vital that they give Johnson, who is their best player and paid like it, as good a chance to produce as possible.

In the defensive backfield the Titans really only have 1 reliable player in Jason McCourty, but there's plenty of talent available on the market this season, with veterans like Charles Woodson and LaRon Landry at safety as well as possible buy-low candidates like Brent Grimes at corner.

Of course the question in Tennessee is if Jake Locker really is the answer at Quarterback. He's made just 11 starts in his 2 years due to Matt Hasselbeck's overwhelming competence and injures. It's too early in his career to bring in competition yet and there are more pressing concerns on the roster, but more injures in 2013 or inconsistent play could result in the pressure growing not just on him but also head coach Mike Munchak.


Jacksonville Jaguars

Notable Free Agents: Brad Meester (C), Terrance Knighton (DT), Daryl Smith (LB), Rashean Mathis (CB)

Holes: Quarterback, Pass Rush, Defensive Back

The Jacksonville Jaguars aren't exactly a quality free agents first choice team, they might not even be the 31st choice. So how can the Jaguars rescue this sinking ship of a roster? Well the first thing to do is to draft well. Recent years haven't gone so well: Last year they took a punter 70th overall, turning down the chance to draft Russell Wilson, Nick Foles, Chris Givens and other productive players. In 2011 they moved up in the draft to get the disastrous Blaine Gabbert at 10, one spot above where 2012 Defensive Player of the Year JJ Watt was drafted.

This year they have the 2nd overall pick and plenty of holes to fill. Dion Jordan, a pass rusher from Oregon, looks like the guy at the moment as the Jags seek to get off the foot of the NFL sack table. But they could easily decide that Dee Milliner (CB, Alabama) or Sharrif Floyd (DT, Florida) would better fill the gaps in the roster and allow them to be more competitive.

There's also the big question mark under centre. It doesn't look like they're interested in Geno Smith at the top of the draft. But a mid-round signal caller such as the previously highly-touted Matt Barkley (USC) or maybe Mike Glennon (NC State) or Tyler Bray (Tennessee) who could push Gabbert and provide some competition and upside might be a good idea.

There's no way to turn the Jags into division contenders this year, so avoiding costly free agents would be wise, but they need depth across the board. That can be provided by players like Jerraud Powers, Kyle Arrington, Frostee Rucker and Andre Carter. If Maurice Jones-Drew can stay healthy and a nice receiver set of Justin Blackmon, Cecil Shorts and TE Mercedes Lewis can be used well then the Jags could hit respectability in 2013, but as ever a lot relies on good Quarterback play.


- Toby Durant (@TDonSport)
- The Pulling Linemen

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