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2014 NFL Draft Preview: AFC South
By Matt Horkman

Indianapolis Colts

Recent Selections: OT Anthony Castonzo, DT Josh Chapman, TE Coby Fleener, WR T.Y. Hilton, QB Andrew Luck, & OLB Bjoern Werner

Recap: Entering his third season in 2014, Luck is steadily establishing himself as one of football’s premiere quarterbacks. In two seasons with him under center, Indianapolis is 22-10 in the regular-season and 1-2 in the postseason. The franchise is in good hands. The 2012 draft saw the Colts add three other starters besides Luck. Hilton stepped up after Reggie Wayne tore his ACL midway through the season. His improving rapport with Luck will make the Colts a more dangerous offense heading into 2014, especially with Wayne returning. In addition, the team likes what they have at tight end with Fleener and Dwayne Allen. The latter had a solid rookie season, but played just one game in 2013 because of injury. He expects to return strong this season. Defensively, the Colts remain a work in progress. Getting some kind of production from Werner would help them take a step in the right direction.

Best Scenario: S Lamarcus Joyner & ILB Shayne Skov

Draft Preview: The Colts need to improve their defense if they’re to compete with Denver and New England in the AFC. They don’t have a first round pick this year because they traded it to Cleveland for running back Trent Richardson, but this is a deep draft, and general manager Ryan Grigson has done a fine job of putting together a playoff caliber team. Joyner and Skov are two of this draft’s most underrated prospects. Standing just 5-foot-8, Joyner doesn’t have the elite measurables to be a day one pick, but his instincts and fundamentals are off the charts. He’ll be an excellent value pick on day two and could develop into a shorter version of San Diego safety Eric Weddle. Nearly three years ago, Skov tore his ACL, MCL and fractured his fibula. It was a devastating injury that setback his development. The injury had a clear impact on his 2012 play, but as time wore on, he began to flash the athleticism that made him a prospect capable of rivaling Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley. The combination of Joyner and Skov could do for Indianapolis’ defense what Hilton and Luck have done for the offense.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Recent Selections: WR Justin Blackmon, S Jonathan Cyprien, OT Luke Joeckel, WR Ace Sanders, & WR Cecil Shorts

Recap: Perhaps no team (maybe the Raiders) has as many needs as Jacksonville does. That’s a result of poor talent evaluation from the previous regime. You can argue quarterback Blaine Gabbert, the No. 10 overall pick in the 2011 draft, was the biggest bust in team history. Blackmon, meanwhile, is serving an indefinite ban from the NFL for violating the league‘s substance abuse policy three times. He can reply for reinstatement this season, but it is unlikely the Jaguars will have him for all of 2014. Current general manager David Caldwell has a lot riding on his 2013 draft class. The team believes Joeckel, after finishing last season on injured reserve with a broken ankle, will emerge as a franchise left tackle. They also think highly of Cyprien and Sanders.

Best Scenario: OLB Khalil Mack & QB Teddy Bridgewater

Draft Preview: The Jaguars could take Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel with the No. 3 overall pick. They’ve certainly done their homework on him, as their general manager, head coach, and offensive coordinator all attended his pro day. Nevertheless, all the teams (including Jacksonville) picking in the top five that need a quarterback should stay true to their board and draft the best player available. Mack has the measurables, production, and work ethic to emerge as a star. He is the type of talent you build your entire defense around, regardless of scheme. After selecting Mack or one of the other top talents available, Jacksonville can turn its attention to finding a signal caller. In my assessment, Bridgewater is one of the 10 best players available. His stock is falling because he lacks the elite measurables that teams want in their quarterbacks. His tape is outstanding, though. The Jaguars will have to jump into the backend of round one to draft him, as the Texans are strong contenders to draft him at the top of round two. Jacksonville can get as high as the mid 20s if they packages together their second and third-round picks.

Houston Texans

Recent Selections: WR DeAndre Hopkins, OLB Whitney Mercilus, OLB Brooks Reed, & DE J.J. Watt

Recap: Based on his impact, it feels as if Watt has been in the league for six or seven years, yet he's entering just his fourth season. Regardless, it is clear the Texans did well by making him the No. 11 pick in the 2011 draft, especially as several teams passed on him in favor of a quarterback. Other than Watt, however, general manager Rick Smith has seen more misses than hits lately. Both Reed and Mercilus start, but neither is irreplaceable. The Texans used a second-round pick on cornerback Brandon Harris, who is yet to start a single game in his three-year career. Hopkins had a fine rookie season, though, especially if you take into account the quarterback issues the Texans faced in 2013.

Best Scenario: DE Jadeveon Clowney, QB Teddy Bridgewater, & OT Joel BitonioJadeveon Clowney

Draft Preview: Walking away with Bridgewater and Clowney would be nothing short of spectacular for the Texans. Bridgewater lacks a wow factor, which may explain why he may fall out of the first round. If you were to grade his attributes on a scale of one to ten, he’d receive lots of sevens and eights. Teams are looking for the next Peyton Manning, not the next Matt Ryan. Surround Bridgewater with high-level talent, which the Texans already have, and he could lead them to the playoffs in 2014. Drafting Clowney No. 1 overall seems like a forgone conclusion at this point. He is the drafts most freakish talent. With Clowney and Watt, Houston could potentially have the best inside and edge rushers of the next 10 years playing on the same team. Finally, Bitonio is a good third-round target. He will push for playing time at right tackle or even kick inside and play guard.

Tennessee Titans

Recent Selections: OLB Akeem Ayers, DT Jurrell Casey, WR Justin Hunter, QB Jake Locker, OG Chance Warmack, & WR Kendall Wright

Recap: The jury remains out on Locker, who finally began to show flashes of his first-round talent in 2013 before injuring his foot in week 10, ending his season early. New head coach Ken Whisenhunt has played his cards closed to the vest regarding Locker’s future, but it was telling that the franchise declined to pickup a fifth-year option on his rookie contract. As a result, Locker is in a contract year. Despite the shoddy quarterback situation, Whisenhunt walks into a better than advertised job. Ayers and Casey are very good starters on an underrated defense. Wright is coming off the best season of his career, so pairing him with Hunter gives Tennessee two young, exciting wide receivers. The team also expects Warmack to improve in year two. 

Best Scenario: OLB Anthony Barr & QB Zach Mettenberger

Draft Preview: With two picks in the first two days, Tennessee should target a defensive player to build their new defense around, and a quarterback to push Locker. They can find the latter in round two with Mettenberger. The LSU signal caller has the arm strength and toughness to develop into a quality NFL quarterback. A quarterback guru like Whisenhunt could further enhance his skills. The Titans could also target Manziel, though I’m not sure his brash personality meshes well with Whisenhunt’s style. The most likely first-round option is Barr, who could be the cornerstone of their defense for the next several years.

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