Tuesday, April 13, 2010

AFC South Draft Outlook

With less than two weeks until the draft, we're doing our best to inform you, the reader, of what to look forward to on draft day. Why is the draft such a big deal? It's like Christmas in April. We're also working on setting up a CoverItLive Blog with some fellow bloggers for during the draft, so feel free to drop by and chat with us!

For the AFC South preview, we got some big-time help from Jonathan Loesche, Editor-In-Chief of BigCatCountry.com. Huge thanks to him for answering our questions!

2009 Record: 14-2
Lost Super Bowl XLIV 31-17 to New Orleans

Draft Picks: 31 (1-31), 63 (1-31), 94 (3-30), (4-31), (5-31), (7-31), (7-33), (7-39)

Despite losing Anthony Gonzalez to a knee injury early last season, Peyton Manning was still able to lead his team to a near-perfect record and to the Super Bowl. Indy could use an upgrade on the interior of their offense and defensive lines and at cornerback. The could also use some help at DE. Freeney is a beast, but he gets injured a lot. And where was Robert Mathis when Freeney went down? He did a disappearing act along the likes of Big 12 teams in BCS bowls. And that's about as far as we can go to say good things about the Colts.

2009 Record: 9-7

Draft Picks: 20 (1-20), 51 (2-19), 81 (3-17), (4-20), (5-19), (6-18), (6-28), (7-20)

Houston finally got over the hump this year with their first winning season in team history. They play in the toughest division in football and have the problem of never being good enough on defense. On one hand, they still can't beat Peyton Manning, and constantly are looking to improve their secondary and pass rush to deal with Manning. On the other hand, you have teams like Tennessee and Jacksonville that are built around running the ball. The Texans have spent first round draft picks on defensive players 4 of the last 5 years with Brian Cushing (LB, 2009), Amobi Okoye (DT, 2007), Mario Williams (DE, 2006) and Travis Johnson (DT, 2005). Johnson is now in San Diego and Okoye has been a disappointment.

The Texans could also use a stud running back like Ryan Matthews to be the workhorse in the backfield. As Houston figured out last year, Steve Slaton is good as a situational back, but he can't be asked to shoulder the load for the whole season. Houston has one of the top 2 receivers in the league in Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub had a phenomenal year at QB last year. Houston could use another weapon at WR to supplement Johnson. Besides RB, look for the Texans to focus mainly on continuing to beef up their defense this year in the draft.

2009 Record: 8-8

Draft Picks: 16 (1-16), 77 (3-13), 97 (3-33), (4-13), (5-17), (6-16), (6-38), (7-15), (7-34)

Love or hate Vince Young, you have to agree on one thing: the guy's a winner. Tennessee was down and out at 0-6 this year and Young led the team to an 8-2 finish, almost carrying them to the playoffs. Tennessee still has one of the top running games in the league with Chris Johnson carrying the load. They still lack a true #1 receiver, but after taking Kenny Britt in the first round last year, there is hope that he could develop into one. Tennessee's real holes are on the defensive side of the ball, which should be where they spend most of their draft picks. DE Kyle Vanden Bosch left via free agency for Detroit and Jevon Kearse is no longer "The Freak" that he used to be. The Titans need an elite pass-rusher on defense, and guys like Derrick Morgan (Georgia Tech), Brandon Graham (Michigan), or Jason Pierre-Paul (South Florida) are all very probably first round targets. In later rounds, a replacement for LB Keith Bulluck will likely be targeted.

2009 Record: 7-9

Draft Picks: 10 (1-10), 74 (3-10), (4-10), (5-12), (6-11), (6-34)

Jonathan Loesche, Editor-In-Chief of BigCatCountry.com, was kind enough to answer some questions about the Jags.

1. What do you see as the biggest need(s) for Jacksonville to address this offseason?

The biggest need for the Jaguars is the pass rush. For the 2nd straight year, the Jaguars registered less than 20 sacks and came dangerously close to setting a NFL record for sack futility. In a division with Peyton Manning and Matt Schaub, that's not a good thing.

To go along with that, the safety position needs to be addressed. After an excellent rookie season, Reggie Nelson has steadily declined to the point where every Jaguar fan doesn't even need to see a replay as to why that 50 yard pass just happened. 9 times out of 10 #25 was out of position or beat.

Interior lineman are the next major need. Brad Meester has been a 10 year rock at center for the Jaguars, but age caught up with him last year. Meester ranked as the 33rd best center in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus, and considering there are only 32 starting centers, that's Jamarcus Russell bad at the position.

Finally, I think quarterback has to be addressed at some point by the Jaguars. David Garrard hasn't lived up to the monster deal he signed following his one year wonder year in 2007, and while he hasn't played exceptionally bad, he's been a middle of the road QB that's not worth nearly that kind of money.

2. Have they addressed any of these so far in Free Agency? Which do you think are better addressed in the Draft?

The Jaguars signed Aaron Kampman to bolster the pass rush. Whether or not Kampman can overcome age and his ACL is anyone's guess, but the Jags medical staff has a good track record on injury diagnosis so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

If the Jaguars want to address the pass rush via the draft, they have a few routes to go. Derrick Morgan has been the trendy pick for the Jaguars at #10, but I think the Jags will go elsewhere. Morgan had a very unimpressive Pro Day and has some work ethic issues, things new GM Gene Smith has been a big frowner on.

Others thing the Jags may go with USF DE Jason Pierre-Paul, but that seems like the kind of swing big pick Gene Smith has said he wants to avoid, considering what it did to previous Jaguar draft classes (I'm looking at you Matt Jones.)

If the Jaguars trade back in the first round, a popular guy on BCC has been UCLA DT Brian Price. Paired with Terrance Knighton, Price could get favorable matchups on the inside that would allow him to get into the backfield.

With the secondary, the favorite scenario has been for Eric Berry to drop to #10, but that looks very unlikely at this point. The Jaguars seem to be interested in Texas S Earl Thomas and he certainly has the ability to come in and start right away. Florida corner Joe Haden is another guy to look out for.

As for lineman, there are a few options here. The Jaguars could take one of the offensive tackles such as Anthony Davis and shift them to right tackle, kick last year's 2nd rd pick Eben Britton to guard, and shift Uche Nwaneri to center. Another option for the Jaguars is to trade down in the first round and grab either Idaho guard Mike Iupati or Florida C/G Maurkice Pauncey.

As for the QB position, Jake Delhomme and Derek Anderson certainly weren't going to be upgrades over Garrard. The Jaguars would have to give Jimmy Clausen some thought if he was there, but given Gene Smith's commitment to character and hard working guy's, I have to think they'll pass on him.

I'll give my Tim Tebow soap box speech here. The Jaguars aren't taking Tebow with the 10th pick, or any other pick before the 4th round. Despite all of the national media hub-bub, everyone around the organization doesn't think Tebow can be a starting QB in the NFL and isn't going to let marketing dictate who they'll be taking.

3. Who is on your draft wish list?

Assuming the Jaguars stay at #10:
Honestly, I would like the Jaguars to take CJ Spiller if he's on the board. I know this is going to incite more than a few WTFs but it's the truth. Spiller and MJD could combine to form the deadliest backfield the NFL has seen in decades and Spiller gives the Jaguars a legit take it to the house player. Gene Smith has made it clear he'll take the BAP on their board no matter the position, and I think it'll be Spiller.

Our Take: Jacksonville upgraded their pass rush by signing DE Aaron Kampman. Kampman fits their 4-3 scheme much better than he did Green Bay's new 3-4 Dom Capers defense. He gives Jacksonville their first semblance of a pass rush in years. Their lack of a 2nd round pick takes them squarely out of the Tim Tebow discussion unless he drops to the third. Jacksonville's offense is built around running the ball, and if one of the elite tackles slips they may give him a serious look. With only a few elite-level pass rushers in this draft (Derrick Morgan, Jason Pierre-Paul, Brandon Graham), Jacksonville would be wise to invest there. That being said, the Jags don't have a lot of picks in this draft and at #10 they may very well find someone interested in trading up to snag an elite player that is falling. We've been saying for a while that we think the Patriots might try to trade up to take Dez Bryant, and we really wouldn't be surprised if the Jags are their trade target. The Patriots have 3 second round picks and Jacksonville has none, so New England could afford to trade a first and a second to Jacksonville to move up to #10.

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