Hindsight: AFC South Offseason Grades

Sorry for the delay between posts, my sister just graduated from college and I’ve been busy with a few other things. In an attempt to rekindle interest, I’ll move onto the AFC South which has some of the more interesting off seasons to grade; three rebuilding teams with two of the top 3 draft picks, and a team that traded away its first round pick.

Houston Texans:

The Texans had an extremely disappointing 2013 season, recording just two wins with a roster that was largely the same as the 2012 team that won the division. Luckily for them, this granted them the #1 pick; DE Jadeveon Clowney. You can definitely question the decision to pass on quarterback, as they appear set to start QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, not exactly an upgrade over Matt Schaub. That said, the combining Clowney off the edge with JJ Watt could make for the strongest DL pairing of the last decade and beyond. It cannot be understated how dominant of a player Watt is, and the effect that he has had on opposing offenses despite very mediocre surrounding talent on the DL. Adding Clowney gives the Texans two players that will demand double teams from most of the league, allowing DC Wade Phillips a lot of flexibility. Throw in 3rd round pick Louis Nix III  who Vixticator is very high on, and you have the makings of very scary front line.

There were rumors that the Texans were trying to nab QB Teddy Bridgewater in the 2nd, but the Vikings sniped any chance of that, leaving them to take Tom Savage in the 4th. The rest of the zone reads writers did not like Savage, as he is extremely unathletic and fairly inconsistent on film. That said, I believe he has some potential and will certainly benefit from sitting on the bench behind Fitzpatrick for awhile. Mid round selections OG Xavier Su’a-Filo and TE C.J. Fiedorowicz were very solid picks who will improve the running game, and Fiedorowicz should be able to add some value in the passing game as well.

All in all it was an impressive draft for the Texans, which was needed as they were very quiet in free agency. The only moves of true significance were allowing S Danieal Manning to walk and replacing him with Chris Clemons. If they had been able to snag Bridgewater with their 2nd round pick, this would have been hands down the best offseason of any team in the league. Grade: A-

Jacksonville Jaguars:

While the Texans chose a quiet free agency approach, the Jaguars were surprisingly active for a rebuilding team. Veteran DE Jason Babin was resigned, and a decent amount of money was thrown at some free agent veterans; OG Zane Beadles, DE Chris Clemons, DT Ziggy Hood, and RB Toby Gerhart. None of these additions broke the bank, but they certainly caused some initial head-scratching. Zane Beadles is definitely an upgrade on the interior line, but 5 years 30M is nothing to sneeze at for a slightly above average guard. Chris Clemons has been a decent pass rusher, but there is certainly a chance that he is washed up at this point in his career. Ziggy Hood was a 1st round pick, but did not show any signs of improvement over 4 years as a starter for the Steelers. With Gerhart, it appears the Jags are gambling on the former 2nd round pick being a solid player who was stuck on the bench behind the best RB in the league.

All of these moves made a lot more sense once the Jags snapped up QB Blake Bortles with the 3rd overall pick. The reports out right now suggest that the Jags were smitten with Bortles for a long time, and were trying to improve the anticipated roster around him. They have begun preparing for life without Justin Blackmon, drafting WR’s Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson in the 2nd and 3rd rounds respectively, both very solid values.

It would take a miracle for the Jaguars to contend this year, but it’s quite clear that the roster will be improved at nearly every position, and that this team will not be a pushover for any opponent. 2014 should reveal a lot of potential for the Jaguars, and another solid offseason in 2015 could finally bring them back into contention. I don’t approve of all their free agent additions, but they will yield a more competitive product in 2014. Grade: C+

Indianapolis Colts:

Every time I think the Colts have embarrassed themselves as much as possible, they seem to outdo themselves. After overpaying OT Gosder Cherilus and OLB Erik Walden last offseason, they completely wasted their 1st round pick on a panic trade for RB Trent Richardson. Sure these moves are not part of this offseason, so they will not count toward the Colts grade, but it’s a pretty bad look for GM Ryan Grigson.

Grigson began this offseason by overpaying for CB Vontae Davis, a player whose on field performance has never seemed to match his athleticism. While ProFootballFocus gave him a strong grade this past year, Davis gave up a whopping 8 touchdowns while intercepting just one pass. He is a fine #1 corner, but he got paid more than other free agents who are better players (Alterraun Verner, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Brent Grimes). What was striking about this deal is how quickly it was reached in the offseason, as I believe Davis was one of the very first free agent signings. It seems likely that Grigson was trying too hard to lock up Davis as quickly as possible, and ended up making an offer that no other team out there would match. Considering how deep the CB market was, this was a very poorly played negotiation by the Colts.

The rest of their free agent signings were better, especially ILB D’Qwell Jackson and WR Hakeem Nicks. Jackson costed a hefty $5.5M/yr but represents quite an upgrade over last years pitiful linebacker unit. Nicks signed a prove it 1 year deal for just under $4M, which could end up being a steal. However considering his poor 2013 and the lack of interest in him this offseason, Colts fans should brace themselves for the possibility that he is not the same player he once was. The final significant signing, DE Arthur Jones, will fit nicely into the Colts 3-4 defense, but it’s again worth asking whether Grigson overpaid him at 5 years for $33M. This is the second straight offseason that the Colts have had a lot of money to burn, but that doesn’t excuse overpaying for players when you don’t need to.

Thanks to the Trent Richardson trade, the Colts first pick didn’t come until #59, which they used on OT Jack Mewhort. He has great size but is not that quick off the snap, which really hurt him on film, especially against Clemson. Their next selection was WR Donte Moncrief, who has a lot of physical potential but is extremely raw. With such a great young QB, you should be looking for players who can contribute well quickly, not projects, which is why I really don’t like these picks. It shouldn’t be hard to see why I believe Ryan Grigson is quickly running away with the title of worst GM in the league. If it wasn’t for the signings of Jackson and Nicks, this grade would be much lower. Grade: C-

Tennessee Titans:

The Titans have been in a tough spot for the last few years, attempting to build a roster around QB Jake Locker. Unfortunately he has struggled mightily with injuries, and has been unable to build upon each season as a pro. He has all the physical tools, but you need reps to improve, and he just hasn’t been able to get enough. It seems very likely that this season will be his last chance to prove he can be the guy, and the Titans have been accordingly adjusting the roster for the chance that he is not. Chris Johnson and his mammoth contract have been removed, and CB Alterraun Verner and WR Kenny Britt were allowed to walk. New faces include WR Dexter McCluster, OT Michael Oher, and LB Wesley Woodyard, all on fairly cheap deals. None of these guys are game changers, but they will be pretty decent value for the money they were paid.

The draft did bear some fruit, with OT Taylor Lewan falling to them at #11. The Lewan pick might be confusing to some after signing Oher and Michael Roos already in place at LT, but Lewan was just too talented of a prospect to pass up (Our resident OL guru Needle had Lewan as the #2 player overall in the entire draft). I am much less impressed with their 2nd round pick, RB Bishop Sankey, who seems like a pretty big reach. He had a good combine and flashes speed with good hands on film, but he’s not going to be that much of a threat to break tackles at the next level. In my opinion there are quite a few players that would have been better gambles here.

There’s nothing sexy about this offseason from the Titans, but they were in one of the toughest offseason spots you can be in, with no clear direction in which to push forward. As a result, I’m content with their fairly risk averse actions this offseason. Grade: B-

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