AFC SOUTH TEAM DRAFT NEEDS
1) INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: Even with “Superman” at QB, the Colts were overachievers last season due to injuries, finishing at 10-6 and losing a tough one to the Jets in the 1st round of the NFL playoffs. When looking at this franchise, they are all about outscoring their opponent. They showed that they can “plug and play” at WR with the talent they have shown the last few years with the emergence of Garcon, White and Collie. However, the Colts universe still revolves around Manning and you don’t keep your Ferrari parked in the road do you? No you protect it and that is what the Colts will do early in this draft. They still were near the top of the league with only 17 sacks allowed on Manning in 2010 but much of their issues on the OL were disguised by Manning’s uncanny ability to read defenses and get the ball out of his hands quickly. Look for the Colts to address the line at pick 22 in what is amounting to a pretty deep draft in the trenches. Carimi or Castonzo would be great but are not expected to be there for their pick. I think Tyron Smith from USC may be a good fit here for them as he is big at 6’5and still has room to grow his frame at 290. Rackley from Lehigh would also be a solid choice here too if available. The rest of the draft should concentrate on the defensive side of the ball. They are plenty deep at WR, Clark isn’t getting younger at TE but this draft is not good if you need a TE so they’ll pass here. RB could be an option in rounds 3-4 as Brown is bordering on a bust depending on the 2011 season and Addai, drafting services while showing great signs of life last year, just can’t be counted on for production and staying healthy. With Sanders now gone in the back end, the Colts need to shore up their secondary. I like them going CB, maybe even in the first and crossing their fingers that the talent at OL holds up until their 2nd pick. They can also always use help at the DL position to free up Freeney so that is an option as well.
2) HOUSTON TEXANS: Everyone’s favorite pre-season pick to surprise did so again, only on the downside as usual. They started out the season strong but lost some close ones along the way to again finish a disappointing season at 6-10. Kubiak miraculously returns, mostly because the offense is his forte and is not the problem. That is why owner, Bob McNair gutted the defensive staff and elected to bring in “Uncle Wade” to shore things up and switch over to a 3-4 front. There is usually a learning curve with that and getting the right personnel up front is a challenge so don’t expect huge strides in 2011. However, they will spend the majority of this draft looking for help on that side of the ball and they will mostly find it in a deep DL, OLB and decent not great CB draft. The Texans know they need to fix the secondary which is why they went CB in the first in 2010 but Kareem Jackson disappointed in year 1. At #11, Peterson, Prince, Jimmy Smith or Rasi Dowling should all be available and probably are good fits to at least start improving this secondary that has to play Peyton twice a year. The other good news for the Texans is there are a decent amount of pass rushing OLB’s in this draft that they can opt for in Round 1 or 2 possibly. Cushing and Barwin should make the transition fine but adding a guy like Justin Houston of Georgia, Chris Carter, Fresno or Akeem Ayers from UCLA may be a good fit. Of course of paramount importance is always the NG in the 3-4 and some teams have been looking for that player for years. This is the anchor of this defense and 330 lb. players that also have quick feet don’t grow on trees so it may take a while to get one.
3) JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: Forever on the hot seat, coach Jack Del Rio will need to get instant production from this draft if he is going to stick around for a while. In this QB driven league, it is no wonder that he has had mostly subpar seasons with previous bust Byron Leftwich and now the very average David Garrard. Could this be the year the Jags look to finally land a franchise QB? Well there is a lot of depth at that position but franchise QBs? I don’t think you have more than a couple that could turn out that way but no one that will help immediately. If they go QB early, it tells you all you need to know about GM Smith’s feelings on Del Rio’s long term potential as coach. Garrard is serviceable at best and won’t be winning any championships, let alone a division with Peyton Manning around any time soon. So what will the Jags do? They have to go primarily defense yet again in this draft with a focus on WR as well. Sims-Walker was an enigma last year and is most likely not going to be resigned after underachieving. Mike Thomas looked good last year but Hill, Dillard and Underwood are not exactly household names at WR. They need some help here. At pick 16, they likely will not have a shot at Green or Julio Jones in the draft unless they trade up and they have too many needs on defense to give away picks. A guy like Torey Smith or Tandon Doss may be a good fit in the 2nd. On defense and likely in the 1st round, they will go where the talent runs deep at DE. Jordan or Kerrigan would be good compliments to Aaron Kampman who is coming off a season-ending knee injury and this will also disguise some of the worst secondary play in the league. If there were a game changing Safety in this draft, that would be the pick but unfortunately for the Jags, that doesn’t exist this year.
4) TENNESSEE TITANS: The good news is the Titans have the 8th pick in the draft as a reward for their disappointing 6-10 finish. The bad news is they need a QB and you could argue that all 7 teams in front of them, except maybe Cleveland if they really like McCoy, also needs one. The depth at this position reminds me of 1983 however I don’t hold as much hope that we are looking at the next Marino, Eason, and O’Brien, more like a lot of Todd Blackledge. Out are Jeff Fisher after 16 seasons and the controversial Vince Young, we think. Kerry Collins remains serviceable but is not the answer so look for the Titans to see what happens in front of them. If a guy like Gabbert, Mallett or even Newton (new and improved VY?) are available, they may pull the trigger to create the new face of the franchise going forward. The next biggest need for the Titans will be shoring up their DL which has been pedestrian since “Fat Albert” became the Redskins problem. There is a chance that Nick Fairley could fall and give the Titans the chance to add him to the mix. This would be a good move even though there are questions about his dedication and desire (think Gaines Adams from several years ago). I like Stephen Paea as well here as someone who can add some size and strength to this DL. As for the rest of their draft, I like the Titans to focus on the OL side of the ball with Munchak now the HC in Tennessee and if the Titans go for a TE in this shallow position in the draft this year, it will tell you what the new regime thinks of a longtime prospect Jared Cook.
NFC SOUTH TEAM DRAFT NEEDS
1) NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: The 2009 Super Bowl champs had a tough year defending their crown with a rash of injuries and an aging defense in 2010. The Saints face some decisions in the offseason with some of their Free Agents (whenever we have FA again) and so will need to focus on replacing some of those potential missing parts. In addition, the NFC South has suddenly taken flight with arguably some of the best young QBs in the game sandwiched into this division with Ryan, Freeman, Brees and whoever the Panthers likely select with the first pick this year need to find help in pressuring opposing QBs. With the 24th pick, they may miss out on the really impactful DE talent but still could find an impact player to help in the 5 technique of the aggressive style DC Gregg Williams like to play. If D’quan Bowers is really in freefall, he can’t slip past the Saints who will get tremendous potential upside at this pick for a guy who was arguably the top DE in the early draft prognostications of February. The rest of the Saints draft has much more to do with FA. They have decisions to make, albeit easy ones, at the RB position where Reggie is due a huge $11.8 million salary for 2011 and Thomas already a Free Agent after an injury plagued 2010 put him in Sean Payton’s doghouse. Chris Ivory turned out to be a great find as an undrafted FA, reinforcing the theory to forget about taking RBs early. Either way, he will need help if they move on so look for Round 3 to be where the Saints address this need. In Round 2, I see the Saints trying to sure up their OL where there is decent depth at the position. OT Bushrod and C Goodwin are unrestricted FA’s this year so they will at minimum need to add some help to the offensive front to protect their investment in franchise Drew Brees. I think Rackley out of small school Lehigh could stay on the board until this pick and would be a great find that could easily put him in the starting lineup right away if they lose both guys to FA. The rest of their draft probably will focus back on the defense, particularly LB and S where Darren Sharper look like he aged 5 years after their Super Bowl season and Roman Harper is also a FA this year. Unfortunately this position lacks true playmakers so the Saints likely will not find their replacement in this draft.