The AFC South Draft
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Houston Texans (15th overall pick)
In 2008, the Texans finished 8-8, and were outscored 394 to 366 points, despite finishing fourth in total yardage with 4,267. The problem wasn't hard to locate in Football Outsiders' DVOA statistic, Houston ranked 11th on offense and 29th on defense. Especially troubling was a linebacker corps that was affected by injury in 2008. In the grand scheme of things, the story of that unit is that it's been middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans and everybody else, through strong-side linebacker Zac Diles looked alright before going on IR, and weak-side backer Xavier Adibi looks like a keeper. What the Texans needed was someone on the outside who could stuff the run and drop back into coverage, the better to help the team's decimated secondary.
Houston defensive coordinator Frank Bush was looking at two USC linebackers -- Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews -- and Cushing got the call when the Texans were on the clock. The hard-working "New Jersey Meathead" ( as he was affectionately dubbed by the NFL Network's Mike Mayock) is versatile enough to play end in 3-4 sets, charge the run in a standard 4-3, and drop back in nickel defenses. He'll play on the strong side for a Houston team that badly needs a tough front seven to deal with all the offensive threats in their division.
Indianapolis Colts (27th overall pick)
2008 saw the Colts ranking outside the top 10 in both offensive points and yards for the first time since 1998, the first year of the Peyton Manning era. With a new coaching staff, and older Peyton Manning, and the loss of Marvin Harrison, it's possible that Indy's formerly potent air attack needs a bit more ground game to make things go. Of course, Manning's offense will never revert to the power sweep and little else -- if the Colts were going to invest a first-round pick in a running back, said back would have to be versatile enough to break through defenses at the line, catch passes out of the backfield, and block when required. This was a job for UConn's Donald Brown.
Brown, who I interviewed for the Post in early April, led the NCAA in yards from scrimmage in 2008, as his Connecticut Huskies team became a serious NFL prospect facility for the first time. Not only does he possess the smooth outside roll of Tiki Barber or Shaun Alexander in their prime, he also have a furiots boost between the tackles reminiscent of the better slash-and-dash runners in recent memory. In 2008, the entire Indianapolis backfield combined for 1,270 rushing yards. Don't be surprised if Brown exceeds that number in his rookie year all by himself. At his peak, Brown could provide Brian Westbrook-level versatility and become the hub of the new Colts offense.
Jacksonville Jaguars (8th overall pick)
After supporting the team's excellent power running game in 2007, Jacksonville's offensive line regressed seriously in 2008. Football Outsiders' Adjusted Line Yards stat ranked the Jacksonville run-blocking line 19th in the NFL, and Adjusted Sack Rate saw the Jags ranked 24th in pass protection adjusted for situation and opponent. Left tackle Khalif Barnes, among the league leaders in offensive holding penalties, moved on to Oakland, and the team needed the kind of rock at left tackle that most great teams possess.
Virginia tackle Eugene Monroe was one of 16 kids, but he stood out on the field. Leading the way for 16 of the Cavaliers' 23 touchdowns in 2008, Monroe established himself as the most well-rounded offensive lineman of the 2008 class. Few people expected him to be there at the eighth pick, and the Jags happily snapped him up when he was still available. There have been a number of bad personnel decisions in Jacksonville in the past few years, but Monroe looks to be the first key component in a Jaguars rebirth.
Tennessee Titans (30th overall pick)
Last season, the Titans started out 10-0 before ending their season 13-3 and losing in the Divisional round to the Baltimore Ravens. In the regular season, Tennessee had five games in which the team rushed for more yards than they amassed through the air. Veteran Kerry Collins had a great bounceback year, but he did it without any dominant targets. Justin Gage led all Titans receivers in DYAR and he did it with a 46% Catch Rate. Clearly, something needed to be done.
With the 30th pick in the first round, the Titans took receiver Kenny Britt from Rutgers. The franchise's first top-round pick since Kevin Dyson in 1998, Britt brings the kind of size (6-3, 218) and 4.5 speed the Titans need to get their offense out of first gear. Britt caught over 1,000 yards in passes in both 2008 and 2009, started 31 of a possible 34 games, and averaged 17.1 yards per catch through his collegiate career. Not bad for a team that was known primarily for its grond attack until Ray Rice graduated after the 2007 season.
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