This division has been constantly evolving ever since its formation. One thing that always remained steady was the Indianapolis Colts’ throne at the top of the division, until two seasons ago when Peyton Manning missed the entire 2011 season with a neck injury. The Colts suffered for one year, and were handsomely rewarded with being able to take Andrew Luck number one overall in the draft, which brought the team back to relevance much sooner than we thought. In the meantime, the Houston Texans have won the division the last two seasons, which were Houston’s first two playoff appearances in franchise history. Still, they disappointed late in the season and, after beating Cincinnati in the Wild Card Round, lost their next game to New England. With the added pressure from Indy, Houston needs to have a great draft to stay on top. Tennessee and Jacksonville have constantly disappointed the past few seasons, after swinging in and out of relevance for some time. Are Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert the answers for those teams? Do the Jaguars ignore Geno Smith at number two or take a chance on him?
Houston Texans (Last Season: 12-4; First Pick: 27th Overall; Number of Picks: 9)
Indianapolis was much better than anyone expected in Andrew Luck’s rookie season, so Houston had to work fast in the offseason to get better. Their big free agent signing was safety Ed Reed from Baltimore, which will bring experience to their secondary in place of the departed Glover Quin. Houston does have a few needs that could be addressed in Round One. A wide receiver to complement Andre Johnson, something they have never had, is one. Help for Brian Cushing at linebacker is another. But people don’t realize the Texans’ biggest need is defensive linemen. JJ Watt, playing defensive end for the Texans and earning the nickname “JJ Swat” for his uncanny pass-defending capabilities, became a household name last season. Everyone else on the line is average. New blood at defensive tackle would help out Watt and Shaun Cody, as well as the rest of the D. With several defensive linemen slated to go in the early- and mid-twenties, Alabama’s DT Jesse Williams might be the man for them at 27. Houston could go for WR DeAndre Hopkins (Clemson) or Keenan Allen (California) here, but there is enough depth that they can wait till Round Two to take a guy like Tennessee’s Justin Hunter. Though overshadowed in college by Cordarelle Patterson, Hunter’s 6’4 height is unteachable and enviable.
Indianapolis Colts (Last Season: 11-5; First Pick: 24th Overall; Number of Picks: 6)
These Colts surprised most of us last season with their high-powered offense, thanks to Andrew Luck and previously unheard-of guys like TY Hilton. However, their defense is what stood between Indy and true greatness. They were 26th in total defense and 29th against the run, in large part because it was the first year the Colts were playing a 3-4 defense and they need the personnel. Ohio State NT Johnathan Hankins can easily start at nose tackle for the Colts his rookie year. If he isn’t there, Georgia NT John Jenkins is another player to consider. The next priority for the Colts should be offensive linemen, like Oregon’s Kyle Long or Syracuse’s Justin Pugh. Andrew Luck was sacked 41 times in his rookie year. That’s not what you want to see happen to your franchise quarterback for the next ten years.
Jacksonville Jaguars (Last Season: 2-14; First Pick: 2nd Overall; Number of Picks: 7)
Probably the toughest decision to make in this year’s draft – for mock draft crafters and actual front office personnel alike – is what the Jaguars should do with the number two overall pick. New head coach Gus Bradley was the mastermind behind the Seahawks’ top scoring defense in the league, and the Jaguars need new stars at every defensive position. Then again, they also need new stars at virtually every offensive position, particularly quarterback, where Blaine Gabbert has been more than a disappointment. New head coaches like to draft new quarterbacks. This pick will hinge largely on whether Bradley wants the best player available – likely a defensive player – or if he wants the franchise quarterback, which Geno Smith ostensibly will be, with whom he can go into battle for the first time. There are many viable choices at number two, and Smith may not look like one of the more desirable ones. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Gus picks Geno. If he doesn’t, Smith could free fall out of the Top Ten, past Arizona and Buffalo at numbers seven and eight, potentially into the lap of Tampa Bay at #13. At any rate, there isn’t any other advice I can give the Jags that isn’t already obvious. Anyone Jacksonville drafts – particularly on defense – will be an immediate upgrade.
Tennessee Titans (Last Season: 6-10; First Pick: 10th Overall; Number of Picks: 9)
I think Jake Locker is better than Blaine Gabbert, that the Titans’ situation is different than the Jaguars’ because the Titans have more talent around them, and that Locker should be given another year or two before we all give up hope. That being said, backup Matt Hasselbeck went to the division rival Colts in free agency, so drafting a QB like Landry Jones in a middle round wouldn’t be out of the question. As far as their tenth overall pick, I think the Titans should take advantage of the deep, deep defensive line class. At least two of the following should be available to them at #10: DE Damontre Moore, Texas A&M; DE/LB Barkevious Mingo, LSU; DE Bjoern Werner, Florida State; DT Sheldon Richardson, Missouri. There aren’t many ways to screw up a pick like this, but my personal choice would be Werner, and if he is not available, Mingo. The Titans have many other needs as well, so they must be thankful for the eight remaining picks they will have after Round One. I like CB Logan Ryan from Rutgers in the second round. The Titans were 26th against the pass in 2012.