NFL

2021 NFL Draft Preview: AFC South Edition

Jacksonville receiver D.J Chark (#17), Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (#17), Colts linebacker Darius Leonard (#53)
Photos Courtesy of USA Today Sports

With the draft rapidly approaching, the draft previews keep coming. Next up is the AFC South. The division features two playoff contenders (Titans and Colts) and two of the worst teams in the league (the Jaguars and Texans). Here is the 2021 NFL Draft preview for the AFC South with four very different situations to assess.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Jacksonville Jaguars free safety Andrew Wingard (42) celebrates his interception with teammates in the second half against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Season Outcome: 1-15

Team Needs: QB, DL, DB

Picks Within First 3 Rounds: 1, 25, 33, 45, 65

Moment of silence for all of the Jacksonville Jaguars fans out there. That is if there are any left. After beating the Colts in Week 1 of last season, the Jaguars lost their next 15 games. A historically bad team in more ways than one, the Jaguars need a complete overhaul of the roster.

The quarterback issue will be addressed at first overall where it is a foregone conclusion the Jaguars will select Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Rumors will fly as we get closer to the draft that the Jaguars may trade down and stick with Gardner Minshew at quarterback. Don’t kid yourself: Lawrence will be taken at 1.

While the first selection is a no-brainer, the Jags have some decisions to make with their remaining four picks inside the top-65. Next up is 25th overall, where Jacksonville owns the Los Angeles Rams first-rounder via the Jalen Ramsey trade. This appears to be the perfect position to address the defensive line. Alabamas’ Christian Barmore is great value at 25 and fits a positional need for the Jags.

Barmore Scouting Report

In what is a weaker defensive tackle class this year, Barmore has separated himself from the pack. At 6’5, 310 pounds, Barmore moves with amazing fluidity and flexibility given his massive frame. His pass-rush grade, pass rush win rate and run stop rate all graded in the 98th percentile or higher this season. His performances against the College Football Playoff’s top-tier competition were a sneak peek of how his skills would translate to the next level.

Barmore Film

Not one of the Jaguars’ interior defensive linemen graded within the top-40 of defensive linemen this season. Former first-round pick Taven Bryan has failed to live up to his potential since the Jags selected him in 2018. Barmore would come in and have a shot to start from Day 1, given the current competition he faces on the Jags roster.

Cornerback or safety are also two positions the Jaguars need to address. With some solid depth at cornerback in this draft class, Jacksonville could easily land a Day 1 starter at cornerback with one of their two second-round picks. Northwesterns’ Greg Newsome and UCF’s Aaron Robinson are two names the Jaguars could look at with their second-round picks.

Tennessee Titans

Tennessee Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler (21) and the team celebrate his interception in the first quarter during the Tennessee Titans game against the Baltimore Ravens in Nashville on January 10, 2021
George Walker / Tennessean.com

Season Outcome: 11-5 (Lost in AFC Wildcard Game to Baltimore Ravens)

Team Needs: OT, CB, EDGE

Picks Within First 3 Rounds: 22, 53, 86, 101 (CP)

The Titans appear to be stuck in the NFL’s version of no man’s land. Too good to tank and not good enough to compete for a Super Bowl, the team consistently performs during the regular season only to suffer an early-round playoff loss. The team’s last Super Bowl appearance was in 1999. Since then, the team has made the playoffs just eight times. Using their four picks within the top 105 picks, the Titans will hope to reverse their Super Bowl curse.

Tennessee’s draft starts at 22nd overall, where a do-over at the offensive tackle position is likely. Just one year prior, the Titans used their first-round pick to select former Georgia tackle, Isaiah Wilson. After a myriad of off-the-field issues and virtually no playing time, the Titans traded him to the Dolphins for a fifth-round pick. Not the organization’s proudest moment, but they will hope to not make the same mistake this year.

In a deep tackle class, there should be a few options for the Titans when they get on the clock. If Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw is available at 22, the Titans should be sprinting up to the podium to turn in their selection.

Darrisaw Scouting Report

Darrisaw is an absolute tank of a left tackle. At 6’5, 314 pounds, there is no other tackle with the physical stature close to Darrisaw. His physical composition and elite strength shine through in the run game. His PFF run grade of 94.5 ranked in the 99th percentile amongst all tackles this season. After three seasons and over 2,000 overall snaps, Darrisaw conceded just 7 sacks. He allowed no sacks or QB hits during his senior season.

Darrisaw Film

Darrisaw could not fit more perfectly into Mike Vrabels’ system. The Titans offense is powered by former Heisman winner Derrick Henry, a beast in his own regard. Tennesee uses the run game with Henry to set up most of their offense. Darrisaw would play to his strengths in the run game and create giant lanes for Henry to run through. The Titans brought in Isaiah Wilson last year to take the place of the departed Jack Conklin, who left the Titans for the Cleveland Browns in free agency a few years back. While that plan went awry, Darrisaw seems like the perfect prospect to come in and do the job right.

After Malcolm Butler’s release, the Titans may try to address the cornerback position with their later picks. An edge rusher is also on the Titans’ agenda. Wake Forests Carlos Basham or Miamis Jaelen Phillips are options at 22 overall should Tennesee opt for the edge rusher route with their first-round pick.

Indianapolis Colts

Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich watches game action against the Buffalo Bills during the first half in the AFC Wild Card game at Bills Stadium.
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Season Outcome: 11-5 (Lost in AFC Wildcard Game to Buffalo Bills)

Team Needs: LT, WR, CB

Picks Within the First 3 Rounds: 21, 54

While they are short on draft picks in the opening rounds, the Colts are arguably in the best position of any other team in the league when comparing current talent with financial flexibility. Indianapolis has done a fantastic job of drafting solid, consistent players with their draft picks over the years. The most notable names are linebacker Darius Leonard, who they grabbed in the second round, and guard Quenton Nelson, who is on a Hall of Fame trajectory. With only a few needs to address in the draft, this could finally be the Colts’ year to make a run at the Super Bowl.

The quarterback situation has been dealt with. The Colts acquired Carson Wentz from the Eagles in a blockbuster deal early in the offseason. The move reunites current Colts head coach Frank Reich with the former Eagles quarterback. The hope is that Wentz will return to his MVP-caliber form under his old coach. The next biggest objective is to protect Wentz by bolstering the offensive line. Legendary left tackle Anthony Castanzo retired this offseason, leaving a gaping hole on the line and Wentzs’ blindside. Darrisaw is also a possibility here, as the Colts pick one slot before the Titans. The team could also turn to Texas tackle Sam Comsi, who bolstered his stock with a strong pro day.

Cosmi Scouting Report

Texas Longhorns lineman Sam Cosmi blocks during the Texas Longhorns game against the LSU Tigers on September 7, 2019, at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas.
John Rivera/Icon Sportswire

Cosmi is far from a polished product but has the athletic ability to make teams fall in love with him. He steadily improved in his three years with Texas, having his best year during the shortened 2020 season. Cosmi posted an overall grade of 90.5 according to PFF and surrendered just 2 sacks and 1 hit. He also demonstrated a lot of versatility, having played exclusively right tackle his first year before switching to the left. Cosmi had a fantastic pro day, posting a 4.84 unofficial 40-yard dash. While that number is probably a little slower than advertised, it is still amazing given his size. He is also a monster in the run game, using his 6’5, 309-pound frame to bury defenders on the edge.

Cosmi has a long way to go technique-wise. His pass-blocking is inconsistent, and NFL edge rushers will take advantage of him when given a chance. Luckily, if drafted by the Colts, Cosmi would be working with one of the best offensive line coaches in the entire league in Chris Strausser. Straussers’ offensive line unit in Indianapolis has been one of the best units in the league for a few years now. Cosmi could be one of the next great tackles in the league if he lands with the Colts.

With T.Y Hilton nearing the end of his career, the Colts may also use one of their higher rounds picks on a receiver. The Colts could turn to Ole Miss receiver Elijah Moore, who is currently projected in the second-round range. Moore is one of the best slot receivers in the draft and excels in generating yards after the catch. North Texas’s Jaelon Darden is also a potential later-round pick for the Colts. Dardon finished with 19 touchdowns last season and led the NCAA in missed tackles forced with 23.

Houston Texans

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) looks up after a play during the fourth quarter against the Tennessee Titans at NRG Stadium.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Season Outcome: 4-12

Team Needs: DB, EDGE, WR

Picks Within First 3 Rounds: 67

While they weren’t the worst team in the league, the Texans may be in the worst position going into next season. Apart from getting rid of the disaster that was head coach Bill O’Brien, little has gone right for the Texans since the end of the season.

Let’s start with why the Texans only have one pick inside the top three rounds. Houston lost their first and second-round picks to Miami this year after the Laremy Tunsil trade. Tunsil has been solid for the team, allowing just 2 sacks last season while posting the third-highest run-blocking grade amongst all tackles. However, the Texans allocated a lot of money to his extension, which took away from their ability to upgrade other positions.

On top of the lack of draft capital, quarterback Deshaun Watson has shown no intention of returning to the team ever since expressing his desire to leave back in January. The team is in a tough spot, as giving up a superstar for any amount of draft compensation seems like a loss. At the same time, Watson appears set in his ways and is willing to incur any fine to never play for the Texans again. The Watson situation is one to monitor for the Texans. If Watson is dealt before the draft, the Texans will likely gain a fair share of picks in this year’s draft. However, at the moment, their lone pick sits at 67th overall.

Texans Team Needs

Houston has a desperate need for a defensive back. Vernon Hargreaves III has been a disaster since the Texans brought him in in 2019. He graded 117th out of 121 eligible corners last season and allowed the third-most receptions of any corner in the league.

The team could turn to Michigan State cornerback Shakur Brown. Brown plays with aggression on every play and tracks the ball very well. He finished with one of the highest coverage grades in the country last season and showed a lot of versatility with the Spartans. Brown played 311 snaps at the wide corner spot but also took 114 snaps in the slot. While he remains very inexperienced and has a lot to learn, he is a prospect the Texans should be willing to take a chance on.

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