AFC South: 2013 NFL draft

Football Outsiders continues their red flags series Wednesday, hitting on the AFC South.

Tom Gower takes on the biggest remaining issue for each team.

Houston Texans

Gower says wide receiver: “Considered about the most pro-ready receiver in this year's draft, the Texans are counting on (DeAndre Hopkins') relatively polished route-running skills and natural hands to let him step in as a starter immediately. Most late first-round receivers of late have been eased into the lineup, but the Texans need Hopkins to be a high-impact player immediately.

Kuharsky counters: Sure, Hopkins’ development is a big storyline going forward. But the right side of the offensive line is more of a lingering issue and didn't add a first-round pick. Right tackle Derek Newton is recovering from major knee surgery, and could lose out to third-rounder Brennan Williams. Veteran Ryan Harris could be in the mix as well. Second-year right guards Ben Jones and Brandon Brooks are promising, but also need to prove they are going to be better and solidify a line that needs more consistency on the right side.

Indianapolis Colts

Gower says cornerback: “(Greg Toler) ranked in the top 10 in success rate and yards per pass. However, those stats are heavily dependent on Toler's role. His career history suggests that Toler can be a good nickel or dime corner, as he was in Arizona last year, but that he struggles when asked to play a full-time role.”

Kuharsky concurs: A cornerback pool of Vontae Davis, Toler, Darius Butler, Cassius Vaughn and Josh Gordy really could have used one more solid entry, perhaps between Davis and Toler, but certainly between Butler and Vaughn. Cornerback depth is an issue for most teams, and it was more than a bit surprising that the Colts didn’t add one in the draft. It’s good they didn’t reach, but they might still be on the lookout for some additional help.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Gower says quarterback: ”It is very hard to win games with quarterback play as bad as the Jaguars have had recently, and generally requires a strong defense (the Jaguars ranked 28th by Football Outsiders in defensive DVOA in 2012) and a strong running game (the Jaguars ranked 27th by DVOA there). The addition of (Luke) Joeckel and the return to health by Maurice Jones-Drew should mean an improved running game in 2013, but another season of (Blaine) Gabbert and/or (Chad) Henne behind center likely means another high draft pick for Jacksonville in April 2014.”

Kuharsky counters: Gower, pretty much agrees with my thinking here. Sure they need a quarterback. But I don’t see a move they should have made that they didn’t make, and neither does he. Wait a year, build elsewhere, make things better for the next quarterback in a year. So setting quarterback aside, my concern is the pass rush, where they really haven’t added anything on the edge and don’t have sufficient depth.

Tennessee Titans

Gower says defense: “The Titans seem to be counting on a lot of internal improvement, better coaching with the addition of senior defensive assistant Gregg Williams (though Jerry Gray returns as defensive coordinator) and an offense that can do a better job of sustaining drives. While Tennessee fielded a particularly young defense in 2012 and some internal improvement is likely, most defenses that improve quickly devote more resources to adding better players.”

Kuharsky specifies: You can’t have too many pass-rushers, and counting on dramatic improvement from multiple holdovers seems shaky. So I’d narrow Gower’s category to defensive end. The team could sign John Abraham or Israel Idonije, two veteran ends who have visited recently. Adding one would make me feel a lot better about the team at end beyond Derrick Morgan, Kamerion Wimbley and fifth-rounder Lavar Edwards.

Mel Kiper Jr.'s early reviews

April, 28, 2013
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You can’t grade a draft class on production the day after it is finished being put together.

But America demands grades, so Mel Kiper Jr. offers them Insider.

He bases them on how teams answered these three questions:

" How much overall talent did a team add based on board position?
" How effectively did they address key personnel needs?
" How efficient were they in maneuvering on the draft board?

Jacksonville Jaguars

Overall grade: B-plus

One thought from Kiper Jr.: Johnathan Cyprien was one of the best safeties in college football last season, and should be the starter at strong safety in Week 1. Dwayne Gratz is a physical corner who should also start immediately.

Tennessee Titans

Overall grade: B-plus

One thought from Kiper Jr.: “The Titans may not have any idea what will become of Jake Locker. I don't know either. But they sure as heck should be better running the ball in 2013 behind the line they're building, and between whatever pressure that takes off Locker and the addition of yet another receiver, they can say they gave him a chance.”

Houston Texans

Overall grade: B

One thought from Kiper Jr.:Trevardo Williams was a steal for me. Wade Phillips can get him on the field because Williams can rush the passer and was hugely productive.”

Indianapolis Colts

Overall grade: C-plus

One thought from Kiper Jr.: “One pick I think could help now and be a great option for this offense is Kerwynn Williams. He's a speedster, and if they can find him touches you're going to see some explosive plays.”
The draft is in the books.

What went under-addressed in the AFC South?

Here’s my thinking for spots on each tam where there will be an emphasis on undrafted rookies and where teams may now look for some veteran help, be it soon or before the season when some players are let free by other teams.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars resisted any urge to draft a quarterback, but they will go into camp with more than Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne. They can sell opportunity to undrafted guys as much or more than any team in the league -- to quarterbacks and to players across the board. Teams that drafted a quarterback may soon have one to part with, and they could be candidates to add to the Jaguars’ mix.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans didn’t have things break for them before the fifth round for a defensive end. They expect the pass rush to improve thanks to scheme, player improvement and better coverage. Still, for the competition they’ve created on the offensive line and at receiver, they really need to do more to try to churn up better rush options off the edge beyond their starting two.

Indianapolis Colts

I’m surprised the Colts didn’t draft a cornerback. They can probably be OK with Vontae Davis, Greg Toler, Darius Butler as their top three. But the depth after that is headed by Cassius Vaughn and Josh Gordy. Those two didn’t instill a lot of confidence last season, and David is heading into the last year of his deal. Indianapolis needs additional resources at the position.

Houston Texans

With Justin Forsett gone to Jacksonville as a free agent and Ben Tate a year away from potential free agency, the Texans need to see what other options they can develop as insurance and for the future at running back. Arian Foster was an undrafted free agent, so Houston can sell a couple backs on the idea that they can function well in the Texans' system, just like Foster did when his chance arrived.

AFC South draft analysis

April, 27, 2013
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The AFC South’s two 3-4 teams spent first-, third- and fourth-round picks on pass-rushing outside linebackers, trying to amp up the pressure they can put on opposing quarterbacks.

The Colts will be converting first-rounder Bjoern Werner of Florida State from a college defensive end to an outside linebacker, where he probably will compete for time on the strong side with free-agent acquisition Erik Walden. Walden is a solid run player, so if Werner can get into the backfield, they might complement each other well.

Werner has drawn comparisons to Paul Kruger, who left the Ravens after the Super Bowl to join the Cleveland Browns.

In Houston, the pass rush was overly reliant on J.J. Watt last season and lost Connor Barwin to Philadelphia in free agency. Enter third-rounder Sam Montgomery from LSU and fourth-rounder Trevardo Williams from UConn.

The two college ends will move back a unit in Wade Phillips’ defense. If they pan out on the strong side, Brooks Reed probably will move inside and work there with Brian Cushing.

BEST MOVE

The Jaguars steered clear of a quarterback.

They had the second pick overall and flip-flopped between first and second in each subsequent round. It’s a great landscape to add a lot of talent to a team that needs an influx and chose not to spend a lot in free agency.

Jacksonville added cheaper veterans who it thinks might blossom and be more productive in its systems.

A team that wants to be draft-centric wasn’t tempted by EJ Manuel, Geno Smith, Mike Glennon, Matt Barkley, Ryan Nassib, Tyler Wilson or Landry Jones.

Meanwhile the Jaguars grabbed a cornerstone lineman in Luke Joeckel, probable starting strong safety Johnathan Cyprien, big corner Dwayne Gratz, receiver/punt returner Ace Sanders, running back/kick returner Denard Robinson and free safety Josh Evans with their first six picks.

They dealt away the first pick of the fourth round and let Philadelphia draft Barkley.

I don’t believe Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne will prove to be a long-term answer for the franchise. But I don’t believe any of the alternatives available through six rounds of this draft would have either. So I like the focus and determination to add pieces elsewhere.

When the time comes, probably next year, to add the quarterback, he’ll be joining a better roster.

RISKIEST MOVE

Indianapolis fifth-round defensive tackle Montori Hughes had issues at the University of Tennessee that got him thrown off the team. He told Indianapolis reporters that the Colts were the only team he would be talking to.

There are indications that he matured as he finished up at UT-Martin, but if his previous troubles are a predictor of future troubles, the Colts could be bringing a headache onto themselves.

“I went through some academic troubles and I went through some team issues and then I transferred down to UT-Martin,” Hughes said. “I had a new coach, so I transferred down, and I felt like it was a good fit at the time. Everything from when I first went on the campus at UT-Martin had a good feeling about it.

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireJacksonville draftee Denard Robinson rushed for 4,495 yards and had 42 rushing TDs in four years at Michigan, but as a quarterback.
“So when I went down there, I just went to work and knew I had to prove to myself and others that I was a better person than what was out there and just go to work every day, go hard, go hard on the field, on and off, and just learn to play football, the passion for the game. I just love being out there, so just taking it one day at a time.”

MOST SURPRISING MOVE

Outside of the first round, the biggest name to come into the AFC South was Robinson, the former Michigan quarterback. Jacksonville drafted him in the fifth round, 135th overall, as a running back and kick returner.

The Jaguars need playmakers for sure, but it feels like there is a bit of danger connected to a guy drafted to play running back who has never played running back. Robinson is regarded as a high-character guy with great drive. He wants to succeed and is willing to do whatever is asked of him.

If he pans out, it could be a real boom pick, offering hard-to-defend, hard-to-predict chunks of yardage.

FILE IT AWAY

Jaguars corner Gratz, Titans cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson and two Texans -- outside linebacker Williams and tight end Ryan Griffin -- all played together for the UConn Huskies.

UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni spent six years in the NFL coaching ranks, including terms as defensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys.

The Titans said they had Gratz (5-11, 201) and Wreh-Wilson (6-1, 195) rated close to each other on their board. As teams look for corners with more size who can press, hit and hold up, they’ll be an interesting duo to watch grow up in the same division.
In the late stages of the draft, teams often select players with one hard-to-find quality and hope they can help the rest emerge.

That looks like what the Titans have with sixth-round selection Khalid Wooten, a cornerback out of Nevada who was the 202nd selection overall.

The quality? Speed.

Wooten’s been clocked at 4.43, which is quite fast for a 5-foot-11, 210-pounder.

While he’s got exceptional height-weight-speed, Scouts Inc. rates him as average in cover skills, and below average in instincts/recognition and run support.

He gets a score of above average in ball skills, but the write up doesn’t match:
"Shows adequate overall ball skills. Flashes anticipation and playmaking instincts. However, angles are a bit inconsistent tracking downfield throws. Uses long arms well to extend and get his hands on the ball when in position. Possesses enough length, strength and leaping ability to hold up in one-on-one jump ball situations. Hands are adequate but will have a few drops on plays he should make. Flashes ability to create with the ball in his hand."
The Colts took a crack at upgrading their safety depth, spending their sixth-round pick, 192nd overall, on Oregon free safety John Boyett.

At 5-foot-10, he may not be tall. With 4.64 speed he may not be fast.

He is the sort of player, however, who has a chance to make up for those things with elite intangibles, instincts and recognition.

Per Scouts Inc.:
"Possesses upper echelon instincts and diagnostic skills. Clearly does his homework and shows an understanding of opposing offenses formations, tendencies and route combinations. Plays with discipline and very rarely is caught out of position. Does a nice job of reading quarterbacks eyes allowing him to get an early jump on breaks. Also flashes route recognition and anticipation skills."

He’ll do well to learn from Antoine Bethea, who’s heading into his eighth season and is also quite good in the instinct and recognition departments.
The Jacksonville Jaguars look to have a second quality rookie option at safety.

They drafted Johnathan Cyprien from Florida International in the second round. Now they’ve added Josh Evans of Florida in the sixth round, 169th overall.

Cyprien looks like a lead candidate to start at strong safety. Evans is more of a free safety and played next to strong safety Matt Elam for the Gators. Elam went to Baltimore with the final pick of the first round.

Evans is 6-foot-1, 201 pounds so he gives the Jaguars the sort of secondary height they are trying to add.

I like Dwight Lowery, a cerebral player who’s a couple inches shorter but 10 pounds heavier than Evans. But Lowery only played nine games at free safety last season because of ankle and foot injuries.

Here’s NFL Draft Scout on Evans:
"Lean, athletic build with very long arms. Attacking mentality stands out on film. Isn't afraid to get physical and competes when the ball is in the air and after the catch, always attempting to rip it out of the ballcarrier's grasp. Attacks the line of scrimmage when he reads run or when allowed to blitz. Good balance and lateral agility to break down and make the effective open-field tackle or when avoiding backs as a pass rusher."
It took until the fifth round, but the Titans finally added a defensive end.

At LSU, Lavar Edwards worked largely behind Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery. Mingo was the fifth pick in the draft by the Browns and Montgomery went to Houston in the third round.

Edwards lasted until the 142nd overall pick, but will find opportunity to be the third end in Tennessee. After starters Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley, the Titans have no established pass-rusher in a group composed of Keyunta Dawson, Ropati Pitoitua, Scott Solomon and Thaddeus Gibson.

The Titans are expecting senior assistant defensive coach Gregg Williams will help the rush, and they will blitz more with outside linebackers Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown.

But Morgan and Wimbley each played 80 percent of the Titans' defensive snaps next year, and that’s too much.

Edwards is 6-foot-4, 277 pounds and might be able to start off by playing on some run-defense downs, easing the workload of the two starters.
Antonio Johnson worked hard to be a 3-4 nose tackle for the Colts last year and started 13 games.

But if the Colts are healthy they’ve now got four, much bigger options for the spot in their second year of the 3-4 front.

Fifth-round pick Montori Hughes went 139th overall. He started his college career at Tennessee, found trouble and finished up at Tennessee-Martin.

He’s 6-foot-4, 329 pounds and joins Josh Chapman (316), Brandon McKinney (345) and Aubrayo Franklin (315) as options for the nose. Ricky Jean Francois (295) can kick inside in some instances as well.

Chapman and McKinney missed last season with injuries. Franklin and Jean Francois are free-agent additions.

Scouts Inc. says he’s above average against the run and below average against the pass.

The big issue is his background, which the Colts clearly feel he addressed sufficiently as they scouted him.
“Was present at site of bar altercation in July 2010 and reportedly involved but not charged by police. He was suspended one game during 2010 season for violation of team academic rules. In addition, he was suspended twice from team activities during offseason of that year. Was involved in an on-campus altercation (dorm) in May 2011 that lead to his dismissal from the Tennessee football team. Coaches at Tennessee also have openly questioned his work effort and passion for the game. Has made strides in terms of maturity and was not a problem for the coaches during his time at Tennessee-Martin. In the end though will he work hard enough off-the-field (practice, conditioning, diet etc.) to reach full potential?”
Denard Robinson: Wide receiver?

Denard Robinson Running back?

Denard Robinson: Offensive weapon?

The Jaguars say they picked him as a running back and a kick returner, which may be the best places to put the former Michigan quarterback, who went to Jacksonville in the fifth round, 135th overall.

He’s a guy with plenty of football intangibles, and if they can find ways to get him on the field and he stays healthy, he could provide a jolt of production. If he’s used as backfield change-up to Maurice Jones-Drew, that would be quite a ying-yang combination in terms of power and quickness. (Justin Forsett is in the mix there, too.)

Scouts Inc. wrote him up as a receiver, but had great things to say about the intangibles he will bring with him to the NFL.
Don't mistake easy going manner with a lack of competiveness. Willing to do whatever it takes to help team whether that's taking a big hit or playing a different position in an effort to get the best players on the field. Made strides the week of the Senior Bowl (working as a receiver and returner) and didn't let one bad snap turn into two or three.

Colts continue O-line revamping

April, 27, 2013
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The Colts are very serious about upgrading the protection for Andrew Luck.

They’ve had three picks so far, and have used the last two on linemen: Third-round guard Hugh Thornton and now fourth-rounder Khaled Holmes from USC, 121st overall.

The Colts signed Samson Satele as a free agent last year, but he had a disappointing season. When he was hurt, he was actually outplayed by undrafted rookie A.Q. Shipley.

Now both could lose out to Holmes, who came off the board in a round packed with interior offensive linemen.

He was better in 2011 than in 2012, like most of USC, and was hampered by an ankle injury.

Scouts Inc. rates him as above average in awareness:
"Makes pre-snap line calls and keeps head on a swivel once set. Quickly recognizes defensive line stunts and identifies pressure from the second level. Smart run blocker who understands angles and positioning. Flashes ability to adjust on the fly as a run blocker but inconsistent in this area and occasionally has a tough time locating second level blocks. Too quick to abandon combo blocks and release up to the second level at times."

Titans continue to add to O-line

April, 27, 2013
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The Titans had a bad interior offensive line last year, and had to call on more depth than any team has.

Now they’ve added veterans Andy Levitre, Rob Turner, Chris Spencer, first-round pick Chance Warmack and fourth-round pick Brian Schwenke, who went 107th overall.

I had downplayed the odds of the Titans drafting a center. Two things contributed to me being wrong -- Schwenke’s availability and, clearly, the team’s long-term view of Fernando Velasco.

Velasco got and signed a restricted tender worth just over $2 million, but would now appear to qualify as a one-year stopgap starting center at best. He signed it as the offseason program started, so it’s guaranteed.

Still, it would be better for the Titans long-term if Velasco gets beat out by Schwenke right away and the Titans start a line of Michael Roos, Levitre, Schwenke, Warmack and David Stewart, left to right.

Todd McShay just raved about the pick on ESPN, saying Schwenke was the nastiest, toughest offensive linemen he’s seen on tape all season.

Roos and Stewart need to have bounce-back seasons, and with upgraded support between them it should be easier to do.

A pretty big weakness is set to be a major strength, and depth should be solid as well.

Now Jake Locker, Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene need to take advantage of it.
ESPN.com’s scout Matt Williamson called Ace Sanders “Tavon Austin Lite.”

After they traded out of the first pick of the fourth round, the Jaguars took South Carolina receiver/returner Sanders with the 101st selection.

The pint-sized receiver is dangerous in space and is a slot guy who could go nicely working with Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts on the outside.

The Jaguars also have Jordan Shipley, but Sanders looks to be far more dangerous and could be a very threatening punt returner.

Here’s Scouts Inc. on his big-play ability.
"Quicker than fast and reaches top-end speed quickly after catch. Makes defenders miss in space. Above average balance and can run through arm tackles. Appears faster than timed top-end speed on film but doesn't show breakaway speed when gets a seam or have the second gear to take the top off the coverage. Doesn't have the frame or length to win 50-50 balls downfield either."

The issue, of course, is what happens when he doesn’t escape?

He runs 4.38, but when he does get hit can his 5-foot-7, 173-pound frame hold up?
I admire the Jacksonville Jaguars’ restraint so far with regard to quarterbacks in the draft.

They just passed again at No. 98 to lead off the fourth-round, trading the pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for Nos. 101 and 210 in the seventh round. The Eagles took quarterback Matt Barkley.

GM David Caldwell has so many spots to fill that the infrastructure isn’t in place for a quarterback to come in and succeed. The Jaguars can give Blaine Gabbert one final chance, have an alternative in Chad Henne and can draft to fill up a lot of other stuff.

My NFC West colleague Mike Sando points out that often the clock doesn’t really start ticking on a new coach like Gus Bradley until he declares his hand at quarterback, so slow playing that decision can be smart.

The Jaguars are the only team in the league with quarterback uncertainty that hasn’t added something at the position this offseason. They are content to keep it that way, at least for now.

Caldwell is not reactionary and isn’t going to force anything.

If they wind up with a quarterback in this draft, it’ll be because they see someone as a value on their board, not because they are feeling the strain of necessity.

At some point, Ryan Nassib, Tyler Wilson, Tyler Bray, Matt Scott, Landry Jones or Zac Dysert becomes a value, even for a team not craving an addition.

Countdown Live: 2013 NFL draft, Rds. 4-7

April, 27, 2013
4/27/13
10:00
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Join our ESPN.com NFL experts for Rounds 4-7 of the 2013 NFL draft.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at noon ET. See you there.

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