- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
There will be picks on Saturday and Sunday that prompt brows furrowed into question marks on the faces of fans of the four teams of the AFC South.
So in advance of this weekend's draft, the AFC South Blog is here to warn you: Don't be surprised when the Colts look to cornerback; don't be shocked when the Titans turn to a tight end and/or a defensive end. Should the Texans invest a reasonably high pick in a receiver or the Jaguars dip again in to the pool of defensive ends, they won't be making redundant roster choices.
They'll be thinking more about 2010 than about 2009.
We've discussed the current needs of all four teams a lot in the build-up to the draft. But teams obviously have to look further ahead than that. They can't count on the CBA expiring and the rules of free agency changing. Because if a new labor deal is struck and free agency continues to operate in the fashion we are used to -- with players who've logged at least four years and have expired contracts hitting the free market -- teams have to be prepared to lose people, and they need to have replacements ready.
Some of those potential replacements are already lined up, of course, working as backups. But others must be targeted.
"You're not just drafting for this year, you're drafting for future years too," Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt said. "You have to have the vision of what they might be in two or three years. ... You're always building depth on your team and you're getting, especially in the later-round guys, traits that can be developed."
Here is a look at the issues teams may be facing in terms of departing free agents in 2010 with some suggestions, courtesy of Scouts. Inc.'s Matt Williamson, on mid- and late-round picks who could fill the holes.
The Titans are probably in the best roster shape heading into this season, but then have by far the worst scenario of the four teams for 2010. Nine starters and three other key players not currently under contract for 2010 -- and that's not including role players such as defensive end Dave Ball or Quinton Ganther.
The list of potential 2010 free agents of note, with incumbent starters denoted by an asterisk:
Left guard Eugene Amano*
Defensive tackle Tony Brown*
Linebacker Keith Bulluck*
Tight end Alge Crumpler*
Cornerback Nick Harper*
Punter Craig Hentrich
Defensive end Jevon Kearse*
Center Kevin Mawae*
Tight end Bo Scaife
Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch*
Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch*
Running back LenDale White
Based on that, it shouldn't be a surprise if the Titans take a center or guard. Because while Leroy Harris is ready to take over one spot, they could need another guy if both Amano and Mawae are gone. (Jamie Thomas from Maryland could fit as a mid-round pick.)
While many seem to think they need a defensive tackle post-Albert Haynesworth, end could be a bigger issue beyond this year if they wind up minus KVB and Kearse. (Michael Bennett from Texas A&M may be a quality late-round run stopper.)
Crumpler is unlikely to be back and Scaife, currently tagged as the franchise player, could move on. (Might the Titans add a Cal tight end for the second draft in a row, adding Cameron Morrah to Craig Stevens?)
And while they've used three of their last six-highest picks on running backs, a bigger guy who could do what White does at a lesser cost may be on their radar. (Perhaps Gartrell Johnson from Colorado State in the late rounds?)
The Texans are a younger team and have been working to lock up their best guys.
Houston will be drafting with current holes in mind -- safety, linebacker, defensive tackle, a second running back. But they also have to have some long-range vision.
Their potential 2010 free agents of note:
Middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans*
Cornerback Dunta Robinson*
Tight end Owen Daniels*
Left guard Chester Pitts*
Receiver Kevin Walter*
Safety Nick Ferguson
Linebacker Chaun Thompson
Kicker Kris Brown
Punter Matt Turk
Linebacker Cato June
Ryans wants a new deal as he heads into a contract year, Robinson is skipping the team's conditioning program because he's unhappy he got franchise tagged and Daniels got tendered as a restricted free agent.
If they take a receiver, he could be insurance for Walter next year. (How about Austin Collie from BYU?) Corner is an even bigger need when you consider Robinson could be gone in a season. (Asher Allen from Georgia could be a nice fit in the middle of the draft.)
Is 2007 sixth-rounder Kasey Studdard, drafted before the team hired Alex Gibbs and began employing his zone-blocking scheme, viewed as an eventual successor to Pitts, who's 30 in June? We may see the Texans grab a guy Gibbs likes for depth and a potential job down the line. Troy Kropog from Tulane and Xavier Fulton from Illinois are college tackles who could project as mobile guards in their group.
Linebacker is not only an issue because the team wants to be bigger and sturdier at the spot, but because depth beyond this season is limited.
The Colts always work to keep their stars locked up and are fine filling in around them, so they don't have any huge holes pending. Their needs may be based more on their assessment of guys on the roster and under contract through 2010 or beyond, starting with left tackle Tony Ugoh and running back Joseph Addai. Outsiders have questioned their toughness based on their production in 2008, when the line and Addai dealt with injuries.
Their potential 2010 free agents of note:
Free safety Antoine Bethea*
Middle linebacker Gary Brackett*
Cornerback Marlin Jackson*
Cornerback Tim Jennings
Tackle/guard Charlie Johnson
The Colts have a high-quality third safety in Melvin Bullitt, but with Bob Sanders' propensity for missing games because of injury, they could draft another if they are not sold on recently re-signed Matt Giordano for the long term. His was just a one-year deal.
While they re-signed Kelvin Hayden to a long-term deal before he could become a free agent, cornerback is a long-range concern and they are usually willing to turn over the position. With Jackson, who's coming off a major knee injury, and Jennings heading for free agency, a corner who can be ready to start in 2010 counts as another priority for Indianapolis this weekend.
Williamson points to Ellis Lankster out of West Virginia as a late round possibility who would fit what the Colts ask their corners to do.
The Jaguars have a ton of holes now. They are looking to restock at wide receiver and on both the offensive and defensive lines, and need help in the defensive backfield. The good news for first-year general manager Gene Smith is that the pieces Jacksonville is looking to build around are in place beyond this year and nothing major is looming in 2010.
The Jaguars' potential 2010 free agents of note:
Defensive end Reggie Hayward*
Linebacker Clint Ingram*
Center-guard Dennis Norman
Receiver Troy Williamson
While tackle is likely to be a higher priority, interior offensive line depth is an issue with Vince Mauwai (not Uche Nwaneri as previously written) and Maurice Williams coming off injuries that cost them the season, Brad Meester is 32 years old and Norman's contract expiring. Fenuki Tupou from Oregon could be the sort of mid-round guy who could fit for offensive line coach Andy Heck.
With two premium picks spent on defensive end last year, Hayward won't be a major subtraction if he's gone in 2010. But that means another defensive end could arrive this weekend. And Ingram's status means linebacker depth is also a possible concern for a team coached by Jack Del Rio, a former linebacker. Perhaps Frantz Joseph from Florida Atlantic could be a quality piece for them.