AFC South: The Big Question AFC

NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

What players in the division qualify as the most important, emerging second-year guys?

We’ll steer away from guys who were major contributors as rookies last year, looking for breakout sophomore candidates.

[+] EnlargeAntoine Caldwell
AP Photo/David J. PhillipThe Texans need Antoine Caldwell to step up and claim a starting spot on the interior line.
In Houston, we know Brian Cushing can play and we know the Texans love Glover Quin. Antoine Caldwell, the Texans' 2009 third-round lineman, needs to be part of the solution on an interior offensive line that suffered serious injuries early last season. It was particularly ineffective in the run game. He looks like he might be the guy at right guard, but there is still quite a bit to sort out. (Correction: Caldwell was taken in the third round, not the second.)

For the Colts, halfback Donald Brown needs to pass protect better to earn time on the field. But our choice is defensive tackle Fili Moala. The 2009 season amounted to a redshirt season for him as he tried to make the adjustment from USC to the NFL. But they drafted him as part of a push to be bigger and more physical inside and it would be good for them if he earned a slot in the rotation.

The 2009 Jaguars were loaded with rookie contributors, and Eugene Monroe, Eben Britton, Mike Thomas, Terrance Knighton and Derek Cox all did too much to still qualify as candidates here. Zach Miller's a great candidate, but with Marcedes Lewis and Ernest Wilford having good springs, the need at tight end doesn’t compare to safety. With a shaky corps of veterans at safety, Courtney Greene has room to earn the faith of the coaches and time on the field. He was an undrafted free agent out of Rutgers last year.

The Tennessee Titans are looking to their 2009 draft class for a giant contribution. Receiver Kenny Britt and linebacker Gerald McRath are going to get significant playing time. While Jason McCourty or Ryan Mouton will get the spotlight as a second corner, I’m not sold on either DB yet. But I do expect defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks to break out. He’s gotten stronger, and should be a key interior piece. Maybe he will take snaps away from the disappointing Jovan Haye?
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Which AFC South rookie will have the biggest impact?

There are plenty of opportunities for first-year players in the AFC South, and it makes sense that a high draft pick who fills a need and will get time on the field will be the choice here.

[+] EnlargeTyson Alualu
AP Photo/John RaouxTyson Alualu made a positive impression during Jacksonville's offseason workouts.
I expect Derrick Morgan to start, but the Titans' defensive end will need some time to find his rhythm. The Titans have some other rush options at end in William Hayes, Jacob Ford and even Dave Ball. In Indianapolis, first-round defensive end Jerry Hughes will work behind Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis and I suspect he will be eased in as the third guy.

At this point, I’d say the highest impact guy in the division will be one of three candidates: Houston cornerback Kareem Jackson, Houston running back Ben Tate or Jacksonville’s Tyson Alualu.

Jackson will be relying on the pass rush and the play of the rest of the secondary to help him succeed, and Tate starts off behind Steve Slaton and Arian Foster and needs better blocking than the Texans were able to provide last season.

Alualu’s not as reliant on others and has no veteran in front of him, so he’s my choice.

He showed an explosive first step and good hand action in OTAs. The Jaguars are hell bent on better penetration that will get quarterbacks off their spot and off their timing.

If Alualu beats the guy in front of him or even makes him retreat a bit, he’ll have an impact from the start and all season.
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How do the AFC South safety tandems rank?

[+] EnlargeBob Sanders
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireBob Sanders helps form the AFC South's most formidable safety tandem.
In a division with Peyton Manning and Matt Schaub, pass defense is at a premium, and division teams need pass rush and coverage to beat those two quarterbacks.

Beyond the Colts, who are three deep with Antoine Bethea, Bob Sanders and Melvin Bullitt -- there are far too many questions about the safety tandems than teams can afford.

Houston is second-best, though it’s hardly cause for celebration. The Texans got excellent production and leadership out of strong safety Bernard Pollard when he joined the team and settled things down. But Eugene Wilson didn’t make it through the season. He seems less than an ideal match for Pollard, but the Texans don't have any good alternatives unless Troy Nolan, a draft pick from last year who was hurt, can step up.

Tennessee’s Chris Hope and Michael Griffin were Pro Bowlers two years ago. Last year they were quite shaky. Hope is aging and often seemed indecisive in 2009. He took some blame for not getting on Griffin enough, allowing their friendship to get in the way. Griffin admitted personal stuff was getting in the way last year. Can he compartmentalize better? That may be the biggest question for the defense.

Jacksonville has no real idea if Reggie Nelson will bounce back -- he also played some bad corner and nickel last season. Presuming he starts, Gerald Alexander is most likely the other guy, but Sean Considine and Anthony Smith are in the mix. Some scouts say all four are merely “guys,” a way of saying the team can do better. Second-year man Courtney Greene could earn a chance.

I stack them in that order, but after the Colts, it’s moveable ground based on camp and preseason performance. If things don’t get better, however, look for Manning and Schaub to shred the deep middle.
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Is this the year the Colts, who've won at least 12 games seven years running, finally make a dip in the standings?

The Colts' sustained regular-season success is unparalleled. They have a great talent evaluator at the top of the organization in Bill Polian. They have a four-time MVP quarterback in Peyton Manning. They have an all-time great pass-rusher in Dwight Freeney. They have a core of veterans who simply know how to win, and an expectation level everyone buys into.

[+] EnlargeJeff Saturday
Larry French/Getty ImagesJeff Saturday leads an offensive line that has many questions heading into next season.
But, critics and devil’s advocates say, at some point things are bound to start to come apart.

The offensive line, keyed by aging center Jeff Saturday, has some questions and lost long-time coach Howard Mudd, who retired. Veteran offensive coordinator Tom Moore has a reduced role and Clyde Christensen, whose stint as coordinator in Tampa Bay was disastrous, has moved up into the role.

Young players like receivers Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie and cornerbacks Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey will play key roles. What if they suffer slumps instead of jumps?

Freeney is getting older and the team suffers when he’s hurt. And although the team has good alternatives in place, safety Bob Sanders has not proved he can hold together for a long stretch. If they or another key guy goes down, won’t there be a time when the next man up proves unable to sustain the level of play?

Special teams regularly have failed to help the cause. While the team is optimistic things will improve, sometimes it feels like there is an acceptance that there just won’t be a big contribution. Adam Vinatieri doesn’t have the leg he used to and is coming off a year in which he fought injuries.

Jim Caldwell did some outstanding work in his initial season as an NFL head coach, but stumbled with some key decisions in the Super Bowl.

Like every team in the league, the Colts have issues. Scenarios like these could arise and make things awfully difficult for them.

And yes, at some point later in Manning’s career, it will become harder for them to win their standard 12 games.

But that time hasn’t arrived yet.

The Colts still are the safe bet to win the AFC South. With Sanders, receiver Anthony Gonzalez and draftees like defensive end Jerry Hughes and tight end Brody Eldridge primed to help, they stand to be better than they were in 2009.

So I’ve asked the big question, and now I’m answering it: No.
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Can the Tennessee Titans count on fifth-year quarterback Vince Young?

[+] EnlargeYoung
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyVince Young answered questions Monday following a fight in a Dallas strip club.
His recent misdemeanor assault citation in a Dallas strip club calls into question again his maturity. Young has raised eyebrows before by skipping out of the team hotel and missing a flight.

It’s reasonable to expect that he’d be smart enough not to put himself in a situation that would draw such negative attention. And what if he’d broken his hand when he took a swing, or if someone on the other side of the altercation pulled a gun?

Many will say this has little to do with his play on fall Sundays, but the Titans still are not sure exactly what they have. He’s a moody guy who can be a delight or down in the dumps. He throws a nice deep ball but still struggles with short stuff to the flat. Young can be wildly inaccurate.

His game should have evolved more by now.

Still, with the right degree of patience and coaching touch, the team might continue to get the one thing from him he’s consistently managed to produce: wins.

When a former NFL quarterback like Tim Hasselbeck says Young is “not a franchise quarterback” and asks for someone to let him know when Donovan McNabb or Drew Brees does something like this, it makes you pause.

A good share of NFL teams are looking for stable production and leadership out of the quarterback position. The Titans long not to be ranked as one of them. But for the time being, it’s certainly hard to count Young as a lock.
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

With a lot of veterans gone, who will emerge as the Titans' leaders?

It’s been out with the old and in with the new for the Titans, which creates a lot of leadership questions for me.

[+] EnlargeAhmard Hall
Tom Hauck/Getty ImagesAhmard Hall is a likely candidate to help fill the leadership void in Nashville.
Jeff Fisher has said he’s not concerned. He's confident that leadership will emerge from a locker room he likes.

But look at the group that’s gone: Kyle Vanden Bosch, Keith Bulluck, Kevin Mawae and Alge Crumpler.

That’s a ton of veteran leadership. Young players regularly watched and followed those guys, who were proven over time.

There are fewer remaining candidates who are qualified to say “follow me” now.

Vince Young has said he intends to do more, and the quarterback certainly has to be among the top leaders. Chris Johnson's production makes him a leader too, except he’s not around because he’s upset about his contract.

Ahmard Hall, the Marine who’s the fullback, has an excellent work ethic and can be a spokesperson for the offense. Bo Scaife has said he wants to assume Bulluck’s mantle. The offensive line, for the first time I can remember, lacks a thoughtful veteran who can speak on all subjects and be a resource to everyone.

Defensively, Chris Hope can take on more of a leadership role, but only if his play gets back to standards. Cortland Finnegan is a guy people will follow, but he still has some maturing to do. He can get overly fired up in response to criticism. I look for the talkative and spunky linebacker Gerald McRath to be a guy who will develop a following.

None of them can force it -- they have to let it come. It’s kind of a complicated thing to develop and it has to happen naturally. So leadership will be a big story we monitor with this team this season.

Big Question: Best second RB?

June, 1, 2010
6/01/10
1:01
PM ET
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Who’s the best No. 2 running back in the division?

[+] EnlargeSteve Slaton
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesSteve Slaton could be the best No. 2 running back in the division.
There is very little experience here, with second-year players Donald Brown, Rashad Jennings and Javon Ringer in the mix. Also in contention for the prestigious title could be rookies Deji Karim and LeGarrette Blount.

That group has a grand total of 125 carries for 531 yards and four touchdowns.

Brown would be the choice for the Colts based on promise and draft status, but he averaged just 3.6 yards in a carry, 2.9 in the playoffs. He also had moments of uncertainty in pass protection, a major no-no when the quarterback is Peyton Manning.

I expect Ben Tate, the second-round choice out of Auburn, to start for the Texans. I think Steve Slaton would be in line to work on third down. If Slaton is healthy after neck surgery and if he can show renewed ball security after major fumble-itis in his second season, he’s my choice here.

He ran for 1,282 yards as a rookie in 2008, with a 4.8-yard average and nine rushing touchdowns. Another AFC South rookie to the north, the Titans' Chris Johnson, rushed for 1,228 yards, averaged 4.9 yards per carry and scored nine touchdowns in 2008.

A Slaton rebound to form might be a lot to ask. But for now, he gets the nod here.
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Could Dan Orlovsky prove a capable fill-in if Matt Schaub misses time?

[+] EnlargeDan Orlovsky
Fernando Medina/US PresswireDan Orlovsky still has to prove he's ready to back up starting QB Matt Schaub.
Lost in Peyton Manning's fourth MVP season was the fact that the Indianapolis Colts quarterback didn’t even lead the AFC South in passing yardage. Matt Schaub of the Houston Texans actually led the NFL in that category, with 4,770 yards.

That number came about in part because of the Texans' run struggles, but it's still quite impressive.

Schaub played all 16 games last season, throwing all but nine of the team’s 592 quarterback passes. His backup, Rex Grossman, hit it off with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, and followed Shanahan to Washington this offseason. That puts Orlovsky back in line to back up Schaub.

We’ll get a much better sense in training camp, but Orlovsky was shaky last summer. Several teams had coveted the former Detroit Lions veteran before he joined the Texans as a free agent. Grossman’s arrival and subsequent preseason performance bumped Orlovsky to No. 3.

But Texans coach Gary Kubiak is more at ease with Orlovsky as the backup now.

“Obviously, I’m more comfortable,” Kubiak told Houston media this week. “He’s a better player right now than he was last year. It’s a really big camp coming up for him, training camp and stuff. Dan’s had some chances in this league, and he’s got all of the tools that Matt has. The question is for him, ‘Does he continue to progress and get better?’”

Kubiak didn’t view Grossman’s move to No. 2 as a demotion for Orlovsky last summer, and said he really liked the way Orlovsky handled it.

“Really, what happened was that there were great expectations for him, and it wasn’t happening as fast,” Kubiak said. “I really, personally -- and I told Dan this, so it’s nothing new to him -- I really just thought it was about his standard in how he prepares and how he plays and how he practices. We’ve got one here for the quarterback. Our quarterback is going to play good. It just wasn’t happening at the same pace it should have.

“So we felt more comfortable with Rex, who had played in a lot of football games. Dan could have done one of two things. He could have sulked; he didn’t. He worked all year. He helped Matt, and he’s a better player because of it. I’m proud of the way he went about his business, and now it’s time for him to take off.”

That said, he offered no guarantee that Orlovsky is the No. 2. He’ll have to show them he’s ready and make sure they aren’t tempted by someone else who may end up on the market.

“It’s time to work, and what he has to do is he’s got to earn the respect from everybody,” Kubiak said. “If Matt is not practicing a day, he has to continue to have this football team practicing well. They’ve got to know if something happens to Matt, we still win. That’s your job as a backup quarterback.”
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Can Maurice Jones-Drew see?

With the Jacksonville Jaguars, Jones-Drew’s primary worries on a football field come at close range, in small spaces.

[+] EnlargeJones-Drew
Jason Miller/US PresswireMaurice Jones-Drew had Lasik surgery in the offseason to improve his vision.
So his nearsightedness was never that big of an issue for him.

Still, this offseason he had Lasik surgery and now he’s seeing things more clearly, at work and away from the field.

“It was 70-40 before and now it’s [cornerback] Scotty Starks vision: 15-20,” Jones-Drew told me recently. “I didn’t wear contacts. I was just out there playing off instincts. Blurry. You get used to it. I was nearsighted. So I could see up close, I just couldn’t see on those long passes.”

“It’s a huge difference. Now, I can see the laces. You can see them coming at you from 20, 30, 40 feet away.”

Jones-Drew never thought of it as a big football issue. He’s been a good receiver in his four seasons, but he is a running back targeted on short stuff that gives him a chance to run in space, not a guy who’s asked to run many routes far downfield.

“[Trainers] said if you can play with it, if you can handle it, you’re fine,” he said. “I’ve been playing with it since I was in college, though, so it wasn’t that bad. I had contacts in college and I got hit and one fell out and it got all irritated. I didn’t wear anything. They said if I had to pass my driver’s test again I probably wouldn’t have passed.”

It wasn’t football that really motivated his decision to have the surgery.

He said he grew increasingly frustrated from things like not being able to read signs and get where he wanted to go.

“I can see now,” he said. “They say I might have 15-20.”

We’ll find out this fall if there are additional benefits on the field.
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

What will the Colts’ offensive line look like in 2010?

Straight answer: We don’t know and only can speculate. There will be a new left guard, as Ryan Lilja was let go. Beyond that…

[+] EnlargeColts
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesThe Colts will be missing at least one member of their 2009 offensive line.
The team has added three players: sixth-year tackle Adam Terry, fourth-year guard Andy Alleman and fourth-round draft pick Jacques McClendon. They also added three undrafted tackles (one who was on the practice squads in Cincinnati, San Diego and Philadelphia last season) and an undrafted guard.

Team president Bill Polian recently said the intent is to toss all 15 offensive linemen on the roster into the OTA, minicamp and training camp mix and see what shakes out. That leaves a lot of room for a lot of scenarios including a tackle like Charlie Johnson kicking inside.

It’s my feeling that of the four remaining incumbents, only center Jeff Saturday is a lock to return in the spot he was in last season. But I also wouldn’t be at all surprised if all four -- Johnson at left tackle, Saturday at center, Kyle DeVan at right guard, Ryan Diem at right tackle -- were in place on opening day in Houston, with only Lilja’s replacement a newcomer. The group, after all, was good enough to get the Colts to a second Super Bowl in four years.

Pass protection is going to remain priority one with Peyton Manning taking the snaps, but more effective run blocking in some crucial scenarios is a factor that can help the Colts.

They need to lock in a left tackle and go from there. Charlie Johnson could remain in the spot, though some think he’s best as the sixth man who can fill in for a few games here and there at tackle or guard. Tony Ugoh needs to make his claim to the job now, and could get a clean slate with Pete Metzelaars taking over for longtime offensive line coach Howard Mudd.

A scout from another team told me recently that he thought Polian wanted to see Ugoh developed at the spot while the decisive Mudd had determined Ugoh couldn’t be effective enough for the Colts last year. We’ll likely never know if that’s the case, thought the results of the competitions could give us some degree of information.

Whoever the tackles are, they and the run game should get a boost from Brody Eldridge. He's the big blocking tight end the Colts drafted in the fifth round out of Oklahoma. He’s not going to hurt the Colts while getting in the way of an extra pass rusher either.
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Does a record-setting running back and arguably the league’s most explosive player deserve a giant raise -- even if he’s heading into just the third season of a five-year contract?

Chris Johnson certainly thinks so and has said so.

The Titans running back hasn’t been part of the team’s offseason workouts this spring and did not join in on the first couple OTA sessions. Johnson said after he topped 2,000 rushing yards in 2009 that he’d stick with working out on his own because it helped produce good results.

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
AP Photo/Wade PayneChris Johnson is scheduled to earn a base salary of $550,000 this season.
Clearly, he’s making a statement by staying away.

The Titans are limited by a rule that allows for only a 30 percent raise from year to year. That’s base salary. It can be circumvented by bonus money, but it would take a huge bonus to make it a fair- market deal. Teams are understandably reluctant to craft a contract with so much guaranteed.

Here’s a recent post from Andrew Brandt that explains the economics.

Johnson got a $7 million bonus when he signed his original deal as the 24th pick in the 2008 draft. His base salary this season will be $550,000.

I spoke with Johnson’s close friend, Jacksonville receiver Mike Sims-Walker, about CJ during the Jaguars’ recent minicamp. The two grew up together in Orlando. They are training together with Tom Shaw, an expert on speed.

“He’s looking pretty good,” Sims-Walker said of Johnson. “We work out together three or four times a week. We go on the road [and] we still work out, like for a whole week. We were working out in Vegas and everything. He’s still getting his work in.”

What’s Johnson’s mood and how focused is he on the contract?

“I don’t think he’s mad, but I wouldn’t say he’s happy,” Sims-Walker said. “He’s taking his time. He hired an agent and he’s letting him handle that. That’s what CJ hired him for, that’s what he’s paying the man for, to make the business decisions that he feels are best with Chris.”

One concern from the Titans' side is how Johnson bounces back from the heavy workload that got him over 2,000 yards last season.

Sims-Walker says Johnson’s already proved what he can do in consecutive seasons with a 1,228-yard effort as a rookie and the 2,006 yards last year.

“How much more does he have to do?” Sims-Walker asked. “We all know this is a production business. You get paid the way you play. ... He well exceeded his contact, we all know. He’s probably one of the lowest-paid starting running backs in the league. He’s just trying to get paid how he plays.”

Sims-Walker overstates one thing there: Other young running backs who are starters drafted in later rounds haven’t produced like Johnson, but aren’t making more than him. That list includes guys like Ray Rice, Matt Forte, Jerome Harrison, Steve Slaton, Jamaal Charles, Ahmad Bradshaw, Shonn Greene and LeSean McCoy.

As for the Titans' remaining 12 OTA dates, Sims-Walker said his guess is that Johnson won’t make any of them.

But his sense is that Johnson will show up for training camp.

“That’s when you get the mandatory fines and all that. I don’t know if he’s taking it that far,” Sims-Walker said. “I think he’ll show up. But hopefully he’ll get to camp with a [new] contract ...

“They can give him a big signing bonus and still deal with 30 percent. He’s worth offensive-player-of-the-year money, that’s the award he won, right? At least he should be the highest-paid running back.”
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Can the Texans' secondary improve and key a breakthrough against the Colts?

Things are looking up for the Texans, who had their first winning season and finished second in the AFC South in 2009.

[+] EnlargeJackson
Kirby Lee/US PresswireThe Texans are counting on Kareem Jackson to help bolster their secondary.
But the big question is whether a pass defense that was 18th in the league last season, allowing an average of 217.9 yards a game, will be better. Let's be blunt: For the Texans to challenge for the AFC South title, they've got to at least split their season series with Indianapolis. They are 1-15 all-time against Indy.

To break through and knock off the Colts, they’ll have to slow Peyton Manning.

In two wins over Houston last year, Manning completed 61 of 85 passes for 562 yards, four touchdowns, three interceptions and a 90.4 passer rating.

But the Texans were certainly in range -- the road loss was 20-17, the home defeat was 35-27.

So how have the Texans gotten better defensively to be ready for Manning?

Sub first-round cornerback Kareem Jackson, a physical player, for Dunta Robinson, who to fled Atlanta in free agency. Add fifth-rounder Sherrick McManis to the cornerback pool that features unproven or inconsistent guys. Add defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, who could produce a better push than Amobi Okoye in some situations. They did not address free safety, a position where I think they are overconfident in Eugene Wilson.

In that paragraph, it doesn’t look like enough.

But if second-round running back Ben Tate is what they expect, he’ll complete the offense. He’ll make Matt Schaub's play-action far tougher to read. He’ll convert a couple of crucial third-and-shorts.

That may mean less possessions for Manning and fewer minutes on the field for Houston’s defense.

The breakthrough now may actually be more about coaching and mental toughness than talent.

Last year at Indy Houston lost a crucial challenge that helped turn the tide. At Reliant Stadium, the Texans blew a lead and handed away momentum, a familiar storyline for them against the Colts.

Preparation, play calling, execution and, yes, mental toughness, are the things that may prove most significant for a tide-turning win.

But even if they get all that, if the secondary isn’t better, it may not matter.

The Texans have some guys who can be in position and still fail to make a play. They may have led the division in near-miss breakups last year. Earl Thomas' ball skills were a big reason a lot of people envisioned them loving him in the draft, but the safety from Texas was gone well before the Texans went on the clock at No. 20 and selected Jackson.

As a secondary, they need to track it, find it, knock it away, catch it. If they do those things more often, maybe they can challenge Indy. If they don’t, they’re playing for second place and a wild-ard berth just like Tennessee and Jacksonville.
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Can the Jaguars or Titans get back into the second round?

Jacksonville is set to go on pause after pick No. 10 until No. 74 overall in the third round, the price of the pick the Jaguars got from New England last April to get Derek Cox with the 73rd pick.

Tennessee will go silent after No. 16 until No. 77 in the third, the cost of the selection the Titans got from New England last April to get Jared Cook with the 89th pick.

But both teams have needs, won’t necessarily be in love with someone in their first-round slots and would surely love to get back into the second round.

So what would it cost?

Here are hypothetical trade examples for each team using our draft value trade chart that’s below.

They are not based on me knowing anything about the Eagles, Chargers or Cowboys wanting the trade up. (Please read that twice.) I just think those three teams are in the area where the Jaguars or Titans would like to move down to, and the Eagles are intriguing because they have two second-rounders.

  • Jacksonville gives up No. 10 for Philadelphia’s No. 1 pick at No. 24 and also gets Philadelphia’s second second-rounder, 55th overall, and a seventh-rounder, 200th overall. (Chart values, that’s 1,300-1,102.4.)
  • Jacksonville gives up No. 10 for San Diego’s No. 1 pick at 28 and also gets San Diego’s second-rounder, 40th overall, and a seventh-rounder, 235th overall. (Chart values, that’s 1,300 to 1,161.9)
  • Tennessee gives up No. 16 for Philadelphia’s two No. 2 picks, 37th and 55th overall. (Chart values, that’s 1,000-880.)
  • Tennessee gives up No. 16 for Dallas’ No., 1 pick at No. 27 and also gets Dallas’ second rounder, 59th overall. (Chart values, that’s 1,000-990.)

If the Jaguars or Titans don’t have a true love available at 10 or 16 and the Eagles, Chargers or Cowboys were willing partners, I’d have no beef with those deals or anything similar.

I’ve touched on how our ability to add up the numbers may prevent some teams from making deals that don’t quite add up, like these don’t. But if you want out of your spot and you are determined to get a second-round pick, I’m OK with you getting a little less than what fans and media will feel is full value based on this chart.

NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Can Jacksonville bring in a draft class that has an impact like last year’s?

It’s a bit of a trick question. Last year’s team had glaring holes and a lot of room for rookies to nudge into the starting lineup.


Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesThe Jaguars got production right away from rookie Terrance Knighton in 2009.
The four players the Jaguars drafted in the first three rounds in 2009 combined to start 60 of a possible 64 games. Left tackle Eugene Monroe, right tackle Eben Britton, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and cornerback Derek Cox improved as the year went on and have very bright futures.

Can Gene Smith match that in his second draft as he searches for pass rush help, an interior offensive lineman, a safety, a linebacker and an additional offensive playmaker?

The formula he’s put in place seems a good one. Smith is a longtime scout who relies on his scouts. He rates character and leadership as important, giving extra long looks to guys who captained their college teams. He’s unafraid of small schools and players who haven’t gotten a lot of publicity -- see Knighton out of Temple and Cox from William & Mary.

The Jaguars' 2010 rookie class will have opportunity for sure. But I don’t expect they’ll finish the season with five first-year guys starting at season’s end as they did last season with the four high picks and undrafted linebacker Russell Allen filling in for the injured Clint Ingram.

The expectations will be more conventional, and at this point there is no reason to think Smith can’t find a group that can meet them. I expect the questions will be about the ability of Jack Del Rio and his staff to coach guys up again and have them ready when called upon.

The Big Question: What to expect from VY?

April, 6, 2010
4/06/10
1:00
PM ET
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

What can we expect from Vince Young in 2010?

[+] EnlargeYoung
Steve Dykes/US PresswireVince Young threw for 1,879 yards in the Titans' final 10 games of the 2009 season.
When this question was posed to me last year at this time, I felt Young would be an unsuccessful quarterback in 2009 -- and going forward. I just didn’t trust him to throw the ball well and accurately enough. Nothing is static in this business, and although I am not ready to say that I am a total believer in Young, my tune has surely changed.

Of course, Young deserves a ton of credit for this improvement, but so does coach Jeff Fisher and the Titans’ offensive play calling. I see a lot of half-field reads for Young and obviously Tennessee employs a run-first offensive approach. It also doesn’t hurt having the threat of Chris Johnson as a runner and outlet receiver to make life much easier on a developing quarterback. The Titans also have one of the very best offensive lines in the league and a young, promising group of pass-catchers.

But back to the original question. Young’s supporting cast shouldn’t change much in 2010. In fact, those pass-catchers -- namely Kenny Britt and Jared Cook -- should be further along in their development. Britt in particular should really assert himself this season.

But most important, Young should continue to progress as well. Of course, Young is very dangerous with his legs and he should continue to present a threat in this capacity, but his passing skills improved by leaps and bounds in 2009 since his last stint as a starting quarterback. His ball placement and touch on throws to all levels is vastly improved. Young seems to understand that staying in the pocket to make the throw is usually a better decision than tucking it down and running in the NFL.

But still, this isn’t an offense built to come from behind. Young needs to keep the offense on schedule and move the chains. I see him continuing to do just that, but also further refining his passing skills and deciphering defensive schemes.

Sometimes failure is a great thing for a quarterback. They come back and no longer are playing scared or like the weight of the franchise is planted on their shoulder pads. Young did play fast at times last year, but less so than in the past, and those instances probably will continue to decline. He looks like a much more relaxed quarterback.

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