Indianapolis Colts: Houston Texans
The NFL draft has come (finally) and gone and now it’s time to take stock of how it affected the teams around the AFC South.
The division was clearly the worst in the NFL in 2013, with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans combining for just 13 victories. The Texans had the No. 1 overall pick and the Jaguars were two spots behind. That means those teams needed a lot of help.
The Texans nabbed perhaps the best pass-rusher of the past 15 years in Jadeveon Clowney to pair with J.J. Watt but didn’t address an obvious need at quarterback until the fourth round.
The Jaguars surprised everyone by taking quarterback Blake Bortles with their first pick, then adding a pair of receivers in the second round, including first-round talent Marqise Lee.
The Titans went substance over style with their draft but did nab one of the top three offensive tackles in Taylor Lewan and may have found a replacement for Chris Johnson in Bishop Sankey.
The Colts had the fewest draft picks in the league (five) but didn’t address perhaps the team’s biggest need.
Division reporters Michael DiRocco (Jaguars), Tania Ganguli (Texans), Paul Kuharsky (Titans) and Mike Wells (Colts) help you figure out what it all means.
Have the Titans added enough to their hybrid 3-4 defense to make a leap?
Michael DiRocco: One of the key things about coordinator Ray Horton's defense is that it demands versatility, especially among the linebackers. They have to be able to play multiple spots, and that requires speed and athleticism. The addition of Wesley Woodyard from Denver certainly helps, because he can play inside and outside. Drafting Avery Williamson, however, doesn't seem to fit. He's an inside player who doesn't run well. I do like tackle DaQuan Jones, though. He can play multiple spots on the line. The one thing the defense is missing is a big-time pass-rusher and that's the key to making the defense work.
Paul Kuharsky: I don't know. The four primary outside linebackers can turn out to be a good group. I think Kamerion Wimbley will be a lot closer to the player the Titans paid big money to in 2012 now that he's back to the position in a favorable scheme. And Shaun Phillips was a smart signing considering production and price. The system is also a better fit for Akeem Ayers. I'm not as certain about Derrick Morgan, who's listed as a defensive end/linebacker but worked in position drills with the linebackers at the pre-draft voluntary minicamp. Ropati Pitoitua is much more of a run-stopper than a pass-rusher, and he's certain to play end in the three-man front. The Titans have a lot of candidates to play with him and opposite him, but none scream that they will consistently get into the backfield. Jurrell Casey was excellent last season with 10.5 sacks. I feel certain coordinator Ray Horton won't do anything to mess up the good thing the Titans have going with Casey. The pass rush will be better. But better enough? I would have liked to have seen a young edge guy added in the draft.
Mike Wells: It may eventually work in Tennessee, but don't be surprised if it takes a little time for the defensive players to adapt to the 3-4 defense. Ask Colts linebacker Robert Mathis if you need further proof. Mathis shifted from defensive end in the 4-3 defense to outside linebacker when coach Chuck Pagano brought his 3-4 defense to Indianapolis in 2012. Mathis went from 8.0 sacks in his first year under Pagano to 19.5 sacks last season. The Titans have some players who are familiar with the 3-4 scheme. Shaun Phillips (9.5 sacks in 2012 with San Diego), Wesley Woodyard and Kamerion Wimbley have all played in the 3-4 at some point in their careers. But will the rest of their defensive teammates pick it up right away? I'm not convinced it'll happen.
Will the Colts regret not trading up to grab a top safety to replace Antoine Bethea?
DiRocco: The Colts had only five picks, so that didn't give them a lot of ammunition to trade up. It would have been too costly to jump into the first round because it would have meant dealing future picks. The real problem is they failed to address the position in free agency, when there were several options available. That magnifies their failure to find a safety in the draft. Why is it a problem? Two reasons: Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. To take the next step in the playoffs, the Colts are going to have to go through Denver and/or New England, which means dealing with Manning and Brady. The Pats pounded the Colts on the ground in a playoff victory last season, but the key to beating those teams is stopping the pass.
Kuharsky: There are going to be positions on virtually any team where the top guy on the depth chart doesn't look like a sure thing and the competition isn't topflight. The Colts believe Delano Howell can be an effective successor to Bethea and that they have sufficient guys to supplement him. Through an excellent career with the Colts, Bethea was a guy who consistently got to the right place at the right time and was a very sure tackler. It will be tough for Howell to match that. The bigger concern in my eyes is if LaRon Landry gets hurt and the Colts need another safety to step up. But given their lack of picks this year, trading up for a guy would have been awfully difficult and they certainly shouldn't dip into their 2015 picks.
Wells: It was going to be tough for the Colts to trade into the first round because they only had five picks total in this year's draft and very little interest in giving up a first-round pick in next year's draft. They are steadfast in saying running back Trent Richardson is their first-round pick. Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward was the best cover safety in this year's draft. He was the 30th overall pick by San Francisco. I didn't think not addressing safety would be an issue at first with Mathis leading the way on what should be an improved front seven. There wouldn't have been as much pressure on the Colts' secondary. But as everybody knows, Mathis has been suspended for the first four games next season, leaving the Colts without the 2013 league leader in sacks. I think the Colts may regret not trading into the first during Mathis' suspension, but they'll be fine with Delano Howell, the likely starter, when it's all said and done.
@MikeWellsNFL Lots of S were drafted early, so that leads me to think lots of good veteran S will be waived. No regrets, claim 1 on waivers.- Ben Meyer (@TheBigBenDiesel) May 15, 2014
Were the Texans right to wait until the fourth round to draft a quarterback?
DiRocco: Nope. They blew it, especially when they could have made a move back into the last part of the first round to get Teddy Bridgewater -- which is what Minnesota did. The Texans also could have taken Derek Carr or Jimmy Garoppolo but instead went with a guard at the top of the second round. Coach Bill O'Brien did turn Matt McGloin and Christian Hackenberg into very good Big Ten QBs, and I'd rather have either of those guys than Tom Savage, who somehow became the hottest QB prospect in the weeks before the draft. The Texans are still talented enough to be a playoff team with the right quarterback in place. O'Brien apparently believes he can find one among Savage, Ryan Fitzpatrick, T.J. Yates and Case Keenum. Andre Johnson clearly doesn't agree.
Kuharsky: The Texans have a major question mark at the most important position on the team. But it's not like they could have waved a magic wand to get a guy, or that one of the more highly regarded quarterbacks in the draft would have been a sure thing. I imagine they would have opened the second round with Teddy Bridgewater if Minnesota hadn't traded into the last pick of the first round to take him. After that, it's wise the Texans didn't force a pick. But Tom Savage hasn't played a great deal of football in the past few years and I think a lot of people won't be surprised if the Titans do better with sixth-rounder Zach Mettenberger than the Texans do with fourth-rounder Savage -- not that the odds of a pick in either range panning out into a reliable long-term starter are any good.
Wells: Yes. No Andrew Luck and no Robert Griffin III in this year's draft. There was no need for the Texans to use the No. 1 pick on a player they hoped could be as good as Luck one day. Teaming Jadeveon Clowney opposite J.J. Watt on what is already a solid defense gives the Texans better hope than with one of the quarterbacks selected in the first round. Give the Texans a serviceable quarterback with that defense and who knows what can happen. The highlight of taking Johnny Manziel -- in the first year at least -- would have made the Texans a national draw. But in the end, all that counts is wins and losses. Clowney will help the Texans win more games next season than what Manziel or any other quarterback taken prior to the fourth round would have.
@taniaganguli I would say yes. It's obvious Bortles could've been taken but we filled more needs by waiting. Still got our 'Prototypical' QB- Ryan Brackenridge (@GHS_Forever) May 16, 2014
Will Blake Bortles be the Jaguars' starting quarterback at any point this season?
DiRocco: I say yes, but I'm not as sure about when. This may sound like a cop-out, but it really depends on how he progresses. If he picks up the offense, fixes the lower-body issues that are preventing him from throwing the ball as hard and accurately as he can, and makes the transition from the spread offense, then he'll get on the field. I can see that happening by December, and if that's the case, then he'll get a start or two. At the very worst, he'll get a drive or a quarter within some games to get his feet wet.
Kuharsky: I really believe general manager Dave Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley will look back on what the previous regime did at quarterback and be super cautious. The Jaguars had no intention of starting Blaine Gabbert as a rookie. Then they cut David Garrard just before the season, watched Luke McCown struggle and had no choice. I don't know how much better Gabbert would have been if he was eased into NFL life, but it certainly would have been better for him. If Bortles needs time, they will resist temptation to start him even if Chad Henne struggles. In a way, this is an offensive line question, because if Henne gets hurt, they may not have a choice. They'll have three new starters in the interior to go with a healthy Luke Joeckel at left tackle. That group should fare better and increase the chances Henne is good to go for the whole season.
Wells: He has to be. It likely won't be in Week 1, but I expect it to happen at some point because the Jaguars aren't going to win the AFC South with Luck at quarterback for the Colts. More than 2,000 fans did not show up at the Jaguars' minicamp to watch cornerback Aaron Colvin. That was all about Bortles. The Jaguars need something to bring the fans out. The only highlight of the area is the nearby Atlantic Ocean. No offense to Chad Henne, but Bortles gives the Jaguars the best opportunity to bring some kind of excitement to the city. Look at it this way: He can't do any worse than Blaine Gabbert.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The NFL’s owners, coaches and general managers gathered in Orlando this week for the owners meetings.
Some of the topics discussed were potential changes to the kicking game, Colts owner Jim Irsay's DUI arrest, expanded playoffs and racist/discriminatory/profane language. The league tabled any action on adjusting or eliminating PATs. No playoff teams were added. But the owners did discuss sensitivity and sportsmanship issues.
As for the Irsay situation, commissioner Roger Goodell said he'll wait for the legal process to play out before deciding what kind of punishment Irsay will face.
But don't worry, four of ESPN's NFL Nation reporters -- Michael DiRocco (Jaguars), Tania Ganguli (Texans), Jeff Legwold (Broncos) and Mike Wells (Colts) -- were at the meetings and took a run at those issues.
What should the owners do to fix the kicking game?
Michael DiRocco: I'm in favor of the decision to extend the goalposts several feet to eliminate some of the ambiguity of whether some field goal attempts are successful. Kickoff returns are among the most exciting plays in football, but they are also among the most dangerous. I don't see a realistic way to make them any safer without eliminating them completely. As for PATs, I'd be in favor of moving them back to a 40- or 45-yard attempt. That increases the difficulty. But how about adding a radical change as well by giving teams the option of a 3-point PAT by attempting a kick of 55 yards? It certainly would make game strategy more interesting.
Tania Ganguli: The league tabled the discussion about moving the extra point back to the 25-yard line and will experiment by moving it to the 20 during some preseason games. I'll be interested to see the result of the trial period. I don't have a problem with the fact that extra points are so often effective. There is still strategy in deciding whether to kick it or go for two. It doesn't always play into game strategy, but it can, and that means it isn't a meaningless play. My bigger concern would be safety issues that come with kickoffs.
Jeff Legwold: Not sure I understand the rationale of removing something from the game because the players have become too proficient at it. Sure, 1,267 extra points were attempted in the 2013 season and all but five were made. Four of the extra-point attempts were blocked and only one was missed (Minnesota's Blair Walsh), but it seems misplaced to remove it simply because kickers, snappers and the rest of those lined up have become mind-numbingly good at it. That's a bad precedent. In 1970 there were no quarterbacks who threw for even 3,000 yards. In 1980, only two quarterbacks crossed the 4,000-yard barrier. In 2013 there were nine quarterback who threw for at least 4,000 yards and two -- Peyton Manning and Drew Brees -- topped 5,000 yards. So, if the league's passers get much better, they'll have to ditch the forward pass.
Mike Wells: The NFL can do away with extra points because they're pointless. There were only five unsuccessful PATs last season. Does anybody even watch teams kick extra points? That's usually the time to get an early jump to the bathroom so that you're back in time for the kickoff. Moving the PAT back to the 25-yard line doesn't provide any more excitement. Automatically give teams seven points for scoring a touchdown with an option to get another point by going for a conversion. About the only bad thing with eliminating PATs is that Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee may get upset that he can't punt, kick off, kick field goals and kick PATs, something he wants to accomplish at some point in his career. But something tells me he'd get over PATs being eliminated from the game.
How should the commissioner handle a misbehaving owner?
DiRocco: Owners should be held to at least the same standard as players when it comes to off-field behavior, but I'd argue that they should be held to an even higher standard because of their status -- especially when it comes to something that endangers the public, such as driving under the influence. The first thing the league must do is ensure that Jim Irsay gets the help he needs with his problem. Suspending an owner wouldn't make any impact on the field and taking away a draft pick would be too harsh. A significant fine ($500,000?) that would be donated to one of the league's various charities or a substance-abuse awareness or treatment program is the best course of action.
Ganguli: The commissioner could do nothing and get away with it. After all, he technically works for the owners. But maintaining credibility is important. Irsay's situation should be handled with a proportionate response to how a player's situation would be handled. It can't be the same just by virtue of the differences of their jobs. At the same time, it's important in dealing with such a situation -- with executives or players -- that the league is sensitive to what it means to have an addiction and what it takes to move past it.
Legwold: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has made personal conduct by everyone employed by the NFL or one of its franchises a hallmark of his tenure. He has consistently said the higher the authority of the person involved, the higher the standard. By that standard he has no choice but to punish Irsay. In 2010 he fined Detroit Lions president Tom Lewand $100,000 and suspended him for 30 days after Lewand's guilty plea for driving while impaired. A franchise owner is even higher on the corporate flow chart than a team president, so Irsay's punishment should fit that if Goodell sticks to the framework he's put in place. One thing is certain: A large group of players who haven't always been supportive of Goodell's discipline standards for them is watching closely.
Wells: Late Tennessee owner Bud Adams was fined $250,000 for giving some fans the bird in 2009. Not that money is a major issue to Irsay, but Goodell should fine him at least $1 million and suspend him for at least eight regular-season games. The latter part will really hit home to Irsay because he loves the game so much. He has a serious problem and Goodell needs to send a serious message to him and the rest of the NFL that breaking policies or the law will not be taken lightly. The rest of the league, especially the players, will be paying close attention to see what actions Goodell takes. A minor slap on the wrist will not sit well with the players, especially because the rules are made for the players and front-office officials.
@MikeWellsNFL $500,000 fine and half season suspension. No contact, similar 2 Sean Peyton suspension.- Bob Borden (@Rmb7884) March 25, 2014
Should the league add playoff teams?
DiRocco: Sure, and let's give every team that didn't make the playoffs a trophy at the end of the season for trying really, really hard as well. Twelve of the league's 32 teams -- roughly 38 percent -- already make the playoffs, and that's enough. The argument that good teams sometimes miss out because they play in a tough division doesn't make sense to me. The Arizona Cardinals were playing pretty well at the end of the 2013 season but didn't qualify. Too bad. They should have played better in September and October. Making the postseason is a reward for the teams that have played the best throughout the season. It should be hard.
Ganguli: The more teams with something at stake late in the season, the better. But you don't want to dilute the accomplishment of making it to the playoffs. Further, the margin for error is so small in the playoffs, the chances for upsets in the early rounds are high. I'd hate to see football's regular season diluted that much. Two more teams might be fine, but any more than that and then you get to the point where half the teams make it. The playoffs are, and should be, a reward for all the work that came in the months prior.
Legwold: This looks suspiciously like a trade-off. Goodell dislikes the look of preseason football and has floated the idea of an 18-game regular-season schedule for some time. But there has been little support for the idea of an 18-game schedule among the players. So, in terms of television revenue, which would have increased with an 18-game regular season, the next best thing is two more teams in the playoff field. The format would award just one team in each conference a first-round bye. But it's unnecessary and waters down the postseason field enough that 43.8 percent of the league's teams would make the playoffs.
Wells: Leave it alone. That's the easiest way to put it. Expanding the playoffs sets the stage for possibly having teams with a losing record making the postseason. It was embarrassing when the Seattle Seahawks made the playoffs with a 7-9 record in 2010. You'll have some teams with strong records -- New England (11-5) in 2008 and Arizona (10-6) last season -- miss the playoffs, but that doesn't happen as often as we would see teams with a losing record make it if the format were to change. Every game is important with the current playoff format; there's very little wiggle room for mistakes. Only one team in each conference would get a bye in the first weekend of the expanded playoffs compared to two in the current format. That's not being rewarded.
How should the league deal with racist, discriminatory and profane language on the field?
DiRocco: For better or worse, profanity has been, and always will be, a part of football. Trying to police that would put an additional burden on the shoulders of an already overloaded group of officials. Racist or discriminatory comments, however, are more serious. Those should not be tolerated. However, most of the Jaguars players I spoke with about this topic last season said they rarely encounter that on the field. But again, how do you enforce that? Is saying the N-word worse than using a gay slur? If one black player calls another the N-word, is that less serious than if a white player does it? Bottom line: Let the players police these themselves during the game. If an official hears something from the sideline or players are screaming at each other after a play has ended, then a fine is warranted.
Ganguli: The competition committee made it clear Wednesday that this would be a major focus for 2014. It wants professional athletes to set a better example for younger athletes. I wouldn't necessarily include racist, discriminatory and profane language all in one category. The nature of profanity in the English language, and what exactly is considered profanity, changes constantly. Whose standard are you using? Racism and other forms of discriminatory language should be regulated with a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. This isn't about regulating thoughts. It's about making it absolutely clear that the NFL does not tolerate expressions of hate.
Legwold: As those on the league's competition committee pointed out last week, the rule to enforce a ban on the N-word or other discriminatory language is already on the books. And officials will be told before the season to throw the flags if they hear those words used during games. The decision has been made and officials will be "empowered" to throw the flags, as St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, a co-chairman of the league's competition committee, has said. It has caused some to wonder why the league hasn't been nearly as aggressive with "Redskins," but it's clear the league's decision-makers want to address the N-word and other slurs based on sexual orientation and have put it in the hands of the officials to do it.
Wells: Let me get this out of the way: There's no place in the game for racist, discriminatory and profane language. But at the same time, officials already have a difficult enough time throwing flags. How many times have you watched a replay and noticed they made the wrong call or missed a call? And now you expect them to be watching the play while also listening for bad language during the game? That's asking them to do too much. Can you imagine the players informing the officials that an opposing player used inappropriate language?