- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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Other than the quarterback, which player could each AFC South team least afford to lose to injury? Here's a look:
Houston Texans: DE J.J. Watt. Watt was one vote short of unanimous as the NFL’s defensive player of the year in 2012. Although it’s going to be tough for him to match his numbers from last season, he’s a dominant defensive force who always has to be accounted for. The attention he draws and the motor he plays with have trickle-down effects on the other 10 guys on the field with him. It would be a different defense without him, and the pool of backup defensive ends for Houston is hardly loaded with proven guys.
Indianapolis Colts: LB Robert Mathis. Reggie Wayne ranks as indispensable. Without him, every offensive weapon on the Colts would move up a rung and be miscast -- or overcast, if you will. But Indianapolis has just one proven edge pass-rusher, Mathis. What kind of heat could Indianapolis' defense generate without the veteran, who’s now the weakside pass-rushing outside linebacker? The rush may not be good enough with him. I think it’d be a real struggle without him.
Jacksonville Jaguars: RB Maurice Jones-Drew. Tough call here. I gave serious consideration to middle linebacker Paul Posluszny (a heart-and-soul defensive guy), tight end Marcedes Lewis (because of the weak guys behind him on the depth chart) and rookie safety Johnathan Cyprien (wait until you see this guy). Losing either starting offensive tackle, Eugene Monroe or Luke Joeckel, would sting too. But presuming Jones-Drew returns to health, I expect he’ll still be a singular offensive force for this team and a guy they can't afford to lose. I like Justin Forsett, but not as the lead guy.
Tennessee Titans: LT Michael Roos. This is also a tough call. Considering the number of runs for a loss or no gain that Chris Johnson had last season and the addition of Shonn Greene, I don’t know that I’d call CJ indispensable. The pass rush is keyed around Derrick Morgan, who is due to break out. But I can’t pick someone who has not broken out yet. So it’s Roos. With Andy Levitre next to him now, Roos is expected to return to elite form and key pass protection as well as contribute to some solid run blocking.