NFL Nation: Draft watch AFC

Draft Watch: AFC South

April, 21, 2010
4/21/10
1:00
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NFC dream/Plan B: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Dream scenario/Plan B.

Houston Texans

(Overboard) Dream scenario: Running back C.J. Spiller falls to them, but I cannot see that happening and I don’t see safety Earl Thomas lasting either. Next best is that they are in position to choose running back Ryan Mathews. He could work every down if needed and will be able to earn the tough yard and hold on to the ball in a way no one could last season, when the offense was very good despite its running woes. Plan B: Mathews is gone and they get a cornerback like Devin McCourty or Kyle Wilson. My inkling is that McCourty could be the guy in this situation.

Indianapolis Colts

(Overboard) Dream scenario: Center Maurkice Pouncey somehow lasts, giving the Colts a big interior presence who could help at guard and eventually succeed Jeff Saturday. Next best is that they find another lineman who’s especially well suited to what the Colts do, but brings a bit more size. That could be Rodger Saffold, who seems to project as a very good left tackle for them. Plan B: A speedy defensive end in the mold of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. TCU’s Jerry Hughes fits the bill.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Dream scenario: Someone wants the Jaguars' No. 10 pick and offers a deal that drops them down in the first round and gets them a second-rounder, which they currently lack. They’d be happy to dip down and still find a defensive end, defensive back or interior offensive lineman. Plan B: If they stay put, linebacker Rolando McClain could be too good to resist 10th overall. He can be a consistent playmaker and a face-of-the-defense guy for a team that’s still looking to develop its personality.

Tennessee Titans

Dream scenario: Get a trade offer, move back to regain a second-round pick and still be able to add a defensive end (Sergio Kindle?) or cornerback (McCourty?) early on. If they stay at 16, they’d love to see a run at offensive tackle ahead of them and Jimmy Clausen go off the board by the time their turn comes. I think they’d be happy with Jason Pierre-Paul or Brandon Graham. Plan B: Wilson, who’d have a chance to earn a spot as a starter opposite Cortland Finnegan.

Draft Watch: AFC South

April, 7, 2010
4/07/10
1:00
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NFC Approach: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Draft approach.

Houston Texans

Gary Kubiak was already on board for the fantastic 2006 draft, but the old front office was also there. General manager Rick Smith was hired after that. I don't have a great sense of the Texans' philosophy. The three drafts since feature some hits -- most noticeably Brian Cushing -- but more guys who still haven’t fully tapped into the potential the team saw in them. They’ve only taken one defensive back as high as the third round, which is part of why they need a few so badly now. They’ve only taken one defensive tackle, and he was a fifth rounder.

Indianapolis Colts

Best player available, regardless of need. That’s how president Bill Polian strives to operate and that’s why the Colts are very unpredictable, especially at the top, when draft days roll around. The Colts still prefer fast and quick to big and super-strong, though they have come to desire more size on their offensive line and interior defensive line. The team’s first pick has been offense the last four years, and providing what Peyton Manning needs to be successful is usually priority one. This time around that would seem to be offensive line, but Polian won’t panic if there is a lineman he loves later and is confident he will be able to land.

Jacksonville Jaguars

General manager Gene Smith has only been on the job for a year, but we still know a good bit about his drafting philosophy. He believes in foundation first, which means offensive and defensive lines. He’s looking to hit singles with every pick, not to swing for the fences. He’s not afraid to stick his neck out as he did last year, trading his 2010 second-rounder for a third-round pick used on corner Derek Cox out of a lesser football school, William & Mary. The Jaguars will strive to get value at every pick while filling out their needs. They will be more likely to trade down than up because of that missing second-rounder and won’t force moves (read draft Tim Tebow) to please the marketing department or a segment of the fan base.

Tennessee Titans

In the three drafts run by general manager Mike Reinfeldt, the Titans have gotten excited over at least one workout warrior early: Chris Henry (bust), Chris Johnson (home run) and Jared Cook (we don’t know yet). The Titans are not afraid to look to smaller programs like Eastern Michigan or Winston-Salem State and some picks in recent years have clearly been favorites of position coaches -- Jim Washburn wanted Jason Jones, William Hayes and Sen'Derrick Marks; Marcus Robertson backed Ryan Mouton. The team doesn’t have big concerns over how other teams or people may value a guy. Sticking their neck out for Johnson made the Titans look great. The jury is still out others like Michael Griffin or Jones.

Draft Watch: AFC South

March, 31, 2010
3/31/10
1:08
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NFC History: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: History at the spot.

No. 20: Houston Texans

No. 20 has produced productive players in the last five years. Detroit tight end Brandon Pettigrew did reasonably well as a rookie. Tampa Bay corner Aqib Talib has nine picks in his first two years. Aaron Ross missed the bulk of his third season with a hamstring injury. Tamba Hali has a very respectable 27 sacks in four seasons. Dallas end Marcus Spears had only 27 tackles and 2.5 sacks in 2009. Quality defensive backs have been there two of the last three years and that may bode well for the Texans’ chances to address corner or free safety. Two of those No. 20 picks were acquired in trades.

No. 31: Indianapolis Colts

No. 31 has produced a running back (Chris Wells to Arizona in 2009), two defensive backs (Kenny Phillips to the Giants in 2008 and Kelly Jennings to Seattle in 2006), a tight end (Greg Olsen to Chicago in 2007) and a defensive tackle (Mike Patterson to Philadelphia in 2005). Phillips was on IR most of last year, while Jennings and Patterson, a high-motor interior guy, have played in every game of their careers. Olsen’s fit with new coordinator Mike Martz is a question. I don’t think history will tell us a lot about what the Colts, firm believers in best player available, will find or do.

No. 10: Jacksonville Jaguars

There should be and will be quality options at No. 10 for the Jaguars. Recent years saw the 49ers snatch receiver Michael Crabtree, the Patriots select linebacker Jerod Mayo, the Texans pluck defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, the Cardinals grab quarterback Matt Leinart and Detroit pick receiver Mike Williams. Williams busted hard. Leinart is about to take over the job as Arizona’s starter. Okoye is still young with upside. Mayo was defensive rookie of the year. Crabtree had an ugly holdout, but San Francisco has high expectations for him in his second year. How are trade possibilities? Houston and New England got their picks in deals.

Tennessee Titans

It’s a coincidence for sure, but No. 16 has been spent on a defensive player for the last five years. The scorecard: linebacker Larry English to San Diego in 2009, corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to Arizona in 2008, tackle Justin Harrell to Green Bay in 2007, defensive back Jason Allen to Miami in 2006 and tackle Travis Johnson to Houston in 2005. The Titans will probably be fine extending the trend, as their biggest concerns are with rebuilding a defense that needs an end, a corner and could benefit from additions at safety and linebacker too.

Draft Watch: AFC South

March, 26, 2010
3/26/10
1:00
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Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Under the radar needs.

Houston Texans

While DeMeco Ryans in the middle and Brian Cushing on the strongside are fixtures, the weakside and linebacker depth rate as a secondary issue for the Texans. They could use a pick on the right guy. Gary Kubiak said early this week that Kris Brown can expect competition as the team’s placekicker starting in OTAs. That allows for the possibility the team could use a late pick on a kicker.

Indianapolis Colts

While the team was pleased with the progress of Antonio Johnson and Daniel Muir and expect a second-year jump from Fili Moala, it could still look to add another bigger defensive tackle. Tyjuan Hagler was the starting strongside linebacker at the start of the season, but when an injury ended his season Philip Wheeler took over. That could be a spot Bill Polian addresses. As the team looks for better run-blocking linemen, is Gijon Robinson judged as a sufficient run-blocking H-back/tight end or might there be a better option available than Robinson or injury-prone Tom Santi?

Jacksonville Jaguars

Linebacker hasn’t gotten as much attention as defensive end and the secondary in pre-draft talk so far, but only Daryl Smith is safe from competition. The Jaguars loaded up with three wide receivers in Gene Smith’s first draft, but they lack playmakers and can use a solid guy opposite Mike Sims-Walker if they smack into one during the draft. Indications are the Jaguars will stick with a David Garrard-Luke McCown starter-backup tandem, but Jacksonville needs to develop another quarterback.

Tennessee Titans

Even presuming Michael Griffin bounces back from a very poor third season, Chris Hope will turn 30 early in the fall and the Titans primary depth at safety is Vincent Fuller, who they need playing nickel. Tony Brown, Jason Jones, Jovan Haye, Sen’Derrick Marks and Kevin Vickerson look like a reasonably talented and deep group, but Haye and Marks underwhelmed in their first seasons. Drafting a tackle wouldn’t be a surprise. If Kevin Mawae doesn’t return as a backup center, the Titans will need an interior offensive lineman to back up the three starters.

Draft Watch: AFC South

February, 17, 2010
2/17/10
12:00
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NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: biggest team needs.

Houston Texans

A potent offense might be one player away from diversifying in a huge way. The Texans need a bigger running back who has third-down/short-yardage/goal-line vision and skill. By pairing that player with Steve Slaton, the Texans could build a run game that sufficiently supplements the pass attack.

Interior offensive line depth is an issue too, but the other big issues are on defense. Free safety and defensive tackle have been issues for too long and corner depth is a concern that turns into an outright need if Dunta Robinson isn’t retained.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts need options on the offensive line, where they are loaded with smart guys but need to have more of a physical presence to ensure they can move people in the run game for a crucial third-and-short. With Howard Mudd retiring as position coach and Pete Metzelaars expected to take over, the Colts will do well to increase the quality options.

It runs counter to how they’ve operated, but because they should be deep at receiver and corner if they are healthy, a return specialist could provide a great boost. Depth at defensive end also rates worth a mention.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars could add people anywhere but offensive tackle, and that’s only because they addressed that position with their top two picks last year in GM Gene Smith’s first draft. Pass-rushers are a giant priority -- if they can hurry the quarterback more often, the backers and secondary will improve.

Interior offensive line and safety are issues too, but everything is trumped by quarterback. The Jaguars have acknowledged that David Garrard's not elite, and you’ll find an elite quarterback or a young guy with a chance to be one on every team from the 2009 playoffs.

Tennessee Titans

Because the Titans have more free agents than anyone else in the division, their needs could change based on who they retain. But no matter who they might re-sign, they’ve got to get younger on defense and need help at cornerback, defensive end and linebacker.

The return games are major concerns, and they’d be well served to spend a value pick to address it rather than presuming someone will emerge from a field of midrange picks. (How did that work out last season?) They’ll also probably need an interior offensive lineman and could look to add a quarterback to develop.

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