Stats & Info: Cortland Finnegan

Opposing needs dictate AFC South strategy

April, 16, 2012
Stats & Information gets you ready for the NFL Draft at the end of the month with a look at the biggest need for each team. Today, we take a look at the AFC South.

Houston Texans
Need: Wide receiver

With Andre Johnson injured most of the season, the rest of the Texans’ wide receivers couldn’t fill the void. The Texans were one of two teams that didn’t have any 30-yard receptions from their receivers on throws that traveled less than 15 yards.

Last season, Houston’s wide receivers ranked 30th in receptions (90), yards per reception (8.9) and first downs (53) and 31st in yards after catch per reception (3.1) on throws less than 15 air yards.

Kiper’s 1st-Round Prediction: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
McShay’s 1st-Round Prediction: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor

Indianapolis Colts
Need: Skill position players

The Colts need to replace skill players at every offensive position. In addition to departed quarterback Peyton Manning, the Colts have to replace production from Joseph Addai, Jerome Felton, Pierre Garcon, Anthony Gonzalez, Dallas Clark, Jacob Tamme and Anthony Hill.

Also, all three quarterbacks who took a snap for the Colts last season are not under contract with the Colts - Kerry Collins (free agent), Curtis Painter (free agent) and Dan Orlovsky (signed with Tampa Bay).

Luck is just the start of Indianapolis’ rebuilding process.

Kiper’s 1st-Round Prediction: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
McShay’s 1st-Round Prediction: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

Jacksonville Jaguars
Need: Pass-rushing defensive lineman

The Jaguars registered just 31 sacks in 2011, tied for 25th in the league. The problems stemmed from the Jaguars’ inability to create pressure using a four-man rush. Jacksonville sent four or fewer rushers on 77.4 percent of dropbacks, the sixth-highest percentage in the league.

Despite such a heavy reliance on standard pass rushes, Jacksonville’s defense averaged a sack once every 24.0 dropbacks using a four-man pass rush (26th in NFL).

Kiper’s 1st-Round Prediction: Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
McShay’s 1st-Round Prediction: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa

Tennessee Titans
Need: Cover corner

Tennessee rushed four or fewer defenders on 75 percent of dropbacks last season, but was ineffective at generating pressure. The Titans registered just 23 sacks in 2011, second-fewest in the league.

When Tennessee couldn’t get to the quarterback, their secondary was exposed. The Titans tied for 23rd in the NFL with eight interceptions and a 71.0 Total QBR when using a four-man pass rush. Kamerion Wimbley will improve the pass rush, but look for a cornerback to replace (and/or improve on) Cortland Finnegan.

Kiper’s 1st-Round Prediction: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
McShay’s 1st-Round Prediction: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama

Credit: AP Photo/Dave EinselAfter making Mario Williams the first pick in 2006, the Texans will likely lose him to free agency.
The Houston Texans surprised a lot of people when they chose to take defensive end Mario Williams with the first pick in 2006 NFL draft and not running back Reggie Bush.

Williams did not disappoint, becoming Houston’s all-time sacks leader with 53. Now, Williams will likely be the most sought-after defensive player when free agency begins Tuesday at 4 ET.

In the last five seasons, Williams averaged 0.73 sacks per game, only DeMarcus Ware (1.0) and Jared Allen (0.99) had higher averages among players with at least 20 sacks.

Williams had five sacks in as many games in 2011 before he suffered a season-ending pectoral injury. Houston’s defense played just as well last season after Williams suffered a season-ending injury in Week 5 (see chart).

Williams has 13.5 sacks over the past two seasons. Despite the Texans using five or more rushers at the third-highest rate over that span, Williams picked up 10 sacks when part of a pass rush that sent four or fewer after the quarterback.

Williams isn’t the only free agent who can get after the quarterback. With Jason Taylor’s recent retirement, John Abraham will enter 2012 as the leader in sacks among active players with 112. Abraham has recorded all 22.5 of his sacks the last two seasons when part of a four or fewer man pass rush. Only Jared Allen (26.0) and Jason Babin (23.5) have more as part of such rushes.

The Tennessee Titans are one of many teams that will be interested in a pass-rusher like Williams, but one player who might not be back with the Titans is cornerback Cortland Finnegan. Last season, Finnegan played every defensive snap for the Titans, one of five defensive players in the NFL to play every snap for his team. His 1,142 snaps played were the third-most by a defensive player last season. He’s also started 42 straight games, the fourth-longest active streak among cornerbacks.

Cornerback Carlos Rogers intercepted a career-high six passes last season (previous high was two), with five coming on throws traveling at least 15 yards downfield. Only Chargers safety Eric Weddle had more interceptions on throws of such distances. And since 2008, Rogers’ 66 pass breakups is tied for fifth most in the NFL.