Teams around the NFL have closed minicamps and are away for the summer until training camp. We’ve learned a lot about clubs during their offseason workouts. So where are they now? Who will be doing what? Who looks like they’re improving? Who might not be? So let’s take it division by division, team by team, highlighting the good news, the bad news, and the overall outlook.
Indianapolis Colts (11-5, 6-0 Div.)
Good News – HOLY OFFENSE BATMAN!!
This offseason, the Colts’ brass decided that they will take their good offense and make it legendary. Let’s take a look at the notable acquisitions this team made: Andre Johnson (WR), Phillip Dorsett(WR), Vincent Brown(WR), and Duron Carter(WR), Frank Gore(RB), and Todd Herremans(OL). All of these guys will team up with T.Y. Hilton, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, Donte Moncrief, and Daniel “Boom” Herron giving Andrew Luck one of the most loaded group of skill players in recent memory. Oh, and the Colts had the 3rd best total offense in the NFL last year.
Bad News – Defense still wins championships.
With all the hype surrounding the notable offensive acquisitions the Colts made this year, there was very little done about their average (at best) defense. The Colts’ selection of Phillip Dorsett in the first round has been heavily scrutinized due to who was still on the board when he was taken: Nebraska pass rusher Randy Gregory, Alabama safety Landon Collins, and Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown just to name a few. The Colts’ biggest weakness the last few years has been their defense, most notably their run defense against the New England Patriots. New England has outscored the Colts 130 to 49 in their last three matchups and have averaged a total of 219 rushing yards. The Colts did take some defensive guys in the later round of the draft and signed pass rusher Trent Cole and defensive end Kendall Langford, but they never got a legitimate replacement for Cory Redding, who left for Arizona. There may be some younger players that the coaching staff likes, but they have gone way under the radar.
I will be shocked if the Colts’ offense does not at least break any franchise records this year, if not league records. There is so much talent there it is ridiculous. In theory, the defense should only need to make 2 or 3 stops a game to win, because the Colts should score every time they have the ball. However, we all know theories are only theories. The Colts offense will be great, the defense will need to prove a lot of doubters wrong.
Houston Texans (9-7, 4-2 Div.)
Good News – Jadeveon Clowney is recovering.
Last year’s number 1 overall pick had a disappointing rookie year. Jadeveon Clowney could not stay healthy and ultimately ended up requiring knee surgery and finished the year on injured reserve. His recovery is on schedule and appears to be on track to be a full participant in training camp. His presence on the Texans’ defensive line could make this defense the best in the NFL. The team already has a superstar in J.J. Watt, as well as linebackers Brian Cushing and Whitney Mercilus, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, and defensive backs Rahim Moore, Jonathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson and first round pick Kevin Johnson. Throw a healthy freak athlete like Jadeveon Clowney into the mix and the sky is the limit for this defense. Don’t forget, this is the same the guy that did this in college.
Bad News – Offense anyone?
The Colts and Texans could not be more opposite. The Texans have just as many questions on offense as the Colts do on defense. It starts at the quarterback position. There is a competition going on for the starting job between Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett. In the battle of former Tom Brady backups, neither is going to scare anyone. Hoyer played well at times last year in Cleveland, but fell into a funk midway through the year and ended up getting benched in favor of Johnny Manziel and Connor Shaw. Ryan Mallett finally got a chance to start after the Texans traded for him last year. He played decently when he started last year, throwing 400 yards and 2 touchdowns in 2 games before tearing his pectoral muscle. There are also questions at wide receiver. Andre Johnson is gone. Can DeAndre Hopkins be a legitimate number 1 receiver? Will Jaelen Strong fill the need at receiver as a third round pick? Plus, can Arian Foster stay healthy? The Texans will certainly run the ball more, putting more stress and damage on Foster’s already fragile hamstrings.
The Texans are a tough team to get a handle on. They appear almost identical to the team that was heading into the 2014 season, just with different parts. The quarterback position is suspect. There is pressure for Arian Foster to be healthy. The defense looks like it will dominate the NFL. The team seems to be good enough to compete for a playoff spot, but they won’t get past the wild card round. That being said, remember, had the Colts not swept them a year ago, the Texans would have won the AFC South.
Jacksonville Jaguars (3-13, 1-5 Div.)
Good News – Blake Bortles has a redzone threat.
With the New Orleans Saints trading star tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks, the Jaquars signing of Julius Thomas has almost been overshadowed. Blake Bortles only threw 11 touchdowns in his rookie season, compared to 17 interceptions. Add a guy that has 12 touchdown receptions in 2 consecutive years to that, along with a full off-season as the clear starting quarterback, and Blake Bortles will be much improved this year. The Jags were horrendous in the red zone last year, scoring just 13 touchdowns all year inside the 20 yard line. At 6’5” and 250 pounds, Julius Thomas is big and a matchup problem for defenses. Playing with Peyton Manning the last two years certainly helped Thomas, but the combination of his size and basketball background cannot be overlooked.
Bad News – Dante Fowler.
The beginning of this offseason is a great example of just how snake-bitten this franchise is. Jacksonville took a risk in passing on receiver Amari Cooper in the draft, but they still took what was supposed to be a sure thing in pass rusher Dante Fowler. However, the football gods had other ideas. The first practice of the first rookie minicamp, Dante Fowler tore his ACL and will miss the entire year. A defense whose biggest highlight last year was when a sack by a defensive tackle that gave him, just him, a $600,000 bonus in his contract, was getting help that it needed. That help lasted mere minutes. So now the 20th ranked defense in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders, is still full of questions with very few answers.
Jacksonville still looks like a team trying to rebuild. Blake Bortles will benefit from a full offseason as the starter, as well as the signing of Julius Thomas and the drafting of Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon. Yeldon and Denard Robinson look like a great backfield duo which will relieve pressure on the passing game, but the defense is still very suspect and the offense won’t improve to the point that it can carry the team. This team likely won’t win more than 6 games this year.
Tennessee Titans (2-14, 1-5 Div.)
Good News – The Titans have their man at quarterback.
With the second overall pick, the Titans took Oregon star Marcus Mariota, despite many rumors that they would trade the pick. Reports indicated the Titans received interest in the number 2 overall pick from the Browns, Eagles, Chargers, and Rams. However, Tennessee stuck to their guns and kept Mariota for themselves. This is absolutely the best move for the franchise. Zach Mettenberger is a serviceable quarterback and was decent in his rookie year, but Mariota’s ceiling is far higher. The Oregon prodigy is a dual threat quarterback with blazing 4.48 speed. He also has a cannon arm and does not have character questions like another first round quarterback does (he shall go unnamed). Ken Whisenhunt is an underrated offensive play-caller. He has a creative offensive mind that kick-started Ben Roethlisberger’s career, and he will certainly have fun with his new toy in Marcus Mariota.
Bad News – What else did they do?
Other than drafting Mariota, what did Tennessee do to improve a dismal 2-14 team this year? Well, they signed a number of guys who could pan out, but have a number of questions. Brian Orakpo, for example, was signed this offseason. He brings 40 career sacks to a struggling defense, but he also brings an injury history with him. Orakpo is coming off a torn pectoral muscle that ended his 2014 season. The Titans also drafted Dorial Green-Beckham, a 6’5” wide receiver with 4.49 speed….who was dismissed from Missouri after being the subject of burglary and assault investigations by police. He hasn’t played football since 2013. The Titans also hired defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau, who coached the Steelers defense to finish in the top 5 in scoring 6 times from 2004 to 2011, but he also finished 14th and 18th respectively the last two years.
The Titans are trying to get out of the cellar of the NFL. Mariota will likely struggle as a rookie since he will not have much around him and will be learning an offense completely foreign to him. The offseason acquisitions the Titans made will either blossom or crash and burn. Either way, this team won’t win more than 5 games in 2015.
This one is easy. In this division, everyone is chasing the Colts. If you want a reason why, just look at the quarterbacks. Indianapolis is the only team in the AFC South with an established franchise quarterback behind center. Marcus Mariota and Blake Bortles could be those guys for their teams, but they are at least a year away from being seen that way. The Colts have a top 5 offense that will only improve this year, and a defense that can make the key stops they will need. The Colts are a favorite to win the Super Bowl this year. The Texans could possible earn a wild card spot this year, but there is no team that will compete with the Colts to win this division.