The Texans find themselves in unfamiliar territory. As defending AFC South champions and clear-cut favorites to repeat in 2012. The 2011 draft-haul appears to be the best in team history and helped Houston go from the league’s worst defense to a dominant unit in one short season. That’s a great indicator of just how important the right coaches, schemes and most importantly, draft-day selections can be.
WR- With the defense shored up, the Texans are long overdue for an upgrade at the second wide-out spot opposite of Andre Johnson. Jacoby Jones has been a huge disappointment as both a secondary receiver and a returner. He could be a cap casualty. Kevin Walter is better utilized running routes over the middle of the field as a slot receiver. Johnson has become injury-prone and will turn 31 years old. It’s time to start thinking about the future.
CB- Jonathan Joseph was everything the Texans expected when they signed him to a big money, free agent contract. But the opposing corner spot could still use an upgrade. Jason Allen played well, but is more of a nickel-corner type of player. 2010 1st round pick Kareem Jackson showed improvement, but still lacks ball-skills and has not played up to his draft-status.
OL- The club has some big decisions to make about it’s free agents this offseason. Should they, as expected, work out a long term deal with RB Arian Foster, there may not be enough money to sign Pro Bowl center Chris Meyers or guard Mike Brisiel. At 31, tackle Wade Smith looked to be fading last season.
NT- There’s little to complain about with the Texans defense, with the defensive line being a particular strong point. Still, it’s imperative to have a strong nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme and they could use some depth behind Shaun Cody.
2011 was a crash and burn season for a Peyton Manning-less Colts squad. With Manning now expected to move on, and long-time GM Bill Polian already gone, it looks like the beginning of a long and ugly rebuilding process for Indianapolis fans.
QB- It’s all but apparent that long-time quarterback Peyton Manning will be released. Even if he were to somehow stick with the club, at 35 and a surgically repaired neck, the Colts would undoubtedly look to shore up the position. Especially when you consider that Andrew Luck is widely considered the best QB prospect since John Elway.
WR- Reggie Wayne is an unrestricted free agent. It doesn’t make a lot of sense for him to sign his final long-term contract with a team that looks to be rebuilding for the next several years. The other starting wide-out, Pierre Garcon, just rejected a five year deal with the team and intends to test the open market. That leaves Indy scary-thin at receiving options for a rookie-led offense.
OL- The entire Colts offense seems to be aging at a time when the club will be looking into the future. Often teams will look to build from inside out, meaning they will establish young, cohesive offensive and defensive lines. Protecting a new franchise QB will be a top priority in both free agency and the draft.
CB- Indy’s secondary ranked in the middle of the league last year, but could still use an infusion of youth. They’ll look to upgrade with a stronger cover-corner at either spot. SS Melvin Bullitt also could be replaced.
Perhaps the biggest offseason need for the Jags will be to sell tickets. New owner Shad Khan hired Mike Mularkey to help turn around a stagnant offense and hope to quickly build a winner for a fledgling franchise.
WR- Historically, this is a club that just can’t figure out how to draft receivers. R. Jay Soward, Reggie Williams and Matt Jones are examples of the Jaguars’ failures to select an impact pass-catcher in the first round. As bad as rookie QB Blaine Gabbert looked, the mediocre play from the Jaguars receiving corps was a huge factor. Top wide-out Mike Thomas was disappointing and would be better utilized as a secondary target. Acquiring a sizable red-zone receiving threat would be a huge addition to an offense that really struggled to score points, especially around the stripe.
DE- 2011 sack leader Jeremy Mincey is an unrestricted free agent. Aaron Kampman will turn 33 during the 2012 season. Long a sore-spot for the Jags, they’ll look to address their defensive line through both free agency and early in the draft.
OT- It’s not good when most of the 2011 highlights for Jacksonville involved Blaine Gabbert getting sacked or running for his life behind a porous offensive line. If the Jags are going to continue with Gabbert, protecting him should be a top priority before “David Carr-syndrome” kicks in.
CB- Only a down year for the offenses in the normally-potent AFC South kept the secondary’s lack of depth from being a bigger issue. Rasheen Mathis got hurt and is an unrestricted free agent. FS Dwight Lowery and CB Willie Middleton are also free agents.
Many thought the Titans overachieved last season under their first new head coach in 15 years. They were in the playoff chase before fading late. Now they’re in a unique position of trying to keep the post-season window open with an aging veteran signal-caller or embracing the future with Jake Locker.
C- The interior of Tennessee’s offensive line may have been the worst in football last season and it’s poor play was a huge factor in the underwhelming season that RB Chris Johnson had. Eugene Amano was outmatched in pass protection while also struggling in the run game.
G- It’s rare that you see a team so in need of both centers and guards, but that shows how poorly the interior line played in 2011. Jake Scott is a free agent Leroy Harris was wildly inconsistent. Don’t be surprised if the club spends two of it’s first four picks addressing the line.
DE- Tennessee finished 2011 as the NFL’s 31st ranked pass rush. On top of that, the defensive line could be hit hard by free agency departures. The 2012 draft class isn’t the deepest for pass rushers, so if a quality defensive lineman is on the board when the Titans pick at 20th, they may pounce.
CB/S- The Titans secondary could lose four safties alone in free agency, along with top cornerback Cortland Finnegan. They’ll shore-up the defensive backfield in both free agency and with at least one selection in the 2012 NFL draft.