The AFC South has been a strange division in 2019. It’s been a season of change in one way or another for each of the teams.
Andrew Luck retired just before the start of the season and Jacoby Brissett is installed as the Indianapolis Colts’ new starting QB.
Blake Bortles was out in Jacksonville and the Jags brought in Nick Foles to be their new starting QB. He got injured and was replaced by fifth-round pick Gardner Minshew, who instantly became a cult hero in Jacksonville.
The Tennessee Titans made a mid-season QB change. Marcus Mariota wasn’t up to par, so he was replaced by off-season addition Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill has since turned into one of the top QBs in the NFL.
For the Texans, they fired General Manager Brian Gaine after the 2019 NFL draft. Head Coach Bill O’Brien assumed the GM role and shipped out most of his relevant draft capital, for immediate contributors.
So, after shaking things up throughout the 2019 season, what will each respective team be asking for this Christmas?
AFC South: Indianapolis Colts
The Colts had an unexpected quarterback change forced upon them with the unexpected retirement of Andrew Luck. Backup Jacoby Brissett was promoted to the starting position and extended through 2020.
That says to me he’s on a two-year trial almost. I think the Colts like Brissett enough to keep him as the starter through 2020, therefore a new quarterback won’t be top of their Christmas list. However, the Colts are currently ranked 27th in terms of passing yards on the season.
TY Hilton is a pending free agent this off-season and 2018 second-round pick Parris Campbell has suffered with injuries this season. Both are smaller, quicker receivers, so why not ask for a big bodied target to help Brissett in 2020?
Likely to be picking somewhere in the middle of the round, a good target would be Clemson’s Tee Higgins, a long, physical receiver with fantastic body control and great hands. He goes to the top of the Colts’ Christmas list.
AFC South: Jacksonville Jaguars
Is there QB uncertainty in Jacksonville? They’ve flip-flopped between Foles and Minshew this season, but it’s pretty clear who the better player of the two has been. Forget the politics Jacksonville, yes you gave Foles a big contract but take the L and just move forward with Gardner Minshew. He’s had rookie teething problems, but he’s cheap and has showed some good flashes.
I think the Jags will be asking Santa for a buyer for Nick Foles this Christmas. They’ll try to recoup some compensation for the Super Bowl-winning QB, get his contract off the books and fully invest in Minshew moving forward.
The Jags have two first-round picks in 2020, as a result of trading star cornerback Jalen Ramsey. The second and third things on their Christmas list should be a weapon for Minshew and a Ramsey replacement.
If they end up in the Top-10, they’re scribbling CeeDee Lamb’s name down in thick, black ink on their list. He’d be an amazing option opposite DJ Chark and would instantly become their No. 1 receiver. He’s fantastic in contested situations and a real threat after the catch.
As the Ramsey replacement, if someone like Kristian Fulton falls because of the cornerback depth, that’d be ideal. If not, a long, physical corner like Trevon Diggs may be a more realistic option with that second pick.
AFC South: Tennessee Titans
All the Titans’ Christmases have come at once with resurgence of Ryan Tannehill in Tennessee. The former Dolphins QB was brought in to provide some competition to Marcus Mariota this season and after Mariota was benched due to his subpar play, Tannehill has come in and turned around the Titans’ season.
Since he was named the full-time starter, the Titans are 6-2 and Tannehill is playing like an MVP candidate. They’re now in with a legitimate shot of not only making the playoffs but winning the division.
They thought they might be asking Santa for a new QB for Christmas coming into the year, instead the Titans are asking Santa for Tannehill to continue his amazing displays, an AFC South division title and run in the Playoffs.
AFC South: Houston Texans
The Texans are a weird team to me. They have a legit top-5 quarterback in Deshaun Watson, yet they’re starting to look wobbly coming into the final stretch of the season just like they did in 2018.
There’s a lot of talent on this team. You’ve got Watson and, in my opinion, arguably the best receiver in the league in DeAndre Hopkins. Also, a franchise left tackle who you’ve just traded an absolute king’s ransom for in Laremy Tunsil, a young right tackle in Tytus Howard who’s developed quicker than most people would’ve expected. And then you’ve got talents like Will Fuller, Kenny Stills, Duke Johnson and Jordan Akins. And that’s just on offense!
As mentioned, the Texans traded a 2020 first-rounder and a 2021 first- and second-round pick for Tunsil. They then traded a 2020 third-round pick for cornerback Gareon Conley.
With just a second-round pick left in draft capital, is that enough to get yourself a starter at cornerback? Maybe, with the depth of this class. A player like Bryce Hall could be available due to the injury he suffered this season. Or maybe Jaylon Johnson from Utah, both of whom would be a good fit in the Texans’ defensive scheme.
Alternatively, they could look to free agency. After all, head coach/GM Bill O’Brian has shown he has a penchant for bringing in proven veterans. Names like Chris Harris, Marcus Peters, James Bradberry, Byron Jones and Logan Ryan are amongst the higher-tier of pending cornerback free agents. I think the Texans have a new high-level secondary piece at the top of their Christmas list.