The Indianapolis Colts have ruled the AFC South for the last decade and a half. Their run started with Peyton Manning under center, and is now continuing with Andrew Luck, the best young quarterback in the league, at the helm. The Houston Texans had a couple of good years when Manning left the Colts for the Denver Broncos, but make no mistake about it — the Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Tennessee Titans are all chasing Luck and the Colts. With the Indianapolis quarterback just starting to enter his prime, the rest of the AFC South needs to start playing catch-up this offseason. With that, here is a look at the top three offseason needs for all four teams in the AFC South.
2014 Record: 9-7, missed playoffs
- Defensive Tackle
- Tight End
The Texans had one of the best turnaround seasons in the league this year improving their record from 2-14 in 2013, to 9-7 in 2014. They already have the best all-around football player in the world in defensive end J.J. Watt, but still have multiple holes on their roster that need attention this offseason.
Offensively, the team still has issues at quarterback where neither Ryan Fitzpatrick nor Ryan Mallett appear to be the long-term answer. The Texans will likely have to find help at the position through a trade or free agency as there almost surely won’t be a quarterback worth selecting with the 16th pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Houston’s offense could also use help at the tight end position. After letting Owen Daniels go in free agency a year ago, his replacements, Garrett Graham, C.J. Fiedorowicz, and Ryan Griffin failed to adequately fill his void. The Texans could easily address this position in either free agency or the Draft.
Lastly, the Texans defense will need to find a starting-caliber nose tackle for their 3-4 defense. Incumbents Jerrell Powe and Ryan Pickett are both free agents, and the team could opt to re-sign one of them, but they will still need to find at least one space-eater to add to their 2015 roster.
2014 Record: 11-5, lost in AFC Championship Game
- Running Back
- Offensive Line
- Pass Rusher
The Colts are coming off of a trip to the AFC Championship Game, and with the best up-and-coming quarterback in the game, they will likely be contenders in the AFC for the foreseeable future. When you have a quarterback like Andrew Luck, protecting him and surrounding him with weapons should be a high priority. The Colts swung for the fences and whiffed with their trade for running back Trent Richardson. Daniel “Boom” Herron is a dynamic, third-down type of back, but the Colts will need to add a featured back to help take some of the pressure off of Luck and the passing game. Likewise, all three starting interior offensive line spots could stand to be upgraded this offseason.
Defensively, the Colts need to find a natural pass-rusher. With Robert Mathis coming off of a torn Achilles tendon, his production will likely be limited to start the 2015 season. Even if he comes back in time for the start of the season, the Colts will need to find a guy who can make an impact on the other side of their pass rush.
2014 Record: 3-13, missed playoffs
- Running Back
- Tight End
- Defensive End
The Jaguars appear to be committed to quarterback Blake Bortles, the team’s 2014 first round draft pick, and will spend a lot of time this offseason looking to improve his supporting cast. At running back, Denard Robinson was a pleasant surprise, but free agent signee Toby Gerhart was a bust due to various injuries. The Jaguars will likely be looking to stabilize and upgrade at the position this offseason. Another offensive position that needs some attention is tight end. The oft-injured Marcedes Lewis is nearing the end of the line in Jacksonville, and a young quarterback such as Bortles could greatly benefit from a dynamic, pass-catching tight end.
Head coach Gus Bradley is attempting to install the Seattle Seahawks’ defensive scheme in Jacksonville, and to do so, the team will need to improve at defensive end and cornerback. With the third overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, the Jaguars will more than likely be looking to bolster their pass rush.
2014 Record: 2-14, missed playoffs
- Outside Linebacker
- Wide Receiver
The Titans have a lot of holes to fill and a difficult decision to make at the quarterback position. They may be tempted to select a quarterback with the second-overall pick in the Draft, but they also may feel that 2014 rookie Zach Mettenberger showed enough promise in his first season that he deserves more time to develop. Whoever winds up starting at quarterback for the Titans in 2015 will definitely need another playmaking wide receiver on the outside. With that being said, the Titans have more pressing needs on defense that require their immediate attention.
The Titans will need to add at least one play-making outside linebacker to their defense, and may choose to do so with their first-round draft pick. Tennessee will also need to add at least one quality cornerback to their defense. Their top corner in 2014 was Jason McCourty, and he was merely the 58th-best cornerback in the league according to Pro Football Focus.