As we come full circle here with this series of divisional draft needs, the buck stops in the AFC South. It certainly features a mixed bag of franchises considering that the division winner is arguably still in rebuild mode, the third place team is one considered on the rise, while the second place finisher may be the most talented of all, yet is receiving minimal buzz entering the draft. Ultimately, the most important of all of the teams – from the perspective of the interests of this exercise – is the team holding the No. 1 overall selection.  

The Titans, while a team in desperate need of more talent, have made it clear they are willing to trade out from the top spot. They control the destiny of the rest of the league’s draft fortune, as their single move will dictate how the rest of the cards fall into place. They aptly will be detailed last in this admittedly drawn out, month long, analysis piece.

Houston Texans

2015 Record: 9-7

2016 Draft Picks: 22, 52, 85, 119, 159, 166, 195

The Texans got red hot during the middle of the season, rattling off a ton of consecutive wins, until ultimately soiling their proverbial bed during the first round of last season’s playoffs. Quarterback play was the main reason for their meltdown, as Brian Hoyer turned the ball over four times in the first half alone, leading (or what ever the opposite of that is) the Texans to a 30-0 blowout loss at the hands of the Chiefs on Wild Card weekend. Whether pundits agree on the potential of this player or not, the Texans addressed the position in the offseason, as they locked up Denver’s Brock Osweiler for $37 million in guaranteed money. With quarterback now essentially off the table in the early rounds of the draft, the Texans can go in a variety of different directions with the 22nd overall pick.

Certain sects of the fan base are lobbying for a dynamic wide receiver to slot in across from DeAndre Hopkins, but with the franchise just investing a high pick in Jaelen Strong last year, I expect them to save their pick for another position. Others want Houston to use the pick on an interior defensive lineman, as this talent rich class in that department would be a good pool to choose from. Again, however, I feel they can wait until after the first round to pick an impact player at that position. A tight end may also be in play, but even the best in the class isn’t worthy of more than a mid-second round grade. After all of this deductive reasoning, I believe  the Texans will address their offensive line and take the best center in the class with the 22nd overall pick.

Ryan Kelly of Alabama is a three-year starter, and the 2015 Rimington Award winner (Nation’s Best Center), and unquestioned leader of the best offensive line in college football. He’s a solidly built field general and projects as the anchor of any offensive line he ends up joining at the next level. His tape shows a high IQ football player, with excellent body positioning, and smooth moving feet that allow him to get to the second level better than just about any other lineman in this class. On the play below, Kelly blows open a hole right up the middle for running back Derrick Henry to cleanly run through on his way to 56-yard touchdown. As the old adage goes in football “low man wins” and somehow, even at 6-foot-4, Kelly manages to get lower than the man in front of him, while getting his arms fully extended, and performing a textbook relentless leg drive – as if he were hitting a practice sled – to create a wide open running lane.

As for the Texans' second through fourth round selections, they can choose from the best of the litter at the previously highlighted positions. In this deep interior defensive line class, they can still likely get a first round caliber DT with No. 52 overall. Austin Johnson – a nose tackle out of Penn State – makes perfect sense for Houston, as they will actively be looking for Vince Wilfork’s eventual replacement. Considering that Johnson is drawing Eddie Goldman comparisons – a first round pick in last year’s draft – he will hold excellent value in the mid-to-late second round for the Texans. A caveat here however remains contingent on if Arkansas’s Hunter Henry (tight end) is off the board. If he is still available at 52, expect the Texans to pull the trigger.

In the third and fourth rounds, Houston is likely to target a wide receiver. Potential available fits include South Carolina’s Pharaoh Cooper, Cal’s Kenny Lawler, and Tulsa’s Keyarris Garrett.

Indianapolis Colts

2015 Record: 8-8

2016 Draft Picks: 18, 48, 82, 116, 155, 239

After star quarterback Andrew Luck went down early in the season for the Colts, many would have expected them to pack it in and hope for an impactful draft pick come springtime. Instead, they fought their rear ends off to an 8-8 record with 40-year-old Matt Hasselbeck leading the charge. Ultimately, they failed to make the playoffs due to a shoddy defense, and a sieve-like offensive line that allowed Hasselbeck and the running backs to get destroyed in the backfield before plays even had a chance to get started. Because of this, expect the Colts to also focus on the offensive line early on in the draft, as they are in dire need of an upgrade to protect their soon-to-be high priced investment – quarterback Andrew Luck.

Likely available at No. 18 overall is Jason Spriggs – offensive tackle out of Indiana. His tape doesn’t show as well as most would like in a first round draft choice, but most of his best work came late. He consistently got better as his college career went on, culminating with an excellent week at the Senior Bowl this winter. His Combine performance was out of this world, as he was not only the fastest lineman in Indy, but he also repped the most at the 225 lbs. bench press out of his positional group.

He’s tall, ultra-athletic, clearly getting much stronger, and is working on his craft to be a potential franchise tackle. This pick should make everyone involved happy, as the hometown kid (Indiana University) would be playing for his hometown professional team (Indianapolis Colts) in the stadium that he absolutely blew up the combine and made a name for himself (Lucas Oil Stadium).

This play shows off the best of Sprigg’s athleticism, as he quickly gets to the second level, engages the linebacker, and creates a seam for the running back to explode through – virtually untouched.

As for their subsequent selections, the Colts will be targeting an interior defensive lineman and some help at both edge rushing spots. Expect them to choose the best player on their board between the two positions going forward, while ideally they have some impactful edge rushers to choose from first. Boise State’s Kamaeli Correa makes sense in the second, as does Utah State’s Kyler Fackrell, while they might be able to wait until the third and select Georgia’s Jordan Jenkins with the 82nd overall pick. As for interior defensive linemen, Mississippi State’s Chris Jones would fit in really well with what they are trying to do out in Indy, as would Texas’s Hassan Ridgeway.

Jacksonville Jaguars

2015 Record: 5-11

2016 Draft Picks: 5, 38, 69, 103, 146, 181, 201, 226

Don’t look now, but the Jaguars really seem to be one of the rare rebuilding organizations currently on the rise. Along with the Raiders, the Jags enter 2016 as a sexy option to pick as a potential wild card sneak in due to their awesome aerial attack. With the offense largely set in place aside from maybe adding some competitive depth along the offensive line, the Jags are expected to turn their attention to the defensive side of the ball in the early parts of the 2016 NFL Draft.

According to my hypothetical board, at No. 5 overall, the Jags will select Myles Jack – linebacker out of UCLA. Similarly to what happened with the Jets at No. 6 last season with Leonard Williams falling right into their laps, the Jags would be getting the best overall player in the draft here.

To put in the simplest of terms, Jack is on another planet athletically. He is the only player in Pac-12 history to win Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year, as he starred both at running back and at linebacker during his time with the UCLA Bruins. If he were to enter the draft as a running back instead of linebacker, he would still be drafted in the first three rounds. That’s just how good he is.

Make no mistake, though, Jack’s best position is at weakside linebacker, where he would have the freedom to roam in space and just flat-out make plays. With the Jaguars, he could fit in anywhere from the Mike, to the Sam, to even strong safety, but would be unlikely to plug in as the Jags starting Leo due to the position’s primarily pass rushing responsiblities. His talent level is so diverse that he could make an impact as a Leo, but would be limited to splash plays situationally.

Jack’s money attribute: Coverage.

Now mark my words here… I have never seen a better linebacker in coverage in my entire life. Yup, better than Luke Kuechly, Sean Lee, Thomas Davis, Derrick Brooks, NaVorro Bowman, you name it, Jack has the potential to, and might already be, better than all of them in man-up coverage. His lateral speed is unbelievable, his footwork is terrific, his confidence is off the charts, and he uses just the proper amount of hands in coverage to keep receivers uncomfortable. Jack is so good in coverage that at one point during 2014, he was tasked to stay man-up on USC wide receiver Nelson Agholor. He locked down Agholor for the entirety of the matchup, holding him to zero catches. This is a receiver mind you, who went on to become a first-round pick in the draft the following April.

While he sat out most of the Combine, he showcased a little more of his measureables at UCLA’s pro day. There, Jack leapt 40 inches vertically on what was reported only 80 percent health. My advice to the Jags here is to not over think this. With the fifth overall pick, take Jack – a once in a generation type of athletic football talent, provided of course, that everyone else was stupid enough to pass on him in the first place.

Here’s an example of how talented and instinctive Jack is in coverage. You can see him line up in the slot against a wide receiver, track the ball the entire way, and pluck it out of the air like a natural offensive playmaker. After the catch, it’s off to the races, as his history as a running back always shows when the ball is in his hands…

As for the Jaguars' subsequent selections, expect them to address that aforementioned Leo position in the second round. Ideally a player like Kevin Dodd of Clemson or Noah Spence of Eastern Kentucky is available there. If not, they will settle for either Boise State’s Kamaeli Correa or Utah State’s Kyler Fackrell in the third round. If the board remains in an ideal situation and they can take either Dodd or Spence in the second, expect the Jags to target a center in the third or fourth round. At the top of their list will be Notre Dame’s Nick Martin, who while less athletic than his brother Zack of the Dallas Cowboys, projects to be a fine center at the next level. Michigan State’s Jack Allen also should end up being a solid pro due to his technique, polish, maturity, and excellent leadership.

Tennessee Titans

2015 Record: 3-13

2016 Draft Picks: 1, 33, 64, 113, 140, 177, 193, 222

"And finally, with the first overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft, the Tennessee Titans select… Laremy Tunsil – offensive tackle, Ole Miss."

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to many, as the general rule of thumb for rebuilding an NFL franchise is to get a quarterback and then surround him with talent and protection. This is something the Redskins failed to do with Robert Griffin III, as did the Texans with David Carr in 2002. Recently, there has been a growing feeling amongst the draft community that the Titans are not only going to avoid Tunsil and trade the selection, but will just up and pass over him and instead take Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey. While Ramsey is an incredibly talented young player, Tunsil will help Marcus Mariota’s development more than any other player in the draft, which should be priority No. 1 for a rebuilding franchise. Like the Jaguars, the Titans shouldn’t overthink this one, as they have a potential Trent Williams or Tyron Smith just waiting out there to be picked.

Below is an example of just how natural Tunsil is at the position. He creates a perfect pocket here for the quarterback to operate, while stringing out the pass rusher and rendering him ineffective…

This final .GIF showcases Tunsil’s incredible athleticism that allows him to easily get to the second level in the run game. He pops the linebacker, likely giving the running back a few extra yards than he otherwise would have gotten.

At nearly the top of the second round, the Titans have a chance to get another first round caliber player. Expect them to target a cornerback, likely the one to fall out of the first between William Jackson III out of Houston, Eli Apple out of Ohio State, Kendall Fuller of Virginia Tech, and Mackensie Alexander of Clemson. In the third, they will look to get younger at the edge rusher spot, so if Jordan Jenkins of Georgia or Kyler Fackrell of Utah State are still available, expect them to pull the trigger. A later round name to keep in mind at this position is someone I mentioned last week – Yannick Ngakoue out of Maryland – who with the teachings of Brian Orakpo, could develop into a weapon off the edge.

*** So that just about does it for my divisional breakdown of each team’s draft needs heading into the late April classic. Bi-weekly draft coverage will continue throughout the process, and likely won’t change gears until May at the earliest. ***

To leave you with some parting words of motivation…

The day is almost here! Only two weeks from now, each franchise and their devoted followings will wake up feeling more excited than Christmas morning. Bars will be packed, wings will be eaten, and ample beers will be slugged. No, this is not Super Bowl Sunday that I’m describing, but rather NFL Draft Night. It’s the only night in all of American sports that each fan base – at the same time – can legitimately look forward to and envision their team making a run for a championship. While other league’s drafts can be exciting, no other sport can claim the same immediate impact – from top to bottom – that prospects make on each individual team. The NBA draft pool is typically too thin, the NHL’s prospects enter the league far too raw, while in the MLB, development maintains at a snails pace, as it takes young players far too long to make it to the show. No, the NFL Draft is something else. It’s the sports world’s sign that spring has sprung and on coming are new beginnings. It’s a chance for hope. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

-- Nostra-Dom-Us