- Kevin Weidl, Scouts Inc.
With the initial free-agent frenzy having passed and trade activity having slowed to a trickle, teams are now able to take a breath and re-examine their needs and draft boards. Plenty of holes have been filled in recent weeks, and many others have opened as teams lost players to free agency.
How has that affected teams in the AFC South? Here's a look at the impact player movement has had on teams in that division and how draft plans might be affected.
The Texans lost S Glover Quin to the Detroit Lions but filled that hole by signing free agent S Ed Reed away from the Baltimore Ravens. They also lost LB Connor Barwin and TE James Casey to the Eagles, but neither of those areas looks like a pressing need at this point.
Houston could address three areas early in the draft: wide receiver, offensive tackle and defensive line.
The Texans drafted DeVier Posey and Keshawn Martin last year, but they still need a perimeter receiver opposite Pro Bowler Andre Johnson. That would likely put Tennessee WRs Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter in the mix at No. 27 overall.
However, while Patterson is one of the most dangerous players in this class with the ball in his hands, he needs a lot of development in terms of route-running and reading coverages on the fly. Hunter is a smooth, flexible athlete who can make plays downfield, but there are questions about his toughness and focus, and his multiple drops on contested throws are hard to ignore.
I would rather have California WR Keenan Allen, who doesn't have as high a ceiling as Patterson or Hunter but boasts the hands and body control to win one-on-one matchups down the field. Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins could also get into the discussion with his physical style attacking the football and impressive body control. Second-round receiver fits could also include USC's Robert Woods and Marshall's Aaron Dobson.
As for offensive tackle, Houston could pull the trigger on Florida State's Menelik Watson late in the first. Watson is a former basketball player with only two years of football experience, but he has the feet and lateral agility to be a strong fit in the Texans' zone blocking scheme. He's a bit of a project who needs to add strength and improve his instincts/awareness, but he has the athleticism to get into position and open up running lanes.
Oregon's Kyle Long, who is also inexperienced but has great physical tools, is another consideration, and I think he is far less of a project than Watson based on tape study. Terron Armstead of Arkansas-Pine Bluff could also be in the mix if the Texans elect to wait to address the position in the second round.
If the Texans opt for a defensive lineman in the first, keep an eye on the nose tackle. Houston has Earl Mitchell at that position now, but he could be a better fit at end in Houston's 3-4 scheme. That would put massive Georgia DT Johnathan Jenkins in play. Jenkins is a space-eater who can occupy blockers and clog the middle, creating room for the inside linebackers to work.
If not Jenkins, some feel Alabama's Jesse Williams is also worthy of a first-round pick to add depth along the defensive front line. D-line options in the second round could include the likes of Ohio State DT Johnathan Hankins, who I'm not as high on, and Missouri Southern DT Brandon Williams, who dominated at the FCS level and has tools that project well to the NFL.
And despite the signing of former Green Bay Packers OLB Erik Walden, there is still a need for an inside linebacker in Indy's 3-4 scheme. That would put Notre Dame ILB Manti Te'o and LSU ILB Kevin Minter in play at No. 24 overall. Both could fill the need, though I like Minter's ability to play in space a little better. The Colts don't have a second-round pick, but they could look for someone like Oregon's Kiko Alonso or North Carolina's Kevin Reddick, who is as steady as they come defending the run, in the third.
Cherilus will step in at right tackle, but 2011 first-round pick Anthony Castonzo has struggled with speed rushers on the left side and the Colts might look for additional protection for franchise QB Andrew Luck. The question there is whether they feel Alabama OT D.J. Fluker can play left tackle. Fluker is a mauler in the run game and has elite length, and he improved his technique in 2012, but I'm not sure he has the foot quickness to consistently handle speed off the edge.
And with longtime DE Dwight Freeney having been released and 2010 first-round pick Jerry Hughes falling short of expectations, Indianapolis could also opt for a pass-rusher late in the first. Florida State DE Bjoern Werner could still be on the board at No. 24, and he has the initial quickness and active hands to overcome his lack of ideal size. Werner plays with leverage, and his wide variety of pass-rush moves could make him a steady presence and a good value as an outside linebacker in their base 3-4 scheme.
Don't rule out the possibility of the Colts trading back if they're not enamored with their options. With no second-round pick, they could look to pick up extra selections in a deal with a team eyeing a quarterback late in the first. That would allow them to maybe target someone like Long or versatile Syracuse OL Justin Pugh early in the second round. Pugh doesn't have ideal length but certainly has the feet and balance to overcome that and would still be an excellent interior lineman if he didn't work out at left tackle.
The Jags haven't made impact moves in free agency, and the first thing new general manager David Caldwell must address is whether the team will move forward with 2011 first-round pick Blaine Gabbert, who has fallen far short of expectations, as its starting quarterback. If not, the next question is whether West Virginia QB Geno Smith is worthy of the No. 2 overall pick.
Should the Jags go with Gabbert or pass on Smith, that leaves defensive end, offensive tackle or cornerback as major need areas, though I would lean toward addressing the trenches before taking Alabama CB Dee Milliner, especially given the depth of this year's corner class.
Jacksonville sorely needs an impact pass-rusher after finishing dead last in the league with only 20 sacks last season. That means BYU DE Ezekiel Ansah could be an option. Ansah has as much upside as any player in this year's class with his elite combination of size, athleticism, closing burst and raw strength.
Although I feel Ansah will develop into an impact left end, there is no denying he is a bit raw at this point. If the Jags don't like the risk associated with Ansah, they could opt for Oregon DE Dion Jordan. Another freakishly gifted pass-rusher, Jordan flashes impressive pass-rush skills, can stand up as an outside linebacker in 3-4 alignments, and can even play some strongside linebacker in 4-3 looks.
It would also be hard to go wrong at offensive tackle with the second overall pick. The Kansas City Chiefs seem to be taking a long look at Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel with the first pick, but whether they take Joeckel or Central Michigan's Eric Fisher, that would still leave a quality player for the Jags, who gave up 50 sacks last season.
If Gabbert gets another chance, the coaching staff can't expect him to make significant strides if he doesn't remain upright, so bringing in Fisher or Joeckel to bookend with Eugene Monroe would make a lot of sense.
The Titans brought in Andy Levitre, the top guard on the free-agent market, but they could still look to address the interior at No. 10 overall with Alabama's Chance Warmack or North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper.
Warmack has the skills to be a powerful road grader up front and might be a better fit, and an improved run game (the Titans also added RB Shonn Greene) and added protection can only help third-year QB Jake Locker, who has been erratic to this point.
And with current OTs Michael Roos and David Stewart locked up only through next season, maybe Oklahoma OT Lane Johnson is a consideration should he still be on the board. After all, Stewart is coming off a broken leg, and both he and Roos are scheduled to make more than $6 million in voidable years in 2014.
Tennessee might also look for a defensive end in the first round, with Derrick Morgan having come on late last season, but 2012 free-agent signing Kamerion Wimbley failed to live up to his contract last season with just six sacks. Should LSU's Barkevious Mingo be available his length and upside could be attractive.
Werner could also be a consideration in the first, though this might be a little high for him. Werner's college teammate Cornellius Carradine, who is coming off an ACL injury, would be more than worth the medical risk if waiting until the second round to address the position.
Finally, the Titans need to address wide receiver at some point. Kenny Britt has talent, but Britt suffered a major knee injury in 2011 and has myriad off-the-field issues. Tennessee drafted Kendall Wright last season, but needs another big body on the outside and could find it with one of its four picks in Rounds 2-4. That would mean options like Hopkins, Dobson, Baylor's Terrance Williams, TCU's Josh Boyce, Arkansas' Cobi Hamilton or Oregon State's Markus Wheaton, who doesn't have elite size but can stretch the field vertically, could all be in the mix.
383dTodd McShay, Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl