Commentary

Kiper's summer audits: AFC South

Mel breaks down the offseasons and needs of each AFC South team

Originally Published: June 22, 2011
By Mel Kiper Jr. | ESPN Insider
Jake LockerAP Photo/Dave MartinWill Jake Locker be the Week 1 starter for the Tennessee Titans?

Let's pretend for a moment that the NFL hasn't ground to a halt like a train rusted to the tracks. Let's pretend as well that the season will start on time, that free agency will at some point get under way and that all these roster voids can be addressed at some point. Got it? Well, with those rose-colored glasses on, let's audit all the divisions in the NFL. Like last year, I'll hit on three things:

Help added: What has the team done so far this offseason to improve its prospects? (Obviously, minus free agency, this is mainly limited to the draft.)
Questions that remain: Consider it a guide to free agency (when it happens). What must still be addressed?
Next year's help now: With an eye toward next year's draft class, which player from 2012 seemingly could help the team in 2011? This is meant to be extremely hypothetical.

Here is the version for the AFC South:


AFC South

Houston Texans

Help added: With a defense that gave up the fourth-most points in the NFL last season, the Texans unsurprisingly used their first five picks on that side of the football. Entering the draft, everyone thought that if they were going to take a front-seven guy in the first round, it would be a pass-rusher at outside linebacker. With North Carolina's Robert Quinn still on the board, they bypassed him in favor of Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt. The move ended up making more sense when it was learned after the draft that Mario Williams likely would play outside linebacker in the new 3-4 scheme. I like Watt; he plays hard, does a great job with hand usage and is very productive. I also like Brooks Reed, a pass-rusher Houston drafted in the second round who could have gone higher. He has the kind of initial explosiveness that you look for in a player at the position. A good secondary starts with a pass rush, but the Texans needed bodies in the back, regardless. If Brandon Harris shows the form we saw as a sophomore, the Texans could end up with a solid starter. But that's no given. Two rounds later, they added Virginia Tech CB Rashad Carmichael. He's too much of a hit-or-miss proposition for my liking, but he does display pretty good instincts and ball skills when it all comes together for him.

When it comes to the draft, I liked the strategy. This team lost games because it simply couldn't get opposing offenses off the field. The biggest addition is new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, but some talent won't hurt.

Questions that remain: I don't think the Texans could have done enough to add defensive talent, and although they did a great job hitting needs, an interior lineman has to be on the shopping list. Beyond that, although they tried to add safety help in the draft and may have some talent, that's not a position you simply turn over to a rookie if you can help it. I also really wanted to see the Texans add receiver help to take some of the pressure off Andre Johnson. He's the real only down-the-field threat, and they could use somebody else who can stretch defenses. Keep an eye on what they do in free agency.


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Mel Kiper Jr.

Football analyst