Wake-Up Call: Players Who NEED to Play Well in the AFC South

Every team has their star players who are expected to put up numbers on a weekly basis and contribute to the success of their team. However, a handful of superstars does not make a full team. In order for a team to be successful, the non-super star players need to contribute. Looking forward to the 2017 NFL season, here are the players from each AFC South team that need to contribute for their team to be successful:

Houston Texans – Deshaun Watson (QB)

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The Houston Texans won the division last year and picked up a playoff victory thanks to the Oakland Raiders playing without the younger brother of former Texans quarterback David Carr. The younger brother, Derek Carr, looked like an MVP candidate and had turned the Raiders into legitimate contenders to prevent the New England Patriots from making yet another Super Bowl appearance – however, his fibula was broken in a game against Indianapolis on Christmas Eve. With rookie quarterback Connor Cook taking over for Oakland, the Texans managed a 27-14 victory in the wildcard round. However, the Texans also had issues at quarterback. Their issue was that their starting quarterback had played pretty badly the whole year and wasn’t living up to his massive contract. Fast-forward to this year, Brock Osweiler (the aforementioned failure) has been shipped to Cleveland, and last year’s backup Tom Savage is competing with rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson for the starting job. Many reports have suggested that Savage will be the starter, but Watson was drafted too high to not be put in immediately if Savage struggles for more than one game. My best guess is Watson will be the starter before their bye week in week seven. Given the Texans success without a quality quarterback last year, they could easily be a playoff contender if Watson plays anywhere near the level he did at Clemson. However, if Watson and Savage struggle, the Texans could miss out on the playoffs as other teams get better – perhaps this is finally Jacksonville’s year to take over the AFC South?

Indianapolis Colts – Barkevious Mingo (OLB)

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Mingo was originally drafted #6 overall by the Cleveland Browns in 2013. He spent three years in Cleveland before playing for the New England Patriots last year. Now he joins the Colts as a player who has 16 NFL starts and has only started for more than three games in a season once (11 starts for the Browns in 2014). He has seven career sacks, but hasn’t recorded one since 2014. He has been responsible for a mere two takeaways in his career (a fumble recovery in 2014 and an interception in 2015). While all the signs so far point to him being a bust, it looks like he has been given a last chance. This one is pretty simple, if he can show the league why he was taken 6th overall in 2013 the Colts will enjoy the presence of a dynamic pass-rusher. If he continues to under-perform, his career is likely done and the Colts will continue to struggle to compete in the AFC South since the Texans are reigning champs, the Jaguars have been loading up with talent, and the Titans have also showed the ability to make a run at the division title.

Jacksonville Jaguars – Blake Bortles (QB)

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The Jacksonville Jaguars may have finally put together a team with a legitimate shot at being good. Their safety combo of Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson is more than solid. Combine that with emerging star corner Jalen Ramsey and free agent signing A.J. Bouye and the Jaguars have a really good secondary. Throw in defensive linemen Yannick Ngakoue, Dante Fowler Jr., Calais Campbell, and Malik Jackson, as well as a trio of good linebackers (Myles Jack, Paul Posluszny, and Telvin Smith), and this Jaguars defense looks like the defense of a very competitive football team. This section could get longer than the Houston Texans section if I went into details about their offense, so here’s a brief summary; rookie running back Leonard Fournette, T.J. Yeldon (RB), Chris Ivory (RB), ageless tight end Marcedes Lewis, and the Allen “Brothers” (Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson) plus rookie Dede Westbrook at receiver. The only thing missing from this being a decent offense is consistent quarterbacking. Bortles has had his moments where he has been amazing and his moments where he has been sub-par. If Bortles can recapture his 2015 season (35 touchdowns and a passer rating of 88.2), the Jaguars could contend for the AFC South division title. However, if he repeats his 2016 season (23 touchdowns and a passer rating of 78.8), the Jaguars will be primed to struggle yet again.

Tennessee Titans – Johnathan Cyprien (S)

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Cyprien is joining the Titans defensive secondary from their division rival the Jacksonville Jaguars. Last year, the secondary was an issue for the Titans, and they knew that. They added four defensive backs through the draft, including USC corner Adoree’ Jackson. This defensive secondary looks a little bit better on paper, and a big part of that is Cyprien, last year’s league-leader in tackles from the safety position. If Cyprien keeps on performing, and there’s no reason he shouldn’t, the Titans secondary will be far better than it was last year. If Cyprien struggles to fit in with his new team, the Titans will have to rely on rookies to make their secondary better – which is far from being the ideal situation.

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