The AFC South was pretty entertaining in 2022. We saw the Houston Texans successfully throw away the No. 1 overall pick, the Indianapolis Colts fire Frank Reich in the middle of the season and bring in franchise legend Jeff Saturday to coach a squad plagued by quarterback issues, and the Tennessee Titans lose seven straight games to close out the season and squander the division. Then there was the division champion Jacksonville Jaguars, who pulled off the third-largest postseason comeback against the Los Angeles Chargers to advance to the divisional round of the playoffs. They appear to be a team on the rise.
What does 2023 hold in store for the AFC South? The Texans and Colts are beginning new chapters with new quarterbacks and new head coaches, while it feels like the Titans' window is closing. The Jaguars could be prepared to cement themselves as the new kings of the division, but as we all know, nothing comes easy in this league.
Now that we have completed free agency and the NFL Draft is behind us, let's examine burning questions for each team in the AFC South as we prepare to enter the 2023 season.
Texans: Are they finally on solid footing?
The Texans have been rebuilding since dealing Deshaun Watson to the Cleveland Browns, but they've had a funny way of doing it. They made the decision to hire first-time head coach David Culley in 2021, yet fired him after a 4-13 season in which he probably surpassed expectations. If that wasn't weird enough, Houston then hired Lovie Smith after being too scared to hire Josh McCown (allegedly), and ended up firing him one year later after he lost the No. 1 overall pick. However, this time the Texans may have gotten it right with DeMeco Ryans, who was considered one of the top prospects on the coaching carousel.
In free agency, the Texans actually made some good moves. They signed safety Jimmie Ward, defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, tight end Dalton Schultz, cornerback Shaquill Griffin, wide receiver Noah Brown and then traded for former Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive guard Shaq Mason. In the draft, Houston selected a prospective franchise quarterback in C.J. Stroud, then traded up to No. 3 overall to take arguably the top player in this class in pass-rusher Will Anderson Jr. That wasn't all, as Houston also added some intriguing wideouts in Tank Dell and Xavier Hutchinson.
It appears the Texans are finally on the right track, but we can't say that for sure. Even before the draft, general manager Nick Caserio had toabout him being on the outs. Do the Texans make a move at general manager next offseason?
Houston hasn't won more than four games in three straight seasons now. I want to know if they are on solid footing both on the field and in the front office.
Colts: How quickly can Anthony Richardson navigate NFL learning curve?
No. 4 overall pick Anthony Richardson probably has the highest ceiling of all the quarterbacks in this class. He was quite literally the NFL Combine. He's tall, he's fast, he can jump high -- he's an athlete. However, the quarterback position requires more than that.to ever go through the
It's understood that Richardson is not exactly the most polished passer. He possesses what is necessary to be a good thrower of the football, but definitely needs those game reps and some time to develop. He just turned 21 this week! I say he starts Week 1, but the question is how long will it take him to find his groove? Where he looks like a legitimate starting quarterback, where he can make all of the easy throws consistently, where he's confidently in control of the offense.
Richardson is tied with Mitch Trubisky in having the fewest career college starts by a first-round pick since 2000 with 13. He had the worst career completion percentage (55%) for a first-round pick since Jake Locker from the 2011 class. No first-round quarterback recorded fewer passing touchdowns in college since Michael Vick from the 2001 NFL Draft, who he tied with 24 touchdown tosses. Bottom line, Richardson is raw.
You look at what Justin Fields has accomplished with the Chicago Bears as a pure athlete, and that should give Colts fans hope that Richardson's floor isn't too low in Year 1. Another reason to be optimistic for Richardson as far as his ceiling goes is because he's under Shane Steichen's care. The same Shane Steichen that had Justin Herbert NFL-ready from Day 1 and turned Jalen Hurts into a legitimate star with the Philadelphia Eagles. I thought Richardson's most ideal landing spot would have been with a team that has a veteran he can learn under for a year or two. But if I had to choose a team where he would start immediately, it would probably be Indy.
How quickly can Richardson navigate those learning curves? That's something that directly affects the Colts' ceiling in 2023 and beyond.
Jaguars: Can they build on their 2022 success?
Back in 2017, the Jaguars went 10-6 and made it all the way to the AFC Championship game. They defeated the Buffalo Bills in the wild-card round, ran past the Pittsburgh Steelers in a high-scoring divisional-round matchup and held a lead over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots at halftime in the AFC Championship before ultimately falling, 24-20. With Blake Bortles, Leonard Fournette and a loaded defense led by Jalen Ramsey and Calais Campbell, the Jaguars were here to stay, right? Not exactly.
The Jaguars weren't able to put together another winning season or make the playoffs until this past year, when Trevor Lawrence and Co. emerged victorious in a win-and-you're-in Week 18 showdown against the Titans. Similarly to the 2017 campaign, arguably the Jaguars' most impressive win came in the playoffs, as they erased a 27-0 Chargers lead to win, 31-30. Now comes the issue of building on that success, and proving that the franchise is no longer rebuilding.
Now, were the 2022 Jaguars the same team as the 2017 Jaguars? Of course not. Doug Pederson is a Super-Bowl winning head coach and Lawrence appears to be a legitimate franchise quarterback. Those two factors should have fans optimistic about 2022 not being a flash in the pan.
As far as the offseason goes, Jacksonville didn't make any big-time additions in free agency, although they did trade for wide receiver Calvin Ridley during the season. The Jags also suffered some losses. Pass-rusher Arden Key, right tackle Jawaan Taylor, wide receiver Marvin Jones and tight ends Chris Manhertz and Dan Arnold are no longer with the team. Plus, left tackle Cam Robinson is for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancing drugs. Their draft, however, was solid.
CBS Sports Senior NFL Writer Pete Prisco gave the Jags' draft class a Anton Harrison, got a new tight end in Brenton Strange, an intriguing running back in Tank Bigsby, a downhill linebacker in Ventrell Miller and a great value pick in wide receiver Parker Washington, just to name a few. There's no doubt Trent Baalke and Pederson hope several of their 13 draft picks will be immediate-impact players.. They traded down for a tackle in
The AFC South is a weak division, and the Jaguars deserve to be favorites heading into the 2023 season. But they aren't going to be handed a playoff spot on a silver platter.
Titans: Did Tennessee do enough on offense?
The Titans are not exactly known for their offensive prowess, but last year was especially abysmal. They averaged 296.8 yards per game (third-worst in the NFL), and 17.5 points per game (fifth-worst in the NFL). Derrick Henry did his thing, rushing for 1,538 yards and 13 touchdowns behind a very bad offensive line, but the passing game suffered with the loss of A.J. Brown. Tennessee averaged just 171.4 passing yards per game, and Robert Woods was the Titans' leading receiver with 527 yards and two touchdowns in 17 games played. To put that into perspective, 76 NFL players had more receiving yards than Woods last year.
Did Tennessee's injury issues affect the offense? Of course. But this offense scored more than 24 points just one time last season. The line fell apart, the wide receiving corps was one of the worst in the league -- changes needed to be made. Did the Titans make enough changes this offseason?
After firing offensive coordinator Todd Downing, the Titans opted against going outside the building for much-needed help, and instead promoted passing game coordinator Tim Kelly. You could argue the Titans' ceiling in 2023 hinges on how effective he is in his new role. The wide receivers room, which needed a total makeover, added just Chris Moore via free agency, and Colton Dowell in the seventh round of the draft.
Tennessee did make a couple additions on the offensive line such as first-round pick Peter Skoronski, found a new running back in Tyjae Spears and drafted a big target in tight end Josh Whyle. But how improved is this offense going to be in 2023?