Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Guys You Don't Know (But You Should) AFC South Edition

The AFC South just wasn't very good in 2011.  They had the worst team in the league in Indianapolis and another bottom feeder in Jacksonville.  Both teams struggled without the previous years starting quarterback (Manning and Garrard) and just couldn't seem to get out of the gate.  The Texans at one point looked like they were Super Bowl bound, but lost both their starting and backup quarterback for the season.  The Titans only hopes of being relevant were Chris Johnson and Kenny Britt to have great seasons.  Britt lasted three games before his tore his knee up and Johnson had statistically the worst season of his career.  Another example of never knowing what can happen in the NFL.

There is plenty of new blood injected into this division.  Everybody's eyes will be locked on Andrew Luck as he attempts to follow in the footsteps of Peyton.  Jacksonville hopes a play maker fell into their lap in Justin Blackmon.  Will the Titans continue with Hasselbeck or go to their future and start Jake Locker?  Can the Texans stay healthy and become a force in an overall weak AFC?  The entire division is one big "well see."

There were many talents who broke out in 2011.  Ben Tate showed that he had what it took to be a starting running back if Arian Foster isn't in his way.  In limited action, Jake Locker showed he can be a formidable starter of the future in Tennessee.  Don't forget the respectable job TJ Yates did getting thrown into the starting lineup for a playoff team.  Unfortunately, the South was riddled with more misses than hidden hits.  Blaine Gabbert looked like the worst quarterback of the past decade in 2011.  Curtis Painter looked like the second worst.  Such mediocrity cannot be repeated in a league with such diversity.  This will be the year of the breakout for the AFC South.

AFC South
Indianapolis Colts- Donald Brown
Brown's career has taken a while to get off the ground, but 2011 was by far his best year.  He played in all sixteen games for the first time is his career, his yards per carry went up an entire yard, all this while still playing second fiddle to Joseph Addai.  Addai is history in Indianapolis and Brown is the number one guy.  The third year player out of UConn has been salivating just to show he can be the guy for the Colts.  Everyone will be looking to Luck, which will take pressure off of Brown to start the season.  Opposing defenses will look to how to stop the Luck to Wayne connection, while Brown will cut and dice through many dime and nickel defenses.  He will be an afterthought meaning he will be able to catch defenses off guard.  Brown will record his first career one thousand yard season in 2012.  It may look like an uphill climb for this guy, but being the go to guy is so important to him that he is willing to make the journey.

Tennessee Titans- Akeem Ayers
The Titans didn't have much to be excited for in their first year without head coach Jeff Fisher, but Ayers is one bright spot.  He was an absolute play maker coming out of UCLA.  Ayers had the usual struggles that come with being a rookie linebacker (struggles in coverage, biting on play action), but his talent and smarts is more than enough for him to change those mistakes in 2012.  Ayers has a full year in the Titans system and started every game in his rookie season.  Ayers will not suffer from the dreaded sophomore slump, actually he will be much better.  The Titans have a full year of tape on this guy and they will probably use him rushing off the edge more often.  This will cause his sack numbers to skyrocket in 2012.  The speed and athleticism he possesses will cause nightmares for guys matched up against him.  Look for him to show the where-with-all to become a Jason Babin type, a guy who comes off the edge and makes play after play.  Ayers will make you catch your attention when you have a chance to see a Titans game, while rooting for your guy to run far, far away from him.

Jacksonville Jaguars- Daryl Smith
There isn't much to be excited about in Jacksonville, but everyone in the sunshine state is excited to see if Smith can have a repeat performance.  He has been the model of consistency throughout his eight year career.  For some reason, he has been overlooked constantly.  Smith is one guy who uses his play on the field to tell his story.  He doesn't flap his gums, doesn't run to the media, never throws his teammates under the bus and always shows leadership qualities.  All are resounding qualities, but none that will not get you noticed, especially in Jacksonville.  Smith has a huge following in Jacksonville.  Message boards were clamoring for him to be ranked in the NFL Network's top 100 players.  His stat line for 2011 reads as follows: 107 tackles, 3.5 sacks, an interception and two forced fumbles.  According to Pro Football Weekly's rankings for best Jaguars, Daryl Smith is the top player for Jacksonville on that list.  Not MJD, Rashad Mathis or Justin Blackman, Smith is ranked as the best player on this team.  Watch out for this guy to go from underrated to certified stud in the blink of an eye.

Houston Texans- Brian Cushing
The 2009 defensive rookie of the year has had quite an up and down career already.  Cushing tested positive for a banned substance early in 2010 and has been an afterthought ever since.  Once thought to be the next great linebacker in the NFL, he has gone under the radar since the test.  He shouldn't, plain and simple.  Cushing had a monster season in 2011, finishing with 114 tackles, two interceptions, four sacks and two forced fumbles.  He is still young and seems to have an extra fire under him to make people forget that stigma of a cheater.  Cushing is the main reason the Texans' defense didn't miss a beat with Mario Williams sidelined for most of 2011.  Williams has gone on to Buffalo and the Texans won't miss him.  Cushing is more than capable to become the force the Texans need to keep offenses from gaining confidence and keep fans forgetting about the Williams departure.  He has every quality you want in a linebacker.  He is quick, great hands, perfect tackling, can cover and rush the quarterback.  Why is this guy not considered the best linebacker in the league yet?  The Texans look to dominate the division this year.  They may have all the big names on offense, but the reason they have so much time to shine is the fact that the defense is so good that teams don't have time to stay on the field.  Cushing will become a household name once again, and the Texans are going to be the team to watch for in 2012.

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