Saturday, July 27, 2013

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

The AFC South was a clear two team battle.  The Jaguars and Titans were never in the race to compete.  The Colts and the Texans showed they were the real deal, winning eleven and twelve games respectively.  They did not make much noise in the playoffs, but they both got some needed experience on their young teams.  All four teams are looking to bounce back in completely different ways.  The Colts and Texans are looking to bounce back from disappointing playoff performances and the Jaguars and Titans are looking to bounce back from disappointing seasons.  The headlines were aplenty in 2012.  You could talk about the fact that Peyton Manning was no longer donning the blue and white, the best draft pick since him was now replacing him, whether Chris Johnson was still a good running back, if JJ Watt came out of nowhere to become the best defensive player in the NFL, will the Jaguars be playing in LA sooner rather than later, and so on.

Breakout stars were all the rage in this division last season.  The aforementioned Watt, T.Y. Hilton, Vick Ballard, and Cecil Shorts are just a few players who you couldn't point out in a lineup but are now players who are crucial parts of the their teams.  As with every team, breakout stars are going to decide the winners and losers.  There will always be a player that comes out of the woodwork.  Maybe JJ Watt can become a once in a generation star, but nobody saw it coming before last season.  Many think Andrew Luck will become an all-time great, but they didn't think he would take the Colts from a two win team to an eleven win team.  Not many around the league even noticed that Paul Posluszny (2012 pick of this column) left the Bills to go become a Jaguar, but he ended up eighth in the entire NFL in tackles.  Our job is not to tell you who is good and was good last season, you already know that.  Our job is to tell you who to look out for this season and who's name you should get used to hearing.  These are those people in the AFC South.

Houston Texans - Garrett Graham TE
Owen Daniels is a very good NFL tight end.  So how does his back up become the next big thing on the Houston Texans?  Daniels is going to turn 31 in the middle of this season.  He hasn't played a full 16 game schedule since 2008, and the games he does play in he plays hurt.  Garrett Graham finally got a shot in 2012, as he added to his one career reception in the first three years of his career.  He had twenty-eight receptions on thirty-eight targets.  He caught as many passes as he was allowed to.  He did not let a playoff target hit the ground as he hauled in all five of them.  Another fact helping this guy out is the Texans offense ran more two tight end sets than anyone in football.  With James Casey bolting for Philadelphia, Graham is a sure shot to be that second tight end.  He showed last year that when called upon he can catch the ball.  He is in his fourth year so he can go into his prime without the wear and tear that most players have coming in at this point in their careers.  He has the luxury of having no expectations even though he has all the talent in the world.  The position saw 186 targets in 2012,a number that is not likely to shrink in 2013.  Graham will take advantage of the injuries to Daniels and the playing time that will come with it.  This is also a contract year for Graham, as his rookie contract is up after the season.  He is poised to show that he is worth a big deal, and maybe to the Texans.  Daniels big payout is in 2014 and none of it is guaranteed.  Maybe some of that 4.5 million dollars could be used to keep Graham in Houston where he could take over.  Only time will tell, but expect to see another major jump in this kid's career.

Indianapolis Colts - Jerrell Freeman ILB
Last season was supposed to be the big breakout for Pat Angerer.  He was coming off his first 100 plus tackle season and they were moving to a 3-4, which seemed to suit his skills.  The season didn't exactly go that way for him.  He was injured from the get go of the season and saw two men jump into his spot just as effectively as himself.  One of those men was Kavell Conner and the other was Jerrell Freeman.  The difference between the two is Freeman showed he had starter worthy potential and he was on his last real shot to be an NFL player.  What ended up happening is the Colts found their inside linebacker of the future, and nobody really expected it from a guy coming out of Mary Hardin-Baylor University in Belton, Texas.  Freeman made his presence known immediately intercepting a Jay Cutler pass and taking it all the way back for a touchdown.  Not too bad for your first NFL regular season game.  He showed the talent that made him such a force in the Canadian Football League and used that skill to make a name for himself in the NFL.  Freeman will now start the season as the man as far as the inside linebackers go.  Angerer and Conner are going to battle each other for the extra spot, while the undrafted guy coming out of the CFL sits nicely with his spot intact.  Freeman ended up second in the AFC behind Jerod Mayo in tackles.  He gets to the spots that nobody expected him to.  What you should expect is Jerrell Freeman to become a leader in this defense and be a perennial Pro Bowler for years to come.

Jacksonville Jaguars - Blaine Gabbert QB
I just lost all my readers.  Hear me out for just a minute.  Blaine Gabbert had looked like the most terrible quarterback in the league.  He is a bust before he has even had a shot.  Gabbert has confidence issues, which could be a death sentence for a quarterback's career.  The coaches are saying that he is doing a really good job of forgetting what has already happened.  In early practices, he has shown signs of the skills that led him to be picked tenth overall.  The word coming out of the draft is that he would be struggling to switch from the spread offense to the pro style offense, but in 2008 he was ranked the best pro style quarterback coming out of high school.  The competition with Chad Henne is only going to help him push himself.  He doesn't have time to doubt himself, he needs to have a short memory.  You also have to remember that Gabbert was supposed to sit for a year behind David Garrard before playing, but his surprising release shot him up to starter.  He clearly was not ready for such a responsibility and it is no wonder he struggled.  This will be his third season in the league.  He will have those growing pains out of the way.  He led the most conservative offense in the league, shown by his 21 touchdowns and 17 interceptions over the last two seasons.  He needs to be more willing to take a shot and he needs an offense that will help him succeed.  Add to the fact that they got what most analysts felt was the best player in the draft in Luke Joeckel to solidify his blindside and that will always help your confidence out.  New coach Gus Bradley showed his confidence to win with Gabbert when he elected to not take a quarterback with any of his draft picks. The new regime went out and acquired a ton of weapons for him in the likes of Mohamed Massaquoi, Ace Sanders, and Denard Robinson.  He has everything he needs to succeed finally and this is his time to do it.  If he doesn't then this could be the end of a once promising career.

Tennessee Titans - Jason McCourty CB
The twin brother of the Patriots Devin, Jason McCourty finally made somewhat of a name for himself last season.  He took over for Cortland Finnegan who bolted for the Rams, becoming the Titans number one   cornerback.  He took a nice $43 million extension before the season that will keep him in Tennessee until 2017.  He re-payed them by playing like a number one corner should.  He hauled in four interceptions (more than Finnegan in St Louis by the way) and had fifteen pass deflections.  He also was a big part of the run defense as he had four tackles for loss on the year.  He has become a great all around player for the Titans.  Tennessee will be much improved in 2013 on the defensive side as a whole, and because of this the sports world will begin to know the name of Jason McCourty.  I expect him to anchor a defense that may not have a lot of talent, but they have a year of experience under their belts.  A big difference is the effect that incoming safety Bernard Pollard is playing on this team, and Jason.  He is bringing a more team like feel to the organization and McCourty has already said that is helping him become a better player.  Expect a surprise in Tennessee when it comes to the side of the ball you didn't expect it from.

1 comment:

  1. Good article man. I like Freeman and McCourty to have good seasons too. As for Gabbert and Garrett, I think we'll see pretty much what we saw last year. Idt Gabbert has the poise to be a good NFL starter, even with that offensive talent around him. I think Garrett will have a similar season to the one he had last year.

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