Tag Archives: J.J. Watt

2017 AFC South Projections

facebooktwittergoogle_plus

X-Houston Texans 10-6

Four of the last six years have seen the Houston Texans make the playoffs, but they’ve been unable to get past the second round. And the two biggest reasons why the Texans have been unable to advance are the New England Patriots who have eliminated them in two of those years as well as their issues at the most important position on the football field. Each of the last four years has seen the Texans have a different starting quarterback on opening day and this year will mark five consecutive seasons in which that is the case.

The Brock Osweiler experiment is over for the Texans after just one season as Houston has decided to move on from him. Tom Savage will enter the new season with the most experience at quarterback for the Texans, but he only started two games for Houston last year. The Texans used a first-round pick this year on quarterback Deshaun Watson as he is looked at as the future of the franchise, but he could also be the present.

After Watson lost his first start for the Clemson Tigers in 2014, he would only lose twice more for his collegiate career. Watson led Clemson to consecutive 14-1 seasons and this past January saw the Tigers claim their first national championship since 1981. Watson might not be familiar with taking snaps under center, but he is a winner which is something that the Texans need at the position.

Bill O’Brien

For Texans head coach Bill O’Brien, he has a solid commitment to running the football which is a lost art in today’s game. Last year the Texans were eighth in the National Football League in rushing and you can expect another healthy dose of the rushing attack this season. Lamar Miller will once again be the feature ball carrier for the Titans, and he once again has the potential to gain at least 1,000 yards on the ground. But Houston has depth behind him in the form of Alfred Blue as well as D’Onta Foreman as this rushing attack will be important to a young quarterback in Watson who I expect to get his feet wet sooner rather than later.

It has not taken wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins that long to morph into one of the better pass catchers in the National Football League, and he has been able to accomplish this in spite of not having consistency at the quarterback position. Like Watson, Hopkins is a Clemson alum, and if these two former Tigers are able to get on the same page, Houston’s offense should be a force.

J.J. Watt

Defensive end J.J. Watt has been at the forefront of the relief efforts in the Houston area following the devastation that was caused by Hurricane Harvey, and the icing on that cake is that he is a darn good football player. Watt is a three-time National Football League Defensive Player of the Year, but he is attempting to bounce back after an injury plagued 2016. Last season Watt was limited to just three games as he underwent surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back. Watt is a physical specimen, but it’ll be interesting to see how is body will be able to respond to the wear and tear that comes with paying in the NFL.

However Watt’s return along with the emergence of outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney as well as the consistency of outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus and inside linebacker Brian Cushing will once again make Houston’s defense tough. And whereas that the Texans will be unable to replace the experience of nose tackle Vince Wilfork who retired after 13 years in the National Football League, the return of Watt will be able to remedy some of that.

The Texans will face their old nemesis in the Patriots in Week 3, however with the competition in the AFC South expected to once again be light, Houston should once again be the team to beat in that division.

Tennessee Titans 9-7

The 2016 National Football League season saw the Tennessee Titans possibly barreling to their first playoff appearance since 2008. However things would change in Week 16 when quarterback Marcus Mariota would suffer a fractured right fibula. The Titans would go on to lose that game to the Jacksonville Jaguars, but they would rebound to defeat the Houston Texans to end the regular season. The Titans would finish 9-7 for their first winning season since 2011, while they tied the Texans for the top spot in the AFC South. However the Titans would lose the tiebreaker with Houston due to the fact that Tennessee was only able to go 2-4 within the division, while the Texans were 5-1. But now as a new season is set to begin, are the young Titans poised to take that next step in 2017 in order to become a playoff team?

Marcus Mariota

After the Titans made Mariota the second overall pick of the 2015 National Football League Draft, he is rapidly developing into a franchise player as well as a leader in Nashville. The biggest knock on Mariota coming out of college was whether or not that he would be able to make the transition to the pro game which meant adjusting to a pro-style system as opposed to the spread offense that he played in during his collegiate days.

Mariota has been able to make the transition which has included him completing more than 62% of his passes in the National Football League. Titans head coach Mike Mularkey has done a solid job of putting Mariota in situations where he can succeed which means an emphasis on featuring his running ability.

The Titans were third in the National Football League season in rushing as this is a team that is a throwback to a different era of football. Running back DeMarco Murray enjoyed his first season in Nashville as his 1,287 yards were third in the NFL. Murray did carry the football 293 times last season, but Tennessee won’t have an issue in regards to keeping him fresh due to his understudy.

In 2015, running back Derrick Henry won the Heisman Trophy en route to helping the Alabama Crimson Tide win the national title. Henry was used sparingly last year as a rookie; mainly to give Murray a breather. However I see Mularkey and Titans offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie using Henry more this season. Henry checks in at 6’3″, while he weighs 247 lbs., and he has solid speed on that frame which means that he runs like an 18-wheeler that is barreling down the interstate. And aside from being a good runner at the goal line, Henry could team with Murray and Mariota to give the Titans a running game reminiscent of that of the Miami Dolphins from the early 1970s which featured running backs Jim Kiick, Larry Csonka, and Mercury Morris.

Mike Mularkey

Once upon a time Mularkey was a tight end in the National Football League and he’s bringing that physical mentality to his team. The Titans have a pair of bookend studs in left tackle Taylor Lewan and right tackle Jack Conklin who help to give Tennessee one of the best offensive lines in the NFL which will be important with Mariota returning from the injury.

But as much as the Titans can run the football, they are going to need some production through the air. The Titans used a first-round pick on wide receiver Corey Davis, while they also signed free agent wide receiver Eric Decker. Decker has proven throughout his career that he can be a solid slot receiver in the right offense. And as effective as the Titans can run the football, Decker should be able to benefit from consistent play-action passing.

For Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, he operates a 3-4 defensive scheme where the strength of the unit comes from the linebackers. However the Titans were 20th in the National Football League in total defense last season, while they lack a disruptive force on the defensive line as well as at linebacker who can consistently get to the quarterback. Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo was able to tally 10.5 sacks in 2016 which led the team, but as he is 31, while also having several severe injuries during career, can he be counted on to have another productive season?

The Titans do have several weapons on special teams who could be game changers. The Titans entered the National Football League last spring owners of a pair of first-round picks with one of those being used on cornerback Adoree Jackson. The Titans not only drafted Jackson for his coverage skills on defense, but also for his ability to return kicks and punts, while he could also be used in special packages on offense. And then there is kicker Ryan Succop who made 11 field goals from beyond 40 yards last year as his leg will be important in 2017 if Tennessee wants to end their playoff drought.

The mental strength of the Titans will be tested during the early stages of their schedule as four of their first five games will be against playoff teams from last season. But if the Titans want to take the next step, these are the games that they must find a way to win.

Indianapolis Colts 6-10

The names have changed for the Indianapolis Colts, but the results are still the same as this is an organization that has too much reliance solely on their quarterback. The Colts made quarterback Andrew Luck the first overall pick of the 2012 National Football League Draft, but they have failed to put a quality team around which was also the case of his predecessor in Peyton Manning. Grant it that Luck has worked under a different general manager than Manning did, but during Ryan Grigson’s time as Colts GM, he never did right by Luck which led to his termination last season. Now former Kansas City Chiefs director of football operations Chris Ballard has begun his tenure as Colts general manager by picking up right where Grigson left off from which included having a lackluster draft class come to Indianapolis. However for Ballard, his dilemma is a little bit bigger than initially thought.

Andrew Luck

The Colts inability to put a quality team around Luck which includes having a lackluster offensive line has led to injuries for him. Over the last two years Luck has missed a combined 10 games. And as the injuries are catching up to Luck, he underwent shoulder surgery during off-season which prevented him from participating in the team’s training camp. Now the Colts must deal with the reality that Luck will not be ready for start of the upcoming season. And even when Luck returns to action, how effective will he be coming off of the mend?

In order to offset Luck’s absence, the Colts acquired quarterback Jacoby Brissett from the New England Patriots this summer. Brissett was a third-round pick of the Patriots last year, and in two starts with the team he was able to complete nearly 62% of his passes. However now that Brissett won’t have the luxury of having the talent around him on offense like he was accustomed to with the Patriots, how productive will he be in Indy?

Chuck Pagano

For Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, his offense was tenth in the National Football League in total offense in 2016. But with Luck on the shelf and a veteran running back in Frank Gore, how productive will the Colts offense be this year? Gore is coming off of a productive first year with the Colts as he was able to surpass the 1,000-yard mark for the ninth time in his National Football League career. Gore is 935 yards shy of becoming only the fifth player in NFL history to rush for 14,000 career yards, but he is a 34-years of age, and at some point the other show has to drop.

The Colts passing offense which was fifth in the National Football League will more than likely take a hit without the services of Luck for all 16 games which means that wide receiver T.Y. Hilton won’t be as productive. Hilton has become one of the biggest deep threats in the NFL which included him leading the league in receiving yards last year with 1,448. And in spite of the fact that Hilton was able to lead the NFL in receiving last year, he is not a player who is considered as a typical top receiver which goes back to my point about Indianapolis failing to put talent around Luck.

Prior to Pagano becoming a head coach, his specialty was defensive football, however that has not transferred over to his time with the Colts. Last year Indianapolis was 30th in the National Football League in total defense And like the Colts offense, this organization has failed to find play makers on the defensive side of the football which has greatly inhibited their ability to stop opponents. Last season Colts opponents were able to convert on 41.5% of their third down conversions which was 25th in the National Football League and I expect that trend to continue here in 2017.

Only one of the Colts first eight opponents made the playoffs last year. But even an easy schedule to begin the season won’t prevent Indianapolis from struggling this year.

Jacksonville Jaguars 4-12

The names on the back of the jerseys as well as that on the offices of the head coach and general manager may change, but the losing has continued for the Jacksonville Jaguars. You have to go back to the 2007 National Football League season to find the last time that the Jaguars had a winning season, while they’ve won no more than five games in a campaign since 2011. What has hurt the Jaguars the most is the ineptitude in their front office which has seen the organization consistently miss on their first-round picks as this is never a recipe for success.

After leading Jacksonville to a playoff appearance in four of the team’s first five years of existence as their head coach, Tom Coughlin has returned to the organization. This past January, Coughlin was named as the Jaguars executive vice president of football operations and he hopes to return the team to prominence, while brining with him some of the winning formula that helped him attain a pair of Super Bowl Championships as the head coach of the New York Giants. Coughlin is a staunch disciplinarian who pays attention to detail. And if the young Jaguars won’t buy into what Coughlin is selling, he won’t have a problem helping them pack their bags to get out of town.

After replacing Gus Bradley who was fired as the Jags head coach with two games remaining in 2016, Doug Marrone was retained to be the Jaguars head coach. Prior to joining the Jaguars, Marrone was the head coach of the Buffalo Bills from 2013-2014, and he appeared to be on the track to success until he opted out of his deal due to issues within the front office. But only time will tell if things will work out differently for Marrone in Jacksonville.

Blake Bortles

For the past three years Blake Bortles has been the Jaguars starting quarterback and it has not gone well for him. In three years as the Jags starting quarterback, Bortles has led the National Football League in sacks twice and interceptions once. In total Bortles has been sacked 140 times, while also throwing 51 interceptions. And most importantly Bortles’ record as a starting quarterback with Jacksonville is only 11-34. Bortles does have solid wide receivers to get the football to in Allen Hurns, Allen Robinson, and Marquise Lee, but he appears to be lacking the “it” factor. Bortles has heard his fair share of criticism in Northern Florida, and as the Jaguars have talent around him on offense, 2017 will be a make or break year for him.

During Coughlin’s time as the head coach of the Jaguars and Giants respectively, his teams always had a commitment to running the football which goes back to his days as a collegiate running back for the Syracuse Orangemen. And Coughlin’s first pick upon returning to the Jaguars organization was used on running back Leonard Fournette.

Leonard Fournette

Fournette comes into the National Football League with plenty of hype as he was the first running back that was selected from a very deep class of running backs this year. At 6’0″, 228 lbs., Fournette is a bruising runner who combines size with speed and he now gets an opportunity to shine on the big stage as he is an immediate upgrade to a Jaguars running attack that did not have one ball carrier tally at least 500 yards in 2016.

Jacksonville must get more competitive defensively and it begins with some of their recent early round draft picks stepping up. In 2015, defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. was the third overall pick of the National Football League Draft. However Fowler would suffer a torn ACL in his first practice with the Jaguars and he has yet to become the impact player that he was expected to be. Last year Jacksonville would use a second-round pick on middle linebacker Myles Jack who entered the NFL with knee issues. And any turnaround that Jacksonville wants to have defensively in 2017 begins with Fowler and Jack being able to live up the hype which was bestowed upon team heading into the NFL.

For Coughlin and Marrone, they are attempting to change the culture in the Jaguars locker room which isn’t a quick fix. There is a deep culture in regards to losing in Jacksonville, and until it is fixed which also includes making better draft decisions, this team will continue to finish near the bottom of the AFC South.

X-Division Winner

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

facebooktwittergoogle_plus

2015 AFC South Projections

facebooktwittergoogle_plus

X-Indianapolis Colts 12-4

The Indianapolis Colts have shown that they are good enough to contend in the AFC, but will they be able to take that next step in 2015 and win the Super Bowl? Each of the past three years has seen the Colts go 11-5 in the regular season as they were able to advance a round further in the postseason over the last three years. And if you follow that formula for the Colts, they could win the AFC in 2015.

Andrew Luck

Andrew Luck has been the Colts starting quarterback in each of the last three seasons and he has proven that he is more than capable to put the team on his back. At 6’3″, 235 lbs., Luck is big and strong, but his biggest muscle is his brain as he is one of the smartest quarterbacks in the National Football League. Luck doesn’t tend to get fazed by adversity and this could be the season where he is named as the NFL MVP.

But as good as Luck has been, his teammates with the Colts need to improve their game around for this team to win the Super Bowl. The Colts were able to make the AFC Championship Game last season and they are looking to build off of that.

Colts general manager Ryan Grigson has attempted to improve the team around Luck as in this off-season he signed wide receiver Andre Johnson. Johnson spent the first 12 years of his NFL career with the Houston Texans where he was one of the top wide receivers in the league as he totaled 1,012 receptions, 13,597 receiving yards, and 64 receiving  touchdowns. Johnson did this without the luxury of having a top-tier quarterback that was throwing him the football. But that now changes with Johnson being thrown the football by Luck. Along with Johnson, Luck will be throwing the football this season to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton who is one of the most explosive wide receivers in football.

The Colts struggled to run the football in 2014 as they were 22nd in the National Football League in the category. Running back Frank Gore spent the first decade of his NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers where he was one of the most underrated runners of this era. But even at the age of 32, the Colts are hopeful that Gore will be able to gain at least 1,000 yards on the ground for the ninth time in his career.

Chuck Pagano

Defensively, Colts head coach Chuck Pagano doesn’t have a star player that can take over the game, but he relies on his system which means that all 11 players must do their job.

In their first five games of the upcoming NFL season, the Colts will not face a team that made the playoffs in 2014, and a fast start for Indianapolis in 2015 could be just what the doctor ordered as they’ll need to get home-field advantage in the AFC as they look to solidify their chances of making the Super Bowl this February.

Houston Texans 9-7

In 2014, the Houston Texans kept a recent theme going in the National Football League where the team that finished the previous season with the worst record in the league was able to show vast improvement in the following season. The Texans went 2-14 in 2013, but they were able to turn things around in 2014 as they went 9-7 and barely missed out on making the playoffs under head coach Bill O’Brien who was in his first year in Houston.

Bill O’Brien

O’Brien inherited a good defensive club that can also run the football. But the Texans biggest problem is at quarterback. The Texans used four different players at starting quarterback last season and the player that saw the most time there (Ryan Fitzpatrick) is now a member of the New York Jets. O’Brien and the Texans are hopeful that Ryan Mallett is ready to emerge and become the starting quarterback in Houston, but he has some fierce competition from former Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer.

Last year the Texans acquired Mallett from the New England Patriots due to his familiarity with O’Brien who was his offensive coordinator in 2011 with the Patriots. Mallett was 1-1 as a starter last season until a torn pectoral muscle ended his season. Mallett is now healthy and O’Brien along with the Texans are hopeful that he ready to lead this team mentally as he has all of the physical tools to be a solid NFL quarterback.

However, Hoyer and Mallett were teammates with the Patriots as they each studied under O’Brien and the most determined player will win out.

Arian Foster

The Texans were fifth in the National Football League in rushing last season and you can expect more the same in 2015 as running back Arian Foster is one of the best in the business as far as carrying the rock. But the biggest problem for Foster in the NFL has been the ability for him to remain healthy as a groin injury will more than likely keep him sidelined to begin the season. Hands down Foster is the Texans all-time leader in rushing and if he can have another season in which he can gain at least 1,200 yards on the ground, it will be big for Houston and their potential postseason push.

The Texans decided to part with wide receiver Andre Johnson who is the best pass catcher in the franchise’s history, but they still have a depth at the position led by wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins is coming off of a season that saw him reel in 76 receptions for 1,210 yards and 6 touchdowns. And if Hopkins and Mallett, or Hoyer are able to develop some chemistry, they could be a nightmare for secondaries in the NFL this season.

The Texans were 16th in total defense last season and they are in line to vastly improve this year. Outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney was the first overall pick of the 2014 National Football League Draft, but a knee injury that he suffered in Week 1 last year due to the turf at NRG Stadium in Houston limited him to just four games last season. Clowney underwent micro fracture on his knee as he hopeful that he can finally display the talent that made him such a feared edge rusher in college. On the defensive line the Texans went searching for the beef and they found it when they signed defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. Wilfork spent the first 11 years of his NFL career with the Patriots where he developed a reputation as one of the best nose tackles in football. With the Patriots, Wilfork also was a tremendous leader on the defensive side of the football as he helped New England win a pair of Super Bowl Championships during his time there.

Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel has some strong linebackers to work with aside from Clowney. The Texans need inside linebacker Brian Cushing and his bad knees to hold up for an entire season while outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus is no slouch when it comes rushing the passer and he will look to feed off of the players around him. But the Texans defensive front seven will be led by the freak of nature that is defensive end J.J. Watt.

J.J. Watt

Watt has four seasons under his belt in the NFL and he is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year which is the second time that the honor has been bestowed upon him while his 57.5 sacks have him on a pace to threaten Bruce Smith’s all-time sacks record of 200. Players with Watt’s freakish ability to rush the passer, cover the pass, and play the run don’t come along that often as he might be the toughest defensive matchup that the NFL has seen since the days of Lawrence Taylor. Watt’s presence makes the players around him better and if he is not double or triple-teamed, he will make opposing offenses pay.

Led by cornerback Johnathan Joseph who received a contract extension this off-season, the Texans have a very athletic secondary that can be good on its own, but once they are combined with the front seven that is in Houston, they are free to do more due to the ability of the players in front of them.

The Texans will once again contend for a playoff spot in the AFC, it is just a matter of whether or not that they will be able to dethrone the Indianapolis Colts for the top spot in the AFC South.

Jacksonville Jaguars 5-11

The Jacksonville Jaguars enter the 2015 National Football League season looking to end the pain and suffering. For the first time in the history of the Jaguars franchise, they are coming off of their fourth consecutive season in which they lost 10 or more games. But in spite of the fact that Jacksonville was 3-13 last season, Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley has a plan in place to turn things around as long as the front office there practices patience with him.

Blake Bortles

Bradley’s time as the head coach of the Jaguars will be defined by what he is able to accomplish with quarterback Blake Bortles. Bortles was the third overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft and he was able to display flashes of his potential last season as a rookie. Bortles record as a a starter was 3-10 as he passed for 2,908 yards with 11 touchdowns while being picked off 17 times and sacked 55 times. For this season Bortles has to develop better pocket awareness which will minimize his sacks and interceptions while it will also increase his passing yardage and touchdowns.

Bortles will need to develop chemistry with his young wide receivers in Marqise Lee, Allen Hurns, and Allen Robinson. And like Bortles, the Jags young trio of wide receivers has potential, but it is time for them to take their respective games to the next level if the Jaguars are going to have their first non-losing season since 2010. In the off-season the Jags signed former Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas, but he will find out real quick that it’s Bortles who is throwing him the football and not Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.

The Jags are putting together a young offensive line that led by offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, has to step up and provide more protection for Bortles while opening holes for a rushing attack in Jacksonville that was 21st in the National Football League last season in rushing.

Defensively the Jaguars were looking to be a force, but things took a turn for the worst on the first day of rookie minicamp when defensive end/outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr., suffered a torn ACL. Fowler was the third overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft and he was expected to be an impact player for the Jags.

Whereas the Jags have youth on offense, their defense is made up primarily of journeymen who are looking to hold on in the NFL as Bradley is hopeful to get the most out of them this season.

The Jags need to get some early victories this season in order to gain some confidence for their young team. Week 4 will be a big game for the Jaguars as they travel to take on the Indianapolis Colts who have won the AFC South in each of the last two seasons and are favored to do so once again in 2015. If Jacksonville gets off to another slow start, it won’t matter how many improvements that Jags owner Shad Khan has made to EverBank Field, as the boo birds will arrive and he might end up parting with Bradley.

Tennessee Titans 5-11

The 2-14 mark of the Tennessee Titans in 2014 was their worst regular season since 1994 when they were still the Houston Oilers. Last year was also the first season for Ken Whisenhunt as the Titans head coach and he spent his time in Nashville attempting to find players that would fit into his system.

Ken Whisenhunt

Whisenhunt hopes that he took a step towards turning things around for the Titans when he used the second overall pick of the 2015 National Football League Draft on quarterback Marcus Mariota. Mariota comes to the Titans as the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, but things will a little bit different for him this fall. Mariota was able to flourish at the University of Oregon while operating in the spread offense, but now he must get adjusted to taking the majority of his snaps under center. The Titans are impressed with the physical tools that Mariota brings to the table such as his speed and strong arm; now he just has to adapt to a pro-style system. Mariota will now be operating in a Titans offense that was 29th in the NFL last season in total offense while scoring 14 points or less on seven occasions. And while Mariota was at Oregon, it was very common for his offense to score 14 points or more in a quarter.

Led by rookie wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, the Titans do have some potential in their passing game, but it just a matter of the Mariota and the wide receivers being able to get on the same page sooner rather than later. Last season running back Bishop Sankey was the Titans leading rusher at just 569 yards. And the Titans must improve their running game as they try to balance out the expected growing pains for Mariota as a rookie quarterback. In recent years the Titans have used early round picks to bolster their offensive line and now is the time for the likes of offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and guard Chance Warmack to take their games to another level as Mariota will need to be protected.

Under Whisenhunt, the Titans have gone to a 3-4 defense, but they are missing that big nose tackle on the defensive line that can take on double and triple teams in the interior. The Titans did sign outside linebacker Brian Orakpo this off-season to be an edge rusher, but in the last three seasons he has only appeared in 24 games as injuries have limited him. And the Titans must fins a way to improve a defensive unit that was 27th in the National Football League last season in total defense.

Under the guidance of Whisenhunt, this is a young Titans team that will be fighting an uphill battle in the AFC South.

X-Clinched Division

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

facebooktwittergoogle_plus

The Freak Of Nature J.J. Watt

facebooktwittergoogle_plus

In spite of the fact that Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt stands at 6’6″ tall and he tips the scales at 290 lbs., he is a kid at heart as he is playing a child’s game. But make no mistake about the fact that Watt is all business when he steps onto the football field every Sunday afternoon. Watt’s road to NFL stardom is a very interesting one. Watt originally attended Central Michigan University where he played tight end. After one year Watt would transfer to Wisconsin where he would discover the defensive side of the football. But between his time at Central Michigan and Wisconsin, Watt delivered pizzas. In 2010, Watt was a second-team All-American as he helped Wisconsin win the Big Ten Championship. The Texans would make Watt the 11th overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft and it would not take him that long to make an impact.

As a rookie Watt would have 5.5 sacks in helping the Texans win the AFC South for the first time in franchise history. In 2012, Watt would become only the eighth player in NFL history to record at least 20 sacks in a season when he finished with 20.5. Watt’s incredible season would see him be named as the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. In spite of the Texans 2-14 record in 2013, Watt was still a terror as he finished the year with 10.5 sacks and he earned his second consecutive Pro Bowl selection.

http://www2.pictures.zimbio.com/gi/J+J+Watt+Miami+Dolphins+v+Houston+Texans+c4ifkQF2pOol.jpg

J.J. Watt

This past summer the Texans rewarded Watt’s efforts with a six-year, $100 million extension. Where some players would rest on their laurels after being paid handsomely, Watt is out prove that he is still underpaid. Through four games this season Watt only has a pair of sacks but he is making an immense impact. In the Texans Week 2 victory over the Oakland Raiders, Watt reverted to his a days as a tight end at Central Michigan by catching a one-yard touchdown pass from Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Yesterday the Texans found themselves trailing the Buffalo Bills 10-7 in the third quarter. The Bills were driving for a touchdown when the Texans defense forced Bills quarterback EJ Manuel to hurry his pass which comfortably landed in the big mitts of Watt who scampered 80 yards for a touchdown. The touchdown by Watt ignited his teammates and the fans at NRG Stadium in Houston as the Texans would get the 23-17 victory.

Watt makes life easy for Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and his fellow defensive teammates while making life extremely tough for opponents that are attempting to game plan for him. Watt is a defensive end by trade, but he has the ability to line up anywhere in the defensive front seven for the Texans. By being able to line up in multiple positions it makes things tougher for offenses to get a fix as far as where Watt is coming from while also minimizing their ability to double or triple team him. Even when Watt is doubled he still makes an impact. Watt has a wing span of nearly 7-feet and when he cannot get to the quarterback he will swat the ball as if he was Dikembe Mutombo.

Under first-year head coach Bill O’Brien, the Texans have already surpassed their win total from a season ago as they are 3-1 and sitting atop the AFC South with Watt being a big part in that. In just three-plus seasons Watt already has 38.5 sacks while forcing 8 fumbles. Defensive players such as Watt are the kind of impact guys that you will see once in a generation. Watt is only 25-years old, but he is already drawing comparisons to Hall of Fame defensive players such as Deacon Jones, Lawrence Taylor, and Reggie White for the way that he impacts a game and simply disrupts the game plan of an opposing offense. And like Jones, Taylor, and White, Watt simply makes the players around him better.

As rugged as Watt is on the field he is just that gentle off of it. Watt does a ton of charitable work in the Houston area and is the kind of man that will give you the shirt off of his back. But on Sundays he is looking to rip the shirt off of the back of quarterbacks in the effort to help the Texans will football games. Barring a severe injury Watt will continue to get better and when it is all said and done he will be one of the greatest players to ever step onto the gridiron in the National Football League.

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

facebooktwittergoogle_plus

2014 AFC South Projections

facebooktwittergoogle_plus

X-Indianapolis Colts 10-6

With two seasons as the starting quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts under his belt, Andrew Luck has built a reputation as a prime time player in the National Football League. Luck has led the Colts to consecutive 11-5 regular seasons which has resulted in two AFC South Titles. Luck will continue to progress as a quarterback and as a leader for the Colts, but what about the supporting cast around him in Indianapolis?

Ryan Grigson

Last year the Colts were 20th in rushing offense in the NFL and you can expect to see a running back by committee in 2014. Last year Colts general manager Ryan Grigson gave up a first round pick in the 2014 National Football League Draft to obtain running back Trent Richardson from the Cleveland Browns. What Grigson and the Colts got from Richardson last season in 14 games was a paltry 2.9 yards per carry. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw was limited to just three games last season as a result of injuries which makes it tough to be optimistic about the Colts running game for 2014.

Last season as a member of the New York Giants, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks was an enigma. Nicks was in the final year of his contract with the Giants, but he was never able to answer the bell. Nicks signed with the Colts this off-season, but will he be the player that he was in 2011 when he nearly gained 1,200 receiving yards or the player that was only a shell of himself in 2013? With wide receiver Reggie Wayne returning from a knee injury, Luck will need another option on offense to offset wide receiver T.Y. Hilton in the passing game. But will Nicks or Wayne be able to do it?

With veteran outside linebacker sitting out the first four games of the National Football League season as he serves a league mandated suspension for violating their drug policy, it is imperative for outside linebacker Bjorn Werner to show the ability that made him a first round pick in Indianapolis last year. Last season as a rookie, Werner was limited to 2.5 sacks and he will need to be up for the challenge early and often in 2014.

For Colts head coach Chuck Pagono his team must navigate through a tough schedule to begin the season. The Colts will be on the road this Sunday to take on the Denver Broncos who are the defending AFC Champions. The Colts will be at home in Week 2 against the Philadelphia Eagles who won the NFC East last season before they travel to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars who will a very formidable opponent. The Colts should win the AFC South for a second consecutive year, but it will not be easy.

Houston Texans 8-8

Bill O’Brien

The old saying is that everything is bigger in the state of Texas. Last season the Houston Texans started off with Super Bowl expectations. After winning their first two games of the season the Texans would lose their last 14 games of the season and wholesale changes were made. After eight seasons as the head coach of the Texans, Gary Kubiak was fired and replaced by former Penn State University head football coach Bill O’Brien. Like Kubiak, longtime Texans starting quarterback Matt Schaub was shown the door as well as he was traded to the Oakland Raiders due to the fact that O’Brien is looking to start fresh.

The Texans began last season expecting to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy, but instead they got the first overall pick in the NFL Draft. The Texans selected defensive end Jadeveon Clowney with first overall pick and he joins a defense in Houston that could be extremely special in 2014. The Texans defense last year ranked 7th in the NFL in total defense and they may be better this year. Romeo Crennel is taking over as the Texans new defensive coordinator and he will run the same 3-4 defensive scheme as former Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Along with Clowney you can expect Texans defensive end J.J. Watt to line up in multiple spots in the defensive front seven as they could be the scariest combination of edge rushers this season in the National Football League. Along with outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus, it is not far-fetched to believe that the Texans could lead the league in the sacks for the upcoming season.

With running backs Arian Foster, Andre Brown, and Alfred Blue, “AAA”, the Texans will be a very physical team. For now O’Brien has entrusted Ryan Fitzpatrick to be the starting quarterback in Houston and this team can have some success with him leading the way this season as long as he decides not to play hero ball. But just prior to the end of training camp, the Texans were able to acquire quarterback Ryan Mallett from the New England Patriots. O’Brien was a former assistant coach with the Patriots and he is familiar with Mallett who should be ready to take over for Fitzpatrick at some point during the season.

Wide receiver Andre Johnson is entering his 12th season with the Texans where he as at times been frustrated. But if Johnson is willing to buy into O’Brien’s system he could have another Pro Bowl caliber season.

The Texans will not face a playoff team from last season until they meet the Colts in Week 6 and a fast start in Houston could put people on the O’Brien bandwagon as a quick turnaround could be on the horizon.

Jacksonville Jaguars 6-10

Gus Bradley

The downward spiral of the Jacksonville Jaguars began in 2008. The Jaguars have not had a winning record or playoff appearance since 2007 and thus their all-time record is now sub-.500. Last year was the first season for Jags head coach Gus Bradley. Jacksonville began the season with a record of 0-8, but they became tougher in the second part of the campaign to finish 4-12. Bradley is hopeful that the second half of the 2013 NFL season will carry over to the start of 2014.

The Jaguars are optimistic that they finally have their franchise quarterback in Blake Bortles. The Jaguars used their first round pick on Bortles, but veteran quarterback Chad Henne is not in a rush to hand over the reigns. Bortles is still a bit raw and more than likely you can expect Henne to be the Jaguars starting quarterback at the start of the season.

The Jaguars parted ways with longtime running back Maurice Jones-Drew who is now a member of the Oakland Raiders. More than likely Bradley and the Jags will have a running back by committee this season with veteran backs Jordan Todman and Toby Gerhart along with rookie Storm Johnson, but it can be effective. The Jaguars also have young wide receivers in Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson, and Ace Sanders. But if one player is able to emerge from this trio as an impact player it will help Bradley in Jacksonville.

Offensive tackle Luke Joeckel was injured for the majority of 2013, but if he is able to return healthy this season to join veteran guard Zane Beadles on the offensive line, the Jags could have something cooking.

The Jaguars defense is full of veterans who built their reputations in other NFL cities. But for players like defensive tackle Red Bryant who helped the Seattle Seahawks win the Super Bowl last season it is a chance for them to show the football world that they still have what it takes.

More than likely the Jaguars will not be a playoff team this season, but they will make life miserable to each team that they will face.

Tennessee Titans 5-11

This year will be like no other for the Tennessee Titans franchise. The Titans will begin this season without former owner Bud Adams who passed away last October. Adams was the only owner that the Titans ever had dating back to their time as the Houston Oilers. Adams’ daughter Susie Smith is now running the Titans, but that is not the only change in Nashville. Ken Whisenhunt is the new Titans head coach and he is looking to get the team back to the postseason for the first time since 2008 and in the process he is looking to mold this team in his own image.

Jake Locker

Titans quarterback Jake Locker has been an enigma. The Titans drafted Locker in the first round of the of the 2011 National Football League Draft. Locker has all of the tools to be a franchise quarterback in the NFL, but he has been unable to stay healthy. The Titans did not pick up the option on Locker’s contract which means that he will be playing for his job in 2014.

Longtime Titans running back Chris Johnson was let go this off-season and it will be a combo of veteran running back Shonn Greene and rookie running back Bishop Sankey in the backfield in Nashville.

Like Locker at quarterback, the Titans have talent a wide receiver, but it is just a matter of it all coming together. Justin Hunter, Nate Washington, and Kendall Wright could all do special things at wide receiver for the Titans this year, but it is just a matter of everyone being on the same page.

This season the Titans will have a good mix of youth and age on their offensive line with a pair of youngsters in offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and guard Chance Warmack along with veteran offensive tackles Michael Roos and Michael Oher and they should be up for the challenge of keeping Locker healthy.

Whisenhunt’s arrival in Nashville means that they Titans will be running a 3-4 defense just like he employed when he was the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. This will be a difficult year for the Titans because they are transitioning their new defensive scheme, but veteran outside linebackers Kameron Wimbley and Shaun Phillips could cushion the blow.

Three of the Titans first four games in 2014 are against teams that made the playoffs in 2013. The Titans should struggle this year, but towards the end of the campaign Whisenhunt’s plan will take flight.

X-Clinched Division

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

facebooktwittergoogle_plus