After addressing the defenses of the NFC South last article, we will continue now with their AFC counterparts.
The Texans finished as a top 3 defense last season, along with the Bears and Rams. Even so, they did have one of the worst passing defenses in the league last year. Unfortunately for them, the secondary was also the hardest area hit during the offseason as they lost two starters to free agency. Kareem Jackson and Tyrann Mathieu left and signed with teams in the AFC West. However, they were also able to use free agency to try and replace them. They signed Bradley Roby in hopes that he can take Jackson’s place, fitting since Jackson signed with Roby’s previous team. Though Jackson is still the superior cornerback, at least in terms of IDP. Briean Boddy-Calhoun was also signed, but with Roby, Jonathan Joseph, and Aaron Colvin also on the roster he may be hard-pressed to find playing time, especially with the Texans also getting a couple of cornerbacks in the draft. Those draft picks are Lonnie Johnson Jr. (2nd round) and Xavier Howard (6th round). Especially with them drafting Johnson, they will have a lot of competition for the CB2 and slot CB positions. Though competition does not necessarily mean improvement. As for replacing Tyrann Mathieu, they signed both Tashaun Gipson Sr. and Jahleel Addae. Gipson will probably get the starting spot and unfortunately he also doesn’t seem like he will be able to replace Mathieu’s production.
Despite the setbacks to the secondary, the front 7 looks to stay the same which is really good for Houston. Though not as talked about this season, possibly because of the offenses performance last season, J.J. Watt had a great year last season as he finished in fantasy as the No.2 D-Line IDP as Aaron Donald was the only lineman to score more fantasy points. Benardrick McKinney, Jadeveon Clowney, and the rest of the linemen and linebackers should follow in suit and perform well again next season as they have consistently been able to do for the past few seasons. I do think the secondary is concerning so they will probably drop a little bit next season, but if they can repeat the type of season they had in terms of rushing defense, then they should still end up as a top 10 defense. They’ll probably straddle the line as a regular starting defense and a streaming candidate, but I’d argue they’ll lean more towards being a regular starter.
The first thing to say about the Colts is that they really scored in the draft last year. Darius Leonard led all IDPs in fantasy points and was the only defensive player to score over 300 fantasy points. Leonard also ended up 50 points ahead of the No.2 IDP, Luke Kuechly. Despite that great individual season, the Colts were not quite able to break the top 10 in fantasy defenses. Other than Leonard, no one on the defense finished as a top 50 IDP, but that isn’t the end all be all. Anthony Walker still had a solid season though not comparable to his fellow LB Leonard, Malik Hooker continued to show the promise from his rookie year, and the D-Line of Jabaal Sheard, Denico Autry, and the Estonian Giant (Margus Hunt) combined for 19.5 sacks on the season. So, though Leonard was the only standout, the defensive as a whole was a solid unit and that’s why they didn’t do much in free agency to change it as the only defensive signing was Justin Houston who gives them a solid edge rusher that they did kind of lack last season.
Another reason why they didn’t do much in free agency could be that they had 10 draft picks at their disposal. 7 of those picks were used on defensive players; 3 defensive backs, 3 linebackers, and 1 defensive end. Their first pick wasn’t until the 2nd round, but it was a good one with Rock Ya-Sin out of Temple. Aside from just having a great name, he also plays at the position that the Colts could use the most as he will probably displace Pierre Desir and Kenny Moore for the top CB spot. They also got Khari Willis at safety in the 4th round, who will probably just backup Clayton Geathers and Malik Hooker and Marvell Tell at cornerback in the 5th, though I don’t see him lining up across from Ya-Sin at CB2 next season. As for the linebackers, they got Ben Banogu in the 2nd round, Bobby Okereke in the 3rd round, and EJ Speed in the 5th round. Bangou and Okereke will probably have rookie seasons comparable to Leonards, but they may be able to challenge Anthony Walker and have a competition for the LB2 and LB3 spots. Also in case you wanted to know, EJ Speed apparently ran a 4.6 40 during his pro day, so he’s pretty speedy. Lastly, Gerri Green was the DE taken in the 6th by the Colts, but he probably won’t get a starting spot with the big guys the colts already have. So all in all the Colts didn’t do much to change their defense which doesn’t make it better, but also doesn’t hurt them. They’ve improved their pass defense in Houston as a pass rusher and Ya-Sin as a pass defender and will probably have a slightly better season next year because of it. I don’t see them as a regular starter, but they can be another decent streamer.
What can be said about the Jaguars last season other than they were disappointing. After a season where they made it to the AFC Championship game, they came out just flat, almost like they had a Super Bowl hangover without the jewelry to show for it. It’s not necessarily entirely the fault of the defense, because the offense still had Blake Bortles at the helm. The front office seems to agree and they also seem to have confidence that the defense can return to form as most of the signings made were in accordance to the offense. The biggest thing to talk about is the steal they got in the draft. After everyone was left shocked from the Daniel Jones pick the Giants made, the Jaguars’ draft squad probably scrambled to the phone to make sure they picked Josh Allen. Allen proved himself to be one of the best defensive players in college last year and even had some putting him as their No.2 defensive player in the draft behind Nick Bosa. Luckily for the Jags, they were able to wait as Oakland and New York passed on him and watch as he fell neatly into their laps. He will now join an already stacked front 7 of Yannick Ngakoue, Marcell Dareus, Calais Campbell, Telvin Smith, and Myles Jack. With all these threats, offensive lines will probably have a hard time protecting their quarterbacks and this part of Jags defense should be able to return to return to form.
One part of their defense that should have some trouble though is their safeties. After release both of their starting safeties during the offseason, Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson. It is causing a weird situation now as there is no apparent starting tandem now. If I had to guess I would say that Jarrod Wilson and Ronnie Harrison would be the starters because they saw the most playing time last year, but it is kind of baffling how a team would release both of their starting safeties and then not get any safety in the draft. Even though they didn’t draft one however they do have some younglings, 3 out of the 7 safeties they have on the roster are actually UFAs. So, while people may be high on the Jags defense it is concerning how their safety position is looking. However, A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey should be able to make it easier for them at least in coverage terms. The defense as a whole should be better if they continue to play like they’re supposed to. I’ll give in and say that last year was kind of an aberration and that they should be a regular starter, but they should be the 5th defense off the board at best.
The best way to summarize the Titans defense last year is that it was like the Titans: Okay, just over 500. That is not really good when thinking about some of their losses they had this offseason. Their rock Brian Orakpo retired and Derrick Morgan left in free agency, on the bright side I’d argue their best LBs last year were Wesley Woodyard and Jayon Brown. To counter this they got LBs with their last 2 picks in the draft with D’Andre Walker and David Long. Harold Landry and Rashaan Evans are also more likely candidates to fill in the open LB spots and I would say the lot of them will be able to make up for the lost production.
Other than that they didn’t lose any notable players anywhere else as they were able to resign their starting strong safety Kenny Vaccaro. They even further strengthened their safety position as they got Amani Hooker in the 3rd round of the draft. It will be interesting to see how they use Hooker, if he can take Vaccaro’s spot at SS or more likely if the Titans will use him as a Nickelback, possibly taking snaps away from Adoree Jackson. Either way the production of the secondary probably won’t change that much if at all from their production last year. No the position that changed the most was the defensive line.
Jurrell Casey, DaeQuan Jones, and Austin Johnson did fine last year on the DL, but during the offseason the Titans made 2 big moves to improve it. They signed free agent Cameron Wake and used their 1st round draft pick on Miss State DE, Jeffery Simmons. Even if Simmons isn’t utilized much his rookie year, Wake will definitely make an impact and really improve the team. Though I’m not sure if it’s enough to start them at all, well you can maybe stream them in Week 14 when they play the Raiders.