2017 NFL Draft Grades: AFC South

Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts generally grab the headlines in the AFC South, but the division’s best and most consistent team in recent years has been the Houston Texans, who after another solid draft in 2017 look poised to continue their reign atop the division.

The Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans are young teams on the rise who each added critical pieces on offense to help their young quarterbacks.  While neither squad looks ready to challenge the Texans for an AFC South crown, they’ll be popular sleeper picks this summer.

Here’s a look at how each team in the AFC South performed in the 2017 NFL Draft:

1Jacksonville Jaguars:  B+

Draft class:

Leonard Fournette | RB | LSU (1.04)
Cam Robinson | OT | Alabama (2.34)
Dawuane Smoot | DE | Illinois (3.68)
DeDe Westbrook | WR | Oklahoma (4.110)
Blair Brown | ILB | Ohio (5.148)
Jalen Myrick | CB | Minnesota (7.222)
Marquez Williams | FB | Miami (7.240)

Analysis:  The Jaguars had a nice haul through the first four rounds of the draft. They added the best running back in the class in Leonard Fournette, who, barring injury, should be the clear favorite for offensive rookie of the year.  He has 1,400-yard potential in Year 1.  Fournette was over-scouted during the draft process. He’s a stud.  Cam Robinson is a starting NFL tackle and warranted first-round consideration. He should’ve come off the board in the first 20 picks. He’s a steal at No. 35 and will eventually emerge as Jacksonville’s starting left tackle. Dawuane Smoot is a situational pass-rusher who will help the defense get after the quarterback from time to time, but I don’t see him emerging as a starter. DeDe Westbrook’s off-field problems are certainly reason for pause, but he’s an exciting playmaker who will give Blake Bortles another option in an already talented receiver group. The three defensive players taken in Day 3 will be special teamers and practice squad candidates.

2Houston Texans:  B

Draft class:

Deshaun Watson | QB | Clemson (1.12)
Zach Cunningham | ILB | Vanderbilt (2.57)
D’Onta Foreman | RB | Texas (3.89)
Julien Davenport | OT | Bucknell (4.130)
Carlos Watkins | DT | Clemson (4.142)
Treston Decoud | CB | Oregon State (5.169)
Kyle Fuller | C | Baylor (7.243)

Analysis: The Texans’ 2017 draft class will come down to the performance of Deshaun Watson, a player who cost Houston next year’s first-round pick to move up for. Watson was my No. 1 ranked quarterback in the class, so I love the move. He’s a winner with an equal ability to beat opponents with his arm or legs and will provide the Texans with the kind of top-shelf quarterback play they’ve been missing during their recent stretch of success. Zach Cunningham was at one point in the draft process considered a first-round defender. He’ll challenge to start right away for the Texans, assuming he becomes a more consistent finisher. Julien Davenport is raw and will need a year or two of development. He could become a starter once his game catches up to his prototype physical make-up. D’Onta Foreman is a quality running back who will sit behind Lamar Miller, at least initially.  If Miller gets banged up during the season, Foreman could take the job and never look back. Carlos Watkins has major upside if he can bring his A-game down in and down out.  Kyle Fuller is a sneaky seventh-rounder who has starter’s traits.

3Indianapolis Colts:  B-

Draft class

Malik Hooker | S | Ohio State (1.15)
Quincy Wilson | CB | Florida (2.46)
Tarell Basham | DE | Ohio (3.80)
Zach Banner | OT | USC (4.137)
Marlon Mack | RB | South Florida (4.143)
Grover Stewart | DE | Albany State (4.144)
Nate Hairston | CB | Temple (5.158)
Anthony Walker, Jr. | LB | Northwestern (5.161)

Analysis: The Colts benefited by Malik Hooker’s minor slide down the first round. Indianapolis drafted a Day 1 starter with a top-10 grade at pick No. 15. Great value. Hooker is a sideline-to-sideline athlete who, assuming he stays healthy, will create a lot of turnovers in the NFL. Quincy Wilson didn’t blaze at the NFL Combine, but he’s natural in coverage and, combined with Hooker, gives the Colts a ton of young upside in the secondary. Tarell Basham has a chance to be one of the more productive defensive linemen in the entire class. He shined at the 2017 Senior Bowl.  He reminds me a lot of former Bears’ pass rusher Alex Brown.  Zach Banner is a big — monstrous — offensive tackle who is a better athlete than many give him credit for. Still, he’s going to have some struggles against NFL speed. Marlon Mack is a Day-2 talent who will be the heir to Frank Gore’s throne.  He’s a talented running back and a good bet to be the fantasy sleeper of this class.

4Tennessee Titans:  B-

Draft class

Corey Davis | WR | Western Michigan (1.05)
Adoree’ Jackson | CB | USC (1.18)
Taywan Taylor | WR | Western Kentucky (3.72)
Jonnu Smith | TE | Florida International (3.100)
Jayon Brown | OLB | UCLA (5.155)
Corey Levin | OG | Chattanooga (6.217)
Josh Carraway | OLB | TCU (7.227)
Brad Seaton | OT | Villanova (7.236)
Khalfani Muhammad | RB | California (7.241)

Analysis: The Titans made a clear effort to add weapons around emerging third-year quarterback Marcus Mariota.  Corey Davis, the well-rounded and supremely talented pass-catcher from Western Michigan, has all the traits needed to be a go-to-guy in the NFL. He has enough speed to run by defenders, enough physicality to outjump defenders, and is a crisp route-runner who can create separation like a seasoned pro. Adoree’ Jackson is a good — not great — cornerback who will help on special teams as much as he will on defense. Taywan Taylor should have a clear path to the starting slot role, one that he’ll absolutely thrive in. Jonnu Smith will serve as Delanie Walker’s backup and may never truly emerge as a legitimate starter in the NFL. Tennessee drafted two small-school linemen with their last four picks; If one of them makes the roster, it’s a win.