Other than the Indianapolis Colts and JJ Watt, the AFC South is widely considered to be one of the weakest divisions in the NFL. The Colts have won the division almost exclusively since Peyton Manning made his entrance into the NFL, and after taking a 1 year hiatus, the Colts have regained their perch atop the AFC South. The Titans and Jaguars are still both bad, but are quickly gaining ground on the Texans and Colts.
Impact Rookie: Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon
Despite their lack of success in the NFL, this Oregon Duck Quarterback looks like he’s prepared to be a difference maker in the Music City. Since Air McNair retired, the Titans have tried stop gap solutions at Quarterback like Kerry Collins, Billy Volek and most recently Jake Locker and Zach Mettenberger. Although I liked Mettenberger coming out of LSU, Mariota is a clear upgrade talent wise. It’s just a matter of catering the offense to him to help him succeed in his inaugural campaign in Nashville.
Delayed Impact: Dorial Green-Beckham, WR Missouri
The big man who was a controversial topic this offseason has struggled catching the ball thus far in mini-camp, something he didn’t show much in college, so I expect this to pass. However, that doesn’t bode well for an immediate impact for DGB. His elite size and frame will be a weapon down the road for Mariota if he can keep out of trouble, but immediately he’s still looking to get his feet under him in the NFL.
Diamond in the Rough: Tre McBride, WR William & Mary
Considered by a large portion of Draft Twitter to be a mid-round prospect at worst, the Titans happened on to McBride late in the 7th round. A solid possession wide out who displays nice hands and a runningback like build for the position should quickly become a favorite for Mariota, as he looks to develop as a passer. I wouldn’t be surprised if McBride was the Titans’ leading receiver this season.
Impact Rookie: T.J. Yeldon, RB Alabama
The Jaguars have had little semblance of a running game since Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew were in their prime. Especially with a 2nd year Quarterback in Blake Bortles, and a plethora of young receiving talent including Allen Robinson, Marquise Lee, Julius Thomas, Rashad Greene, and Allen Hurns. With a constantly improving Offensive Line, the final thing the Jags need to give their young signal caller is a quality back. Yeldon was the most complete back in this class, a nice runner with good receiving skills and a solid blocker. He’s not the most explosive back in the world, but you know exactly what you’re getting from him, which is important for Jacksonville.
Delayed Impact: Dante Fowler Jr., DE Florida
This may be a bit of a cop out for this choice, but unfortunately Fowler tore his ACL an hour into his first practice as a pro. He was a bit of an odd choice for the Jags at #3 in my opinion. I completely understand, and don’t fault the Jags for why they picked him, but if you were looking for a guy to play the LEO position, Vic Beasley was available and in my opinion was the superior prospect. As I step off of my soapbox, the Jags will obviously have to wait for Fowler to rehab in order to reap the benefits of selecting him this past May.
Diamond in the Rough: Michael Bennett, DT Ohio State
I already mentioned Rashad Greene, who was my other choice for this spot. Michael Bennett is an absolute stud. He was nearly unblockable down the stretch of the season for the Buckeyes as they faced Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon. His speed off of the ball proved to be too much for some of the best collegiate guards in the country. Due to an ankle injury, he slipped into the 6th round inexplicably. I mocked him #32 to the Patriots, and I think he was a good value at that spot. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bennett start at some point this season.
Impact Rookie: Kevin Johnson, CB Wake Forest
Arguably the top Cornerback in this class, Johnson should fit right in next to Kareem Jackson in Romeo Crennel’s press-man coverage defense. The lanky Corner shined on a bad team at Wake Forest, and was a late riser throughout the draft process. Selected two spots before Marcus Peters, Johnson should do very well in Houston. If he doesn’t start immediately, with the ever increasing in popularity of spread offenses and getting more Corners on the field, Johnson will do just fine.
Delayed Impact: Benardrick McKinney, LB Mississippi State
In an era where the spread offense reigns supreme, being able to cover as a Linebacker has never been more important. McKinney exhibits above average athleticism for the position, but he wasn’t forced to cover a lot in Mississippi State’s scheme, so if he can adapt quickly, the “delay” won’t be very long, but if he struggles he’ll be limited to 1st and 2nd downs.
Diamond in the Rough: Kenny Hilliard, RB LSU
Considering Arian Foster just injured his groin, Hillard might have a chance to sneak in and get some carries for the Texans. Hilliard was buried in the LSU backfield which seemingly annually has multiple NFL caliber backs in it, and thus limits the amount of carries that any of them get. Hilliard showed he was solid when given the opportunity, and still has plenty of tread on the tires for the NFL.
Impact Rookie: Phillip Dorsett, WR Miami
Already getting rave reviews in camp, Dorsett was one of the fastest players in the draft and has shown that speed thus far. He can take some pressure off of T.Y. Hilton as a deep threat, and should be a key player in the Colts wide open offense. I’d also expect Dorsett to make some plays in the return game as well.
Delayed Impact: Josh Robinson, RB Mississippi State
Usually there aren’t much for expectations for a 6th round rookie. However, with the addition of Frank Gore this offseason, Robinson has less chance to make an impact immediately for Indy. Robinson is a bowling ball type runner, who should benefit from learning under Gore. Robinson could eventually be a starter for the Colts, but I wouldn’t expect it any time soon.
Diamond in the Rough: Henry Anderson, DL Stanford
The Colts front 7 of the defense can be pretty accurately described in one word: soft. Looking to fix that, they added the blue collar type Anderson, a versatile Defensive Lineman from Stanford, known for producing both smart and physical players. Anderson could start right away, and will play all over the defensive front, and should wreak havoc. He’ll also benefit from being in a professional weight room. Anderson was a nice value and should be a good player for Indianapolis.