Over the last two weeks, we put together a look at each of the San Francisco 49ers 13 opponents with a little help from SB Nation’s network of bloggers. Each person answered a few questions, providing a nice, basic rundown to help preview training camp. We got through that on Monday with the Seattle Seahawks. You can find the rest in our opponents section on the site.
Since we still have two weeks until the 49ers report to training camp, I thought why not use the 18 non-49ers previews to take a look at the rest of the league. The 49ers will not play the 18 teams outside of the playoffs and preseason, but it is always interesting to know more about the rest of the league. And so, we’re going to look at each division over the next five days, combing four team previews for each post. We started with the AFC North, and now move on to the AFC South.
It’s been a busy offseason for the AFC South. The Tennessee Titans gave their running game a significant boost when they acquired running back DeMarco Murray via trade. They then moved down in the draft, swapping the No. 1 pick out with the Los Angeles Rams at No. 15. They acquired two seconds, a third, and a first and third in 2017. Their first round pick, center Ryan Kelly, is expected to immediately move into the starting lineup.
The Indianapolis Colts took care of some important business, locking up quarterback Andrew Luck on a six-year contract extension. Luck dealt with injuries and inconsistency last season, but if he can stay healthy, the Colts are a favorite to win the division.
The Houston Texans made an early splash in free agency, signing quarterback Brock Osweiler away from the Denver Broncos. He was not exactly overly impressive in his opportunities last fall, but he’s the guy the Texans are looking to build around.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are getting frequent mention on the lists of “offseason winners.” That can be a dubious title at times, but even still, the pressure is on Gus Bradley to get this team at or above .500 for the first time since 2010.
Notable free agent additions: Patrick Robinson (CB), Scott Tolzien (QB), Robert Turbin (RB), Jordan Todman (RB)
Notable free agent departures: Jerrell Freeman (LB), Coby Fleener (TE), Dwight Lowery (S), Greg Toler (CB)
Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies:
Ryan Kelly, center (first round pick) - He’s the starter from day one, without a doubt.
T.J. Green, safety (second round) - He’ll make the roster as a backup safety and special teams contributor.
Le’Raven Clark, tackle (third round) - He’s expected to provide depth.
Hassan Ridgeway, defensive line (fourth round) - He could factor into the defensive line rotation as a pass rush threat.
Antonio Morrison, inside linebacker (fourth round) - He will compete for playing time at the open inside linebacker spot.
Joe Haeg, offensive lineman (fifth round) - He’ll provide depth along the line, whether at guard or tackle.
Trevor Bates, outside linebacker (seventh round) - He will try to show something (anything) that suggests he can be a developmental pass rusher for the Colts, which they’re desperately looking for.
Austin Blythe, center (seventh round) - He’s expected to back up Ryan Kelly at center.
Biggest offseason addition: Ryan Kelly, center
Biggest storyline heading into training camp: The offensive line competition. A lot has been made about the Colts’ offensive line this offseason, and that was their biggest area of emphasis. They brought in Joe Philbin to coach the unit and then spent four of eight draft picks on their line. The left side - with Anthony Castonzo at left tackle, Jack Mewhort at left guard, and Ryan Kelly at center - looks good, but the right side is still a question mark. Joe Reitz is the current favorite at right tackle, though he’s still not guaranteed the job, while the right guard position is even more wide open. The offensive line competition has been a focal point all offseason and likely will continue to be in training camp.
Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: The injuries to the defensive line. While the inside linebacker competition is worth noting as well, I think the health of the defensive line is one of the biggest storylines for the Colts this year. The unit has the potential to be one of the deepest and best positions on the team, but a lot of that depends on when players get healthy and whether they can stay that way. Henry Anderson was tremendous as a rookie last year and already emerged as one of the team’s best defensive players, but he tore his ACL midway through the season. It’s uncertain whether he’ll be back for week one, while Arthur Jones is also recovering from an injury that caused him to miss the entire 2015 season. If Anderson comes back healthy, the defensive line should be a good group when considering guys like Kendall Langford, David Parry, Zach Kerr, T.Y. McGill, and Hassan Ridgeway, and Jones coming back healthy would be even more of a boost. The key, again, is health.
Notable injuries heading into training camp: defensive lineman Henry Anderson (knee), defensive lineman Arthur Jones (ankle), wide receiver Donte Moncrief (foot), guard Hugh Thornton (undisclosed), cornerback D’Joun Smith (knee).
Notable free agent additions: (QB) Brock Osweiler, (RB) Lamar Miller, (OG) Jeff Allen
Notable free agent departures: (OG) Brandon Brooks, (C) Ben Jones, (RB) Arian Foster
Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies: (WR) Will Fuller, (C/OG) Nick Martin, (WR)Braxton Miller, and Tyler Ervin (EDGE, a new hybrid slot WR/RB position we created just for him)
Biggest offseason addition: (QB) Brock Osweiler
Biggest storyline heading into training camp: How does Brock Osweiler do as the new franchise quarterback? Can he develop chemistry with his young arsenal of weapons? Can he adjust to a new offense under Bill O’Brien? Can he at the very least be good enough to guide this loaded roster to some wins without screwing it up?
Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: Kevin Johnson cementing his status as an elite young corner, Jaelen Strong potentially breaking out as DeAndre Hopkins’ partner in crime, J.J. Watt going on a quest to win his fourth DPOY trophy, and of course this team taking the next step from division winner to AFC contender.
Notable injuries heading into training camp: J.J. Watt recovering from his various ailments, Kevin Johnson rehabbing from a broken foot and broken wrist, and Duane Brown coming back from a torn quad.
Notable free agent additions:
FS Tashaun Gipson, RB Chris Ivory, DL Malik Jackson, P Brad Nortman, OL Mackenzy Bernadeau, CB Prince Amukamara, OL Kelvin Beachum, and QB Chad Henne
Notable free agent departures:
G Zane Beadles, DE Chris Clemons (lol), P Bryan Anger, DE Andre Branch (lol again), C Stefen Wisniewski (2015), and RB Toby Gerhart (lol once more),
Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies:
Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack will be contributors from Day 1. Neither could be starters as Prince Amukamara and Davon House could very well be the starting cornerbacks and the Jaguars are retooling their linebacking corps, but they’ll both see significant snaps on the defensive side of the ball. Third-round pick Yannick Ngakoue will likely be the backup at LEO and see a good amount of snaps as a designated pass rusher. Fourth-round pick Sheldon Day will likely beat out Michael Bennett and be a rotational player along the interior of the defensive line. Sixth-round pick Tyrone Holmes might make the final 53-man roster, but he’s a backup for now. Same goes for Brandon Allen whose best case scenario is the No. 3 quarterback and a healthy scratch on game days. Seventh-round pass rusher Jonathan Woodard had a season-ending Achilles injury in May, but he was a jar on the shelf who would have likely been a practice squad candidate anyway.
Biggest offseason addition:
Tashaun Gipson. He’s been described by coaches and players as the “general” on defense and his reinforcement of our secondary will help a struggling Jaguars pass rush. Even Malik Jackson, who signed one of the richest contracts in free agency this year, won’t be as much of a contributing factor to our team as Gipson.
Biggest storyline heading into training camp:
How does Dante Fowler look? Whether we like it or not, the burden of the Jaguars pass rush -- or at least a significant portion of it -- rests on his shoulders. And with Fowler effectively a rookie after a season-ending injury last May, that’s a lot to ask of him, even if he was the No. 3 overall pick in 2015. As Fowler goes, so does our pass rush.
Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp:
It’s a toss up between how the offensive line shakes out and how good of a running back tandem T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory are. Kelvin Beachum is pushing Luke Joeckel out of the starting left tackle spot and the coaching staff is trying Joeckel out at guard -- a move that I don’t think will pay any dividends by the time the regular season starts up. I think newly signed Mackenzy Bernadeau takes over the left guard spot, Beachum wraps up the left tackle spot, and Joeckel is on the outside looking in by August.
Notable injuries heading into training camp:
Jalen Ramsey wasn’t a participant in mini-camp and although he has said he’s 100 percent for weeks now, he hasn’t really practiced with the team yet. Myles Jack has practiced, but it’ll be interesting to see how his knee holds up in training camp. Neither is a significant concern however and I expect both to be ready to go. Other than that, there aren’t any notable injuries. Backup offensive lineman Luke Bowanko is on the PUP list.
Notable free agent additions: C Ben Jones, WR Rishard Matthews, S Rashad Johnson
Notable free agent departures: S Michael Griffin
Trades: Acquired DeMarco Murray
Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies: Jack Conklin, Kevin Dodd, Derrick Henry
Biggest offseason addition: DeMarco Murray
Biggest storyline heading into training camp: Can the Titans make “exotic-smashmouth” an effective way to score points in 2016? They are committed to power football. The NFL has moved to a pass happy game. Defenses are playing more and more nickel and dime. The Titans think they can take advantage of this by going with a power lineup.
Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: Ray Horton moved on this offseason. That leaves Dick LeBeau as the man calling the shots on the defensive side of the ball- most people thought LeBeau was calling the shots last year. It turned out he wasn’t. How much different will the 2016 version of the defense look?
Notable injuries heading into training camp: 2nd round pick Kevin Dodd had foot surgery in May. He is supposed to be ready for camp. Derrick Morgan is also still recovering from shoulder surgery.