Until we get them all, we'll be here and over at Epic Carnival reviewing the divisional draft classes. Today, OPTIMIST/PESSIMIST takes a look at the AFC South.
It may have taken sacrificing every single internal organ David Carr had, but the Texans finally figured out that drafting an offensive lineman in the first round can be a good idea. Furthermore, OT Duane Brown has great athleticism for the 26th pick in the draft, and has the potential to grow into a great pass protector. RB Steve Slaton could wind up being a steal in the third round, and if he learns to break the first tackle, he could become a consistent homerun threat on running plays in addition to being a great pass catching back. All in all a solid, if unremarkable draft for a team that showed solid progress last season.
The problem is that in the AFC South, still the best division in the league, workmanlike performances aren’t going to get the job done. Nobody in the Texans haul (outside of project player Slaton) screams elite potential, and even though they needed an offensive lineman, they probably could have gotten Brown in the second with a smart trade or two, freeing them up to get any of the receivers on the board (I know I harp on this, but seriously, it was a crime that none of them were picked in round one) and giving Andre Johnson some much needed support downfield.
Did they have to mortgage the farm to get DE Derrick Harvey? Sure they did; but anyone who watched him tear apart offensive linemen of all shapes and sizes knows that this kid could be something special. Throw in second round pick DE Quentin Groves and the point is clear: The Jags are going to bruise this year. Harvey is a workout wonder who has proven game experience against the best the NCAA has to offer. The same can be said for Groves, who will probably be moved to OLB, where his speed will be put to better use if he can learn to work well in pass coverage. It’s a Del Rio draft, people; we’re not going for “pretty” here.
Of course, a Del Rio draft doesn’t always mean we’re going for “smart” either. The man has a very good track record in the middle rounds (MJD and David Garrard can attest to that), but his early round picks up to this point have all been huge risks that eventually flamed out. Don’t look now, but Derrick Harvey is of the same ilk as every one of those guys. What’s worse is that the team forfeited a lot of those middle round picks that they usually do so much with to get him. Again, it’s a pick that filled a need, and (much like all the others fitting the category) one that has the potential to be amazing, but don’t be surprised if Harvey and Matt Jones wind up writing a depressing emo livejournal together about not living up to their physical potential in a year or two.
I get the criticism; RB Chris Johnson is undersized, he can catch the fumbles sometimes, he probably would have lasted deep into the second round, and the Titans had bigger problems to fix. It’s all perfectly logical. You know what, though? Logic doesn’t apply to a man who can run 40 yards in 4.24 seconds. Look at the game film; it’s legit football speed, and he brings it to the backfield and the special teams game. If Darren McFadden is worth the 4th pick in the draft, can you really say that Johnson isn’t worth getting excited over? It’s not like the rest of the draft went poorly either, with the team continuing its trend of picking up uglyball aficionados throughout (DE Jason Jones is not nice people). The point is that Jeff Fisher is Yoda, and he’ll thank you not to question his Jedi cred.
Merril Hoge is licking his chops at what this upcoming year means for his favorite hobby: Crucifying Vince Young. If any team could have used an elite WR prospect, it’s the Titans. Instead, they picked up Alge Crumpler (who, though still good, has seen his best days) and Justin McCareins (whose “best days” are when he remembers how to put his football pads on). For a third year QB coming off of a very frustrating year, this is not the best method to inspire confidence. If the team was really had such a hard on for Johsnon, they could have made moves to get higher up in the second and taken a WR in the first round. Instead, the passing game is left with little to no character, and VY is going to get leaned on even more than last year as expectations increase.
Another year goes by, and another Colts draft is low on flash and high on essential building blocks. Three offensive linemen, two tight ends, and a defensive end? Seriously, these guys are the whole wheat bread of the NFL grocery store. They work smart though, relying on the depth they currently have at skill positions to let them experiment with project players like WR Pierre Garcon (who actually has underrated speed) and RB Mike Hart (who should extend Tony Dungy’s winning streak of doing with so-so running backs what Bill Belichick did for so-so wideouts). Common sense says it’s hard to lose big when you don’t risk all that much to begin with.
It’s pretty hard to win that way too, though. Looking back at last year’s team, even taking the loss of some key defenders into account, the Colts didn’t have the depth at their skill positions to get the job done. Reggie Wayne and Joseph Addai kept the dream of flashy players being reliable, responsible individuals alive, but football's answer to Desperado, Marvin Harrison, finally started showing the wear and tear that comes with years of being the best at your position, and Kenton Keith, though adequate, didn’t give the run game the same one-two punch that it had when Dominic Rhodes (recently returned to the fold) was around. Passing on a couple of opportunities to make splashy investments in pass catching could come back to haunt this team if injuries once again have them throwing to Craphonso Thorpe (mediocre FSU wideouts…you can’t throw a rock without hitting one… )and that other, really weird looking WR.