Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
The AFC South is seen by many NFL analyst as one of the weaker divisions in football. That can be a positive because it will take less improvement by the Jags to turn things around. The negative is a total lack of respect. Aside from the Colts, there is not much to be excited about right now in the AFC South, except for the impending NFL draft in which three of their teams will be picking in the top 11, and two in the top three. What I will be doing is ranking the AFC South at multiple positions. For now I will be going with the players who would be the presumed starters while attempting to take into consideration free agency and draft picks. We have completely ranked the offense (QB, RB, WR, TE & OL). Now we focus on the defense. We have completed DE & DT. Now we’ll look at Linebackers. Let’s start ranking.
We are once again dealing with two teams employing a 3-4 defense and the other a 4-3. For rating purposes, It will be for the starting LB’s for each team as a group.
- Indianapolis Colts (Erik Walden, Kelvin Sheppard, Jerrell Freeman, Robert Mathis) / 276 tackles, 29 sacks, 11 PDs, 2 INTs – The Colts have a very good group and all are under contract for 2014. The only possible issue is with Robert Mathis. Even Though he contributed 19.5 sacks by himself, along with 8 forced fumbles, there is slight chance the Colts could make Mathis a salary cap casualty. Mathis is 33 years old. Has played for 12 years. He is due to cost Indy $19.5 million in salary cap over the next two years. The Colts may have to ask Mathis to re-negotiate his contract to give them some relief. Mathis could refuse. The Colts did spend a first round pick last year for Bjoern Werner. Werner had 18 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 3 PDs, & no INTs. Even if the Colts are forced to make that difficult decision, it won’t change the rating. The Indianapolis Colts have the best LBs in the AFC South.
- Jacksonville Jaguars (Geno Hayes, Paul Posluszny, Russell Allen) / 303 tackles, 5 sacks, 13 PDs, 4 INTs – One area the Jags have to feel good about is their LBs. It all starts with Paul “Poz” Posluszny, who I feel is the greatest defensive free agent the Jags have signed in their history. Poz is a force & finished second for tackles in the entire league. Hayes was an affordable free agent that not only outplayed his contract, but has insinuated that he likes the Jags so much that he would offer a “hometown discount” to stay. The only possible weak link is Allen. He’s a great story though. An undrafted free agent that toiled as a special teams expert until injuries gave him a chance to play OLB. He hasn’t given the space up until he was injured in the 14th game of the season with a concussion. What the Jags have to look at is that Allen is 27, basically just serviceable stat wise, and will be a $2,916,667 salary cap hit. It is a situation I expect the Jags to address in the draft or free agency. If not, next in line would be J.T. Thomas who had 23 tackles, but no other stats. Because of the combined power of Poz and Hayes, the Jacksonville Jaguars have the 2nd best LBs in the AFC South.
- Tennessee Titans (Zach Brown, Moise Fokou, Akeem Ayers) / 218 tackles, 6 sacks, 10 PDs, 2 INTs – The Titans are in a “good news/bad news” situation. The good news is that all three of their starting LBs are under contract in 2014, so they are set at in the position. The bad news is that the signed players are not going to scare anybody, nor is there some young guy on the bench just waiting for his chance to sign. There is a lack of depth behind players that aren’t deep in talent. The Titans should be VERY busy in free agency and the draft related to the LB position. Because of this, you would think the Titans would be the worse in the division, but with what I will be explaining soon, I find the Tennessee Titans to have the 3rd best LBs in the AFC South.
- Houston Texans (Brooks Reed, Whitney Mercilus, Darryl Sharpton, Joe Mays) / 257 tackles, 11 sacks, 6 PDs, 0 INTs – As you see, Houston had more tackles and sacks than the Titans. As far as I’m concerned, those two are the most important stat for the LB position. So why did I put the Titans ahead? One of the Texans’ starting ILBs (Sharpton) is an UFA. He was the leading tackler in 2013. He was forced into a more prominent role because of the season ending injury to regular starter Brian Cushing. Now I am not stating any facts in this stmnt. I MEAN IT…I’m just going by normal logic brought by perception. Brian Cushing has been unable to stay healthy since being suspended for PEDs. He has played in only 12 games total the last two years. That has to be concerning. Not to mention the Texans are on the hook for a $5,546,875 salary cap hit for 2014 and almost another $46.5 total over the next 5 years. That must keep the GM up at night. The next leading LB tackler was Joe Mays. He is also an UFA. I doubt he is going to accept another contract for $1.075 million, so he may not be back. His backup is Jeff Tarpinian, who added 23 tackles, half a sack, and one pass defended. It is not an overstatement saying the Texans’ LB corp is in a state of disarray. For this reason, the Houston Texans have the worst LBs in the AFC South.
As this article has shown, LBs will be looked at long and hard this pre-draft. There are some good players coming in this draft. Tennessee & Houston BETTER grab one or two this offseason. The Jags & the Colts would do well to get at least one. I will see you later when we go over CBs.
Ratings by Michael McDonald.
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