AFC SOUTH DRAFT GRADES
We turn our judgmental gaze now to the AFC South, the worst division in the NFL last year. Only one team out of the South made the playoffs, the Tennessee Titans. And while they were the No. 1 seed in the AFC, they were the worst one seed since the last time the Titans claimed the top spot in 2008.
The results were the same — a one and done playoff “run.”
But the draft offers opportunities for those teams on the cusp to add a guy or three that can make all the difference.
Just as a refresher, here’s the criteria I use to determine each team’s grades for their performance in the NFL’s annual amateur player selection meeting.
1. It’s impossible to earn an “A” rating if a team has no first round pick. A franchise can (and teams like the Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Rams regularly do) grab stars all through the draft in every round, but we can’t know how that works out for a few years. Players selected in Rounds 1-3 should all be potential starters. Any “starting level” player taken after that is a steal and I’ll note them when I see them.
2. The Draft Grade I will mark with my figurative red pen will be based on the men taken today, not in some imaginary future that pundits and scouts like to concoct in their minds. I will do no “ceiling” calculations, as a “ceiling” is just another word for “something I made up.” We’re talking “floors” here, because that’s what’s on tape. That’s what we’ve seen from these guys in the NCAA.
Selections: No. 3: Derek Stingley, CB, LSU — No. 15: Kenyon Green, OL, Texas A&M — No. 37: Jalen Pitre, DB, Baylor — No. 44: John Metchie III, WR, Alabama — No. 75: Christian Harris, LB, Alabama — No. 107: Dameon Pierce, RB, Florida — No. 150: Thomas Booker, DT, Stanford — No. 170: Teagan Quitoriano, TE, Oregon State — No. 205: Austin Deculus, OL, LSU
The Texans had so many picks in the first three rounds, it should have been impossible to screw up. Yet, Houston has a knack of doing just that. Therefore, it’s nice to see the NFL’s own version of a religious cult actually nail a draft. I’m sure whatever team these young men end up on in a few years will be happy that the Texans took on the majority of their guaranteed rookie contracts and didn’t burn them up with extra games in the playoffs.
Stingley was my top corner in this draft and while I’m not sure about taking him No. 3 overall, he’s a day one starter and potential star. Kenyon Green was Pro Football Focus’ third-ranked interior offensive lineman, so that’s a guy that starts immediately. Jalen Pitre was part of a nice safety run in the draft that started at the end of the first. He had elite production against a Big 12 schedule with 75 tackles, 18.5 for a loss, 3.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and two interceptions. It’s on film, not in anyone’s imagination.
Finally, taking the two Alabama guys, Metchie and Harris adds a couple of immediate starters. Metchie is the second best wide receiver on the team right now and Harris will probably find his way into the starting line up before the year’s out.
Selections: No. 18: Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas — No. 35: Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn — No. 69: Nicholas Petit-Frere, OT, Ohio State —No. 86: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty — No. 131: Hassan Haskins, RB, Michigan — No. 143: Chigoziem Okonkwo, TE, Maryland — No. 163: Kyle Philips, WR, UCLA — No. 204: Theo Jackson, CB, Tennessee — No. 219: Chance Campbell, LB, Mississippi
Here I am a victim of my own rules, because the Titans’ draft day activities absolutely deserve an “F.” Trading away AJ Brown for Treylon Burks and a late third round pick is one of the dumbest “team building” moves in NFL history. When you draft an elite player and he plays at an elite level, then you’ve won. You did it. Your scouting and draft process worked to perfection. The fact that these cheap ass teams do that, manage to grab a star, then think “Oh no! He’ll cost money now” is the reason Tennessee has not and will not win a Super Bowl. Mark it down.
Instead of having one of the league’s best receiving tandems in Robert Woods and Brown, they now have Woods and an unproven rookie. Granted, Burks had a first round grade and went where he should, but this is a self-inflicted problem that the Titans could have solved by paying the guy they already had what he was worth.
Beyond that, McCreary and Petit-Frere are both starters that will immediately plug in and play. Willis went where he should, in the third round, and will have the opportunity to sit and learn behind Ryan Tannehill, even if Tannehill doesn’t like it.
Chigoziem Okonkwo, Kyle Philips and Theo Jackson are all sneaky good picks. Okonkwo could end up an H-Back like the team hasn’t had since Frank Wycheck.
Selections: No. 53: Alec Piece, WR, Cincinnati — Round 73: Jelani Woods, TE, Virginia — No. 77: Bernhard Raimann, OT, Central Michigan — No. 96: Nick Cross, Safety, Maryland — No. 159: Eric Johnson, DT, Missouri State — Round 192: Andrew Ogletree, TE, Youngstown State — No. 216: Curtis Brooks, DT, Cincinnati — No. 239: Rodney Thomas, DB, Yale
The Colts had no first rounder, so the rules apply, but this is a draft that should be scary for the rest of the AFC South. Alec Pierce is probably an immediate starter and Woods was one of my favorite later round prospects in this draft. Raimann might move around some on the line, but he’s starting quality that will probably be a key reserve on one of the best O-lines in football.
Selections: No. 1: Travon Walker, DE, Georgia — No. 27: Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah — No. 65: Luke Fortner, Center, Kentucky — No. 70: Chad Muma, LB, Wyoming — No. 154: Snoop Conner, RB, Mississippi — No. 197: Gregory Junior, CB, Ouachita Baptist University — No. 222: Montaric Brown, CB, Arkansas
Of all the potential first round picks the Jags were rumored to be looking at, Walker was the one I thought they were most likely to NOT select. Man, was I wrong. This is a guy that exercised really well and jumped plenty of guys that outperformed him at real football. Jacksonville outsmarted itself with the pick.
Lloyd and Fortner are starters, as is Walker honestly. I’ll just be shocked if he has anywhere near the rookie season that Aidan Hutchinson, Kayvon Thibodeaux and Jermaine Johnson II will have. And one of those guys was taken 25 picks later.
The rest of this draft is just weird, with oddball selections from small schools and guys I struggled to even find stats on. Conner is probably the best pick of the later rounds and if there’s one thing the Jaguars did not need, it was another running back.
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