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Key NFL Draft Picks To Fill AFC South Offensive, Defensive Holes

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(credit: Al Bello/Getty Images)

(credit: Al Bello/Getty Images)

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By Tony Meale

The 2013 NFL Draft will take place this week, so let’s take a look at which holes each team in the AFC South needs to fill to have a successful draft.

Houston Texans

The Texans started 11-1 last season before losing four of their last six games – all by double digits.

Losing linebacker Connor Barwin to the Eagles in the offseason certainly doesn’t help, but Houston did sign future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer Ed Reed; and the return of Brian Cushing, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2012, cannot be understated.

Offensively, the Texans desperately need help at wide receiver. Andre Johnson played 16 games – this after playing just 19 combined in 2010 and 2011 – and reminded us that he’s one of the top five receivers in the game. Johnson had 112 receptions for 1,598 yards but, surprisingly, only four touchdowns. Johnson has hauled in triple-digit receptions in three of the last five years, but Houston’s second-best receiver last season was Kevin Walter (41 catches, 518 yards, two touchdowns), who signed with the Titans.

In short, Houston, with the 27th pick, would be wise to select a wideout – Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins or USC’s Robert Woods, in particular.

The Texans also need help at linebacker and are still trying to replace right tackle Eric Winston, who signed with Kansas City last year, but make no mistake: Houston, which scored 16 points or fewer in four of its final six games last season, needs to put more points on the board; finding a playmaker to alleviate pressure from Johnson, who led the team in receiving in 11 of Houston’s final 12 games last year, is a good place to start.

2013 NFL Mock Draft – First Round Picks Here

Indianapolis Colts

Peyton who?

Okay, no one should go that far, but did anyone expect the Colts, with rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, to go from two wins in 2011 to 11 in 2012?

At this point, the Colts’ strategy is clear – or at least it should be. Draft offensive linemen, and draft wide receivers. Luck is a once-in-a-decade talent – maybe once-in-a-generation – and keeping him upright and giving him weapons should be Indy’s No. 1 priority. Luck was sacked 41 times last year – fourth most in the league – which simply won’t cut it.

In that vein, the Colts’ top options should be Florida State offensive tackle Menelik Watson or any number of wideouts who might be available at pick 24, including Cal’s Keenan Allen and Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson.

If I’m the Colts, I go wideout; Reggie Wayne was phenomenal last year, but he had 194 targets – second only to Calvin Johnson – and turns 35 in December. It would behoove Indy to a) be slightly less forthcoming in its passing strategy and b) have Wayne groom a young receiver for the next two or three seasons.

Defensively, the Colts, who were 23rd in the league with 32 sacks last season, could also use a pass-rusher, particularly at linebacker. That’s fine.

Just give Luck what he wants – especially in the first round.

2013 NFL Mock Draft – First Round Picks Here

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars have the second overall pick, and given that their top quarterbacks are Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne, they’ll likely be picking second – or thereabouts – in 2014.

But let’s be clear. This team is by no means “a quarterback away” from competing. In fact, if you name a position, there’s a good chance Jacksonville needs help there. Among the most pressing concerns, aside from quarterback, are offensive line, defensive line and cornerback.

Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher, Alabama corner Dee Milliner and Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan are obvious candidates, with Jordan perhaps the most likely. Jacksonville had just 20 sacks in 2012, and no player had more than 3.5. Jordan is big and versatile with 4.6 speed to boot, and odds are he’ll be a favorite of first-year head coach Gus Bradley, who was the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator from 2009 to 2012.

Jacksonville has seven picks, including 33rd, so if the Jags go defensive line in the first round, they’ll probably go offensive line in the second. Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s Terron Armstead, who ran a 4.71 40 at the combine – setting a new record for offensive linemen in the process – would be a solid selection.

2013 NFL Mock Draft – First Round Picks Here

Tennessee Titans

In 2011, the Titans finished 9-7 and were the only winning team in the NFL to miss the playoffs. In 2012, they regressed to 6-10.

Then money got spent.

The Titans signed 14 new players this offseason, including offensive linemen Andy Levitre and Robert Turner, defensive linemen Ropati Pitoitua and Sammie Lee Hill, safety Bernard Pollard, wide receiver Kevin Walter, tight end Delanie Walker and running back Shonn Greene.

While the Titans plugged a lot of holes via free agency, there is still much work to be done in the draft. Improving along the defensive line and in the secondary remain a priority, but unless pass-rushers Dion Jordan or Bjoern Werner slip to tenth overall – and even if they do – don’t be surprised if Tennessee selects an offensive guard; top options include North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper or Alabama’s Chance Warmack.

Tennessee appears committed, at least for now, to quarterback Jake Locker, who threw for 2,176 yards, 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 11 games last year. Protecting the 24-year-old is certainly important, but Tennesee’s biggest problem has been consistently opening up holes for Chris Johnson, who finished with 28 rushing yards or fewer fives times last season.

Cooper or Warmack would help mightily in that endeavor.

More:

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Cincinnati-based sportswriter Tony Meale is the author of The Chosen Ones: The Team That Beat LeBron and contributes to several outlets, including MLB.com and MaxPreps. He has a master’s in journalism from Ohio University and is available for guest-speaking engagements. Follow Tony Meale on Twitter @tonymeale.

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