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Bold Predictions for the 2020 NFL Draft Class: AFC South Edition

The NFL Draft recently provided all of us with two necessary things during these trying times: hope and normalcy. During the widespread coronavirus pandemic, many of us have been longing for the typical daily schedules of our everyday lives. We got some of that back with the NFL Draft.

There was also a sense of hope that was provided to all of us this past weekend. That hope extends well beyond the effects of coronavirus. As fans, the NFL Draft is the moment where the previous season is in the past, and the new season is upon us. Each fan base believes that the players selected in the draft will help their team in future seasons and beyond.

As always, with every draft comes draft grades. Almost every NFL draft analyst takes the time to slap a letter grade onto each selection that was made. The problem with draft grades is that they are inherently biased towards the big board of the individual writing the article.

Therefore, the best way to grade a draft is to isolate how each player fits into the system they were selected to. Which player will succeed at the next level, despite being disliked by the draft media? Which player will fail, despite being a media darling for the majority of the draft process? Who had the deepest draft, who had the weakest draft, and what team was able to find their next superstar?

Part three of our eight part draft recap takes a look at the NFL draft classes from the AFC South.

Houston Texans

The Selections: Ross Blacklock, Jonathan Greenard, Charlie Heck, John Reid, Isaiah Coulter

Houston did not have many selections in the 2020 draft, largely because they decided to pay a king’s ransom for Laremy Tunsil. Nevertheless, they were able to grab two players who could contribute from day one.

Ross Blacklock should start at 3-4 defensive end opposite J.J. Watt. When healthy, Blacklock is a force as a three technique. He’s got a quick first step, and the ability to get to the passer in multiple ways. Blacklock also stays disciplined against the run. Not only can he stack and shed, but he can also hold blockers at the point of attack, allowing others to fill the lane and make the play.

Jonathan Greenard also has the chance to win some playing time from the jump. Greenard is not a true dip and bend edge player. However, he’s smart as a pass rusher, he wins with technique, and his motor runs high. Despite having Watt and Whitney Mercilus, Houston was towards the bottom of the league in sacks last year. As a rotational rusher, Greenard can help.

Bold Prediction: Blacklock and Greenard Help the Texans Defense Return to Form in 2020

Okay, so the likely option is that Bill O’Brien has ran this ship directly into an iceberg. The Texans offensive line is still a nightmare, despite acquiring Tunsil. Their offense will look a lot different, and likely a lot worse, without their star wide receiver, DeAndre Hopkins. The defense has not been the same since the loss of Jadeveon Clowney either.

However, we are here to make bold predictions. Blacklock and Greenard are nice fits into the Texans defense. Both players will see a lot of one-on-one opportunities when rushing the passer, which is particularly important for Blacklock. Of the interior defensive linemen in the draft, Blacklock was the best prospect after Derrick Brown and Javon Kinlaw. The issue was an Achilles injury that ended his 2018 campaign. When healthy, Blacklock is a do-it-all defensive linemen. He’s the kind of player the Texans have been missing since Clowney left. Blacklock should help take some of the pressure off of Watt up front.

Greenard should also help take pressure off of Mercilus on the edge. Between Blacklock, Watt and Mercilus, the Texans have a lot of athletic pass rushers that can get home in multiple ways. Greenard does a good job of setting the edge, and collapsing the pocket. His disciplined approach to pass rushing is a good compliment to the other three.

As long as the Texans can stay healthy, their front seven appears to be dominant on paper. A dominant pass rush can help a secondary that lacks a few key pieces. More importantly, getting to the passer is how you win defensively in the modern day NFL. This Texans front seven is scary, assuming they can stay on the field.

Indianapolis Colts

The Selections: Michael Pittman Jr., Jonathan Taylor, Julian Blackmon, Jacob Eason, Danny Pinter, Robert Windsor, Isaiah Rodgers, Dezmon Patmon, Jordan Glasgow

General Manager Chris Ballard is one of the best in the business. He proved so once again during the 2020 NFL Draft.

Despite not having a first round pick, Ballard came away with two outstanding offensive weapons in round two. Michael Pittman Jr., is a perfect compliment to the Colts receiving core. He adds a punch to their red zone production. Pittman also runs good routes for someone with a bigger frame. While he’s not a guy to take the top off of the opposing defense, the Colts already have that with T.Y. Hilton.

Jonathan Taylor also has the potential to be the feature back that the Colts have lacked for quite some time. His vision between the tackles is tremendous, and his top end speed is better than he is given credit for. While Taylor is not as shifty in the open field as guys like D’Andre Swift or J.K. Dobbins, he’s just as good of a runner.

Indianapolis was able to add some good depth pieces later on in the draft, but their selections are highlighted by the two offensive weapons that can help them win the AFC South next year.

Bold Prediction: Jacob Eason Develops Into a Starting Caliber Quarterback

Eason went to one of the most ideal fits for him in the entire draft. He gets to sit behind Philip Rivers for a year, and learn the finer points of quarterback play from Head Coach Frank Reich. Reich is one of the finest offensive minds in the business. One could easily argue that Carson Wentz has not been the same quarterback since Reich left Philadelphia.

Reich now gets a player in Philadelphia with a similar skill set. Eason has a cannon for an arm, and the ability to make all the throws. He shows quality anticipation for the receivers out of their break. Eason also does make the touch throws on occasion. While it’s not his strength, he has the ability to hit the back pylon on a fade route, or lay a ball onto someone’s back shoulder with less velocity.

The issue Eason faces at the next level is what to do when the pocket collapses. In a clean pocket, you see a player that could have been a first round talent. When the pocket shrinks and he has to make quick decisions, he loses his mechanics and zeroes in on his primary read. Sitting for a while and learning how to keep his feet quiet in a collapsing pocket will do him a lot of good. Reading defenses also takes time. Eason will be able to work with Reich on how to do that at the NFL level.

Philip Rivers is on his last stage of his illustrious NFL career. This allows Reich to focus a lot of time in practice on getting Eason ready to play next year. Don’t be shocked if in 2021 we are talking about Jacob Eason as the hidden gem of this draft class.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Selections: C.J. Henderson, K’Lavon Chaisson, Laviska Shenault Jr., Davon Hamilton, Ben Bartch, Josiah Scott, Shaquille Quarterman, Daniel Thomas, Collin Johnson, Jake Luton, Tyler Davis, Chris Claybrooks

The Jaguars went into the draft with the goal of revamping what was once a vaunted defense. By the end of night one, that mission was accomplished. Henderson is the premier cover corner the Jaguars needed to replace A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey. His ability in mirror and trail while playing man-to-man coverage are second to only Jeffrey Okudah from this draft class.

Chaisson is an elite pass rusher off the edge. His dip and bend ability is unreal. Plus, Chaisson has multiple moves in his back pocket to get home in pass rushing situations. His motor runs high as well, making him an excellent compliment on the opposite side of last year’s rookie sensation, Josh Allen.

Jacksonville’s day two picks had a theme: value picks. Laviska Shenault is the type of playmaker that the Jaguars have been missing at the receiver position. He’s one of the better “YAC,” or yards after catch, players in this draft class. Shenault can take short yardage passes and make big plays out of them. He will fit perfectly in the system of offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.

Davon Hamilton was also an underrated selection. The Jaguars have lost some size along the interior. Hamilton is a big time run stopper with surprising athleticism. Don’t be surprised if he beats out Abry Jones from day one.

All in all, the Jaguars had a strong first two days of the NFL draft. They followed it up with a bunch of depth pieces that can contribute in different ways.

Bold Prediction: K’Lavon Chaisson Wins Defensive Rookie of the Year

Chaisson may not be the most conventional pick to win the award, but he’s actually the most obvious. He lands on a team that has another primary edge rusher already in place. Former first round selection Taven Bryan will help the Jaguars pass rush as well, but he’ll contribute from the interior as a three technique. The Jaguars front four is surprisingly solid, even if they do wind up trading Yannick Ngakoue.

The other thing Chaisson has going for him is the potential contenders. Normally, statistics drive the award process in the NFL. For a defensive back to win this award, they’d have to either become a shut down corner in year one, or create a bunch of turnovers. Either way, it’s a tall ask, even with the talented defensive backs that entered the league through the draft this year. The top tier defensive tackles, Derrick Brown and Javon Kinlaw, have similar problems. Their style they play does not lend itself towards big stat totals.

There are two players that realistically can pose a threat to Chaisson: Chase Young and Patrick Queen. Young is the best player in the class. His athleticism combined with the bevy of moves he possesses should make him lethal as a pass rusher at the next level. However, he will be the focal point of every opposing offensive line, whereas Chaisson will be the secondary option. Patrick Queen should have a monster statistical season in the middle of the Ravens defense. Seeing as how stats drive the award, racking up tackles will help Queen immensely. Despite all the things Queen has in his corner, six of the last 10 winners of the award played on the defensive line. That favors Chaisson if the stats are comparable in terms of impact.

If Chaisson puts up a six plus sack rookie season, which is perfectly reasonable (see Josh Allen last year), he could surprise people come the NFL Honors in February.

Tennessee Titans

The Selections: Isaiah Wilson, Kristian Fulton, Darrynton Evans, Larrell Murchison, Cole McDonald, Chris Jackson

Well, if there was one team that was a perfect fit for Isaiah Wilson during this draft, it was the Tennessee Titans. Many felt Wilson was too raw as a prospect to warrant a top 40 selection. Even when it became clear that the NFL liked him more than the media did, people still questioned why someone with heavy feet and a tendency to play high with his pad level was going to be a first round pick.

Wilson has immense power. His grip strength is impressive, he strikes in the target area versus edge players in the run game, and he’s able to gain leverage effortlessly. While Wilson’s kickslide in pass sets needs a lot of work, the Titans are a run oriented offense. Therefore, Wilson’s transition to the NFL should be made easier in Tennessee.

The Titans took two really underrated selections in day two that highlight their draft class. Kristian Fulton was a puzzling “faller,” during the 2020 NFL Draft because he’s incredibly similar to CJ Henderson. While he’s not as adept at mirroring opposing receivers, Fulton’s footwork is better in off coverage. They both have good ball skills as well. If the NFL really felt that the difference in their athleticism made them 50 picks different in terms of value, that seems like a wild misstep.

Darrynton Evans is the sleeper. He was picked a tad early, but he’s a perfect compliment to Derrick Henry. Evans is excellent in the pass game, with the ability to line up as a slot receiver. He will be a much better fit in the Titans offense than Dion Lewis was.

Bold Prediction: Isaiah Wilson Doesn’t Start His Rookie Year

Even though Wilson is a perfect fit for the Titans, they are also very fond of Dennis Kelly. Kelly signed a new three year contract this off-season, which states his importance to the team going forward. He played a lot of swing tackle for the Titans in 2019, and logic would dictate that he will do so again in 2020 and beyond.

However, what if Wilson plays exclusively on rushing downs? Wilson struggles with his technique in pass sets, whereas Kelly is much further along. Not to mention, he’s an athlete. Kelly’s kickslide is miles ahead of Wilson’s at this stage in the game. It would be a tough call, considering Wilson is so good in the run game. However, it could be best for Wilson in the long term. Playing in certain situations during his rookie year could help his technique improve, without risking the overall success of the Titans.

Tennessee is in a win now position heading into 2020. The best thing for them to win could be for Kelly to be the primary right tackle, with Wilson playing the right side on run downs.

Jordan Katz
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