Youth will be served in the AFC South, especially when it comes to fascinating young quarterbacks in various stages of their development.
There is a legitimate chance that the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans will be trotting out signal callers chosen in the top-five picks of April's 2023 NFL Draft as their starters on Week 1, while 23-year-old Trevor Lawrence looks to build on a solid sophomore campaign and ascend to his place among the game's elite quarterbacks.
A division that houses two first-time head coaches and three starting quarterbacks with fewer than three seasons of NFL experience offers plenty of intrigue, and even more long-term optimism in each building and among all four fanbases.
As the AFC South landscape takes shape, each team's trajectory sets the stage for captivating storylines, unexpected twists, and a dynamic race to claim divisional supremacy in the upcoming 2023 NFL season.
What Insiders are Saying
"The Jaguars and Titans have clearly separated themselves. Houston will be improved, and I think DeMeco has a team that can surprise some people. The Colts are kind of a mess, I think the coaching staff has a chance to be good, but they have made a complete mess of getting them acceptable talent to compete." - NFC East Personnel Director
Offseason Acquisition Who Will Shape the AFC South Race: Calvin Ridley, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
Technically, the Jaguars acquired Ridley in a trade deadline deal with the Atlanta Falcons last fall, but the veteran wide receiver will be making his Jacksonville debut Week 1 of this season, following a suspension for violating the NFL's gambling policy. Ridley's impact on the Jaguars' offensive fortunes has the potential to be transformational. After making major strides in his first season under head coach Doug Pederson, Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence now adds a major weapon to his arsenal, who averaged 15.3 Yards Per Reception in 2020, his most recent fully healthy season.
AFC South Projected Standings
Jacksonville Jaguars (10-7)
The Jaguars have arrived among the AFC's elite.
Buoyed by a young defense that's headlined by three former first-round picks, including 2022 No. 1 overall selection Travon Walker, Jacksonville proved to be a tough out last season and quickly embodied the culture of Super Bowl winning head coach Doug Pederson. Trevor Lawrence surpassed 4,000 yards and threw 25 touchdowns while cutting his interception total from 17 as a rookie to eight in 2022. One playoff victory should be considered the floor for the Jaguars moving forward, so long as Lawrence continues to ascend and thanks to the young talent that's littered throughout this roster.
Tennessee Titans (8-9)
Tennessee enters the 2023 campaign looking like a franchise that's teetering between making one last postseason push with its current core and fully embracing a rebuild.
Yes, the Titans re-signed All-Pro defensive lineman Jeffrey Simmons. So, too is Derrick Henry back, after rushing for 1,538 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. And, while adding DeAndre Hopkins signals that the organization is all in on going for it in 2023, questions remain whether Ryan Tannehill can carry the Titans over the top and back into the postseason. Drafting quarterback Will Levis also signals that general manager Ran Carthon has at least one eye towards the future. If Tennessee is going to be serious about making a run in 2023, the defense will need to improve significantly against the pass, after allowing a league-high 4,671 yards last season.
Houston Texans (6-11)
A new era is dawning for the Houston Texans, and the amount of premier young talent on both sides of the football gives plenty of reason to be optimistic that this franchise's future has never been brighter.
Houston will likely take its share of lumps in 2023, but if prodigal son and first-year head coach DeMeco Ryans can get the Texans young core to buy into a competitive culture, that will be viewed as a success. Adding potential franchise quarterback C.J. Stroud with the No. 1 overall pick and trading up for arguably the top edge rusher in the 2023 class, Will Anderson, was a total coup pulled off by embattled general manager Nick Caserio. But, the ancillary additions made over the offseason; veteran tight end Dalton Schultz, wide receivers Robert Woods, Noah Brown, and versatile running back Devin Singletary set Stroud up for a soft landing as a rookie.
Indianapolis Colts (5-12)
One year removed from a nightmarish 4-12-1 campaign, the Indianapolis Colts are hoping new head coach Shane Steichen can mold incredibly athletic rookie Anthony Richardson into a franchise quarterback, while providing some stability to a franchise in desperate need of it.
The Colts' season seems to be careening towards playing out with star running back Jonathan Taylor's contract drama as a backdrop, but adding speedy receiver Josh Downs and veteran Isaiah McKenzie give Richardson some weapons. Indianapolis' defense is a complete work in progress. But, if Richardson's upside matches his talent and potential, the Colts will be far closer to competing in 2024 than they appear destined to be in 2023.
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