The AFC South was a division of polar opposites last season, with the Colts and Titans battling for divisional supremacy through the final week and both making the playoffs, while the Texans and Jaguars finished with two of the three worst records in the league. With Deshaun Watson’s status for the season still up in the air, Ryan Tannehill could be the only returning starting QB in the division. The Colts replaced Philip Rivers with Carson Wentz, while the Jaguars’ futility earned them Trevor Lawrence. As for what those QBs will have as their supporting cast, there’s been a lot of movement in this division this offseason. With the Colts being the only team in the top 25 of returning targets from this division, the other three teams’ ability to replace those lost targets will be crucial towards any success they could have.
Targets Retained: NFC South
Roster Moves through July 9th
- Overall Targets Returning: 53.8% (252 of 468) (31st)
- WR Targets Returning: 49.6% (140 of 282) (31st)
- TE Targets Returning: 42.1% (53 of 126) (26th)
- RB/FB Targets Returning: 98.3% (57 of 58) (5th)
In Corey Davis, Adam Humphries and Kalif Raymond, the Titans lost their WR2, WR3 and WR4 from 2020, leaving a gaping hole to be filled. That hole has been filled quite nicely though, as they added Julio Jones in a role that will probably be larger than Davis’ was and Josh Reynolds as the new WR3. With full health from Jones, Reynolds and returning WR1 A.J. Brown, the Titans should have no issue replacing those WR targets, as Jones and Reynolds had more targets combined in 2020 than Davis, Humphries and Raymond, despite Jones only playing in nine games. As a result, it seems likely the WR target share will increase in this offense, likely coming at the expense of the TEs. Jonnu Smith and MyCole Pruitt both depart, taking 73 targets from last season and the Titans made no major TE additions to fill those holes. Brian Hill also joins as RB depth, but shouldn’t see too many targets. Overall, the Titans still have Derrick Henry, so there will be a sizable running focus, but the passing game will look quite different from last season.
- Overall Targets Returning: 85.4% (457 of 535) (13th)
- WR Targets Returning: 89% (250 of 281) (9th)
- TE Targets Returning: 60.8% (73 of 120) (23rd)
- RB/FB Targets Returning: 100% (134 of 134) (T-1st)
Carson Wentz has been added as the new starting QB, replacing Philip Rivers, but the Colts return their top three WRs, their whole RB room and two of their three main TEs from last season. At the WR position, Marcus Johnson and Daurice Fountain are the losses, taking 31 targets with them. Mike Strachan, a seventh-round pick, has been added, but can’t really have much expected of him, so internal improvement and health will be needed from guys like Michael Pittman, Zach Pascal and Parris Campbell to maximize this offense. The TE group returns Jack Doyle and Mo Alie-Cox but lost Trey Burton who led the group in targets last season. Fourth-round pick Kylen Granson will likely be the TE3 but won’t replace that large target share, so either Doyle and Alie-Cox will likely see an increase. The entire RB room returns, including Marlon Mack, who will likely return to a bigger role coming off his injury last year. The Colts’ target distribution should look relatively similar to last year with the younger players stepping up to replace the departed players.
- Overall Targets Returning: 62.9% (330 of 525) (27th)
- WR Targets Returning: 61.8% (207 of 335) (28th)
- TE Targets Returning: 72% (72 of 100) (19th)
- RB/FB Targets Returning: 54.4% (49 of 90) (26th)
The Texans are a team in chaos at the moment, not knowing the status of Deshaun Watson for the upcoming season and coming off a four-win season. Going into next season, whoever ends up being the QB will have to deal with an overhauled supporting cast. Gone are Will Fuller, Kenny Stills, Chad Hansen, Duke Johnson and Darren Fells. Only Fuller was a starter at his position from that group, but that is quite an exodus of depth for a team that has had plenty of injury issues at these positions in recent years. Houston recognized that and focused on replenishing that depth, adding Andre Roberts, Chris Conley and Nico Collins at the WR position, Brevin Jordan at TE and Phillip Lindsay, Mark Ingram and Rex Burkhead at RB. The addition of those three RBs with only a single exit would seem to indicate the Texans will run the ball more frequently and probably also more frequently involve RBs in the passing game. We’ll have to wait and see if that’s actually the way it goes.
- Overall Targets Returning: 58.6% (343 of 585) (30th)
- WR Targets Returning: 57.9% (209 of 361) (29th)
- TE Targets Returning: 40.7% (44 of 108) (27th)
- RB/FB Targets Returning: 77.4% (89 of 115) (18th)
Considering they were the team with the most cap space in the NFL, the Jaguars experienced less overall roster turnover than probably would’ve been expected, but not at these positions. Keelan Cole and Chris Conley were Jacksonville’s WR2 and WR4, respectively, in 2020 and their departure opens up a ton of targets at the position. Jacksonville was extremely aggressive in addressing these vacancies, adding a bunch of receivers to solidify depth. Of that group, Marvin Jones Jr., Jamal Agnew and Phillip Dorsett seem most likely to fill the bigger roles in 2021. The TE position is a sizable question mark going into the season as Tyler Eifert departs, taking 60 targets with him. Chris Manhertz is the most notable addition, but he is a primarily blocking TE who has never reached 10 targets in a season. James O’Shaughnessy will likely be the leading TE in targets, but that could mean a sizable drop in TE target share. The RB position might see the opposite, as Chris Thompson’s departure open up 26 targets, but the additions of Carlos Hyde in free agency and Travis Etienne in the first round of the draft seem to indicate a growing commitment to using RBs in the passing game. Only time will tell if that’s the strategy that Urban Meyer and Darrell Bevell choose to use for their passing game with rookie QB Trevor Lawrence.