2022 NFL Season Preview: AFC South
By: Logan Lepiscopo
The Tennessee Titans locked up the number one seed in the playoffs last season and did not get very far after falling to the Cincinnati Bengals in the divisional round. The Titans traded away A.J. Brown on night one of the 2022 NFL draft and proceeded to pick Arkansas’ Treylon Burks with the 18th overall pick. The Titans also picked up Roger McCreary and Nicholas Petit-Frere, but most notably with the 22nd pick in the third round Malik Willis’ name was called. Tannehill’s time is running out in Tennessee, and there was not much done for him either in free agency. The Titans brought Austin Hooper in to start at the tight end position, and re-signed Dontrell Hilliard. Outside of those two players listed above the Titans did not do anything noteworthy.
Strengths: The King is back! Derrick Henry, the backbone of this team will be back in action after a season-ending injury in 2021. Defensively the front seven of the team is a strength when looking at Tennessee’s depth chart top to bottom. Jeffery Simmons, Denico Autry, Harold Landry III, Zach Cunningham, and Bud Dupree will be very solid players when trying to contain opposing running backs and get after the quarterback.
Weaknesses: Wide Receivers are a clear weak spot on the Titans roster. Robert Woods is coming off of a torn ACL, Treylon Burks is having trouble breathing with asthma and the heat in Tennessee, and no other name is worth really mentioning. The cornerback room in Tennessee is not terrible but it is a lot of unproven
The Colts just missed the 2021-2022 NFL postseason and Indianapolis is looking to take that next step and not only get into the playoffs but win the AFC South. The Colts acquired veteran Matt Ryan to take over the quarterback position and added a veteran on the defensive side of the ball Stephon Gilmore. The Colts brought in several other small pieces for the team in free agency and in the 2022 NFL draft. The Colts did not have a first-round selection for the 2022 NFL draft, their first selection was in the second round and Indianapolis selected Cincinnati Bearcats wide receiver Alec Pierce. T.Y Hilton is still a free agent, and with no sign of a re-signing Pierce will fill in as either the second or third wide receiver.
Strengths: The Colts team is very well rounded, offensively, and defensively Indianapolis is a quality playoff team. On offense Matt Ryan will bring a veteran presence that the team has not seen in quite some time. Jonathan Taylor is coming off of an incredible sophomore year and he is looking to replicate that this next year. The passing game is not necessarily a strength but Michael Pittman Jr. and Nyheim Hines out of the backfield will likely be leaned on. The offensive line is definitely weaker from last season to this upcoming season but nonetheless it is one of the better ones in the NFL. On defense there is honestly nothing to dislike, the defensive line is very well rounded now with the addition of Yannick Ngakoue. Linebacker is amazing, backed by Shaquille Leonard (formerly Darius) and Bobby Okereke.
Weaknesses: Wide receiver depth, Pittman Jr. is the clear-cut number one in Indianapolis but after that it is a bunch of unproven talent. Cornerback I am a little skeptical of outside of Kenny Moore II. Gilmore is a great veteran presence but is definitely on the decline of his career. The safety position is even a little worrisome with two brand new starting safeties, one being rookie Nick Cross and the other newly signed Rodney McLeod. I fully expect the Colts to not only be a playoff team but win the AFC South.
The 2021-22 NFL season was not kind to the Houston Texans who finished with a 4-13 and a top three pick in the 2022 NFL draft. The Texans went all in during free agency having over 20 free agent signings, including those by the names of A.J. Cann and Kamu Grugier-Hill. There are many many more names to list, but none will serve an impact quite like Cann and Grugier-Hill. In the NFL draft the Texans made a huge splash taking Derek Stingley Jr. number three overall. Kenyon Green accompanied Stingley just 12 picks later, as Green looks to work his way into the starting lineup week one. Jalen Pitre has been a star so far in camp, unfortunately Pitre’s fellow second round pick John Metchie III will not play in 2022 due to his diagnosis of Leukemia. The Texans hit in the late rounds too with linebacker Christian Harris and running back Dameon Pierce.
Strengths: Realistically when looking at the Texans roster compared to the others in the league there are no strengths to it, nothing that really gives Houston an edge over an opponent. There are a handful of players I could pick on the Texans team that are a strong part of the team; Brandin Cooks, Laremy Tunsil, A.J. Cann, and Eric Murray. Davis Mills brings stability to the quarterback position but not necessarily a strength of the team. If there was a position to pick as a strength, I would say the linebacker group. Neville Hewitt, Christian Kirksey, and Kamu Grugier-Hill are not incredible but overall are the best position group on the Texans roster.
Weaknesses: I would say that the Texans roster from top to bottom is a slightly below average team, but on the verge of being average. In terms of weaknesses the Houston Texans still have a lot of holes, but most notably I would say is the running back position. Marlon Mack is past his time and Rex Burkhead is nothing more than a goal line back. Rookie Dameon Pierce will look to change that and be the Texans next best running back since Arian Foster. Another glaring hole for the Texans is the offensive line, there are those bits and pieces that are a strength to the team but overall it is a below average unit. The Texans should improve from their four-win season last year but will likely still finish a bottom 3 team in the AFC.
DUUUUVAL! Jacksonville has a new man in charge by the name of Doug Pederson, and I expect for him to change this Jaguars team around from it being repeat number one overall pick seasons. The Jaguars free agency will be memorable mostly for Christian Kirk’s overpaid contract, but also the amount of talent Jacksonville was able to bring in. Brandon Scherff, Foyesade Oluokun, and Darious Williams, just to cover the big-name players. The 2022 NFL draft was a huge success for the Jaguars, landing the most athletic player in the class Travon Walker, and perhaps the best linebacker Devin Llyod in the first round. The Jaguars third round selection Luke Fortner is set to be the team’s starting center, and Wyoming linebacker Chad Muma has the potential to become a starter on defense.
Strengths: Trevor Lawrence is a big strength for the team, based on his 2021-22 season you may not think so, but Doug Pederson is phenomenal when it comes to collaborating with quarterbacks. I expect Lawrence to take a huge step up in his sophomore season. The cornerback position looks like it could be a strength of the team also pairing up Shaquill Griffin and Darious Williams with Tyson Campbell as the three. The linebackers on this team could be one of the greatest groups in the NFL, especially with newly signed Oluokun who is the oldest of the starting linebackers at just 27 years old! Lastly, I would say that the running back position is a strength of the team, a fully healthy Travis Etienne Jr. has been making some big plays in camp and James Robinson still brings the potential to be an every down running back. Robinson should certainly take care of all the goal line work, with Etienne getting most of the carries and receiving work.
Weaknesses: Offensive line, I am hoping for a much bigger season for Trevor Lawrence, but a terrible offensive line could stop his campaign for a better sophomore season. Another weakness is the tight end position, Evan Engram being signed is nothing spectacular and Dan Arnold is not a quality starter. The safeties are a weak point as well, both Rayshawn Jenkins and Andrew Wingard being outside the top 32 graded safeties in 2021. Wingard was rather solid in coverage, whereas Jenkins struggled.