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AFC South projected starters for 2023 NFL season: Jaguars clear division favorites; Colts in the mix

With the 2023 NFL Draft and most of free agency in the rearview, Gregg Rosenthal will project starting lineups for all 32 teams because that's his idea of fun. Check out the AFC South breakdowns below.

Table inside Article
QB C.J. Stroud DE Will Anderson Jr.
RB Dameon Pierce DT Sheldon Rankins
WR Nico Collins DT Maliek Collins
WR Robert Woods DE Jerry Hughes
WR Tank Dell OLB Christian Harris
TE Dalton Schultz MLB Denzel Perryman
LT Laremy Tunsil CB Derek Stingley Jr.
LG Kenyon Green CB Shaquill Griffin
C Juice Scruggs CB Steven Nelson
RG Shaq Mason S Jimmie Ward
RT Tytus Howard S Jalen Pitre
  • This is the first Texans projected starting lineup in three years that I'm looking forward to watching. It's a start!
  • C.J. Stroud's presence is the biggest reason why Houston should be watchable, but the 2023 Texans also have more intriguing options than in years past at the skill positions and along the offensive line -- options that could be legitimately good.
  • Offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik comes from the Kyle Shanahan coaching tree, which should only help Dameon Pierce. Perhaps the most violent runner in football, Pierce could put up monster numbers. Devin Singletary is one of the league's best backups.
  • The extension for LT Laremy Tunsil was a good sign Houston is trying to win now. The tackles are strong, while the Texans have put huge resources into a boom-or-bust interior line with two high picks and a new contract for Shaq Mason.
  • There isn't a No. 1 receiver on this roster. There might not even be a No. 2. But I love third-rounder Tank Dell's chances to speed past defenders. Nico Collins has shown flashes as a pro, and Robert Woods can provide a steady hand. Also, 2022 second-round pick John Metchie III is returning after missing a year battling leukemia.
  • It won't be a shock if four Texans top 500 yards receiving -- with none over 1,000 -- and it's tight end Dalton Schultz leading the way.
  • It's going to be difficult for Will Anderson Jr. to prove he's worth the four premium picks the Texans gave up for him, including a first-rounder in next year's draft. At least he has the right coach to lead him to stardom in DeMeco Ryans.
  • Anderson, Jerry Hughes and Jonathan Greenard shape up as a quality edge-rushing trio.
  • There are a few spots on defense (defensive tackle, middle linebacker, cornerback) where the Texans continue to annually fill in holes with middle class free-agent signings.
  • Half of the veteran signings (Sheldon Rankins, Denzel Perryman, Shaquill Griffin, Jimmie Ward) figure to hit. Ward could be a steal. I'm more concerned about the Texans developing their young players.
  • Safety Jalen Pitre looked like a future star as a rookie. Derek Stingley Jr. wasn't nearly as bad as some comparisons to Sauce Gardner made him out to be. Stingley was asked to do a lot and held up. Look for Year 2 improvement there.
  • The schedule looks easy on paper, but this Texans roster still feels a year away from a winning record. The Anderson trade felt desperate and set expectations higher because landing in the draft's top five again -- with that pick going to Arizona -- would be a fiasco.
Table inside Article
QB Anthony Richardson DE Kwity Paye
RB Jonathan Taylor DT DeForest Buckner
WR Michael Pittman Jr. DT Grover Stewart
WR Alec Pierce DE Samson Ebukam
WR Josh Downs OLB Zaire Franklin
TE Jelani Woods MLB Shaquille Leonard
LT Bernhard Raimann CB Isaiah Rodgers Sr.
LG Quenton Nelson CB Kenny Moore II
C Ryan Kelly CB JuJu Brents
RG Will Fries S Julian Blackmon
RT Braden Smith S Rodney Thomas II
  • Gardner Minshew could start the regular season if Anthony Richardson doesn't look ready in August. But I suspect the offseason focus will be on getting Richardson to play as early as possible. He'll presumably take the majority of quarterback snaps this season. The goal will be to have him ready for Week 1.
  • Jonathan Taylor can expect more holes running alongside Richardson in Shane Steichen's offense.
  • Rookie Josh Downs is a perfect fit for this offense. He reminds me a lot of Hunter Renfrow. The Colts need a slot receiver to complement two true outside threats. Downs vs. Isaiah McKenzie is a camp battle to watch.
  • Tight ends Jelani Woods and Mo Alie-Cox figure to play plenty in Steichen's attack. Alie-Cox's complete game could keep him on the field.
  • The Colts are bringing back most of an extremely disappointing offensive line. General manager Chris Ballard paid a huge amount for a lousy product last year.
  • Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly and Braden Smith have all played better previously. But the best hope here is that Steichen's coaching and scheme helps the group improve as a unit.
  • Left tackle Bernhard Raimann is the biggest concern, although he improved as his rookie season wore on. This roster screams for a veteran addition at tackle.
  • The depth isn't great on the defensive line, but that's a promising starting unit. The defensive tackles rival any pair.
  • I'll give Samson Ebukam the slight edge over Dayo Odeyingbo for a starting spot since Ebukam was in a similar scheme last season. Odeyingbo and Kwity Paye making the leap together would be a massive development for this unit.
  • The Colts spent a little extra to keep third linebacker E.J. Speed. I saw that as Shaquille Leonard insurance, in case the three-time first-team All-Pro can't get back on the field after undergoing back surgery. If Leonard isn't ready, Zaire Franklin can play in his spot with Speed next to him.
  • There is a lot of projection going on in the secondary. Isaiah Rodgers Sr. and Rodney Thomas II were pleasant surprises last season, but can they do it again?
  • JuJu Brents is part of a rookie class that's all about insane athletic testing. If the Colts can't win the division, they could probably win an NFL decathlon.
  • I'm a believer in Richardson's floor and Steichen's coaching. The Jaguars are AFC South favorites, but it's a leaky enough division for the Colts to stay in the mix with this roster.
Table inside Article
QB Trevor Lawrence Edge Travon Walker
RB Travis Etienne Jr. DE Roy Robertson-Harris
WR Christian Kirk DT DaVon Hamilton
WR Calvin Ridley Edge Josh Allen
WR Zay Jones OLB Foye Oluokun
TE Evan Engram MLB Devin Lloyd
LT Walker Little CB Tyson Campbell
LG Tyler Shatley CB Darious Williams
C Luke Fortner CB Tre Herndon
RG Brandon Scherff S Andre Cisco
RT Anton Harrison S Rayshawn Jenkins
  • There's not a lot new to say about Jacksonville because this is virtually the same team as a year ago. That's mostly a good thing.
  • Last offseason's aggressive spending paid off for the 2022 Jaguars. Their biggest acquisition for 2023 was made at the trade deadline, when they acquired Calvin Ridley. He might not be a true No. 1 receiver, but he doesn't need to be. He's more talented than Christian Kirk and Zay Jones, who both thrived under Doug Pederson.
  • Kirk and Jones' numbers might fall, but they've proven they fit in this offense. It will be tough to predict who will lead the way each week, which is how Pederson likes it.
  • Running back Travis Etienne Jr. proved he can handle a big workload. But drafting Tank Bigsby should help lessen Etienne's wear and tear, especially in short-yardage situations.
  • It all clicked for Trevor Lawrence in the second half of last season. He's not in the Joe Burrow/Josh Allen tier yet, but he doesn't have to improve much to get there. He just has to prove he can maintain the same accuracy and clear-headedness, stacking up seasons like the greats.
  • Left tackle Cam Robinson will be suspended to start the year. That leaves third-year pro Walker Little and first-round pick Anton Harrison as the likely starters at the tackle spots, although I'm not sure who will play each side. Jawaan Taylor left for Kansas City, so this is the biggest area of change for the team.
  • The offense looks mostly set. This Jags team will go as far as the defensive improvement takes it.
  • The pass rush wasn't good enough a year ago. 2022 No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker was expected to be a slow burn and that was the case. Now's the time to see growth. There isn't great depth behind him.
  • Jacksonville also needs improvement at the linebacker level. Foye Oluokun got better as last season wore on. Devin Lloyd often looked lost as a rookie despite making some splash plays.
  • Tyson Campbell developed into a true No. 1 cornerback. I'm a little surprised Darious Williams has stuck around despite his big contract.
  • I don't blame the Jaguars much for bringing back the same defense. They made their offseason push last year and it worked. You can't do that every offseason. They need their draft picks to develop and their veterans to improve in defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell's system.
  • Building a good-to-great offense with a young star QB is the way to go, even if the defense is suspect. In most divisions, the Jaguars would be another team in the mix. In the AFC South, they are the clear favorites.
Table inside Article
QB Ryan Tannehill Edge Harold Landry III
RB Derrick Henry DT Jeffery Simmons
WR Treylon Burks DT Teair Tart
WR Nick Westbrook-Ikhine DE Denico Autry
WR Kyle Philips Edge Arden Key
TE Chigoziem Okonkwo MLB Azeez Al-Shaair
LT Andre Dillard CB Kristian Fulton
LG Peter Skoronski CB Roger McCreary
C Aaron Brewer CB Sean Murphy-Bunting
RG Daniel Brunskill S Kevin Byard
RT Nicholas Petit-Frere S Amani Hooker
  • I heard whispers that the Falcons were interested in Ryan Tannehill before the draft, but a deal never happened. Could that change in August if Titans second-round pick Will Levis looks great and/or Desmond Ridder doesn't?
  • Tannehill can still play. I blame most of his statistical decline on the awful situation around him. The offensive line has been a disaster for two years.
  • Oh, and Tannehill will be throwing to the NFL's thinnest receiver group if Tennessee doesn't add any talent. Nick Westbrook-Ikhine is theoretically the team's No. 2 receiver, but he was so devalued by the Titans that they non-tendered him before giving him a contract for $1.26 million.
  • If the Titans want to trade Derrick Henry now or during the season, they have a ready-made starter in rookie Tyjae Spears.
  • Treylon Burks topped my modest expectations as a rookie. He can be a quality part of a rotation, but it feels way too early to ask him to be a true No. 1 option.
  • I love me some Chig Okonkwo. He's tough to take down in the open field and has good hands for someone that athletic.
  • No. 11 overall pick Peter Skoronski could play left guard or right tackle. Free-agent addition Andre Dillard figures to get the first crack at the left tackle job after failing to get on the field in Philly.
  • The Titans shuffled the deck on the offensive line and changed coaches. But the track record here is poor enough to have low expectations. Improving to close to average would be massive.
  • I listed five defensive players up front partly because that's where so many of my favorite Titans play. This group could prevent Tennessee from falling to the bottom of the division, along with Mike Vrabel's coaching.
  • Like a lot of teams, the Titans are now going cheap at off-ball linebacker. Azeez Al-Shaair looked ready for a bigger role when he was in San Francisco.
  • Combine the depth of this defensive line and the potential in the secondary, and it's not much different than the defense that helped Tennessee earn the No. 1 seed just two seasons ago.
  • Safety Kevin Byard is yet another Titans veteran whose future looked uncertain in the offseason when Tennessee asked him to take a pay cut. Like Tannehill and Henry, he doesn't feel like a lock to stay all season.
  • Kristian Fulton is underrated and Roger McCreary looks like a keeper at cornerback. The Titans kept drafting corners until a few stuck.
  • The more I look at this roster, the more I think it makes sense to trade Tannehill and Henry, bottom out, and get in the mix for one of the top quarterbacks in next year's draft. If Levis is a pleasant surprise, all the better -- Levis or the high draft pick would have trade value.

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