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AFC South projected starters for 2024 NFL season: Can Texans take next step? Do NOT sleep on Colts

With the 2024 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 Edge Will Anderson Jr.
RB Joe Mixon DT Foley Fatukasi
WR Stefon Diggs DT Denico Autry
WR Nico Collins Edge Danielle Hunter
WR Tank Dell LB Azeez Al-Shaair
TE Dalton Schultz LB Christian Harris
LT Laremy Tunsil CB Derek Stingley Jr.
LG Kenyon Green CB Kamari Lassiter
C Juice Scruggs CB Jeff Okudah
RG Shaq Mason S Jimmie Ward
RT Tytus Howard S Jalen Pitre
  • The Texans are back to being a national team after C.J. Stroud put up one of the best rookie quarterback seasons ever. Acquiring Stefon Diggs only adds to the hype.
  • Joe Mixon replaces Devin Singletary as RB1 in Houston. Mixon may be more consistent, but I'm not convinced it's a huge upgrade at this stage of the soon-to-be 28-year-old back's career. Dameon Pierce remains on hand to be a backup.
  • Diggs can still play at a high level, even if he's not necessarily the best receiver on this roster. Nico Collins' feet are incredibly quick for his size and he's terrific after the catch. The Texans have two top-20 wideouts and a great third option in Tank Dell.
  • The oft-injured offensive line remains a question mark at left guard and right tackle. Second-round pick Blake Fisher will get a chance to compete for the starting RT job right away, with Tytus Howard possibly moving inside to guard.
  • The defense is so different from last season. I project six new starters, with three on the defensive line alone. The moves all make sense in a vacuum, and DeMeco Ryans has shown a great ability to make the most out of players who struggled under previous coaches.
  • With that said, there's a lot of projection here. Jeff Okudah has struggled as a pro, and Kamari Lassiter was taken in the second round after a run on cornerbacks.
  • The freshly signed defensive tackle tandem of the ageless Denico Autry and Foley Fatukasi, who was cut by the Jaguars, will be asked to shore up a weak spot.
  • The best case for defensive improvement in Houston will come from the Texans' homegrown young players becoming true stars. Will Anderson Jr., Derek Stingley Jr. and Jalen Pitre are all capable.
  • It's worth remembering that the Texans profiled statistically as an average team for most of last year despite Stroud's great play. This franchise won just 11 games combined in the three seasons prior to the quarterback's arrival. Stroud should prevent Houston from taking a dip, but going from good to great might have to wait a year.
Table inside Article
QB Anthony Richardson Edge Kwity Paye
RB Jonathan Taylor DT DeForest Buckner
WR Michael Pittman Jr. DT Grover Stewart
WR Josh Downs Edge Laiatu Latu
WR Adonai Mitchell LB Zaire Franklin
TE Jelani Woods LB E.J. Speed
LT Bernhard Raimann CB JuJu Brents
LG Quenton Nelson CB Jaylon Jones
C Ryan Kelly CB Kenny Moore II
RG Will Fries S Julian Blackmon
RT Braden Smith S Nick Cross
  • The offensive line rebounded dramatically last season, which is a great sign for Shane Steichen's coaching prowess. The Colts can get after it in the RPO game and give Anthony Richardson the time he needs.
  • I was impressed with Richardson's decision making as a passer in his limited work last season. The accuracy was inconsistent as advertised, but he was composed in the pocket, made good reads and the running ability is next level.
  • Second-round receiver Adonai Mitchell gets the nod here over Alec Pierce, who has a similar-if-inferior skill set. If Mitchell hits, general manager Chris Ballard has finally rebuilt the receiver room past league average.
  • Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has run a defense or an entire team for every season since 2009, which is a remarkable run in a topsy-turvy league.
  • Zaire Franklin and E.J. Speed comprise one of the more underrated linebacker duos in the game. They fit what Bradley wants to accomplish.
  • It's wild how deep Indianapolis' defensive line is. Laiatu Latu, my favorite defensive player in the draft, completes a terrific starting group. Beyond the starters, the Colts have Samson Ebukam and Dayo Odeyingbo as explosive edge options.
  • The secondary is easily the biggest concern on this roster. JuJu Brents, Jaylon Jones and Dallis Flowers are the main options for the two outside cornerback spots. None of them are proven, making me wonder if Indianapolis might add a veteran like Stephon Gilmore or Xavien Howard.
  • The Colts did well to keep Julian Blackmon on a one-year deal. The other safety spot is likely up for grabs between Nick Cross and Rodney Thomas II. Again, this is a group praying to be average.
  • I've been overly bullish on the Colts' roster before, but this group has a lot of potential if Richardson delivers. It shouldn't be viewed as some big upset if they win the division.
Table inside Article
QB Trevor Lawrence Edge Josh Allen
RB Travis Etienne Jr. DT Arik Armstead
WR Christian Kirk DT Roy Robertson-Harris
WR Brian Thomas Jr. Edge Travon Walker
WR Gabe Davis LB Devin Lloyd
TE Evan Engram LB Foye Oluokun
LT Cam Robinson CB Tyson Campbell
LG Ezra Cleveland CB Ronald Darby
C Mitch Morse CB Jarrian Jones
RG Brandon Scherff S Andre Cisco
RT Anton Harrison S Darnell Savage
  • For better or worse, there isn't much mystery to the Jaguars' offense. Barring injury, these are the starters.
  • Getting Travis Etienne Jr. some outside help after using him so much last season wasn't a priority, indicating the team likes second-year pro Tank Bigsby to have a bigger role as a backup.
  • Calvin Ridley and Zay Jones are out; Gabe Davis and first-round pick Brian Thomas Jr. are in. This wasn't the initial plan, considering Jacksonville clearly wanted to re-sign Ridley, but Thomas has a higher ceiling than any receiver who's been on the Jaguars' roster since Allen Robinson.
  • The Jaguars have crazy speed with Davis, Thomas and Etienne. Trevor Lawrence should throw more vertical passes this season.
  • I'm surprised Cam Robinson is still on this team, but league-average tackles are hard to find. The line is ... fine.
  • Jacksonville's defense has many more questions than its offense. There's no depth at edge and the cornerback room could desperately use a veteran or three. Ronald Darby being an early free-agent signing and penciled in as a starter was a surprise, as was the Day 2 pick spent on Jarrian Jones to fill the slot-corner position.
  • New defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen creatively used his talent last season in Atlanta, so that should be a plus. The starting defensive line is rugged, like general manager Trent Baalke likes it.
  • Jacksonville was prematurely crowned as the heavy AFC South favorite heading into last season. Overall, the Jags are closer to the middle of the NFL in pure talent, although in the same ballpark as the Texans and Colts in the division.
Table inside Article
QB Will Levis Edge Harold Landry III
RB Tyjae Spears DT T'Vondre Sweat
WR DeAndre Hopkins DT Jeffery Simmons
WR Calvin Ridley Edge Arden Key
WR Tyler Boyd LB Kenneth Murray Jr.
TE Chig Okonkwo LB Cedric Gray
LT JC Latham CB L'Jarius Sneed
LG Peter Skoronski CB Chidobe Awuzie
C Lloyd Cushenberry III CB Roger McCreary
RG Daniel Brunskill S Amani Hooker
RT Nicholas Petit-Frere S Elijah Molden
  • Offensive line coach Bill Callahan was the biggest acquisition of the Titans' offseason. If he can transform one of the league's worst units into an above-average group, it makes the hire of head coach Brian Callahan worth it alone. The right side remains a mystery box, but the overall group looks promising, thanks to the signing of center Lloyd Cushenberry III and the investment of high draft picks on the left side.
  • Will Levis has a better chance to develop with these upgraded surroundings. The pass protection should be better. Calvin Ridley is a fine No. 2 option, even if he's not always where the quarterback expects him to be. Tyler Boyd was a smart signing after the draft.
  • Tyjae Spears and Tony Pollard figure to split backfield work evenly, although Spears showed more overall juice last season. He's excellent at making defenders miss in tight spaces.
  • There are more questions about the defense. New coordinator Dennard Wilson comes from Baltimore and will have to cover up some holes at safety and linebacker. The Titans have worse depth than most teams, so they can't afford many injuries.
  • Second-round pick T'Vondre Sweat was a divisive draft prospect even before he was arrested for a DWI in April. He'll be asked to play a major role right away.
  • Harold Landry III looked like his old self down the stretch last season. Jeffery Simmons is coming off an injury-plagued season, but he can be counted on. L'Jarius Sneed was an inspired pickup from Kansas City. Chidobe Awuzie is coming off his worst season in Cincinnati. The size of his contract was a surprise after such a down year.
  • The top-end talent is solid enough on defense; I just question the holes.
  • Considering how often Kenneth Murray Jr. struggled with the Chargers, this is among the weakest linebacker groups in football.
  • Squint and it's possible to see the makings of a fun, mostly-young offense. Odds are the defense will need some time to catch up as the Titans transition away from the Mike Vrabel era. The vision is probably a year away.

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