Projected Starters

AFC South projected starters for 2022 NFL season: No excuses for Colts; Titans take step back?

With the 2022 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
OFFENSEPLAYERDEFENSEPLAYER
QBDavis MillsDEJonathan Greenard
RBDameon PierceDTMaliek Collins
WRBrandin CooksDERasheem Green
WRNico CollinsOLBKamu Grugier-Hill
WRJohn Metchie IIILBChristian Kirksey
TEBrevin JordanOLBKevin Pierre-Louis
LTLaremy TunsilCBDerek Stingley Jr.
LGKenyon GreenCBSteven Nelson
CJustin BrittCBTavierre Thomas
RGMax ScharpingSJalen Pitre
RTTytus HowardSTerrence Brooks
  • Davis Mills was Nick Caserio's first draft pick, a move that could define this new era of Texans football. Mills showed enough high-end traits as a rookie to believe he could be the long-term answer at quarterback.
  • I gave Dameon Pierce, a rookie, the nod as the running back most likely to lead the team in touches. That's a lot to ask for a fourth-round pick, but what's the point of playing Marlon Mack or Rex Burkhead down the stretch?
  • Similarly, Nico Collins and John Metchie III might take a minute to earn playing time over veterans Chris Conley and Phillip Dorsett. But the tie goes to the youth movement in Houston. They should be trying to develop players, not chase six wins.
  • The offensive line still could use some work, but it's passable. Laremy Tunsil remains a huge asset if healthy and Kenyon Green was the No. 15 pick, presumably because the Texans believed he was a safe bet.
  • The Texans' defense was the hardest unit to project in the entire NFL. There should be competition at virtually every position except outside cornerback, where Derek Stingley Jr. and Steven Nelson should be the top two.
  • Players who performed better in Houston last season than you probably realize: Jonathan Greenard, Tavierre Thomas and Maliek Collins.
  • Safety Jalen Pitre was a bit of a surprise pick in the second round, but the position is wide open for him to step in as a rookie starter.
  • This roster is a start. The 2022 version of the Texans has a lot of young players, especially the rookies, who could stick as core pieces. Last season mostly felt like treading water; now the Texans should start moving forward.
Table inside Article
OFFENSEPLAYERDEFENSEPLAYER
QBMatt RyanDEKwity Paye
RBJonathan TaylorDTDeForest Buckner
WRMichael Pittman Jr.DTGrover Stewart
WRAlec PierceDEYannick Ngakoue
WRParris CampbellLBDarius Leonard
TEMo Alie-CoxLBBobby Okereke
LTMatt PryorCBStephon Gilmore
LGQuenton NelsonCBIsaiah Rodgers
CRyan KellyCBKenny Moore
RGDanny PinterSJulian Blackmon
RTBraden SmithSKhari Willis
  • Frank Reich and Philip Rivers' big brains and reliance on quick decisions worked great together. Expect the same from Reich and Matt Ryan.
  • The signing of Nick Foles was part of a post-draft shoring up of depth that I expect to continue. Phillip Lindsay was added as a trustworthy third running back. Another veteran receiver would make sense, too.
  • Will that veteran be T.Y. Hilton? He has kept in contact with Colts general manager Chris Ballard and it sounds like he’ll be in the league again, whether he signs with Indianapolis or not.
  • Ballard is walking a fine line at receiver. The youth movement makes sense, but what if second-round pick Alec Pierce isn't ready right away? The Colts would like someone from their young depth to step up between Parris Campbell, Mike Strachan, Dezmon Patmon and Ashton Dulin, but there isn't a single receiver over 26 years old on the roster.
  • The offense will get to another level if rookie tight end Jelani Woods can contribute sooner than later. He has explosive ability.
  • The Colts' offensive line isn't necessarily still a huge strength. The Pro Football Focus grades were only a little better than average last year and there are two new starters, including a question mark at left tackle.
  • Third-round pick Bernhard Raimann will eventually have a chance to win the left tackle job. Matt Pryor is a career backup who can play multiple positions.
  • Isaiah Rodgers and Brandon Facyson are competing at one outside corner spot. Former Eagles safety Rodney McLeod could be a big factor if the Colts want to use more three safety looks or if Khari Willis struggles.
  • Kwity Paye showed enough as a rookie to believe more is coming. Yannick Ngakoue was a strong pickup. Dayo Odeyingbo will probably be a starter on passing downs for a Colts front that needed more juice last season.
  • The Colts have been stuck in the upper middle class for a while. I was ready to be down on them this year because of the offensive line and my general boredom, but this is a well put together roster. They don't have an excuse to miss the playoffs.
Table inside Article
OFFENSEPLAYERDEFENSEPLAYER
QBTrevor LawrenceDERoy Robertson-Harris
RBJames RobinsonDTFoley Fatukasi
WRChristian KirkOLBJosh Allen
WRMarvin JonesLBFoye Oluokun
WRZay JonesLBDevin Lloyd
TEEvan EngramOLBTravon Walker
LTCam RobinsonCBShaquill Griffin
LGBen BartchCBDarious Williams
CTyler ShatleyCBTyson Campbell
RGBrandon ScherffSRayshawn Jenkins
RTWalker LittleSAndre Cisco
  • The biggest offseason addition for the Jaguars would be a massive second-year leap for Trevor Lawrence. His excellent traits (ball placement, pocket movement) showed up as a rookie but he was often tentative and slow to register what was happening around him. The improved coaching and speed around Lawrence should improve his decision-making.
  • Travis Etienne is a perfect example of how this Jaguars offense should be different. Drafted by Urban Meyer, Etienne's speed and versatility should diversify the attack. In a perfect world, he'd end up with more snaps than James Robinson.
  • The Jags' aggressive offseason reminds me of the Pats' from 2021. After all the money spent, this is still not an above-average receiver group. But it's way closer to average than last season's, and that means a lot.
  • Zay Jones was the strangest signing for the money. Don't be surprised if one of the Jags' reserves (Jamal Agnew, Laquon Treadwell or Laviska Shenault Jr.) outplays him.
  • Evan Engram could be the best value of the signings. Coach Doug Pederson will get Engram the ball plenty if he stays healthy.
  • The Jaguars' offensive line wasn't a problem last season and it projects better this year with Brandon Scherff bulking up the run blocking. Walker Little, a second-round pick in 2021, and 2019 second-round pick Jawaan Taylor will battle at right tackle.
  • That's a good-looking defensive front seven. The Jaguars are expected to be flexible but will often play three defensive linemen, leaving Josh Allen and No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker as outside linebackers.
  • Not every pickup or draft pick will work out. That's why my favorite part of the defense is the depth and options Jacksonville has built. Dawuane Smoot and Malcom Brown will rotate with the starters up front. Arden Key is a quality third pass rusher who can play multiple positions.
  • Walker is a mystery. If he produces like Key did in San Francisco last year, for instance, the Jaguars would likely consider that a big success.
  • The off-ball linebackers are totally overhauled. Many teams (like Pederson's former employer) de-emphasize the position, but the Jaguars invested major resources in Foye Oluokun and first-rounder Devin Lloyd.
  • Last year in this space I wondered if the Jaguars had three outside corners and no obvious option at nickel. The same is true this year. After handing out big money to Darious Williams, is Tyson Campbell guaranteed to start? Safety and nickel back are two of the only open competitions on the roster.
  • The Jaguars entered each of the last two seasons with a bottom-three NFL roster. That's no longer the case. Expectations should be higher this season; they can be competitive in a weak division.
Table inside Article
OFFENSEPLAYERDEFENSEPLAYER
QBRyan TannehillDEDenico Autry
RBDerrick HenryDTJeffery Simmons
WRRobert WoodsOLBHarold Landry
WRTreylon BurksILBDavid Long
WRNick Westbrook-IkhineILBZach Cunningham
TEAustin HooperOLBBud Dupree
LTTaylor LewanCBKristian Fulton
LGAaron BrewerCBRoger McCreary
CBen JonesCBElijah Molden
RGNate DavisSKevin Byard
RTDillon RadunzSAmani Hooker
  • Ryan Tannehill had a rough offseason. The addition of Malik Willis will inspire questions he'll find annoying, but the lack of talent to support either quarterback is a bigger concern.
  • Perhaps Derrick Henry can continue to break all the rules. But it wasn't just Tannehill's interceptions that stopped the Titans' offense in January. Henry had 62 yards in Tennessee's Divisional Round loss to the Bengals, as the Titans fed him 20 carries behind an offensive line that didn't win enough.
  • That line is a major concern. While it is built to run-block well and did for most of the year, it was already one of the worst pass-blocking groups in football. There's little reason to believe that will improve this season.
  • Tannehill loves to give his receivers a chance to win on contested catches. Treylon Burks should eventually do well in that category, but he's not A.J. Brown. Burks' touches at Arkansas were manufactured and he could have growing pains while learning the nuances of NFL route-running.
  • The combination of a poor pass-blocking line and receivers who don't necessarily get open quickly is a recipe for Tannehill to take a lot of huge hits. Like Henry, that has to catch up to him eventually, right?
  • I loved the Titans picking Willis. I'm just surprised they didn't address the offensive line more this offseason.
  • The most trustworthy part of this roster remains its defensive front. The Titans can rotate in quality bulk with Teair Tart. Jeffery Simmons, Harold Landry and Denico Autry are a lot to deal with.
  • Bud Dupree was up and down in his first season in Tennessee, like much of his career in Pittsburgh. He's another year removed from ACL surgery and is a key barometer for the defense.
  • Zach Cunningham is typical of a defense that looks stronger defending the run than it does stopping the pass.
  • What a boom-or-bust secondary. Last year's first-round pick, Caleb Farley, isn't listed above, but will be in the mix for a starting job. It's a winning safety duo and there is great potential in four highly drafted cornerbacks, but they still have a lot to prove.
  • The Titans' coaching staff and front office deserve the benefit of the doubt. They develop players well and come up with a cohesive group even when there are questions at so many positions. Tannehill is far from the team's biggest problem.
  • The Titans' statistical profile was closer to that of a 9-8 team than a No. 1 seed. They had a toughness that numbers can't fully capture, but the roster looks worse overall now.

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