Last week, we started to unveil our preseason All-Division teams. They were compiled largely by a panel of one, though there was significant input from the writing and editorial staff at after I took an initial run at the rosters on my own. 

We began last week with the NFC, going through each of the NFC East, NFC North, NFC South, and NFC West. This week, it’s on to the AFC. We’ve already gone through the AFC East and AFC North, and continue below with the AFC South. 

Offensive skill positions

QB: Deshaun Watson (HOU)

RB: Derrick Henry (TEN), David Johnson (HOU)

WR: T.Y. Hilton (IND), A.J. Brown (TEN), D.J. Chark (JAX)

TE: Jonnu Smith (TEN), Jack Doyle (IND)

Watson has played most of his career behind a dreadful offensive line and been a superstar anyway. Why should we expect anything different when you trade away his best wide receiver? He’s just going to keep on succeeding. The QB slot was an easy call. 

Henry led the NFL in rushing last season and looks like a sure bet to be the only true feature back in this division. Every other team is either splitting time between multiple backs (Houston, Indianapolis) or tried as best it could to get rid of their top back this offseason (Jacksonville). With the uncertainty regarding which of Marlon Mack and Jonathan Taylor will lead the Colts’ backfield, we’ll lean toward David Johnson here, even if only because Bill O’Brien has already shown he won’t make Duke Johnson the lead back even when he is the most talented back on the team. 

It was tempting to pick one of Will Fuller or Brandin Cooks for one of the receiver spots, but it’s tough to count on either of them to make it through a full season, so we went with a trio of players who have similar or greater impact but better health track records. Hilton had a down year in 2019 but he has been extraordinarily productive in every season where his starting quarterback has not been either injured or retired. Brown was one of the most efficient receivers in the NFL as a rookie and should see a significant bump in volume and snap rate this year, while Chark showed excellent chemistry with Gardner Minshew during his breakout sophomore season. 

The tight end crop in this division is not great, to say the least, so we went with the athletic Smith, who should finally take over the full-time role in Tennessee; and Doyle, who will be a valuable security blanket for Philip Rivers in Indy.

Offensive line

OT: Laremy Tunsil (HOU), Anthony Castonzo (IND)

G: Quenton Nelson (IND), Rodger Saffold (TEN)

C: Brandon Linder (JAX)

This is a really good offensive line. Tunsil just deservingly got a monster contract, and while he probably shouldn’t be the highest-paid tackle in the league by quite that wide a margin, he had the Texans over a barrel after they traded so much to get him. He’s a quality starter who raises the floor and ceiling of their line. Castonzo, teammate Braden Smith, and Titans tackle Taylor Lewan each would have been good options for the other tackle slot after Jack Conklin left Tennessee, but we went with the one who is best in pass protection. 

Nelson is either the best or second-best guard in the league (along with Zack Martin) and that will not be changing for the foreseeable future unless we remove the qualifier and just deem him the best, bar none. He’s a shoo-in here. Saffold is an absolute mauler in the run game and has gotten better in protection over the years, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ second-best pass blocking guard in the division last season. Linder, meanwhile, remains one of the most underrated linemen in the NFL and is a top-notch starter when healthy. 

Defensive front

EDGE: Josh Allen (JAX), Justin Houston (IND)

IDL: J.J. Watt (HOU), DeForest Buckner (IND)

LB: Darius Leonard (IND), Benardrick McKinney (HOU), Jayon Brown (TEN)

Allen had a terrific rookie season, notching 10.5 sacks, 23 additional quarterback hits, and 11 tackles for loss. He may be more of a focus for opposing offensive lines with Yannick Ngakoue presumably no longer rushing across from him, but the skill set is there for him to continue to excel. Houston showed last season that he is still more than capable of getting after the passer, and with the Colts expected to be in some better game scripts this season, he could put up better pass-rush numbers than he did a year ago. 

Watt is no longer the best defender in the game, but he’s still a lot better than almost everybody not named Aaron Donald. When he’s on the field, he is practically impossibly to block. Buckner is worth every bit of what the Colts gave up to get him and then keep him long-term, a terrific interior presence against both the pass and the run who should help take Matt Eberflus’ defense to the next level. 

Leonard took a slight step backward in 2019 after a remarkable rookie campaign, but with the expected improvements coming from the Colts — and with better play in front of him — he should get back on track in 2020. McKinney and Brown are both really strong pass defenders, and their heavier snap rates got them the nod here over players like Bobby Okereke.  

Defensive backfield

CB: Bradley Roby (HOU), Adoree’ Jackson (TEN), D.J. Hayden (JAX)

SAF: Kevin Byard (TEN), Justin Reid (HOU)

This is not the best division for defensive back talent, but Roby, Jackson, and Hayden have each emerged as solidly above-average starters. Roby and Hayden are each at their best in the slot and Jackson is more of a perimeter guy, but they can all hold their own at the position. Byard probably won’t ever get eight interceptions in a season again like he did in 2017, but he has nine over the past two years combined and that will do just fine. He’s excellent in coverage on the back end of the Tennessee defense. Reid, like his brother, Eric, is a quality starting safety and should be for the next several years. 


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