NFL preview 2019: AFC South player to watch, impact rookie, projected finish

first_img“(The injuries have) taken my joy of this game away. I’ve been stuck in this process,” Luck said. “I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live. After 2016, I played in pain and was unable to practice, I said I wouldn’t go through that again.”As much as Houston natives love Luck, who attended Stratford High School, fans of the Texans know this makes their team’s path to a fourth division title in the last five years more possible. Here is your 2019 AFC South division preview.Player to watchLeonard Fournette, Jaguars running backWhen the Jaguars drafted Fournette No. 4 overall in 2017, they knew what they wanted to do with him. They wanted to use the 6-foot, 228-pound bruiser to pound defenses into submission, control the play clock and let a supremely talented defense dictate the game. That worked in 2017 as Jacksonville made it all the way to the AFC title game where it lost to the Patriots.But in 2018, Fournette was hurt off and on and motivated about the same. He was called out at the end of the season by executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin for indifference on the sideline.“I am disappointed in the behavior today from T.J. Yeldon and Leonard Fournette,” Coughlin said at the time. “They were disrespectful, selfish and their behavior was unbecoming that of a professional football player.”Fournette cannot be that guy this season. The Jaguars still plan to run the offense through him, and with the addition of Nick Foles at quarterback and pass rusher Josh Allen in the draft, Jacksonville very well could fight for the division title. But if Fournette isn’t himself that dream can all but be kissed goodbye.Impact rookieJosh Allen, Jaguars OLB/DEThis isn’t a Jaguars preview — promise — but no team got luckier in the 2019 draft than Jacksonville. Mainly because Allen was evaluated by many as the single best player among draft-eligible players and he slipped all the way to No. 7 for the Jaguars to take.He even made it past the Giants, who desperately needed help with their pass rush but instead went for quarterback Daniel Jones — and preseason football notwithstanding — that is a pick that could be second-guessed for years to come.Allen joins an already talented defense and may immediately be the most talented player on it. He has size, he’s fast and he’s got moves. Adding a great pass rusher to an already dangerous defense is a scary proposition for the rest of the AFC South.Coach on the hot seatBill O’Brien, TexansThis is a tough one because Doug Marrone very well could be out as well in Jacksonville, but here is the thing: The Texans took a massive chance this offseason by firing general manager Brian Gaine and putting the team in O’Brien’s control.He, and a team of about six, promptly traded Jadeveon Clowney for scraps and made a controversial move in giving up two first-round picks and a second for Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills. These moves were widely panned by evaluators, but the simple fact is now this team’s success is predicated on what O’Brien does with the team on the field.His in-game moves have often been criticized and Houston has looked ill-prepared on offense in the team’s playoff runs under O’Brien. Now, the team’s success is on him on the field and off of it as he is basically the man in charge of everything.If Tunsil isn’t good and the Texans underachieve, it may be time for Houston to move on and consider bringing back former GM Rick Smith, to start, because while he was afraid to draft a quarterback, he consistently built some of the best rosters in the NFL.Key matchupTexans vs. Colts, Nov. 21If everything goes right for the Texans, they’ll be in contention for a playoff position toward the middle of the season. Also, by that time, the Colts will have had more than half a season with Jacoby Brissett running this year’s offense and will likely be a much tougher out than earlier in the year.This is a game the Texans need to win because — while the Colts lost Luck — Brissett could very well take Indianapolis to a playoff spot. He’s a talented guy and one coach Frank Reich believes in.”He is the man,” Reich said this week. “He is the answer.”Well, Brissett does have to be the answer for the Colts because odds are Chad Kelly isn’t going to be the guy to do it. At this point in the season, the Texans could very well be around 5-5 or 4-6. Their schedule to start the season is brutal, including games against the Chargers, Chiefs, Ravens and a much healthier Falcons team this year than last. The Colts could very well be right about the same. So whoever wins this game will have a leg up going into the second half of the season and on the division title.And with this game being on a Thursday night it will be easy for one team or the other to get caught unprepared.Predicted finishThis is a division that is going to come down to the Jaguars and Texans, but there are a couple of caveats: One, the Jaguars go as Fournette goes. If he is the Fournette of ’17, they’re the division favorites. If he is the Fournette of ’18, they’re out of the playoffs. And, two, Brissett will take about six weeks to really get going, but if he goes faster, the Colts very well could win this division. There is talent here, but also flaws. It’s really anyone’s for the taking.1. Texans Two weeks ago the AFC South looked completely different. The Colts might have been the favorites and Andrew Luck might have been an MVP candidate. The Texans looked disorganized and hopeless to trade Jadeveon Clowney or protect Deshaun Watson.A lot has happened since then. Andrew Luck has retired, the Texans traded Clowney and they acquired a potential franchise left tackle in Laremy Tunsil. Things are different now. And no one was happier to hear these words than Texans fans everywhere: 2. Jaguars3. Colts4. Titanslast_img read more