Every year as college football season approaches preseason, all-conference teams are announced. It’s basically a watch list for the best players at each position in the conference. Well, NFL divisions are essentially smaller conferences, but they don’t have these all-conference teams. Instead of the Pro Bowl or All-Pro teams, which are accolades for the best players in the NFL, this is a list all about the talent in the AFC South. No, this isn’t only based on last season, but it’s a prediction of who will be the best player at each position in the AFC South for the 2019 NFL season.
QB Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck is going to consistently be a top-five or better quarterback thanks to the hiring of Frank Reich and Luck finally being healthy. That makes him king of the position in the AFC South. Last season he was second in the NFL with 39 touchdown passes and led the Colts to a 9-1 record down the stretch to reach the playoffs. With an elite play-caller, improved offensive weapons, and a top 10 offensive line, it’s safe to say Luck will be in the MVP hunt this season.
2019 stat prediction: 4,800 passing yards, 40 touchdowns, 12 interceptions
RB Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars
Frankly, the AFC South is weak at running back. Many will argue for Derrick Henry, but he had over a third of his yards come in two games. Until Henry proves to be a consistent runner, he can’t be trusted. Leonard Fournette has struggled, but it’s hard to doubt his overall talent. There were flashes in his rookie season, and now with a far more stable offensive line and a competent QB, this is the year he proves his worth.
2019 stat prediction: 1,050 rushing yards, 400 receiving yards, 10 total touchdowns
WR DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
This was easy. DeAndre Hopkins was the best wide receiver in football last season. He’s the best playmaker in the AFC South by a mile and was second in the NFL in receiving yards last season. There’s no better WR in contested catch situations than Nuk, and it’s because he’s got the best hands in the NFL. Per PFF, Hopkins had zero drops on 159 targets, the best drop rate in the league. Another year with Deshaun Watson should lead to another All-Pro nod.
2019 stat prediction: 120 receptions, 1,700 receiving yards, 14 touchdowns
WR T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
As long as Andrew Luck is healthy, T.Y. Hilton will produce Pro Bowl numbers. Hilton has produced at least 1,000 yards every season since 2013 when Luck is behind center. He’s one of the leagues best deep threats and far too underrated. Hilton is the second-best playmaker in the AFC South, and yet he’s rarely brought up in conversation as one of the most exciting players in the league. Per PFF, Hilton had the second-best reception percentage on targets of 20 yards or more for receivers with over 250 deep passing yards in 2019.
2019 stat prediction: 80 receptions, 1,200 yards, 8 touchdowns
Slot WR Adam Humphries, Tennessee Titans
Well, he’s new to the AFC South, but Adam Humphries is the most reliable slot receiver in the division. The addition of Humphries could be huge for the development of QB Marcus Mariota. With the Buccaneers last season, Humphries was fifth in the league with 666 yards from the slot with only one drop, per PFF. He’s not the flashiest player, but Humphries is one of the best route runners in the division and as trustworthy as they come from the slot.
2019 stat predictions: 75 receptions, 790 yards, 4 touchdowns
TE Eric Ebron, Indianapolis Colts
After being cast aside by the Detroit Lions, Eric Ebron is coming off a Pro Bowl season with the Colts. Is he a better tight end than Delanie Walker? No, but Walker is coming back from a season-ending ankle injury and on a team with questions all over the offense. Ebron has Luck and Reich, and those guys know how to take advantage of a freak athlete at TE. Ebron led all TEs in touchdowns in his first year with the Colts, and the chemistry and scheme will only make him better in year two.
2019 stat prediction: 64 receptions, 750 yards, 10 touchdowns
OT Taylor Lewan, Tennessee Titans
Although the Titans offense has lacked an identity for years, Taylor Lewan has been their heart and soul. He’s the best player on the offense and one of the best offensive tackles in football. Per PFF, he only gave up 20 pressures and two sacks in 2018 on 482 pass-block snaps. With the Titans likely to have a more stable offense in 2019, Lewan will be the key to getting the Titans offensive line back to where it was a few years ago.
OT Anthony Castonzo, Indianapolis Colts
After Lewan, the offensive tackle talent slightly dips in the AFC South, but Anthony Castonzo is one of the leagues more underrated blindside protectors. Castonzo helped solidify a Colts offensive line this past season that gave up just 14 sacks in 16 games. Per PFF, Castonzo gave up just two sacks himself in 450 pass-block snaps. Is he a Pro Bowl player? No, but he’s a top 16 left tackle in the league. Someone is going to pay him big money when he hits free agency in 2020.
OG Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis Colts
Did any offensive rookie have more of an overall impact on team success than Quenton Nelson last season? Doubtful. He was a major reason the Colts offensive line ascended to one of the league’s best. Nelson injected attitude and made the entire front five better. With Nelson next to them, Castonzo and Ryan Kelly made major improvements. In his rookie season, he gave up just two sacks and 23 pressures on 730 pass-block snaps, per PFF. It’s hard to argue that he’s not already a top-five interior offensive lineman in the NFL and the best in the AFC South.
OG Rodger Saffold, Tennessee Titans
A huge reason the Titans offensive line should improve this year is due to the signing of Rodger Saffold. Saffold helped pave the way for Todd Gurley and the Los Angeles Rams rushing attack and will be an asset at left guard next to Lewan. Putting Saffold with Lewan on the left side makes for one of the most underrated offensive line duos in the league. With the Rams in 2018, Saffold gave up only 25 pressures and three sacks in 648 pass-block snaps, per PFF. He’s as good as it gets in terms of non-Pro Bowl guards.
C Ryan Kelly, Indianapolis Colts
There just aren’t that many superbly talented centers in the NFL right now, but one of the few resides in the AFC South. After two up-and-down seasons to start his career, Ryan Kelly put it together in his third season. He’s on the verge of becoming a top-five center in the league and pairing with Nelson to make one of the best interior offensive line duos in football. Per PFF, Kelly gave up just nine pressures and one sack in 494 pass-block snaps last season. If he continues to improve in the run game, the sky is the limit.
EDGE J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
After missing the majority of two seasons, J.J. Watt returned to his Defensive Player of the Year caliber self in 2018. He was second in the league in sacks with 16 and threw in 18 TFLs for good measure. Watt is already one of the greatest defensive players of all-time and that should continue in 2019. Per PFF, Watt was second in the league in pressures and third in the league in run stops among edge defenders. There’s no better all-around edge in the NFL than Watt.
2019 stat prediction: 70 tackles, 22 TFLs, 15 sacks
IDL Calais Campbell, Jacksonville Jaguars
Technically Calais Campbell has been an edge defender while playing in Jacksonville, but for the purpose of picking the best defensive linemen we will slot Campbell in on the interior. Also, he could be playing inside more after the Jaguars selected Josh Allen in the first round. Few players have been as underrated as Campbell. He was the best run defender on the edge last season and led the league in run stops, per PFF. The addition of Allen should keep him fresher in 2019 and lead to even more disruptive plays.
2019 stat prediction: 65 tackles, 25 TFLs, 8.5 sacks
IDL Jurrell Casey, Tennessee Titans
The AFC South is just full of All-Pro defensive line talent. Jurrell Casey is one of those undersized interior defensive linemen who made the NFL look silly for letting him slide in the NFL Draft. He’s been as good as almost anybody against the run and pass over the last few seasons from the interior. Per PFF, in 2018 he was fifth in the league in run stops and 17th in pressures among interior defensive linemen. He doesn’t wreck stat sheets like Watt and Campbell, but he’s been a one-man show on the Titans defensive line for years.
2019 stat prediction: 60 tackles, 12 TFLs, 6.5 sacks
EDGE Yannick Ngakoue, Jacksonville Jaguars
This offseason there have been many discussions about how much Jaguars pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue is worth. He’s going to be worth a lot if he reaches the open market after the season and they’d be smart to lock him up ASAP. Ngakoue is one of the league’s best young pure pass rushers and the stats reflect that. He’s got 29.5 sacks in his first three seasons. Per PFF, Ngakoue was 10th in the league in pressures last season. With money on his mind, Ngakoue is poised for a monster contract year.
2019 stat prediction: 35 tackles, 15 TFLs, 12.5 sacks
LB Darius Leonard, Indianapolis Colts
The reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year helped the Colts reach the playoffs on his way to leading the NFL in tackles, and Darius Leonard won’t slow down in 2019. Leonard was the key to Matt Eberflus’ defensive last season and swallowed up everything in front of him in their bend, don’t break style of play. Per PFF, he was third in run stops among linebackers and led all off-ball linebackers in sacks.
2019 stat prediction: 150 tackles, 10 TFLs, 2 INTs
LB Myles Jack, Jacksonville Jaguars
For the first time since 2013, the Jaguars will be without LB Telvin Smith who is sitting out the season. It’s officially Myles Jack’s time to shine for Jacksonville. Jack is well on his way to becoming one of the best all-around linebackers in the NFL, thanks to his elite athleticism. In 2018 he was 13th in the league in run stops among linebackers and gave up the fifth least yards per coverage snap among LBs who faced 30 or more targets, per PFF.
2019 stat prediction: 120 tackles, 5 TFLs, 4 INTs
CB Jalen Ramsey, Jacksonville Jaguars
It was a slightly down year for Jalen Ramsey in 2018 after being the best cornerback in football in 2017. With a big contract likely on the horizon for Ramsey, he should bounce back in a major way. Despite his “down” year, Ramsey allowed just a 73.8 QB rating when targeted and gave up only 745 yards and four touchdowns on 105 targets, per PFF. Ramsey is the best DB in the AFC South and has all the tools to consistently be the best CB in the NFL.
2019 stat prediction: 65 tackles, 18 PBUs, 4 INTs
NB Kenny Moore, Indianapolis Colts
No defensive player was a more of a surprise star than Colts nickel Kenny Moore. With the nickel defense being the base defense in today’s NFL, it’s never been more important to find a star at nickel, and the Colts did just that. Moore gave up only a 76.4 QB rating with 355 yards and one TD in slot coverage last season, per PFF. He was rewarded with a four-year $33.3 million contract this offseason after emerging as a top-five nickel in the NFL.
2019 stat prediction: 70 tackles, 12 PBUs, 2 INTs
S Kevin Byard, Tennessee Titans
There are few Pro Bowl players as under-appreciated as Kevin Byard. Byard is the second-best DB in the AFC South and was snubbed of a Pro Bowl in 2018. Quietly, Byard has become one of the best all-around safeties in the game. In 2018 he missed just four tackles while also giving up just a 55.8 QB rating when targeted, per PFF. Byard has the versatility to play single-high, in the box, or even come down into an overhang role. He’s a top 10 NFL safety.
2019 stat prediction: 85 tackles, 10 PBUs, 4 INTs
S Malik Hooker, Indianapolis Colts
After Kevin Byard, there’s no clear second-best safety in the AFC South, but Malik Hooker is certainly the most talented. Injuries have hurt him early in his career and 2019 is a huge season for him. There are few safeties with the range and ball skills Hooker possesses, and he can be a star in a single-high role. He was rarely targeted in coverage last season and gave up just 51 yards, per PFF. A healthy season in a bigger role could https://www.profootballnetwork.com/afc-south-year-3-breakout-candidates/2/lead to a Pro Bowl year. Justin Reid is also in the conversation here.
2019 stat prediction: 50 tackles, 10 PBUs, 4 INTs
CB Adoree’ Jackson, Tennessee Titans
It’s been a nice start to Adoree’ Jackson’s career in Tennessee, and he’s one of the best CBs in the AFC South, but he needs to take it up a notch in 2019. Jackson has the athleticism to be a dynamic playmaker at CB, but he’s been inconsistent at times. He gave up the fourth-most yards among CBs when targeted in 2018, per PFF. If he can be more physical and matchup with bigger WRs this season, then a Pro Bowl year could be on its way.
2019 stat prediction: 70 tackles, 10 PBUs, 3 INTs
Rob Paul is an AFC South writer for Pro Football Network. You can follow his work on Twitter @RobPaulNFL.