Last Word on Pro Football is putting together All-Division Teams this week. In this article, the focus will be the AFC South. Let’s take a look.
2017 AFC South All-Division Team: The Defense and Special Teams
Right Defensive End: J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
J.J. Watt would be the starting defensive end in any division in football. He’s a future Hall of Famer and one of the best pass rushers of all time. The last time the three-time defensive player of the year was healthy, he racked up a monstrous 17.5 sacks. Watt is an absolute game breaker and a guy offenses have to plan around.
Defensive Tackle: Johnathan Hankins, Indianapolis Colts
Sometimes, an offense will be feeling confident. They’ll be on a roll, and then they try to run the ball up the middle. Suddenly, their poor, unsuspecting running back is met right behind the line of scrimmage by a massive brick wall. The run is blown up, the running back is hurting, and the offense loses its confidence. What is this brick wall? Defensive tackle and run-stuffing specialist Johnathan Hankins.
Defensive Tackle: Jurrell Casey, Tennessee Titans
Interior pass rush is tough to generate, but that’s what Jurrell Casey specializes in. He has 33 career sacks from the defensive tackle position and is a consistent source of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Last year, Casey had as many pass deflections as he did sacks, with five each. Either way, that’s ten times he directly prevented an opposing quarterback from making a play.
Left Defensive End: Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans
After being labeled by many as a bust, Jadeveon Clowney broke out last year. He finished with six sacks, 52 tackles, a dozen run stuffs. Clowney was a force to be reckoned with on the edge of the defensive line and made life difficult for quarterbacks, running backs, and undoubtedly a pass catcher or two. The former number one overall pick is finally showing why he was picked so high to the dismay of any team who plays the Texans.
Linebacker: Whitney Mercilus, Houston Texans
Houston’s Whitney Mercilus is a force to be reckoned with at linebacker. Last season he put up a nice stat line of 7.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. Mercilus caused a loss of yards on 24.5 percent of his tackles, meaning almost a quarter of the time when he touched the ball carrier, the offense lost field position. Tackles for loss are perhaps the most important stat for a defender.
Linebacker: Brian Cushing, Houston Texans
Tough as nails. A leader. Hard-working. All of these are ways to describe the gritty 30-year-old who holds up the middle of the Houston Texans defense. Over his eight-year NFL career, Brian Cushing has 648 tackles and eight interceptions to his name. Cushing is a solid player and an even more solid leadership presence.
Linebacker: Brian Orakpo, Tennessee Titans
If you want pass rush, Tennessee’s Brian Orakpo can bring it. He got to the quarterback 10.5 times this past season and proved to be a disruptive force. A pass rush consisting of Orakpo, Whitney Mercilus, J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Jurrell Casey would be an absolute nightmare for opposing offenses.
Cornerback: A.J. Bouye, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars snagged quite the free agent pickup in former Houston Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye. While Bouye did snag just one interception last year, he received an elite grade from Pro Football Focus and was a shutdown cover corner, frustrating opposing number one receivers week in and week out. Across from Jalen Ramsey, Bouye figures to be part of perhaps the best cornerback tandem in the league.
Cornerback: Jalen Ramsey, Jacksonville Jaguars
Rookie corners are supposed to struggle. They’re supposed to get burned by the crazy talented NFL receivers and look like fools in their first season as they get used to the pros and learn the position all over again. Well, someone forgot to tell that to Jalen Ramsey. He had 14 pass deflections and two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown. In his standout rookie season the young corner also shut down the likes of Amari Cooper and DeAndre Hopkins, just to name a couple high end examples.
Safety: Johnathan Cyprien, Tennessee Titans
Johnathan Cyprien was all over ball carriers last year in Jacksonville. 127 tackles for a safety is an impressive mark. He didn’t have any interceptions, but he did have a sack and a forced fumble. The new Titan isn’t much of a ball hawk but he is good at finding the ball carrier and taking them down.
Safety: Andre Hal, Houston Texans
The AFC South is one of the weaker divisions in the NFL when it comes to safety play. Andre Hal is a solid player, but not elite by any means. He had 48 tackles, a sack, and two interceptions this season. It’s decent, but nothing that’ll blow your mind.
Punter: Brad Nortman, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars punter was top ten in the NFL in just about every punting stat there is. Net yards per punt, punts over 40 yards, gross punting yards, and likely even more than that. Brad Nortman is a good guy to have at the punter position.
Kicker: Adam Vinatieri, Indianapolis Colts
Return Specialist: Will Fuller, Houston Texans
Houston’s Will Fuller is fast, shifty, and can be explosive. He possesses all the necessary traits to be a good return specialist and will probably break a few big returns in the upcoming 2017 season.
Be sure to check out the AFC South All-Division Team on offense.