This week, the Last Word On Sports NFL department will be selecting starting lineups consisting of the best players from each division. In this article, the AFC South offense is the focus.
2017 AFC South All-Division Team: The Offense
Quarterback: Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
There were really only two guys in the division who could be considered here. Ultimately, Andrew Luck edged out the Titans young signal caller, Marcus Mariota. While both are extremely talented and both possess just about all the skills desired from a quarterback, Luck has shown more so far in his career. In 2016, Luck aired it out for 4,240 yards (eighth in the league) and 31 touchdowns (fifth in the league) behind one of the least consistent offensive lines in the NFL. Luck was sacked a whopping 41 times, tied for second most in the league. Only a truly special quarterback could continue to produce at a top ten level while having Swiss cheese for an offensive line.
Running Back: DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans
After an awful campaign in Philadelphia a year earlier, DeMarco Murray made a resurgence for the Titans in 2016, performing like one of the best backs in the league. Murray ran the ball for 1,287 yards, good for third in the league. He found the end zone nine times on the ground, also a top ten mark at the position. What sets Murray apart besides just being a great runner, however, is his ability to contribute to the passing game. The back grabbed 53 receptions for 377 yards and three scores. Murray’s high level production and versatility set him apart from the rest of the division.
Wide Receiver: DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
DeAndre Hopkins is a special talent in a bad situation. After a huge 2015 in which the 6’1″ receiver racked up 1,521 receiving yards and scored 11 times, the shaky quarterback situation in 2016 contributed to a big stat decline for Hopkins. Last season, he had only 954 yards and four touchdowns, much of which can be attributed to the poor play of then Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler, who was arguably the worst in the league. If Houston can find some quarterback stability in 2017, Hopkins could see a resurgence.
Wide Receiver: Allen Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville’s 6’3″ wideout has all the physical traits of an outside receiver. He possesses size, is a matchup issue for typically smaller NFL corners, and can use his strength and big body to win at the point of attack. Like the aforementioned Hopkins, Robinson had a huge 2015 and suffered a decline in 2016 as his team’s quarterback play declined. Evidently, as quarterback Blake Bortles goes, so too does Allen Robinson. Bortles in 2015: 4,428 yards and 35 touchdowns. Robinson in 2015: 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns. Then, take a look at this past season. Blake Bortles in 2016: 3,905 yards and 23 touchdowns. Allen Robinson in 2016: 883 yards and six touchdowns. When Robinson has respectable quarterback play, he puts up big numbers.
Slot Receiver: T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck’s top target, T.Y. Hilton, led the league with 1,448 receiving yards. His touchdown production was a little less impressive with six, but his yardage makes up for it. Hilton is a good route runner, possesses good speed, and is able to gain the separation from defenders necessary to make the catch. The Colts wideout is just as talented as any receiver in the division, but his small stature makes him better suited for the slot.
Tight End: Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans
Delanie Walker has been the only reliable target in Tennessee for the past three seasons, yet the tight end has still managed to rack up great numbers. Being the focus of defenses doesn’t phase Walker. He’s racked up at least 800 yards receiving for three straight seasons. Over that time frame he’s also totaled 17 touchdowns, an average of about six per season. Delanie Walker’s potent receiving skills coupled with the lack of tight end talent in the AFC South make Walker an absolute shoo-in.
Left Tackle: Taylor Lewan, Tennessee Titans
The Titans 2014 first round pick, Taylor Lewan, has been a huge success as a bookend left tackle. He’s 6’7″ and insanely athletic, having the fastest 40 time for an offensive lineman in his draft class. Lewan was also Pro Football Focus’ sixth ranked offensive tackle in 2016 with an 88.5 grade.
Left Guard: Quinton Spain, Tennessee Titans
Another Titans lineman? You bet. The Titans have arguably the top offensive line in the league and the rest of the division is weak at best in the offensive line department. Guard Quinton Spain received an 82.6 grade from PFF and was the league’s 19th ranked guard.
Center: Brandon Linder, Jacksonville Jaguars
Brandon Linder just made bank, becoming the highest paid center in NFL history. Did he deserve it? Yes. Linder is one of the most underrated linemen in the league today. Nobody really talks about him, but he’s a top three center in the league and one of the brightest, most consistent pieces of the Jaguars offense. Blake Bortles doesn’t look great as is, but he’d look a whole lot worse without Linder.
Right Guard: Josh Kline, Tennessee Titans
This was probably the most easily disputable position of all of them. No team in the division has an elite right guard. Ultimately though, The Titans guard won out. Josh Kline was solid though not Pro Bowl caliber at the right guard position, earning an 80.0 grade and number 27 ranking among offensive guards.
Right Tackle: Jack Conklin, Tennessee Titans
There was no question at all for who the starting right guard would be. The fourth Titans lineman to make this list, Jack Conklin balled out his rookie year and was nothing short of elite. He was a first team All-Pro tackle and per PFF ranked fifth at the offensive tackle position. You couldn’t get much better than Conklin at right tackle in 2016, and it was only his rookie year.
Be sure to check out the AFC South All-Division Team on defense and special teams.