Each year, a division’s best players help decide who does and who doesn’t make the playoffs. Often times, it starts with a quarterback and skill-position players. Other times the division battles revolve around pass protection, and still others are decided on defensive prowess. As a result, certain players rise to the top. In this series, the best player at each position from the AFC South will be compiled into a single “starting” lineup.
All-AFC South Offense
Quarterback: Andrew Luck, Colts
When healthy, Andrew Luck is without a doubt the best quarterback in the division. Deshaun Watson is flashier, sure, but Luck has proven time and time again that he’s one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL. In each of the four seasons in which he has started all 16 regular-season games, Luck has made the Pro Bowl. In fact, across those four seasons, he has taken the Indianapolis Colts to the playoffs each time, and never won less than 10 games.
After missing the entire 2017 season following shoulder surgery, Luck returned in 2018 and posted 4,593 passing yards and 39 passing scores. He ranked fifth in the league in passing yards, and second in touchdown passes, finishing behind only Patrick Mahomes. As good as Luck has been in the past, 2019 may be his best yet, as he’ll have the best supporting cast he’s ever had, as well as the fact that he’s coming off of a career season in terms of completion percentage.
Running Back: Derrick Henry, Titans
For the first time in his career, Derrick Henry became the clear-cut, lead back for the Tennessee Titans in 2018. The decision paid off for both the team and Henry, as he rushed for his first 1,000-yard season and hit pay-dirt 12 times. Henry ranked seventh in the league in rushing yards, averaged nearly 5.0 yards per carry, and rushed a career-high 215 times. At 6’3”, 247, Henry is a wrecking ball when the ball is in his hands, and is one of the biggest and most physical backs in the league. After winning the Heisman Trophy in his final college season, it was only a matter of time before Henry was going to break out in the NFL.
Tight End: Eric Ebron, Colts
If it weren’t for Delanie Walker, the Colts’ Eric Ebron would be the obvious choice for this spot on the All-AFC South team. However, Walker is coming off of a season in which he played in only one game due to injury, and he’ll be 35 by the time the season kicks off. Meanwhile, Ebron finished second in the NFL in touchdown catches and ranked fifth in receiving yards among tight ends. Of Andrew Luck’s 39 touchdown passes in 2018, one-third of them went to Ebron. While Ebron has yet to emerge as an “elite” tight end, his good size and outstanding athleticism make him a serious red-zone threat who, as he proved last season, can be a touchdown machine.
Wide Receiver: DeAndre Hopkins, Texans
Following a career-year for the Houston Texans in 2018, DeAndre Hopkins is arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL. Hopkins posted a career-high 1,572 receiving yards in 2018, ranking him second in the league, as well as finishing third in receptions, with 115. Hopkins is as terrorizing as anyone on the outside, and was a football magnet a year ago, hauling in over 70% of passes thrown his way.
He has finished in the top-five in receiving yards three times in his first six NFL seasons, and has been named a first-team All-Pro each of the last two years. Not to mention the fact that he has been extremely durable thus far, playing in (and starting) 95 of a possible 96 regular-season games since coming into the league. Hopkins is only 27, and could prove to be one of the league’s best for several years to come.
Wide Receiver: T.Y. Hilton, Colts
Last season marked the sixth-consecutive campaign in which T.Y. Hilton led the Colts in receiving yards. Over that span, he has recorded less than 1,000 yards only once, and fell just 34 yards short that season, as well as was without his starting quarterback the whole year. Hilton was perhaps in-line for a career-year in 2018, however, he missed two games, yet still managed to catch for almost 1,300 yards and record 6 touchdowns. Hilton’s blazing speed coupled with his ability to create separation downfield makes him as exciting as anyone to watch when the ball is in the air.
Wide Receiver: Corey Davis, Titans
The Titans’ 2017 first-round pick struggled through an injury-plagued rookie season but rebounded with a breakout season in 2018. In his first full season in the NFL, Corey Davis posted 891 receiving yards and pulled in the first four touchdowns of his professional career. In an offense that failed to pass for 3,300 yards, Davis was responsible for almost one-third of the team’s receiving yards. While his stats don’t quite present him as a top-tier wideout just yet, he clearly has big-time potential. He’s tall, long, and athletic, and if he can fill out some, he could become the next Julio Jones.
Left Tackle: Taylor Lewan, Titans
After only five NFL seasons, Taylor Lewan is already one of the AFC South’s most decorated left tackles. Tasked with protecting Marcus Mariota’s blind side, Lewan has been named to three straight Pro Bowls from 2016-2018 and has earned himself a long-term extension that makes him as the second-highest paid offensive lineman in the league. Lewan ranked just outside of the top-ten among offensive tackles in 2018 according to Pro Football Focus, despite earning the lowest grade of his career. His combination of size, strength, and speed make him a perfect candidate to protect a franchise quarterback. Also, the big fella caught a touchdown pass in 2016.
Left Guard: Quenton Nelson, Colts
Almost immediately after entering the league, Quenton Nelson was captivating fans with his monster hits on opposing defenders. His vicious blocks often went viral and quickly earned him a reputation as a big-hitter. Aside from the highlight-reel plays, Nelson was actually very good as a rookie. Pro Football Focus graded him as the third-highest guard in the league, and he was named to the Pro Bowl as well as being a first-team All-Pro. It’s not often that an interior offensive lineman gets selected in the top-six in the draft, but Nelson certainly has made the Colts’ decision pay off so far.
Center: Ryan Kelly, Colts
One of the biggest reasons for the Colts’ offensive line turnaround has been Ryan Kelly. He was one of the best centers in the league last year and has been a key reason for Indianapolis’ much-improved pass protection. With the additions of Nelson and Mark Glowinski this past year, Kelly has been the incumbent anchor on the Colts offensive line. He gave up only one sack last season and is a tough, physical blocker who doesn’t commit penalties. In fact, over his first three pro seasons, he has been responsible for only five accepted penalties. At only 26 years old, Kelly has the potential to help form a tantalizing front line for years to come.
Right Guard: Mark Glowinski, Colts
Another Colts lineman who simply plays “nasty” up front is Mark Glowinski. In his first year with Indianapolis, Glowinski finished inside the top-twenty in Pro Football Focus’ overall grading among guards. He also finished as one of the top run-blockers among guards. Like Nelson and Kelly, Glowinski has a nose for playing with intense physicality, and he has the build and brute strength to do it at a high level. After spending most of his career as a backup, Glowinski has nailed down the starting job following a strong performance a year ago. He’s still relatively young and has a chance to stick around with the Colts for a long time.
Right Tackle: Jack Conklin, Titans
On the opposite side of Lewan, the Titans have another former first-round pick in Jack Conklin. In 2016, Conklin was named an All-Pro in his rookie season. The 24-year old plays tough and utilizes his strength. He’s a good run blocker and an even better pass blocker. Conklin is coming off of an ACL injury last season, and his status for Week 1 has yet to be announced, however, if he can return to anything close to form, he is deserving of this position. It’s also worth noting that the Titans did not pick up Conklin’s fifth-year option, so 2019 will be a contract year for him. As talented as he is, it would be a shame to see his career derailed by injury.