Quarterback: Deshaun Watson
I’ve been going back and watching film to write about Tytus Howard and Max Scharping, and along the way, I saw so many absurd Watson plays I completely forgot about. His dump off to Jordan Akins against Los Angeles (C). The ball placement on his first touchdown pass to Will Fuller. The cut inside of Frank Clark to score in the redzone against Kansas City. The spectacular becomes ordinary after you watch Watson play enough. Even an innocuous throw like this is something I didn’t cherish then, that I can’t stop watching now.
Running Back: Derrick Henry
Henry is the closest thing the NFL has as a Monstar at the running back position, and his 2019 season was so extreme, that it’s even made me, a convert to the church of running the ball is stupid, reevaluating the idea that all running backs are fungible. Well maybe 99% of them are. Henry is the 1%.
Henry was so good that there can’t be another running back elected to receive this noble honor. I could write romantic poetry about Marlon Mack’s stiff arm. I could do that. But Henry, on this mythical team, would play every snap and justify a 33 carry game anyways.
Wide Receiver: DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Brown, D.J. Chark
2019 was a great year for the emergence of true wide receiver #1s. Brown is this. Chark is this. Brown is more of a physical middle of the field brute. Chark is a sideline go up and getter. Both were electric and boundless sources of joy.
Bill O’Brien turned Hopkins into a worse and less interesting version of himself. Short middle receptions. One v. one. Lots of first downs. BORING. He was less efficient and worse in 2019 after a legendary 2018. Put Hopkins back along the sideline and let him win one v. one in isolation routes. That’s what he’s best at. First downs are cool, but 45 yard receptions are cooler.
Tight End: Jonnu Smith
Look, I know Darren Fells had 7 touchdowns, and he boxed out smaller defenders, and knew how to time his releases and find space when Watson scrambled, but his longest reception was only 24 yards. The redzone touchdown thing is unsustainable. And every Fells power play where he pulled from the flex wing position made me fist both my eye sockets.
Smith didn’t come on until late, but he can block better than Fells, and he can make actual big plays. Name another tight end who can take a pitch like this. That’s right you can’t.
There aren’t any other options. Jack Doyle? Get that corn out of my face. Delanie Walker spent the season on Injured Reserve. Jacksonville hasn’t had a tight end since Molly Hatchet released their first album in 78’.
Tackle: Laremy Tunsil, Taylor Lewan
Tunsil is 95% perfect and beautiful and impeccable. But then there’s the penalties. The illegal blocks downfield, the false starts, the picking on me. He gives up on blocks too soon. The Texans don’t use him in an interesting way, and don’t ask him to do much more than win every single one v. one pass block and clear out the defensive end. Despite all of this, he’s a fringe top five offensive tackle, and could become the best one in the league if a few more things happen.
After crying on a van while wearing shorts, and struggling at first in his return from his performance enhancing suspension, Lewan went back to obliterating and cratering defenses in the Tennessee’s outside zone run scheme. Him and Rodger Saffold working together can make even the most myopic fantasy football player love offensive line play.
Guard: Rodger Saffold, Quenton Nelson
See Lewan. See below.
Nelson pulling out wide on sweep plays is one of the best blocks in the league. The keg stand touchdown would even make a shaman stand up and holler.
Center: Ryan Kelly
Everything Indy does is corny, bland, tasteless. I hate everything about this franchise except the players themselves. Imagine being the type of person that enjoys this?
That's now Pro Bowler Ryan Kelly to you. pic.twitter.com/qNwxf5siq7— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) January 10, 2020
Every team has a good center in the AFC South. Kelly is the best one.
Outside Linebacker: Harold Landry, Josh Allen
Now, I don’t know if Landry will ever be a constant headache as a pass rusher, but when his rushes come together, it’s the fork tongued of lightning lashing across a purple evening. His rip is nice. It’s just hard being a great edge rusher who relies on outside moves when you aren’t a galactic level athlete. Landry gets enough of a rush though, and also really understands the game well. He’s one of the best screen defenders in the league.
Allen’s rookie year was 11.5 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks and 23 quarterback hits. If he keeps that up he may become the best Josh Allen in the league.
Defensive End: J.J. Watt, Calais Campbell
The two bulls are still lifting offensive players and sticking them into the ground. Watt only played eight games, but in those eight games he had more pass rushing production than most of the league, and was the most dominant defensive player in this division when healthy. That counts for more than having two intact pectorals.
Campbell is an excellent stunter, his pairing with Allen was effortless, and he is one of the league’s best run defenders. It’s a shame he’s wasting performance like this in the jorts capital of the world, but at least we will always have 2017.
Defensive Tackle: D.J. Reader, Jurrell Casey
Reader is a premier run stopper, and showed more pass rush wiggle in the first five weeks of the season then during his entire career. I wonder where it went? My guess is that with Watt out he had to bust his gut to stop the run, and lost his pass rushing juice because of it. You can’t block Reader with one defender. You can barely create stalemates with two.
Casey does it all. He ranges along the pasture that is the line of scrimmage. B gap. Outside shoulder of the center. He does it all. I’m disappointed he opted with the long t-shirt under his pads. Let that butt crack breath.
Linebacker: Rashaan Evans, Zach Cunningham, Darius Leonard
Evans made every run tackle on a redzone run stop against New England in the Wildcard Round. The Patriots wouldn’t score again. He’s a bullet in the run game, a leaping lion, more people should watch and enjoy him.
Cunningham plays weakside linebacker and has one real job. Chase and tackle. Unless a blocker’s angle is perfect, he’ll never make contact with him. This all leads to kill shots for Cunningham. This was the hardest shot I saw Henry take last season, aside from the one he took to his heart when WE lost to the Chiefs in the AFC Championship game.
Leonard is a premier inside linebacker. He has a mind link with the quarterback and uses telepathy to pluck passes from the air. His blitz timing is perfect. The ways he delays his rush until the center turns his head and the back leaves for the flat is wonderful. He’s the ideal post modern linebacker.
Cornerback: Bradley Roby, Logan Ryan, D.J. Hayden (Slot)
It was a down year for AFC South cornerbacks. Roby was good, which he always is, but if he’s the best cornerback on your team, you’re going to have a bad pass defense, just ask the Texans. Even if he had a terrible season he’d earn a nomination for the interception against New England. I will always love you.
Ryan had a competent year behind a terrible pass rush. ProFartballFocus has this grand idea that coverage is more important than a pass rush. I disagree. Mainly because I watch too much Titans football.
Statistically, Hayden was the best AFC South cornerback, and had another great season as the Nickle corner who replaced Aaron Colvin Jacksonville. He allowed 4.4 yards a target (2nd), had a success rate of 69% (4th), allowed 2.2 yards after catch (10th), and didn’t allow a single touchdown.
Safety: Kevin Byard (FS), Justin Reid (SS)
It wasn’t eight interceptions, it was only five, and nine passes defensed for Byard in 2019. He was still great as a deep middle defender, and allowed Kenny Vacarro to do a little bit of everything. Together they compose one of the best safety combinations.
Reid does it all. He plays deep middle, he plays man coverage, he plays robber, he plays short hook zones, he uses a mop and bucket to clean up the run game. He’s an All-Pro in the making. And he’s one of the few men who can stop the Titans’ relentless and impossible redzone touchdown offense.
Kicker: Josh Lambo
The dude couldn’t miss last season. Well, he did miss, but it was only twice. 33/34 from the field, including 4/4 from 50+, and he went 33/34 after touchdowns. Jacksonville was a slimy green mash of spotted hair last season. Lambo wasn’t the problem.
Punter: Brett Kern
I love punts. I love how high the ball goes up in the air. I’m always marveled by the spins and rotations a foot can place onto that silly shaped ball. Kern’s a top punter. Watching him punt is always a joy. I know what to talk about if I ever meet Bill Belichick.
Kick Returner: Zach Pascal
The Texans, and their only kick returner DeAndre Carter, actually had the best kick return unit in the league, but there was a play that happened that makes it impossible for Carter to receive placement here. I can’t exactly recall what play it is. It’s all so fuzzy. I just remember screaming.
Punt Returner: Nyheim Hines
He returned two punts for touchdowns last season. What did you do today? The Colts also had the league’s best punt return team last season.