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The Value of Things: Ranking AFC South Front Sevens

Who has the best defensive front in the division?

Indianapolis Colts v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

A thought occurred to me as I was preparing for my coverage of defensive linemen and linebackers. You really can’t get a great look at either unit until you put the two units together.

For one, you are talking about different employment of players. When teams use four down linemen, they will likely rotate in four other guys regularly. When they use four linebackers they might do the same.

So, when we put these groups together we can easily look at the top fourteen defenders between defensive linemen and linebackers. Therefore, we can lean into whatever each team chooses to do. Even then, we have teams like the Colts that operate a 4-2-5 model. Still, when you put everything together then you encompass everything teams want their defenses to do. They defend the run, they blitz the passer, and the even cover tight ends and running backs out of the backfield.

So, the overall numbers matter so much more here than they do with each unit individually. So, the number of tackles for losses matter. The number of sacks matter. The run grades, blitz grades, and coverage grades matter. However, there are more qualitative considerations as well. Which front seven has the most Pro Bowl defenders? Do opposing offensive coordinators lose sleep at night worrying about one of your guys? Obviously that matters too.

Indianapolis Colts

Pro Bowlers: Darius Leonard (3), Deforest Buckner (2)

Tackles for Loss: 41 (4)

Sacks: 27.0 (4)

Run PFF: 62.6 (1)

Blitz PFF: 65.5 (3)

Coverage PFF: 59.1 (1)

The Colts are the only team with two Pro Bowl players on their front seven and both of those guys were Pro Bowlers last season. They each have multiple Pro Bowls as well. In general, I’m trying really hard to figure out how the Colts did not win the AFC South and how they ended up missing the playoffs. Frank Reich lost his defensive coordinator to the Bears, so this season will be telling. By all accounts, they should dominate this division. The rankings in tackles for loss and sacks could be misleading because they have two of their top 14 defenders making their debut.

Tennessee Titans

Pro Bowlers: Harold Landry (1)

Tackles for Loss: 59 (2)

Sacks: 37.5 (1)

Run PFF: 57.3 (2)

Blitz PFF: 60.5 (4)

Coverage PFF: 53.7 (3)

Again, the totals might be misleading. They are the only team in the division that does not have a rookie that is likely to crack the top fourteen. That means they are bound to have more tackles for loss and sacks. Obviously, their coverage is probably better than this. It includes guys that likely won’t be asked to cover like Cunningham. Bud Depree used to be a dominant pass rusher, so a part of their hopes rest on guys like him regaining their best form. They will be solid enough, but just not quite on the same level as the Colts.

Houston Texans

Pro Bowlers: None

Tackles For Loss: 66 (1)

Sacks: 32.0 (3)

Run PFF: 55.9 (3)

Blitz PFF: 66.6 (2)

Coverage PFF: 56.0 (2)

There is an ole adage in baseball that you would rather have two or three solid players than one really good one and two bad ones. The Texans are the only team in the division without a Pro Bowler. Back in 2018 they had three and Cunningham was always a borderline Pro Bowler. Those guys are all gone now. They have been replaced with a collection of solid, but unspectacular players. There’s something to be said for not having any glaring weaknesses, but games are won and lost based on your team’s ability to have guys that can consistently win matchups. They will hold their own, but there might not be any difference makers. They do have two rookies and depending on the performance of those rookies, they could be the third or fourth best front seven in the division.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Pro Bowlers: Josh Allen (1)

Tackles for Loss: 50 (3)

Sacks: 33.0 (2)

Run PFF: 54.7 (4)

Blitz PFF: 66.9 (1)

Coverage: 53.7 (3)

A lot of people (including PFF) panned the selection of Walker number one overall. I get it on some level, but the key always is whether you know what you want him to do and whether he is capable of doing that. Whether he can rush the passer may not be as important to them as people think. They were second in the division in sacks and first in blitz grade. That’s not accounting for three new linebackers including Walker. Both Lloyd and Muma were Butkus Award finalists this past season. Lloyd has the look of a three down player who can defend the run and excel in coverage. Muma doesn’t grade as high but should provide quality depth.

Power Rankings

The Jaguars may have had the worst front seven in the division last season, but two first round picks (including number one overall) should change that. The Texans will be perfectly mediocre across the board. Mediocre probably doesn’t get it done in terms of moving the needle, but teams in a rebuilding situation like the Texans can’t possibly fix everything overnight. They spent heavy on the back end, so that will end up carrying the defense for now. The Colts likely secure the edge with their two dynamic forces on defense. It will be interesting to see if the Colts find yet another way to take an advantage and convert it into a second place finish.