When one division selects three of the top four QBs in a class, it’s the dawn of a new era for those four teams. Every single AFC South team is in some way tearing down their roster and reconfiguring the pieces to launch their own era of dominance over the division. Jacksonville has a one year head start, but all four teams used the 2023 NFL Draft as a proclamation for a better future.
All four teams did a fantastic job of finding talent late in the draft. There are multiple cases where our rivals selected players two or three rounds below their pre-draft value. Those are the types of moves that advances a team within their division and into the playoffs. Considering the wide swatch of needs across all four years, it’s vital to identify some of the new faces playing against the Houston Texans in highly valuable positions over the next few years.
Antonio Johnson, DB - Jacksonville Jaguars: Fifth Round
One of my favorite day three picks of the entire draft goes to the Jags. Antonio Johnson had day two mocks all throughout the pre-draft process, including Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay’s Three-Round mock. I even had Johnson as a perfect fit for DeMeco Ryans’ defense. For the Jags to pick him late in the fifth round is a fantastic addition to an improved defense.
Johnson will immediately be the third safety or slot corner on their defense. His large frame plus his quality tackling would be an asset on any team, but the fact that he plays in the AFC South is of particular significance. In a division where all three of their opponents drafted new starting QBs, adding a player like Johnson bolsters their defense for the next four years.
Tyjae Spears, RB - Tennessee Titans: Third Round
Tulane has a breakout season on offense led by Tyjae Spears and his NINETEEN rushing touchdowns. That’s one more TD than Bijan Robinson who went in the top 10 picks. With Derrick Henry entering the back end of his career, Spears will be the perfect foil and future replacement. Several Titans’ seasons have come to an end due to Henry’s season ending injuries. Adding Spears to their arsenal offers the Titans more stability in a weak division.
Darius Rush, CB - Indianapolis Colts: Fifth Round
The Colts ended up with twelve draft picks and compiled multiple picks at the same position. One of those picks was South Carolina’s DB Darius Rush. Given Rush’s unique situation as the second best corner on his collegiate roster, behind second round Miami Dolphins pick Cam Smith, he fell further in the draft than his skillset warrants.
Rush is a tried-and-true outside cornerback who has fantastic hands and a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He will be an excellent special teams player, but will have to fight for starting reps against another rookie the Colts selected in the second early in the second round - JuJu Brents. They traded for Brents, which indicates their interest. Even so, Colts secondary is particularly weak, which will give Rush an immediate chance to make a difference.
Josh Whyle, TE - Tennessee Titans: Fifth Round
I don’t think enough is being said about the Titans drafting only offensive players in this class. Cincinnati’s Josh Whyle was one of the more disputed tight end prospects in this class. At 6’6”, Whyle is a smooth operator and pass catcher with three years of consistent production. Whyle is going to be a player that the Titans haven't had on the roster, well, since Delanie Walker.
What hurt Whyle’s draft stock was his ability to accelerate in and out of a route. It’s like watching a guy who had a knee injury that just never fully healed try to adapt their game. What makes Whyle dangerous is his ability to find space inside the defense.
Adetomiwa Adebawore, DT - Indianapolis Colts: Fourth Round
State record holder of the Kansas high school shot put, Adebawore is a jack of all trades. As a former most athletic in middle school myself, I know athleticism when I see it. He’s considered a unicorn among the defensive line prospects in this years’ class. He is only 6’2” 282 pounds, making him a pip-squeak among Goliaths at the pro level. However, he’s considered the MOST athletic defensive end of the class according to NFL.com’s Draft profile.
Adebawore is a boom or bust prospect. He could easily be out of the league in a few years if used incorrectly. However, the Colts have enough depth on the defensive line to utilize this fourth rounder properly. He won’t be a three-down starter, but as a pass rusher in specific sets Adebawore is a fantastic ace in the hole for the Colts.