AFC South reporter
The 2022 NFL season isn’t quite over yet – Super Bowl LVII between the Chiefs and Eagles is Feb. 12 (6:30 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports App) — but most teams, including everyone in the AFC South, have shifted focus to 2023.
Draft prep kicked into high gear this week with the Senior Bowl and Shrine Bowl.
The Jaguars, the reigning AFC South champions, are looking to take the next step in becoming a playoff staple. The Titans are looking to get back into the mix after their first losing season since 2015. The Colts and Texans are much further behind, with big questions at the quarterback and in their rosters.
So how will each team in the division approach the top spot in the 2023 NFL Draft?
Here is our AFC South Mock Draft 1.0 for two rounds:
2. Houston Texans: Bryce YoungQB, Alabama
In 2022, the Texans gave Davis Mills a chance to prove he could be their longtime quarterback. Mills struggled — his completion percentage declined and he threw a league-high 15 interceptions — making the quarterback a natural for Houston at the top of the draft.
Assuming the Bears stay at No. 1 overall and pick a defensive player, Houston has a choice between Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s CJ Stroud. If Chicago trades the No. 1 to a QB-needy team, the Texans can still get either one.
Bryce Young’s success explained
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While Stroud has a case for being the top quarterback after his performance against Georgia in the national semifinals, Young has been college football’s top signal caller for the past two years. In 2022, he did more with less, completing 64.5% of his passes for 3,328 yards and 32 touchdowns on just five interceptions without a 700-yard receiver.
In Alabama, Young showed elite decision-making and out-of-the-pocket processing and a clutch factor. The 2021 Heisman Trophy winner is the smaller size for a QB – he’s listed generously at 6ft and 194lbs – but it doesn’t feel like something he can’t overcome.
4. Indianapolis Colts: CJ Stroud, QB, Ohio State
After Indy’s veteran quarterback carousel in recent seasons, all signs point to the Colts poised to win a QB in this year’s draft in hopes he can be the team’s next franchise signal caller.
How the Colts handle this selection has league-wide implications. At his end-of-season press conference, general manager Chris Ballard didn’t rule out that if there’s a quarterback the team falls in love with, he’d try to climb to the No. 1 spot — ahead of division rivals Texans.
Regardless of whether Indianapolis moves up or stays at No. 4, Stroud could be his best option. His height (6ft-3, 218) is typical of what the franchise has historically looked for in a QB (Peyton Manning is 6ft-5, Andrew Luck is 6ft-4).
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Stroud has obviously had a phenomenal cast around him the past two seasons, but that doesn’t change his numbers: a 69.3% completion rate for 8,123 yards and 85 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. Against an elite Georgia defense last month, he displayed a playful ability with his legs that some draft pundits thought was lacking.
11. Tennessee Titans: Paris Johnson Jr.OT, State of Ohio
Assuming the Titans plan to roll with Ryan Tannehill or another veteran quarterback in 2023, left tackle should be Tennessee’s #1 priority. Taylor Lewan, who has only played 20 games over the past three seasons, is a strong contender for losses at the cap. And Dennis Daley, who started in left tackle in Week 2 after Lewan’s season-ending knee injury, has been one of the worst pass blockers in the NFL this season.
Johnson, listed at 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds, played 100% of his snaps in left tackle for the Buckeyes in 2022 and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors. He only allowed one sack and 10 pressings last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
12. Texans: Bryan BreseeDT, Clemson
After getting their 2nd-ranked quarterback overall, the Texans should focus on improving their run defense, which was the worst in the NFL last season (170.2 rushing yards allowed per game).
Bresee’s head goes through the ceiling. He’s a gigantic defensive tackle at 6-foot-5 and 305 pounds. In 26 games (21 starts) over the past three seasons, the former five-star recruit had 15 tackles for loss, nine sacks, five pass breakups, one forced fumble and one interception.
Bresee has missed 13 games in the last two seasons so durability is an issue. But he’s too good a talent for the Texans to pass up when he’s available.
24 Jacksonville Jaguars: Zach HarrisonRand, Ohio State
The Jaguars need edge help. They had 35 sacks last season and finished 25th in the NFL. They also have two edge rushers who face free hands: Dawuane Smoot, who tore his Achilles tendon in week 16, and Arden Key. Jacksonville didn’t have a player with more than seven sacks when they made the playoffs by surprise.
Harrison’s sack counts at Ohio State aren’t jumping out — 13 in 46 appearances — but he was a force creating takeaways in the trenches. He had five forced fumbles and one interception in his Buckeyes career. The 6-foot-6, 272-pound Harrison could be another disruptor for a Jaguars defense that finished fourth last season.
33. Texans: Zay flowersWR, Boston College
The Texans’ wide receiver room is filled with uncertainty. Veteran Brandin Cooks may not make the roster next season. John Metchie is still working to recover from leukemia. Nico Collins only played 10 games last season due to injury.
Houston needs a reliable weapon that can be productive from day one, and that could be Flowers. Flowers was an All-ACC first team receiver last season and set a Boston College record with 78 receptions for 1,077 yards (third-most in school history) and a school-record 12 touchdowns. Flowers isn’t the tallest receiver (5ft 10, 172lbs), but he is cunning and a precise route runner. Among last season’s Power 5 wide receivers, Flowers was ranked second with five touchdowns against man coverage, according to Pro Football Focus.
35. Foal: Josh DownsWR, North Carolina
Ballard indicated the Colts believe Bernhard Raimann, a third-round pick in 2022, could be their left tackle in 2023 after an up and down rookie season. If that’s the case, offensive tackling might not be a priority as Braden Smith is the expectant starter at right (he has a contract through 2025). And there might not be a guard worth going that high, assuming Florida’s O’Cyrus Torrence is off the board.
So Indianapolis could try to boost its wide reception space. Parris Campbell and Ashton Dulin will be unrestricted free agents this offseason, and the split in the field has been one of the team’s many offensive issues in 2022.
Downs won’t impress with his height (5-foot-10, 175) and he plays mostly outside the slot, but he was one of college football’s most prolific passers and a great playmaker. Among wide receivers with at least 80 goals in 2022, Downs led the FBS with an 81% catch rate and finished second with a contested catch rate of 72.2%, according to Pro Football Focus. He had 94 receptions (third among Power 5 wide receivers) for 1,029 yards and 11 touchdowns at UNC in 2022, his second straight 1,000-yard season.
41. Titans: Jalin HyattWR, Tennessee
After trading AJ Brown, the Titans had one of the NFL’s worst wide receiver rooms in 2022. They didn’t have a 600-yard receiver for the season. They had the third-worst passing attack in the league by mileage. The lone bright spot, rookie first-round pick Treylon Burks was limited to 11 games through injury.
Regardless of who the quarterback is next season, Tennessee will need a passing game to get back into the playoffs. The answer may lie in the team’s backyard.
Hyatt was the most dynamic receiver on the Vols’ explosive offense last season with 67 receptions for 1,267 yards with 15 touchdowns, leading the Power 5 and ranking second on the FBS. The 6-foot, 180-pound Hyatt also ranked in the top four in the FBS in passersby rating when tackled (first), yards per reception (third), and yards after contact per reception (fourth). It brings speed and vertical threat, two things Titans desperately need.
56. Jaguars: Matthew BergeronOT, Syracuse
With left tackle Cam Robinson suffering a meniscus injury at the end of the 2022 season, his status in 2023 is uncertain. Former second-round pick Walker Little is a capable replacement, but the Jaguars need to ramp up their offensive tackle depth. They also need insurance in case right tackle Jawaan Taylor, who is set to face an unrestricted free hand, has priced his way out of Jacksonville.
At Syracuse, the 6-foot-5, 322-pound Bergeron started a total of 38 games in left and right tackles. So he can play both sides. Of offensive tackles who played at least 553 snaps last season, Bergeron was the third-highest pass blocker and fifth-highest run blocker in the ACC, according to Pro Football Focus. His 12 allowed pressures for the season also ranked third in the league, according to the PFF.
Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beatwriter for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) before moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.
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