Saturday, May 25, 2024
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2022 preseason All-AFC South Team: Matt Ryan-led Colts dominate offense, share defensive spotlight with Titans

Over the next two weeks, we will unveil our preseason All-Division teams, as is our annual tradition around this time of year. As always, the rosters were compiled largely by a panel of one, though there was significant input from the writing and editorial staff at CBSSports.com after I took an initial run at the rosters on my own. 

We began on Tuesday with the AFC East and continued Wednesday with the AFC North. Today, it’s the AFC South, and then we’ll finish up the conference tomorrow with the AFC West. Next week, it’s on to the NFC. Without further ado …

Offensive skill positions

QB: Matt Ryan (IND)

RB: Jonathan Taylor (IND)

WR: Michael Pittman (IND), Brandin Cooks (HOU), Christian Kirk (JAX)

TE: Brevin Jordan (HOU)

FLEX: Derrick Henry (TEN)

Be prepared, folks. This division is ROUGH. Matt Ryan, last seen struggling pretty badly for the 2021 Falcons, is pretty clearly the best quarterback in the division at the moment. Barring a significant step forward from Trevor Lawrence or Ryan Tannehill somehow rediscovering his elite efficiency despite no longer having A.J. Brown by his side, Ryan seems likely to be the most productive passer during the 2022 season as well. We know he’ll be put in position to succeed by Frank Reich and will be working behind a non-disaster of an offensive line, at least.

Prior to his injury, Henry was on track for another absolute monster season. In eight games, he carried an incredible 219 times for 937 yards and 10 scores. That’s a 465-carry pace in a 17-game season. The 4.3 yards-per-carry average, though, was his worst since his second NFL season. He’s also a now-28-year-old, 247-pound running back coming off a broken foot and 955 touches over the past 2.5 years. The likelihood of his remaining as absurdly productive in 2022 as he was from 2019 through 2021 is low … but he still makes this team because he’s just that good, and the rest of the division is that bad. He’s just the flex guy instead of the running back, where Taylor gets the nod due to his youth and health advantages. 

Pittman took a step forward in Year 2 despite a downgrade in quarterback play, and with Ryan replacing Carson Wentz, should continue to progress as a No. 1 perimeter option. Cooks has been one of the league’s most consistent producers despite persistent injury issues, just racking up over 1,000 yards year after year. With Davis Mills under center all season, he has a good shot to get there again. While Kirk is no doubt overpaid, he’s also a lot better than what the Jags had at the receiver position last year, and should help elevate Lawrence in Year 2. The tight end crop in this division is fairly weak, and Jordan has a chance to stand out as a secondary target in Houston’s offense. Once he actually got on the field last year, he was pretty effective over the middle and up the seam. 

Offensive line

OT: Laremy Tunsil (HOU), Braden Smith (IND)

G: Quenton Nelson (IND), Brandon Scherff (JAX)

C: Ryan Kelly (IND)

This is the area where the AFC South is strongest. Tunsil’s monster contract overstates the degree to which he is actually one of the league’s very top tackles, but he’s a damn good one, and there’s no reason to expect a decline in his age-28 season, so long as he remains healthier than he did a year ago. Smith gets overshadowed because he was drafted the same year by the same team as his future Hall of Fame teammate, Nelson, but he’s emerged as a very good right tackle. Nelson is an absolute no-brainer here. Duh. Scherff’s contract is a bit expensive for a player with his health history, but when he’s on the field, he’s one of the NFL’s best guards. Kelly has health issues of his own, but he’s also just a really good center. He gets the nod over Tennessee’s Ben Jones because he’s mostly been able to stay healthy these past few years, and he’s got relative youth on his side. 

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Defensive front

EDGE: Harold Landry (TEN), Kwity Paye (IND)

IDL: DeForest Buckner (IND), Jeffery Simmons (TEN)

LB: Shaquille Leonard (IND), Zach Cunningham (TEN)

Entering his prime at age 26, we’re betting against Landry continuing his “every other year” trend and instead following up last year’s 12-sack season with another productive year under defensive coordinator Shane Bowen. Paye, meanwhile, should benefit from Gus Bradley’s coaching. He’s shown an ability to get the best out of athletic edge rushers, including Paye’s new teammate, Yannick Ngakoue, who just keeps following Bradley from team to team. 

If not for the existence of Aaron Donald, Buckner would be a much more well-known player. He is so absurdly good on the defensive interior, and just does not get enough attention because he happens to be playing at the same time as one of the small handful of best defensive players in NFL history. Simmons began fulfilling his potential last regular season, then exploded in Tennessee’s playoff loss to the Bengals. He’ll be 25 this season, and he’s going to be a monster. 

Leonard was another no-brainer here. He has been a star since the moment he stepped on the field, making four consecutive Pro Bowls and All-Pro teams (three first, one second). We are, uh, not betting against that trend continuing in 2022 — even in a different defensive system. Cunningham played quite well after arriving in Tennessee following a trade from the Texans. He helped solidify the second level of an underrated Tennessee defense. There for a full season, we’re expecting him to be a consistent force this year.

Defensive backfield

CB: Kenny Moore II (IND), Stephon Gilmore (IND), Kristian Fulton (TEN)

SAF: Kevin Byard (TEN), Julian Blackmon (IND)

FLEX: Darious Williams (JAX)

Moore is one of the most underrated players in the NFL, and one of the most consistently good slot corners in the league over the past few seasons. Here, he gets his due. Gilmore hasn’t rediscovered his Defensive Player of the Year heights, but that doesn’t mean he’s not still a really good player. He’s not necessarily a perfect fit for Bradley’s defense, but the talent is too much to bet against here. Fulton took a step forward in Year 2, and with good health should continue to progress as a solid player. Williams, coming from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, should be a strong No. 2 corner. He can get picked on occasionally due to his slight build, but he’s been quite good in coverage the past couple seasons. 

Byard is a star, and one of the league’s best back-end ballhawks. He was an easy choice for one of the safety spots. Blackmon struggled with injuries in Year 2 after a very promising rookie year. If he’s healthy, we see him becoming one of the league’s better young safeties due to his ability to clean things up over the top. 

Specialists

K: Randy Bullock (TEN)

P: Logan Cooke (JAX)

RET: Jamal Agnew (JAX)

I won’t lie … I asked our resident kicking expert (John Breech) who he thinks are the best kickers and punters in each division, and copy/pasted those names onto each All-Division team. Agnew took a slight step backward last season, but his track record through five years is strong so we’re betting on something of a bounceback.

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