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Are AFC South foes gaining on the Colts?

Houston's No.1 pick, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, holds up his jersey after the draft. (Photo by the Associated Press)
Houston's No.1 pick, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, holds up his jersey after the draft. (Photo by the Associated Press)

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For more on the Colts, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press

Houston looks like the big winner after offseason changes

Friday, May 16, 2014 12:01 am
The Indianapolis Colts' draft was a lean one, given only five picks and none in the first round. But the Colts did pick up some quality free agents in wide receiver Hakeem Nicks and defensive tackle Arthur Jones and they return some key players who missed time with injuries.So how much ground did the Colts' AFC South opponents gain, if any?

Houston was the clear winner of most improved division opponent on paper, which is all we've got to judge by for now.

Here's a look at the three Colts division opponents, their draft gains, offseason improvements and remaining needs, plus my gauge on their threat level to the Colts' hold on the division.Draft gains: The Texans took South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney at No.1 in the draft, with the idea of teaming him with J.J. Watt to harass Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. The Texans also made solid picks with UCLA guard Xavier Su'a-Filo and Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and grabbed a possible big-value pick in the third round with Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix III. They waited until the fourth round to take a quarterback in Pittsburgh's Tom Savage.

Offseason improvements: The Texans made a clean sweep of the coaching staff, hiring Penn State's Bill O'Brien to replace the ousted Gary Kubiak. O'Brien hired Romeo Crennel as defensive coordinator. The Texans' lousy record last season was an anomaly, not unlike the Colts' mark in 2011 before picking up Luck. Crennel and the defensive parts he has in place should concern the Colts. The Texans improved defensively, no question, and they were already a strong defense.

Remaining needs: Championship teams need championship-level quarterbacks and the Texans roster has what I would consider “second-place level” quarterbacks in Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum, T.J. Yates and the rookie Savage. Maybe Savage develops into a big-time QB, but that's down the road. This remains an Achilles heel. Even if your defense slows Luck and the Colts, you still have to score.

Threat to Colts: The Texans will push the Colts this year – if they get quality quarterback play. Their defense will be a major thorn in Indy's side. Houston could take the division if the Colts slip even a bit.Draft gains: The Titans eschewed flash with the No.11 pick in the first round, going with Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan (6-foot-7, 309 pounds) to serve as the presumed cornerstone of their line for years to come. They used their second-round pick on Washington running back Bishop Sankey and fourth-round picks on Penn State defensive tackle DaQuan Jones and Wyoming free safety Marqueston Huff.

Offseason improvements: Ken Whisenhunt is the new coach and he should bring a fresh attitude to the Titans. Looking for a playmaker, the Titans signed wide receiver Dexter McCluster, who could be poised for a breakthrough season if he develops a rapport with quarterback Jake Locker, who returns to health after missing half of last season. With the team's decision to part ways with running back Chris Johnson, it'll be up to Shonn Greene to step up his play. To help matters, they signed offensive tackle Michael Oher in free agency. Defensively, they signed veteran linebacker Shaun Phillips, who had 10 sacks with the Denver Broncos last season. We know who he'll be targeting in the AFC South.

Remaining needs: Like the Texans, the Titans remain questionable at quarterback, depending on the continued development of Locker. Some feel the Titans pulled a steal with their sixth-round pick of LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger (6-5, 224), who has played in a pro system and could be ready to step in if Locker is hurt or unproductive.

Threat to Colts: Tennessee isn't a legitimate AFC South contender yet because of their quarterback situation. If Locker soars, they could surprise.Draft gains: The Jaguars know how important it is to have a quality quarterback and they're betting the future on No.3 pick Blake Bortles out of Central Florida. Bortles is 6-5, 232, and NFL Network's Mike Mayock compares him favorably with the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger. The Jaguars immediately drafted Bortles some young receivers, taking USC's Marquis Lee and Penn State's Allen Robinson in the second round. Lee was not expected to be available when the Jags picked in the second round, so they were elated to see him on the board. Bortles-to-Lee is a combo they're banking on for the future.

Offseason improvements: They signed former Indiana University wide receiver Tandon Doss, who could impact in the return game even if he's not a top receiver. They added linebacker Dekoda Watson, who had been with Tampa Bay, and believe he has the skills to turn into an impact player. Other pickups include veteran defensive end Chris Clemons and defensive tackle Ziggy Hood.

Remaining needs: Bortles could start from Day One, although the Jags are returning Chad Henne, who started the last 11 games last season. It's possible Jacksonville will consider going with Henne early to take pressure off Bortles. There are some weapons at receiver in the rookie receivers, Doss, and returning veterans Cecil Shorts, Ace Sanders and Mike Brown. In short, the Jags will likely rely on young players throughout the roster.

Threat to Colts: The Jaguars should be better in 2014, but they're not a serious AFC South contender.

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For more on the Colts, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1


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