(Editor’s note: third in an eight-part series on each team’s trending players from 2010).
The AFC South flashed a lot of talent in 2010 — when we posted our All-Division teams and looked at each roster, the argument was there that the South could have had the best superteam of any division … well, if you only looked at offense.
Defensive play — and the offensive line play outside of Houston — really suffered in the division this year, which added up to one playoff team and zero playoff wins.
Who rose and fell in 2010? Read on.
Moving On Up: DE Antonio Smith (-8.8 to +5.8)
Smith was an asset in the Cardinals 3-4 defense in their Super Bowl run, but struggled in his transition to the Texans 4-3 defense in 2009. By the end of 2009 he was showing some of the promise the Texans saw in him when they signed him, and in 2010 he became one of the best players on the Texans defense. Playing opposite Mario Williams, Smith showed that he is a formidable pass rusher in his own right with 64 combined pressures on the year.
Had a Bad Year: LB Zach Diles (+8.3 to -20.7)
In 2009 Diles was the weak-side linebacker for the Texans, and helped makeup one of the strongest linebacking corps in the NFL. In 2010, suspension to Cushing and an injury to Ryans saw his number of pass coverage situations go up by 70%. Opposing teams exposed Diles’ weakness in coverage, throwing at him 54 times, for 488 yards. He didn’t have the same impact blitzing as last year and looked a little lost in run support.
Give This Guy More Snaps: RB Derrick Ward (+2.1 in 125 snaps)
Although his year with the Buccaneers didn’t live up to its hype, Ward returned to the play we saw in 2008 in his limited snaps with the Texans. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry with 3.9 coming after contact. Arian Foster’s productivity went down as the season went on, so resting him more often while giving Ward a chance should keep the running game strong during the entire course of 2011.
Moving On Up: TE Jacob Tamme (-2.2 to +4.5)
Truth be told everyone else on the Colts team that played well this year ether played well last year or didn’t play on the team last year. So we kind of have no alternative but Tamme. After barely playing last year, Tamme was forced into the starting role because of an injury to Dallas Clark. He became a reliable target for Peyton Manning,
catching 7 or more balls in his 11 games. Tamme finished with our fourth best receiving grade for tight ends.
Had a Bad Year: RT Ryan Diem (+9.4 to -25.1)
Not many players regressed as much as Diem did this season. The right tackle had an up and down 2009, and this year there was a lot more down. He allowed 12 more pressures in two less games, and was consistently grading a bit below average in run blocking. This year wasn’t pretty for the Colts, and Diem was one of the reasons why.
Give This Guy More Snaps: LB Kavell Conner (+2.7 in 316 snaps)
Pretty much everyone who deserved to see more snaps in 2010 got their chance because of all the injuries the Colts suffered. Conner was pushed into the starting role late into the season to play in the base defense and performed nicely against the run, including a very strong game against the Titans. Linebacker isn’t a strong point for the Colts, so Conner deserves a shot to keep his starting job.
Moving On Up: C Brad Meester (-14.4 to +14.7)
The past two seasons for Brad Meester are like a before and after shot of someone who has gone on America’s Biggest Loser – different to the extreme. In 2009, while returning from injury, Meester was consistently rating in the negatives mostly due to his failures in run blocking. One year later, Meester’s success was in his ability to open up holes in the run game. He also cut down on the pressure he allowed – 24 in 2009 to 16 in 2010. At the start of the year you wondered if 2009 was the beginning of his decline, instead it was his road back from injury.
Had a Bad Year: RG Uche Nwaneri(+5.0 to -7.4)
While Meester saw a great improvement, the man to his right saw his rating go in the other direction. Nwaneri played well to begin the 2009 season, but saw his play regress a little at the end. Both Nwaneri’s run block rating and pass block rating continued to slide in 2010, and he had a few games where he played very poorly. He’s going to need to start earning that big contract soon enough.
Give This Guy More Snaps: TE Zach Potter (+0.2 in 154 snaps)
There weren’t many options here for the Jaguars, but we’ll go with Zach Potter. While the Jaguars are clearly set at tight end with Marcedes Lewis, Potter made a case to take over at the number two tight end spot over Zach Miller. Potter saw by far his most playing time in Week 13 against the Titans where he performed well in run blocking, and on pass downs never allowed a pressure. Miller’s weakness is run blocking, so Potter could see more time in the two tight end sets on run downs.
Moving On Up: DE Jason Babin (-0.3 to +25.1)
When the Titans acquired Babin from the Eagles, I don’t think they (or anyone) knew just how big of an impact Babin would have. He became a star on the defensive line, excelling in both pass rush and stopping the run. He was able to lead all defensive ends in both sacks (14) and quarterback hits (20), along with being in the top ten in stops.
Had a Bad Year: RT David Stewart (+18.8 to -9.6)
A lot of the Titans offensive linemen could be talked about here, but Stewart looked to be the best player on the line in 2009 when he performed equally well in pass and run blocking. In 2010, he went from being a good pass blocker to an average one. What really hurt the team is he (along with others on the line) went from being a good run blocker to a dreadful one. Because of that, Chris Johnson had roughly the same yards after contact per carry, but his total yards per carry went from 5.7 in 2009 to 4.3 in 2010.
Give This Guy More Snaps: DE Derrick Morgan (+4.1 in 114 snaps)
Morgan began the season as a rotational players on the Titans’ defensive line, but an injury kept him out for the majority of the season. Assuming he makes a full recovery, Morgan should return to being a member of the rotation. A strong pass rusher, he was able to get pressure on 14% of his rushes, a very high percentage for any player on defense.