Day 3 of our All-Division Teams takes us to the AFC South which is currently in a state of flux. With no Peyton Manning it was anything but the status quo as the Texans managed to dominate a division they justly won, while overcoming a plethora of injuries in the process.
But what about the best players from the AFC South? Were the Texans able to make us much noise with our team as they did in the regular season? Or were the combined efforts of the Titans, Colts, and Jaguars enough to make this more of an AFC South team, and less of a Houston Texans team?
As ever, reading on provides the answers.
Quarterback: Matt Schaub, HOU
Schaub missed time due to his foot injury, but with only the average Matt Hasselbeck as competition, he was never in danger of losing his spot. He ended up 10th in our passer rankings despite only starting 10 games.
Running Backs: Maurice Jones-Drew, JAX and Arian Foster, HOU
Have we cheated? Fans of Greg Jones, our third-ranked fullback, would probably argue so. However, we didn’t feel that it would be right to have an All-AFC South team without two of the best players in the division. Foster’s fumbling hurt him a little this year, but he still finished fifth in our running back rankings; three spots behind the excellent Jones-Drew.
Tight End: Owen Daniels, HOU
It became something of a debate as to whether to go with Daniels or Greg Jones, but ultimately we decided having a starting lineup with three backs in the backfield would just be too much. Daniels will never be the greatest blocker, but he looks back to his best after his 2009 injury, ending the year with our sixth-highest grade for a receiving tight end.
Wide Receivers: Reggie Wayne, IND and Nate Washington, TEN
You have to love the toughness of Nate Washington who looked to be in agony with nearly every reception he made, and yet still had his best season as a pro. People have been quick to write off Wayne, never the quickest receiver in the league, saying he’s past it. He isn’t, and an effective quarterback would have gone a long way to showing that.
Tackles: Duane Brown, HOU and Eric Winston, HOU
The Texans’ duo earned their nod in the face of some stiff competition, particularly at the left tackle spot where the division is stacked with talent. Eugene Monroe looked like he had finally gotten it, and Michael Roos upped his game after a couple of lackluster years. What pushed Brown past those two? Being the only consistently starting offensive tackle not to give up a sack this year. Winston had some bad moments, but continues to be one of the most consistent right tackles in the league.
Guards: Leroy Harris, TEN and Jake Scott, TEN
It was like watching a different Harris this year, who looked much better in Year 2 as the Titans’ starting left guard. Both he and Scott were better with their pass protection, but given the level of play from the guards this year (featuring a real down year from Wade Smith) that was enough for both men.
Center: Chris Myers, HOU
If you’re our top-ranked center you’re always going to make your division’s team. Myers had the kind of year that warranted an All-Pro nod, so we’ll happily praise him at every possible chance.
Defensive Line: Jeremy Mincey, JAX and Connor Barwin, HOU
We’re using a hybrid 3-4/4-3 for our defense, so expect to see Barwin playing in both stances in base–or at least you would if this team would ever step on a field. He does benefit somewhat by in playing in an aggressive scheme that limits double teams in pass rushing situations, but he still made plenty of plays. Mincey was actually more impressive, and to his credit, didn’t wear down despite seeing the second-highest number of snaps for any defensive end.
Defensive Tackles: J.J. Watt, HOU and Jurrell Casey, TEN
Could Watt hold up as a regular defensive tackle? The Second Coming (of Justin Smith) improved as the season went along and will head into 2012 as one of the hardest-to-handle defensive linemen in the league. Casey was almost as impressive as a rookie, and while he lacks the explosive qualities of Watt, he more than makes up for them, as evidenced by finishing third in our Run Stop Percentage for defensive tackles.
Linebackers: Brian Cushing, HOU, Paul Posluszny, JAX, and Daryl Smith, JAX
Our linebackers are as good as it gets, with Posluszny in the middle, and flanked by (in our eyes) an All-Pro (Smith) and second team All-Pro (Cushing). Smith never seems to get the credit his play deserves, but he finished as our leading ‘traditional’ 4-3 OLB in 2011. You wondered how Cushing would get on in a 3-4, especially when it seemed he may be subbed out of their sub-packages. Fortunately, the coaching staff rectified this and Cushing repaid them with a ton of plays.
Cornerbacks: Johnathan Joseph, HOU and Cortland Finnegan, TEN
Two guys who made our All-Pro squads, although this time Finnegan won’t have to settle for being the slot guy. That honor falls to Brice McCain, with Finnegan proving an able No. 2 to the excellent Joseph. What impressed about Joseph is that he earned our eighth-highest coverage grade while tracking teams’ top receivers. A lower grade than Finnegan (who was sixth), but more noteworthy nonetheless.
Safeties: Michael Griffin, TEN and Antoine Bethea, IND
This wasn’t the easiest spot to pick, but in the end, we looked past Michael Griffins’ habits of biting hard on play fakes to link him up with the active Bethea who made 21 more tackles in run defense than any other safety.
Kicker: Rob Bironas, TEN – Finished the year with our fourth-highest score for kickoffs.
Punter: Pat McAfee, IND – Sixth in our punter rankings and led the Colts in special teams tackles.
Returner: Jacoby Jones, HOU – Forget the playoffs for a second, Jones was a pretty decent punt returner.
Special Teamer: Kassim Osgood, JAX – Never lets you down when the ball is getting kicked.