To say the Colts underwent a lot of change this offseason would be a big understatement. They lost arguably the three most important pieces of their offense from last year: the starting quarterback, starting left tackle, and offensive coordinator.
Philip Rivers elected to retire, ensuring Indianapolis would begin the 2021 season with their fourth starting quarterback in as many years. Frank Reich elected to reunite with another old partner, as the team traded for Carson Wentz. Indy has a roster talented enough to make a deep run and turn into a solid NFL pick, but they’ll sink or swim with Wentz.
Will the former second overall pick get back to his 2017 level? Perhaps most importantly, how does he stack up against the other quarterbacks in the AFC South? Let’s break it all down:
On paper, the Titans would appear to be the Colts’ toughest competition in the division. Tennessee has made the playoffs in back to back seasons thanks in large to Ryan Tannehill’s resurgence, and they’re the defending AFC South champs.
Tannehill has been quite efficient since coming to the Titans from Miami, but there are some potential causes for concern in 2021. Most notably, the Titans lost offensive coordinator Arthur Smith to the Falcons this offseason. Mike Vrabel is a defensive coach, and Smith was the architect of Tennessee’s unique offense.
As such, if I was to make an NFL prediction, I’d expect some regression with Tannehill. That being said, he still played at a near MVP level in 2019, and was very solid last year. It’s hard to argue Wentz is a better option than him at this point.
Both the Texans and Jaguars have some uncertainty, but we’ll get to Houston in a moment. Jacksonville will be starting rookie Trevor Lawrence in 2021, their reward for earning the first overall pick. Anyone claiming to know exactly what Lawrence will look like isn’t someone I would trust.
There’s going to be a high degree of variance with the Jags, especially with a first-time NFL coach in Urban Meyer at the helm. Lawrence was a superstar at Clemson, and his ceiling is sky-high. There’s certainly a scenario where Lawrence delivers on his potential almost immediately and surpasses Wentz and Tannehill right away.
There’s also a very realistic scenario where he endures a season full of rookie struggles, and is the worst quarterback in the division. He’s got unlimited upside, but if you’re Reich and
Colts GM Chris Ballard and have a roster set up to win-now, you’d probably prefer a veteran like Wentz for this season. The issue then becomes solving Wentz’s confidence problems, which will fall squarely on Reich’s shoulders.
That brings us to Houston. The Texans are in a unique spot. It’s possible Deshaun Watson is traded, and it’s possible he’s suspended. If they somehow manage to patch things over with Watson and he isn’t suspended, they have one of the most talented quarterbacks in the league, not just the AFC South.
The fellow Clemson product was magnificent in 2020, putting up borderline historic numbers despite the team going 4-12. He averaged a ridiculous 8.9 yards per attempt. Houston has made some moves to prep for a worst case scenario, signing veteran journeymen Tyrod Taylor and Jeff Driskel. They also drafted Davis Mills from Stanford in the third-round.
It boils down to this. If Watson plays for the Texans, they’ve got the best quarterback situation in the division and it isn’t close. If he doesn’t, they’ve got the worst quarterback situation in the division and it isn’t close.
THE BOTTOM LINE
It’s going to be a very interesting season in the AFC South. There are plausible paths for each of the four teams to have the best passer, and worst passer in the division. Wentz certainly won’t be drastically outclassed, like he would be if he played in a division like the NFC West or AFC North.
Reich has his work cut out for him, but if he can get Wentz to just play competently this Colts team will be the heavy favorite to win the division at the NFL odds thanks to the defense Ballard has assembled. Either way, as the Texans showed last year, getting strong quarterback play doesn’t guarantee you anything.
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