With all the teams that go from bad to great and great to bad from one season to the next, forecasting how things will pan out in the NFL is close to impossible.
It’s another ingredient in why the NFL is the best thing going in sports, another piece of the unpredictability we love.
Generally, I have trouble forecasting big things for teams that are counting on a high number of unproven players to make simultaneous jumps and be productive -- though they can emerge as far better than I expect, of course. Still, it’s why I am not particularly optimistic about the 2010 Tennessee Titans.
I thought I’d go team-by-team in search of less-than-established spots in the lineup to create an AFC South uncertainty index.
Let’s be clear: you may not prefer Amobi Okoye at defensive tackle for the Houston Texans, Kyle DeVan at right guard for the Indianapolis Colts, Brad Meester at center for the Jacksonville Jaguars or Michael Griffin at safety for the Titans. But they are guys who will play and have a degree of faith from the team.
I’m looking at spots where inexperience is a big factor.
We’re not pretending to know the season-opening depth charts here, simply building off last year’s versions. We’ll look a bit beyond starting lineups with significant roles and return jobs included. Here's our look in order of uncertainty. (Starting positions labeled with an asterisk.)
Titans (10, with three starters)
*Defensive end: Derrick Morgan
*Outside linebacker: Gerald McRath
Third outside cornerback: McCourty, Mouton, Verner, Hood, Hill
Second running back: Javon Ringer
Blocking tight end: Craig Stevens
Second receiving tight end: Jared Cook
Third defensive tackle: Sen’Derrick Marks
Kuharsky’s take: Sure, young and talented can be exciting and promising, but that’s quite a lot. You’d expect Morgan to be fine. And they went with numbers instead of value at corner, where I’d think one or two guys have to emerge. McRath, Stevens, Cook and Marks all need to contribute. If Jeff Fisher hasn’t found solutions in the return game, they’ve got serious issues.
Jaguars (10 with two starters)
*Defensive tackle: Tyson Alualu
Third or fourth defensive tackle: D’Anthony Smith
Third tight end: Zach Miller
Punt returner: Scotty McGee, Thomas, Karim
Kick returner: McGee, Karim, Thomas
Kuharsky’s take: Alualu, the first rounder, should fare well. Finding playmakers (beyond hyphen guys Mike Sims-Walker and Maurice Jones-Drew) out of the receivers and running backs is a huge issue. McGee or Karim panning out as a returner would help in that department too. With shaky veteran safeties, nickelback will be especially important.
Indianapolis (six, with one starter)
Third defensive end: Jerry Hughes
Kick returner: Fisher, Sam Giguere, James
Kuharsky’s take: Potentially they’ve got just one starting spot in question. A season-killing knee injury to third-rounder Kevin Thomas hurts depth options at cornerback, but a lot of teams would be pleased for that to rank as one of its big issues. Eldridge could help upgrade run-blocking and Fisher and James seem to be more exciting return options than they’ve had recently.
Houston (four, with three starters)
*Running back: Ben Tate
*Right guard: Antoine Caldwell
*Cornerback: Kareem Jackson
Kuharsky’s take: I’d prefer to have inexperienced guys with upside in the mix at nose tackle and free safety, but they look to be sticking with the status quo in Shaun Cody and Eugene Wilson, respectively. If you’re going to have new starters, let them be high draft picks like Tate (second), Caldwell (third last year) and Jackson (first).