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Emerging Titans lead way with 10 players on All-AFC South team

DeMarco Murray, Taylor Lewan and eight other Titans earned spots on ESPN's All-AFC South team this season. Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports

The AFC South got a new veteran quarterback in Houston, a new general manager and coach in Tennessee, a healthier Andrew Luck and big free-agent class in Jacksonville.

But the division did not get the overall big gains some of us expected. Outside of the Titans' jump in wins from three to nine, there was no forward movement. The Texans went 9-7 again, the Indianapolis Colts went 8-8 again and the Jaguars dropped from five wins to three.

Despite the limited improvement, the four ESPN NFL Nation reporters who cover the teams in the division created an All-AFC South team.

Some spots were clear: Titans rookie right tackle Jack Conklin was an All-Pro, and no other name at the position came up. No one offered resistance to Texans edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney. Many others were shoo–ins.

Some spots were not: Not wanting to water down the team, we left blanks at right guard and punt returner. A couple of guys made it as the best of weak groups.

Without further delay, here's the best of the division.

Sarah Barshop, Texans reporter: The Texans' defense has five representatives on the All-AFC South team, and rightfully so. Houston finished with the No. 1 overall defense in the NFL, highlighted by one of the best front sevens in the NFL, led by defensive end Clowney, outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus and inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney. The success the group had was especially impressive given that it was were missing three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt for most of the season after he re-injured his back. The secondary allowed the second fewest passing yards per game this season, with safety Quintin Demps and cornerback A.J. Bouye having the best seasons of their careers. The lone offensive player is wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. His 2016 season -- 78 catches for 954 yards and four touchdowns -- was a far cry from his breakout 2015 season, but he still proved a valuable receiver for the Texans and one of the best in the division.

Michael DiRocco, Jaguars reporter: The Jaguars moved Brandon Linder from guard to center in part because all the other teams in the division play a 3-4 defense. He handled himself well and finished the 2016 season as Pro Football Focus' No. 5 center and posted the best grade of his career (87.6). Defensive tackle Malik Jackson set a career high with 6.5 sacks and led the Jaguars with 17 quarterback hits. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey had a team-high 14 pass breakups, as well as two interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown. Ramsey was phenomenal in the Jaguars' Dec. 18 game against the Texans. He broke up a pair of passes to Hopkins in the end zone, tackled Hopkins short of a first down to force a field goal and broke up another third-down pass to Houston's top receiver. Marqise Lee averaged 30.3 yards on 18 kick returns and took one back 100 yards for a touchdown. Lee’s return average would have ranked second in the NFL to Minnesota’s Cordarrelle Patterson (31.7) had he had enough returns to qualify.

Paul Kuharsky, Titans reporter: Ten guys is the biggest presence from any one squad on the All-AFC South team and several were obvious choices. Running back DeMarco Murray, tight end Delanie Walker, left tackle Taylor Lewan, right tackle Conklin and outside linebacker Brian Orakpo didn't require much debate. Wide receiver Rishard Matthews won our flex spot on offense but clearly ranked as the division's third-best receiver. Inside linebacker Avery Williamson was productive and deserving, as well, although there were times he hurt his team in coverage. Two others made the team as good players at weak positions. Left guard Quinton Spain is a tough, strong guy who played his role well on a good line. Rookie free safety Kevin Byard was in a rotation and was not a center-field type of player. But he won against a weak field, as no one else was comfortable making a case for a player at the position.

Mike Wells, Colts reporter: There was a time not long ago that the Colts would have dominated the All-AFC South team, on offense, at least. But times have changed in Indianapolis. The Colts no longer dominate the team, the same way they no longer dominate the division. One of the few positives in what was yet another disappointing season was that Luck rebounded from the worst season of his career in 2015 to have a career high in completion percentage. Receiver T.Y. Hilton led the NFL in receiving yards. Kicker Adam Vinatieri continues to prove age is just a number. The 44-year-old set an NFL record when he made 44 straight field goals, breaking Mike Vanderjagt's previous record of 43. To put into perspective how things were with the Colts this season, you could argue that punter Pat McAfee would have been in the running for team MVP behind Luck and Hilton. McAfee led the league in punting average at 49.3 yards a punt. Cornerback Vontae Davis didn't have the same type of impact as in years past, but he's still capable of taking away one side of the field.