Division loads up on defense early

Arizona's Earl Mitchell was one of nine defensive players taken by AFC South teams. Derrick Tuskan/Icon SMI

Priorities are clear in the AFC South: Gear up to slow down Peyton Manning and Matt Schaub, prepare to track Chris Johnson and knock heads with Maurice Jones-Drew.

And if a pool of the first 98 college prospects happens to feed that by being defense-heavy, well that’s great.

Through the first three rounds of the NFL draft, the division has spent nine of 11 picks on defense: three defensive tackles, two defensive ends, two cornerbacks and two linebackers.

The lone offensive offenders: Houston second-round running back Ben Tate and Titans third-round receiver Damian Williams, whose first chances will come as a returner.

Overall, 54 players were drafted on defense, 44 on offense.

In the AFC it was 29-25 offense. Take the AFC South numbers out, and the rest of the conference actually drafted more on offense: 23-18

The Colts wanted to address their offensive line. But the defending AFC Champions and Bill Polian always strive to stick to their board, and it directed them to three defenders with their first three picks: end Jerry Hughes, linebacker Pat Angerer and cornerback Kevin Thomas.

“We always have a bias towards defensive players high in the draft because athleticism is so important to us, and in the early rounds what you find is athleticism,” Polian told Indianapolis reporters. “That’s where those guys go … If you like a defensive player and you think he can help your team, you better get him up in the early rounds because they are not going to last. In that sense, there is a bit of a bias.

“We would have taken plenty of offensive players that went off before we picked had they been available to us, but they just weren’t … Obviously, these were players that we are happy to have and wanted on our football team, no question about that. I wouldn’t say we started out specifically saying, ‘We want defense.’ As I say, it tends to fall that way. If you’re at the back part of the early rounds the odds are pretty good that defensive players are what is going to be there.”

In Nashville, GM Mike Reinfeldt and coach Jeff Fisher took end Derrick Morgan in the first round, didn’t have a second-rounder, and followed Williams with linebacker Rennie Curran late in the third.

The defensive leaning seemed like it fit with the draft as a whole, Fisher said.

“It seemed like the case across the board, we knew going in it was going to be a strong defensive draft, one probably better than we can remember,” he said. “It seemed like the defensive players just kept coming off the board. Teams in the division identified needs, are trying to bolster their defense. I know there are needs in the division [on offense] but the appropriate players weren’t there when the pick came, we saw that several times.”

Reinfeldt said the draft is top-heavy on the defensive side, and while he doesn’t expect things to even out over Rounds 4 through 7 Saturday, “it will flow back the other way.”

For the Colts that could mean an offensive lineman or two, and the Titans, Texans and Jaguars may all look for an interior offensive lineman. Tennessee could go with a developmental quarterback and Jacksonville would also love to add a playmaker at wide receiver.

They’ll all feel better making those selections knowing they’ve bolstered things on defense already.