Scouts Eye on AFC South run games

Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson takes on the AFC South running backs in this Insider piece Tuesday. You know the division is loaded with talented run games when Arian Foster and the Texans rank third. Here’s a sampling of Williamson’s assessment, with some reaction from me.

Tennessee Titans

Williamson: “Johnson might be the most dangerous player in all of football. The entire league was keying on him last season, and the blocking for him wasn't nearly as good as it was in 2009. His quarterback situation certainly didn't help his cause. It was unrealistic to expect him to maintain the pace that he set for himself in 2009.

“But I also believe that Johnson took a small step backward last season. I have very few worries about him and do think he is simply phenomenal, but I thought he tried to bounce more runs outside, didn't always take what was given to him and too often looked to bust the long run. Johnson was hit behind the line of scrimmage far too often in 2010. Always looking for the big play doesn't work well in this league. In 2009, the big plays came from a workmanlike approach to every carry.”

He also says pass blocking was a problem for Johnson last season and notes how he fared far worse as a pass-catcher than he did in 2009. He believes rookie Jamie Harper will get more work than Javon Ringer if Johnson is healthy, and could even challenge for some third-down action.

Kuharsky: The interior line simply has to play better to maximize the Titans' chances to run effectively, and all indications are the team will re-sign Leroy Harris and stick with him and Jake Scott as the guards with Eugene Amano as the center. Johnson needs to find ways to be more of a leader.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Williamson: “[Maurice Jones-Drew’s] career to date has been impeccable. I am very high on him, but I do fear that we are seeing the very first stages of his inevitable demise. Running backs don't last long in this league.

“That isn't to say that Jones-Drew will not be effective in 2011. I think he will again rank among the best at his position. He was very impressive last year, averaging more than 117 total yards in his 14 games with every defender on the field keying on him. And he did it while battling a knee injury for the better part of the season. Jones-Drew posted a six-game stretch last season when he rushed for more than 100 yards. His toughness cannot be questioned. He is a bowling ball -- extremely difficult to get a great hit on and quite good in short-yardage situations. Jones-Drew is the definition of a leverage player. He is a touchdown machine who excels between the tackles, on the perimeter and as a pass-catcher. Despite his size, Jones-Drew is also one of the best running backs in the league in blitz pickup. He can do it all.”

He calls Jones-Drew an old 26 and sees Rashad Jennings as one of the most underrated backups in the league.

Kuharsky: The passing game needs to offer Jones-Drew and the run blocking better relief and help open things up. That falls on receivers Mike Thomas, Jason Hill and Jarett Dillard as well as tight ends Marcedes Lewis and Zach Miller.

Houston Texans

Williamson: “[Foster] has very good size, exceptional run instincts, strength, cutback ability and breakaway speed. Foster presses the hole very well and shows great patience and skill with setting up his blocks. He is also excellent out of the backfield as a receiver, and offenses designed by Gary Kubiak throw a lot to running backs…

“Can he match those astronomical numbers? I tend to doubt it. He did log 392 total touches, and durability remains a question mark. But everything is set up for this 24-year-old, who has only 380 carries at this level, to excel again in 2011.”

He doesn’t love Derrick Ward or Ben Tate, and predicts Steve Slaton will be elsewhere but not bring much in return. He gives high praise to Vonta Leach and the entire run blocking game.

Kuharsky: There is a lot of sophomore slump talk out there regarding Foster. (I know it’s his third year, but it will only be his second as the starter from the beginning.) I don’t foresee it. And if teams load up to stop him, Houston is equipped to make them pay in the pass game.

Indianapolis Colts

Williamson: He fears Joseph Addai’s best years may be behind him already, but as a solid dump-off threat and a trustworthy piece for Peyton Manning, he believes Addai is more valuable to the Colts than he would be to anyone else.

The most interesting piece of this write-up is on rookie Delone Carter:

“It might not happen right away, especially with the lockout situation, but I honestly would not be shocked if Carter became the No. 1 option at running back.

“This guy is a brute. He is built low and like a brick wall. And yet he is quite nimble. Carter is a decisive runner who will stick his foot in the ground and get downhill with conviction. He should be excellent in short-yardage situations and near the goal line. Indianapolis has not had such a running back in some time. As with any rookie runner, pass protection could take some time, but his competitiveness and build imply that he could eventually excel at keeping Manning clean in the pocket. He could use work as a receiver as well. He's the type of runner who can consistently keep Indianapolis ahead of the down. When Manning sees favorable numbers in the box, Carter should excel. Carter could put the Colts' opponents away once Indianapolis gets a firm lead late in games. Don't underestimate how important that is. The selection of Carter could go down as the best value pick in the draft.”

Kuharsky: I completely agree about Addai -- he’s a better back in this system than he would be elsewhere. The Colts have talked of dipping into free agency a bit. If Reggie Bush is available and affordable, I believe they’d consider him and look to pair him, rather than Addai, with Carter.