Every NFL Team’s Top Impact Rookie Candidate: AFC South

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Jun 3, 2019; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor (75) practices during organized team activities at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 3, 2019; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor (75) practices during organized team activities at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

For the next week, we will pick the rookie most likely to make the biggest splash on their new team. That impact could entail instigating a turn-around a la Baker Mayfield or Darius Leonard, or simply fitting into an already-strong system and helping said system take a leap, a la Derwin James or Bradley Chubb

In many cases, the team’s top pick will earn the spot, by nature of their talent. However, that will not always hold true. Some top picks will have to wait their turn this year, or the players around them do not project to bring out the best in them right now. With that being said, let’s get started with the NFC East.

Houston Texans: OT Tytus Howard

The M.O. of every team with a young quarterback should be protecting him, first and foremost. Yet, through two seasons, Deshaun Watson has been among the most pressured quarterbacks in the league. As such, it made sense that Houston would use their first round pick on an athletic tackle. The surprise in selecting Tytus Howard was the fact that Houston selected him, an FCS standout but a projected second-rounder, over other projected first-rounders like Cody Ford and Jawaan Taylor

On paper and on film, Howard checks many boxes. He is massive, moves quickly and fluidly and plays angles well in the run game. However, he also plays a little below his size from a strength perspective, and his relatively weaker college competition may have inhibited his technique advancements. As such, he may be a bit more of project than one would like in their first round linemen. That said, Houston has already moved Howard up and down the line in minicamp. So even if his time as a franchise left tackle is down the road a bit, the Texans will make sure Howard has a major role in protecting Watson in his rookie season.

Indianapolis Colts: DE/LB Ben Banogu

Indianapolis loaded up on day two picks in this year’s draft. From Rock Ya-Sin to Ben Banogu to Parris Campbell and then Bobby Okereke in the third, Indianapolis appears to have set their depth for 2019, and possibly for the long haul. Between those four, each has a case for top impact rookie, but by nature of his position and the players in front of him, the choice is Banogu.

Banogu’s long-term position is still a slight question mark, but the Colts at least have made the firm decision to start him at defensive end for training camp. He saw work at linebacker as well, but Matt Eberflus said that the team felt defensive end was a better starting point. The move makes sense both in playing to Banogu’s strengths and giving him opportunities early on. Banogu is a long, athletic rusher who thrives on setting up inside moves, which should work well in Eberflus’ aggressive style of defense.

Plus, with Tyquan Lewis bumping inside to tackle full-time, there are openings in the end rotation. Jabaal Sheard and Justin Houston will presumably start. Behind them, Banogu and last year’s second-rounder Kemoko Turay will get ample opportunity to rush the passer, presumably. More than Ya-Sin and Campbell, the impact snaps seem less crowded in year one for Banogu. 

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Jacksonville Jaguars: OT Jawaan Taylor

Jacksonville was perhaps the ultimate beneficiary of surprise falls in the draft. Josh Allen was not supposed to slip to them at seven, yet he did. Perhaps more egregious, Jawaan Taylor was supposed to go in the first, and some penciled him to Jacksonville at seventh overall. Alas, Taylor landed with the Jaguars in the second. Both players should make immediate impact in their rookie seasons, but as with Banogu and the Colts, the nod goes to Taylor simply by nature of the players on the team.

With Allen, Jacksonville has reloaded a stacked defensive line group. But Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue are probably going to start at end, leaving Allen as a rotation player. Granted, he will get a lot of run when Campbell bumps inside for passing downs. But compare that with Taylor, who is probably going to start day one.

On top of that, Taylor is going to be tasked with protecting Jacksonville’s new high-priced asset, Nick Foles. We have seen from the Jaguars that they can be an elite team so long as they get adequate offense. As such, the protection in front of Foles is going to be paramount to the Jaguars’ success. Taylor is as physically gifted a tackle as there is in the class, so he will likely be a major focal point of their offensive line going forward.

Tennessee Titans: WR A.J. Brown

This division on the whole drafted exceptionally well. Tennessee may have done better than all of them, given the impact players they acquired with their first four picks. Due to first-rounder Jeffery Simmons’ injury, he is not in play for this season, so the choice is between A.J. Brown and Nate Davis. And with the state of the Titans’ receiver group, Brown gets the nod.

Truth be told, Tennessee could have been a playoff team if not for lackluster weapons around Marcus Mariota. Their leading receiver, Corey Davis, finished with fewer than 900 yards and just four touchdowns. Their number two, Taywan Taylor, had fewer than 500. Now, Brown is not going to come in and be a true number one right away. But he is an NFL-ready prospect with polished technique and route-running skills. He will find ways to get open early and often in his Titans career. The duo of Brown in the slot next to Davis on the edge could be a lethal combo in a make-or-break year for Mariota.

–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.

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