September 25, 2021

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Is Wentz the Answer for Colts? Can Titans Find Targets for Tannehill?

6 min read


For this May round of Four Downs, we will be looking at each team’s biggest remaining need as well as notable undrafted free agents who will be going to camp with each franchise.

HOUSTON TEXANS

Biggest Need: Running Back

While the Texans have done an admirable job—in so much as they have enough mediocre-to-average types on this roster to not have gaping holes—it’s really hard to understand anything about their running back room at this point. It didn’t make any sense that they kept and restructured David Johnson (30) after a few big runs into open holes salvaged his lost 2020 season. It didn’t make any sense that they signed Mark Ingram (31) after he was left inactive in several Ravens games last year. Picking up Phillip Lindsay off the scrap heap made some sense, but Lindsay forced a career-low 11.0% missed tackle rate in 2020 per Sports Info Solutions, far off his 17.4% rate in 2019.

And the Texans not only failed to target the position in the draft, they managed to find no playing time for 2020 undrafted free agent Scottie Phillips last year either. Unless Lindsay claims the job in camp and comes out blazing hot to show that last year was an injury-related fluke, where is the juice in this backfield? Ingram can provide good reads behind the line and Johnson can provide some underneath targets, but that’s about it.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents

For a team that drafted only five players, the Texans didn’t really buffer that with much in the way of undrafted free agents. Part of that is because they decided to sign every free agent that ever played in the NFL this offseason and didn’t have a lot of roster room. The headliners for this class are Texas A&M offensive linemen Ryan McCollum ($125,000 bonus) and Carson Green. With the uncertainty around the backup interior linemen on this roster, both have a chance to make the initial 53 or at the very least be practice-squadders. The team rounded out its four-player class with Missouri wideout Damon Hazelton and Central Florida receiver Marlon Williams … or at least that was the report; the team never officially signed Williams. So if that doesn’t happen, the class could be as small as three. Hazelton got off press coverage fairly well for the Tigers and could develop into an intermediate option on a depth chart that has a lot of potential 2021 free agents.


INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Biggest Need: Quarterback

This was slated to be left tackle, but then the Colts went out and signed Eric Fisher, closing up one of their few remaining holes. We’re not believers in the idea of a Carson Wentz comeback—he led the NFL in adjusted interceptions in 2020—but we must admit that it could happen and that the supporting cast around him now looks quite strong, if maybe not quite what it was in Philadelphia’s best days.

But this is more about the complete unknowns behind Wentz at backup quarterback. Neither Jacob Eason nor Sam Ehlinger has gotten a chance to show us anything. The Colts just happen to be in the exact position where a steady backup could be the difference between them winning 17-10 or losing 20-17 after a few bad interceptions. Even having to beat out someone such as Nick Mullens or Robert Griffin III in training camp might give us a little more confidence going forward in the youngsters that the Colts have stacked under Wentz.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents

The highest bonus the Colts handed out per reports was to Duke running back Deon Jackson, who profiles as a special teams gunner who can be a rotational third-down back and speed receiver—he’s the Nyheim Hines developmental replacement. With Hines, Marlon Mack, and Jordan Wilkins all having rookie deals expire after the season, Jackson has some upside. The most exciting player after that is probably Texas wideout Tarik Black, who added some explosive pro day results (90th percentile or higher in arm length, vertical jump, and broad jump) to a massive frame. Black can also help on special teams while they see if he develops into anything positive as a receiver.


JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Biggest Need: Tight End

After dealing Josh Oliver to the Ravens, the Jaguars are left with a tight end depth chart that is essentially barren. Chris Manhertz comes over from the Panthers as a blocking specialist. The Jaguars drafted Luke Farrell in the fifth round as an Urban Meyer legacy pick, as Meyer recruited Farrell to Ohio State. Farrell is also more of a blocking tight end who showed off 4.8s speed at his pro day. Somehow James O’Shaughnessy is the main receiving tight end in the room and that feels like a glitch in the matrix. O’Shaughnessy is fine roster depth, but he’s not threatening anything beyond running 8 yards, curling, and falling down.

Trevor Lawrence didn’t exactly fill up the stat line for Clemson’s tight ends, targeting Braden Galloway 27 times for 369 yards last season and Davis Allen for an additional 16 catches for 247 yards, but at a position that has been very much generalized as a “young quarterback’s best friend” in NFL decision-maker lore, it’s surprising that the Jaguars simply have decided to employ blockers.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents

Here’s a team that shelled out some real bonuses. Dylan Moses was probably one of the most highly regarded players to go undrafted; the Alabama linebacker who had medical concerns could be an instant contributor if he can stay on the field. The Jaguars’ depth chart at linebacker is settled at the top between Myles Jack and Joe Schobert, but there’s a lot of space for Moses to slide into below that. Southern Miss receiver Tim Jones got a $180,000 guarantee, one of the top-five amounts in the entire class, and profiles as a slot option assuming the Travis Etienne slot receiver train doesn’t take off. Finally, they also gave $120,000 guaranteed to Charleston defensive tackle Kenny Randall, who at 6-foot-2, 302 pounds, would seem to be in line to play nose tackle for the Jags if he impresses.


TENNESSEE TITANS

Biggest Need: Pass-Catchers

The Titans didn’t pick a wideout until the fourth round, when they took Louisville’s Dez Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick is an honest stab at filling the void, but draftniks roundly criticized his route-running and play-action can’t hide everything.

Back to that void: A.J. Brown is back, but other than him, the only other Titans wideout or tight end with as many as 15 targets that has returned to this year’s Tennessee team is Anthony Firkser. Corey Davis signed with the Jets, the team cut Adam Humphries, and Jonnu Smith got huge money from the Patriots. To put it another way: the player with the third-most returning targets is Derrick Henry, who had 31.

There are still some wideouts on the free-agent market who could patch up some of this. Kenny Stills would seem to fit well with how the Titans play, but for a team that was already going to be replacing Arthur Smith with Todd Downing, this is yet another source of unsteadiness for a pass offense that doesn’t need it.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents

LSU fullback Tory Carter got the highest bonus in the class, and Carter will threaten to make the roster and help on special teams while creating lanes for Derrick Henry in the event that offensive coordinator Todd Downing wants to take it back to 1995. Kansas State’s Briley Moore-McKinney was signed to make it an actual fullback competition and provide some H-back versatility. Moore-McKinney offers more athletically and as a receiver than Carter, while Carter has the real thump. BYU offensive lineman Chandon Herring showed a lot of athletic promise for his size, running a 5.05s 40-yard dash time at 6-foot-6, 307 pounds at the Cougars pro day. The Titans signed both a punter and a kicker, creating camp competition with Cincinnati punter James Smith and Ohio State kicker Blake Haubeil. Haubeil’s got a better chance to win his competition, as he’s up against another unestablished youngster in Tucker McCann.

Portions of this article previously appeared on ESPN+.

https://www.footballoutsiders.com/four-downs/2021/wentz-answer-colts-can-titans-find-targets-tannehill

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