Can Texans get Alabama’s Bryce Young at No. 2? AFC South mock draft
The 2022 NFL season isn’t quite over yet — Super Bowl LVII between the Chiefs and Eagles is Feb. 12 (6:30 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports App) — but most teams, including all those in the AFC South, have shifted focus to 2023.
Draft prep has hit a high gear this week with the Senior Bowl and Shrine Bowl.
The Jaguars, the reigning AFC South champions, are looking to take the next step to becoming a perennial playoff contender. The Titans want to get back into the mix for contention after their first losing season since 2015. The Colts and Texans are much further behind, with big questions at quarterback and across their rosters.
So how will each team in the division approach the top of the 2023 NFL Draft?
Here’s our two-round AFC South mock draft 1.0:
2. Houston Texans: Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
In 2022, the Texans gave Davis Mills a chance to prove that he can be their long-term quarterback. Mills struggled — his completion percentage took a dip and he threw a league-high 15 interceptions — making quarterback the no-brainer choice for Houston at the top of the draft.
Assuming the Bears stay at No. 1 overall and take a defensive player, Houston will have its pick between Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud. If Chicago trades the No. 1 pick to a QB-needy team, the Texans can still get one of the two.
Bryce Young’s success explained
FOX Sports’ Brady Quinn and Matt Leinart look at Alabama QB Bryce Young and LSU QB Jayden Daniels and explain their success in the 2022 season.
While Stroud has an argument to be the top quarterback taken after his performance against Georgia in the national semifinals, Young over the past two years has been the best signal-caller in college football. In 2022, he did more with less, completing 64.5% of his passes for 3,328 yards and 32 touchdowns to just five interceptions without a 700-yard receiver.
At Alabama, Young showed elite decision-making and processing from the pocket, and a clutch factor. The 2021 Heisman Trophy winner is on the smaller size for a QB — he’s generously listed at 6-foot and 194 pounds — but it doesn’t feel like anything he can’t overcome.
4. Indianapolis Colts: C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State
After Indy’s veteran quarterback carousel the past several seasons, all indications point to the Colts taking a QB at the top of this year’s draft, with the hope he can be the team’s next franchise signal-caller.
How the Colts proceed with this pick has ramifications for the entire league. At his end-of-season press conference, general manager Chris Ballard didn’t rule out trying to trade up to No. 1 — ahead of the division-rival Texans — if there’s a quarterback the team falls in love with.
Regardless of if Indianapolis moves up or stays at No. 4, Stroud might be its top option. His size (6-foot-3, 218) is typical of what the franchise has looked for in a QB in the past (Peyton Manning is 6-foot-5, Andrew Luck is 6-foot-4).
The aftermath of C.J. Stroud
FOX Sports’ RJ Young shares his thoughts on Brian Hartline’s promotion to Ohio State’s offensive coordinator and the challenges that may come with a new starting QB after C.J. Stroud declared for the NFL Draft.
Stroud obviously had a phenomenal surrounding cast around him the past two seasons, but that doesn’t take anything away from his numbers: a 69.3% completion rate for 8,123 yards and 85 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. Against an elite Georgia defense last month, he showed a playmaking ability with his legs that some draft pundits believed was lacking.
11. Tennessee Titans: Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State
Assuming the Titans plan to roll with Ryan Tannehill or another veteran quarterback in 2023, left tackle should be Tennessee’s No. 1 priority. Taylor Lewan, who has played just 20 games over the past three seasons, is a strong cap casualty candidate. And Dennis Daley, who started at left tackle after Lewan’s season-ending knee injury in Week 2, was one of the worst pass-blocking offensive linemen in the NFL this season.
Johnson, listed at 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds, played 100% of his snaps at left tackle for the Buckeyes in 2022, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors. Last season, he allowed just one sack and 10 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.
12. Texans: Bryan Bresee, DT, Clemson
After grabbing their quarterback at No. 2 overall, the Texans should focus on fixing their run defense, which was the worst in the NFL last season (170.2 rushing yards allowed per game).
Bresee’s upside is through the roof. He’s a gargantuan defensive tackle at 6-foot-5 and 305 pounds. In 26 games (21 starts) over the last three seasons, the former five-star recruit had 15 tackles for loss, nine sacks, five pass breakups, a forced fumble and an interception.
Bresee missed 13 games over the past two seasons, so durability is a concern. But he’s too good of a talent for the Texans to pass up if he’s available.
24. Jacksonville Jaguars: Zach Harrison, edge, Ohio State
The Jaguars need edge help. They had 35 sacks last season, tied for 25th in the NFL. They also have two edge rushers hitting free agency: Dawuane Smoot, who tore his Achilles in Week 16, and Arden Key. Jacksonville didn’t have a player with more than seven sacks in its surprising run to the playoffs.
Harrison’s sack numbers at Ohio State don’t jump out — 13 in 46 appearances — but he was a force generating takeaways in the trenches. He had five forced fumbles and an interception in his Buckeyes career. The 6-foot-6, 272-pound Harrison could be another disruptor for a Jaguars defense that tied for fourth in takeaways last season.
33. Texans: Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College
The Texans’ wide receiver room is filled with uncertainty. Veteran Brandin Cooks may not be on the roster next season. John Metchie is still working his way back from leukemia. Nico Collins played just 10 games last season due to injury.
Houston needs a reliable weapon who can be productive from Day 1, and that could be Flowers. An All-ACC first-team receiver last season, Flowers tied a Boston College record with 78 receptions for 1,077 yards (third-most in school history) and a school-record 12 receiving touchdowns. Flowers isn’t the biggest receiver (5-foot-10, 172 pounds), but he’s shifty and a precise route runner. Among Power 5 wide receivers last season, Flowers tied for second with five touchdowns against man coverage, according to Pro Football Focus.
35. Colts: Josh Downs, WR, North Carolina
Ballard indicated that the Colts believe 2022 third-round pick Bernhard Raimann could be their left tackle in 2023 after an up-and-down rookie season. If that’s the case, offensive tackle may not be a priority, with Braden Smith the expectant starter on the right side (he’s under contract through 2025). And there may not be a guard worth taking this high, assuming Florida’s O’Cyrus Torrence is off the board.
So Indianapolis could look at bolstering its wide receiver room. Parris Campbell and Ashton Dulin will be unrestricted free agents this offseason, and getting separation downfield was one of the team’s many offensive issues in 2022.
Downs won’t wow with his size (5-foot-10, 175) and he plays primarily out of the slot, but he was one of college football’s most productive pass-catchers and a big-time playmaker. Among wide receivers with at least 80 targets in 2022, Downs led the FBS with an 81% catch rate and was second with a 72.2% contested catch rate, per Pro Football Focus. He had 94 receptions (third among Power 5 wide receivers) for 1,029 yards and 11 touchdowns at UNC in 2022, his second consecutive 1,000-yard season.
41. Titans: Jalin Hyatt, WR, Tennessee
After trading A.J. Brown, the Titans had one of the NFL’s worst wide receiver rooms in 2022. They didn’t have a receiver reach 600 yards for the season. They had the league’s third-worst passing attack by yardage. The lone bright spot, rookie first-round pick Treylon Burks, was limited to 11 games due to injury.
Regardless of who the quarterback is next season, Tennessee will need a passing game to get back into the playoffs. The answer might be in the team’s backyard.
Hyatt was the most dynamic receiver in the Vols’ explosive offense last season, with 67 receptions for 1,267 yards with 15 touchdowns, which led the Power 5 and ranked second in the FBS. The 6-foot, 180-pound Hyatt also ranked in the top four in the FBS in passer rating when targeted (first), yards per reception (third) and yards after contact per reception (fourth). He brings speed and vertical threat, two things the Titans badly need.
56. Jaguars: Matthew Bergeron, OT, Syracuse
With left tackle Cam Robinson suffering a meniscus injury at the end of the 2022 season, his status entering 2023 is uncertain. Former second-round pick Walker Little is an able replacement, but the Jaguars will need to bolster their offensive tackle depth. They’ll also need insurance in case right tackle Jawaan Taylor, set to hit unrestricted free agency, has priced his way out of Jacksonville.
At Syracuse, the 6-foot-5, 322-pound Bergeron started a total of 38 games at left and right tackle. So he can play both sides. Of offensive tackles who played at least 553 snaps last season, Bergeron was the third-highest-graded pass blocker and fifth-highest-graded run blocker in the ACC, according to Pro Football Focus. His 12 pressures allowed for the season also ranked third in the league, per PFF.
Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.
Top stories from FOX Sports:
FOLLOW Follow your favorites to personalize your FOX Sports experience
Get more from National Football League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more