NFL

Players Ready to Breakout in the AFC South

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After starting off this series on the west coast with the AFC and NFC West, it’s time to transition to the AFC South. This past season, the AFC South was arguably the worst division in all of football, but there’s tons of upside here.

However, with so many young teams, it’s only a matter of time before this division turns things around for the greater good.

With that being said, let’s see which players are primed to breakout in 2016.

Jadeveon Clowney, DE, Houston Texans – It feels like it’s now or never for the former No. 1 overall pick. After receiving tons of hype out of South Carolina, Clowney’s career has been hindered with injuries. His rookie year was a massive disappointment, as he only appeared in four games, in which he totaled seven tackles and zero tackles.

During his stay in Columbia, former Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier called him out for not playing through pain, but you can’t fault him in this case, considering he received two knee surgeries his rookie season.

Unlike last off-season, Clowney isn’t recovering from major surgery this time around, which should help his progression a lot. 

“Clowney’s got a great future,” Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien stressed. “The big thing, and I’ve said this all along, is he has to stay healthy. We have to help him with that, and then he has to do his part. Since he arrived in the league he’s had several injuries, some of them out of his control. When he’s healthy, he’s able to get out there and practice and play, he’s really played well for us. If you really study the tape, when he’s played for us he’s had a big impact on games. To be healthy, to be able to play a 16-game season, that’s a big thing for JD. JD’s a heck of a football player.”

Maybe this will be the year we see J.J. Watt and Clowney terrorize opposing quarterbacks.

Dwayne Allen, TE, Indianapolis Colts – There’s tons of candidates ready to burst onto the scene in Indy, but none stand out more than tight end Dwayne Allen.

With Coby Fleener in New Orleans, it only seems right for Allen to receive a much bigger role in the aerial attack. In 2015, Allen was only targeted 29 times.

Expect for that number to drastically improve this upcoming season.

“I’m excited that we got Dwayne back,” Pagano stated. “He’s a great combo guy, gives you versatility there. He’s one of the better blocking tight ends in the league. Obviously with Andrew down and circumstances, things like that, we didn’t get him the ball as much as we’d like to. We’re going to address that this year. Love all the guys and want them all back, but we all know the reality of the National Football League [is] you’re not able to do that.”

Following a season riddled with injuries, the return of Andrew Luck should be a major help in Allen’s development as a pass catcher.

The Colts signed Allen to a four-year deal worth nearly $30 million. 

“It was signed with expectations,” Allen said. “I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that I’m on the field, No. 1, but also I’m performing at my best when I’m on the field. There’s already talk of me being overpaid. It’s my job to now go out and prove that I’m worthy.”

With receivers such as T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief on the perimeter, expect for the middle of the field to be open for Allen to operate.

Jonathan Cyprien, SS, Jacksonville Jaguars – Most figured last year was when strong safety Jonathan Cyprien was set to explode, but that simply wasn’t the case.

Although Cyprien totaled over 100 combined tackles, don’t let that fool you at all. The 25-year-old missed his fair share of tackles, while lacking cover skills. During the 2015 campaign, Cyprien only defended two passes.

Nonetheless, the signing of free safety Tashaun Gipson should benefit Cyprien in a major way. Gipson provides Jacksonville with a guy capable of playing in single-high coverage, which should allow Cyprien to be more of a box safety.

Dorian Green-Beckham, WR, Tennessee Titans – When it comes to pure talent, you won’t find too many 23-year-old wide receivers more talented than Dorian Green-Beckham.

If not for his off-the-field issues in college, DGB would’ve definitely been a first round selection.

Standing at 6-foot-5, 237 pounds, he possess elite size with good enough athleticism to be a matchup nightmare.

“I see myself as being that No. 1 receiver, because I know that I can help this offense. I know that I can do big things,” Green-Beckham confidentially stated.“That’s my motivation, to go out in the offseason and work hard and try to become that No. 1 receiver and go out there and just dominate. That’s my motivation right now.”

With Dorian Green-Beckham and Marcus Mariota both entering their second season, there’s truly no telling how lethal of a duo they can become.

Only time will tell.


About Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels is an NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has several years of experience covering the NFL and NCAA football. He's the radio color commentator for Lincoln University football. Mark's work has been featured on Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports and Yard Barker.