Building the roster: AFC South
In a new series this week, National Recruiting Analyst Adam Gorney has broken down the roster of every NFL team in terms of star ratings for players in high school, which conferences have the most players on each team and which states those players come from as well. Below is a breakdown of the AFC South as National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell offers his thoughts and memories on each roster.
The Texans have done something smart with their roster: They’ve found a bunch of Clemson players to put on it. Eight players from the ACC are on Houston’s roster and four of them - QB Deshaun Watson, WR DeAndre Hopkins and DLs D.J. Reader and Carlos Watkins - played for the Tigers.
There are other such concentrations as well, as only three players from the Big Ten play for Houston, with two from Ohio State, and four from the Big 12, with two from Oklahoma. The SEC is well-represented, but it’s also a scattershot as players from 10 teams are with the Texans. Only Florida, Georgia, Arkansas and Missouri players have been left off the roster.
Then, of course, there are the non-Power Five players. Sixteen of them are on Houston’s roster, with a former two-star from Pewaukee, Wisc., who played at Central Michigan by the name of JJ Watt leading the way. Fourteen different non-Power Five programs are represented on the Texans’ roster and Central Michigan has three players with Watt and DBs Xavier Crawford and Jahleel Addae.
FARRELL'S TAKE: Watson and Watt couldn't be any more different coming out of high school. Watson was recruited by everyone and a five-star talent, while Watt was wanted by no one and was a two-star tight end project. Now they are the clear leaders of the offense and defense, respectively.
Hopkins was a quiet and talented four-star coming out of high school who had skill, but nothing like we've seen at the NFL level. Tunsil was a great pickup for the Texans and one of the most athletic offensive linemen out of high school in recent years, while Johnson was awesome as a runner and receiver before he headed off to college. Will Fuller isn't mentioned, but he was one of the best route runners I've seen despite being around 165 pounds out of high school.
What stands out most about the Colts’ roster is the high number of three- and two-star prospects and especially having eight unranked players. Indianapolis has 16 three-stars and 11 two-stars on the opening day roster, compared to only two five-stars in wide receiver Deon Cain and OL Quenton Nelson and 12 four-stars, including quarterback Jacoby Brissett, RB Nyheim Hines and DB Quincy Wilson.
Something else that really was striking when breaking down this roster is where some of its players come from, as it’s clear the Colts organization will go far and wide to find players they believe will benefit the team. On the roster are players from Grambling, Albany State, South Carolina State, Tarleton State, Lindenwood, Valdosta State, Central Arkansas and other small-budget programs.
There are, however, concentrations of players from elite programs, as Indianapolis has three players from Ohio State in WR Parris Campbell, DL Tyquan Lewis and DB Malik Hooker. Nine players from both the ACC and Big Ten are on the roster, followed by the SEC with eight players making the cut.
FARRELL'S TAKE: The Colts make us look bad because they've done so well with so many two-stars and unranked players, but I am proud we are the only site to have Nelson as a five-star out of high school. I remember watching his film and being impressed, but it wasn't until I saw him in person at our New Jersey camp that I knew he was something special.
Brissett was a kid I liked as a potential five-star out of high school, but he also played basketball and never really focused enough on football. Now he's the leader of the Colts trying to replace Andrew Luck. Cain is intriguing as well because he was a quarterback in high school.
If there is one thing that stands out about Jacksonville’s roster it’s that the SEC is well-represented with 15 players, by far more than any other conference and even more players than all the non-Power Five schools combined.
Five of eight defensive linemen on the team played in the SEC, along with four offensive linemen, including second-round NFL Draft pick Jawaan Taylor, who played at Florida, and Jacksonville’s first-round pick, Josh Allen out of Kentucky. Five-star running back Leonard Fournette played at LSU. Three players from Florida and three from Alabama are on the roster.
Seven players come from the ACC, including two from Clemson in offensive linemen Tyler Shatley and Brandon Thomas and two from Miami in OL Brandon Linder and DL Calais Campbell. There are also seven from the Big Ten with seven different schools represented. Only four from the Big 12 and three from Pac-12 schools are on the Jaguars’ roster.
FARRELL'S TAKE: Jalen Ramsey isn't long for the Jaguars, but he's still on the roster and was one of the best big cornerbacks I've seen out of high school in the last decade. Fournette was also a no-brainer five-star and one of the highest-ranked running backs in Rivals.com history.
Quarterback Gardner Minshew is the talk of the franchise now and was a three-star out of high school who signed with Troy. DeDe Westbrook and others were highly touted out of high school (JUCO for Westbrook) and there is a lot of former high school talent on this roster. Campbell was one of the biggest physical specimens I've seen and was a great get for Miami back in the day from Colorado.
Almost the entire offensive line for the Titans is made up of two-stars and unranked players in the Rivals era, and that’s definitely something different than we’ve seen from many other teams around the league. Ben Jones and Jamil Douglas were three-star recruits in high school, but Tennessee has eight players on the offensive line alone that had low or no rankings. That’s saying something.
There is also a penchant for signing defensive linemen from Penn State, as the Titans have three - Cameron Wake, Anthony Johnson and DaQuan Jones - on the roster. As for the Power Five conferences, the Big Ten leads with nine players but the non-Power Five list is extensive with 18 players on the roster.
FARRELL'S TAKE: The Titans are interesting because their leader, Marcus Mariota, was a three-star out of Hawaii who wasn't heavily recruited at all, and many of their stars were lowly ranked out of high school.
A.J. Brown is an exception and he's emerging as a star at wideout. Brown was a four-star out of high school we once briefly discussed as a five-star at one point in the rankings process. Derrick Henry is the star running back and he was a guy we debated on quite a bit out of high school as well. We felt he was too upright and big to be a five-star but he has proven us wrong by winning the Heisman and now starring in the NFL. Jackson was a no-brainer five-star who could have played offense in college and beyond with ease.