While the NFL season is a fair distance away, it is never too early to predict the next wave of stars and superstars across the NFL. Every team has that one key cog that pops from relative unknown to key contributor the next season. The AFC South teams subscribe to this. However, there are two rules for these picks. First, rookies are ineligible to be selected. Former first-round picks are similarly ineligible. The goal is for these picks to not be chalky.
Tennessee Titans – Kristian Fulton
Fulton has landed on injured reserve in both of his seasons so far, but he had a strong showing in 2021. Despite missing four games, Fulton ranked 11th in the NFL with 14 passes defended. Among players with more passes defended, only J.C. Jackson, Trevon Diggs, and Marshon Lattimore had more on a per-game rate than Fulton. All three made the Pro Bowl, and Diggs made the All-Pro team.
According to PFF, Fulton allowed a microscopic 48.4% completion rate when targeted. Only AJ Terrell allowed a lower rate in 2021. Throw in a pair of interceptions, and Fulton ended in the top 10 in passer rating allowed, edging out Patrick Surtain. Overall, Fulton had a sizable improvement from Year One to Year Two by trimming his completion percentage allowed. He had one pass defended in 2020 – an interception.
Fulton has the statistical profile to match up with some of the best corners in the NFL, but he is not widely viewed on that level. In 2022, he should garner more respect in a similar vein to the aforementioned Terrell. Fulton finished 2021 without allowing a touchdown in his last 326 coverage snaps. For context, All-Pro Jalen Ramsey’s best streak of not allowing a touchdown was 279 coverage snaps.
Indianapolis Colts – Matt Pryor
Pryor was a chess piece for the Colts in 2021. He started at three different positions along the line, playing both tackle spots as well as right guard. However, he will enter 2022 in stiff competition with third-round pick Bernhard Raimann at left tackle. Raimann could win the job outright, but Pryor will have every opportunity to keep the job. In the game Pryor started at left tackle in 2021, he posted an 87.7 overall PFF grade with a stellar 90.5 run-blocking grade.
In the future, Raimann could leapfrog Pryor, but he has a reasonable shot to be the starter in 2022. With his replacement applying pressure, expect Pryor to play his best football. He is coming off his highest-graded season, earning a 74.8 run-blocking grade and a 75.2 pass-blocking grade. He improved dramatically as a pass-blocker in 2021, allowing just eight pressures across 241 pass-blocking reps. His 98.1 pass-blocking efficiency was tied for 19th-best in the NFL among the 157 non-centers to have that many pass-blocking reps. Ironically, he tied with his teammate (and three-time All-Pro) Quenton Nelson.
Houston Texans – Brevin Jordan
Jordan did not play until Week 8 of his rookie season, and he only recorded 28 targets on the season. However, many of the underlying metrics point to an expansion in his stats in 2021. Despite having 48 fewer catches, Jordan had only one fewer forced missed tackle than Kyle Pitts. Similarly, he contributed to more yards per route run than Dawson Knox, a popular breakout candidate. He also posted a deeper average depth of target than Pat Freiermuth.
Tight ends generally have one of the largest learning curves jumping from college to the NFL, so it is not exactly surprising that Jordan had meager production in 2021. However, he did cash in for three touchdowns, one of five tight ends to average a touchdown every 10 targets (with a minimum of three touchdowns). Moving into 2022, expect Jordan to assume a larger role in the Houston offense, perhaps being Davis Mills’ go-to threat in the red zone. He can also be used as a seam-ripper with his 4.68-speed.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Andre Cisco
Cisco had a strange rookie season, and he seemed to be in Urban Meyer’s doghouse until he was fired. Cisco did not play more than 25 snaps in a game until Week 15. When he finally got a shot, he played reasonably well. In the four games he played at least 25 snaps, Cisco posted a 75.1 overall PFF grade. He received a 73.3 run-defense grade and a 70.7 coverage grade. He forced a fumble and had a pass breakup in that stretch.
With Meyer out of the picture, expect Cisco to play a bigger role in 2022. He projects as the Jaguars’ starting free safety, but the Jaguars have three safeties who are slated to play a lot of snaps with Rayshawn Jenkins and Andrew Wingard joining Cisco. Jenkins is the most experienced of the trio, but he is more on the strong safety side of the dichotomy. Wingard has been deployed as a free safety in the last two seasons, but Cisco could take a chunk of his snap share.
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