QB- Andrew Luck (IND)
Andrew was back for 15 of 16 games this season only missing the Pittsburgh game because of a concussion and he was so, so good. He finished with 4,240 yards, 31 touchdowns, a 63.5 completion percentage, and he led to Colts to four game-winning drives (San Diego, Chicago, @Tennessee, Jacksonville). Those four drives put him 14th on the list of fourth quarter comebacks by active quarterbacks. So clutch. There are plenty of other stats to back up why Andrew Luck is the best quarterback in the AFC South, but you know you agree, so let’s just leave it there.
RB- DeMarco Murray (TEN)
Murray was a part of the three-headed monster in Tennessee with Marcus Mariota and Derrick Henry. He finished the season with 1,287 rushing yards on 293 attempts and 9TDs. The Titans describe him as their workhorse running back, and despite having a toe injury early in the season that limited him, he still finished third overall in the NFL in rushing yards for the regular season. Welcome to my team, Murray.
WR- T.Y. Hilton (IND)
Hilton finished the season as the league’s leading receiver so you better believe he makes my team. He had a career high 1,448 yards on the season and made big, big, big time catches this season. Keep in mind, with Donte Moncrief missing some time, teams were able to double team Hilton and he still made people look silly. His 5’9”, 180lbs of speed and trickery makes him my number 1 receiver.
WR- DeAndre Hopkins (HOU)
This wasn't Hopkins' best year, but consider the quarterback situation in this. Hopkins still demanded attention and caused teams to put their best corner on him or even double teamed him this season. Hopkins finished the regular season with 954 yards – which is much, much lower than his 1,521 yards from last year but was still able to cause a disruption for opposing defenses.
TE- Delanie Walker (TEN)
There isn't a more dominant tight end in the AFC South than Delanie Walker. He had 65 receptions for 800 yards this season and averaged 12.3 yards per reception. He’s 32 years old and continues to be a big bodied target for Tennessee. His best performance of the 2016 season came against Green Bay, where he had 11 catches for 124 yards. Those are receiver numbers! So impressive.
T- Jack Conklin (TEN)
A rookie who proved why he was a first round pick. He allowed just 2 sacks this season on 451 pass attempts. He’s also a reason why the Titans rushing game was so effective. He was given a nod at the end of the year and voted First Team All-Pro by the Associated Press by receiving a whopping 27.5 votes while Mitchell Schwartz from Kansas City and Marcus Cannon of New England only received 6. Conklin is the first Titan to be named first-team since 2009. Best part? He said, “I know I still have a lot of work to do to get where I want to be, but it’s a pretty good start”. Yes, Jack, this is a pretty good start.
G- A.J. Cann (JAX)
No, I didn’t pick him because of his last name, but I can’t say it didn’t catch my eye. Cann shared the record for most snaps played on the Jacksonville offense. I remember the Jaguars taking him in the 2015 draft because he was the next best player at the time. I think it played out well. The Jaguars’ coaching staff has talked about his strength and versatility - both things you want in an offensive guard.
C- Ryan Kelly (IND)
According to Pro Football Focus, Kelly didn’t allow a single sack in 626 passing attempts. He’s a rookie who gelled quickly with one of the best quarterbacks in the league. That’s maturity. And also why he’s my center. I spoke with him after the season ended and he was already looking forward to taking on more of a leadership role in the 2017 season, which is exciting to hear from a rising star.
Colts media reporter, Caroline Cann, picks her AFC South 2016 All-Star team.
DE- Jadeveon Clowney (HOU)
He is finally healthy and good gracious the man is good. He was phenomenal in college and instantly took up two (sometimes three) blockers and still blew up ball carriers. After this season’s performance, I expect that to be the case in the NFL, as well. Coach Bill O’Brien even pointed out on multiple occasions that when he sees Clowney in a one-on-one match up, it’s an instant win for their defense. He combined for a total of 52 tackles during the regular season, and even though I’m not talking post season play, he does have one INTERCEPTION. Yes, interception. He’s quick and can get to the quarterback. Dangerous, dangerous player.
DT- Jurrell Casey (TEN)
Back to back years of going to the Pro Bowl and labeled as one of the most dependable interior defensive linemen in the league. He’s so effective in stopping the run game. He tallied 44 combined tackles on the season and 5 sacks. Tennessee knows how good he is, investing 4 years and $36 million dollars into him.
LB- Erik Walden (IND)
Walden absolutely shined this season. He had a career high 11 sacks in a contract year. Talk about playing big when you need to. This guy made a strong case for the Colts to bring him back for the 2017 season. He big, he’s physical, and had a few years to learn from one of the game’s best, Robert Mathis. He had a sack in 9 of his 16 games played this season – 2 of those being multi-sack games. Not to mention, if you’ve ever heard this guy talk, you’d want him on your team too. Deep, deep southern accent that will make you giggle even with just a hello. Every team needs that.
LB- Paul Posluszny (JAX)
Dominant. I thought it was a typo when I saw ESPN had recorded 132 combined tackles for the year (NFL has 133 tackles recorded). He lines up at middle linebacker for the Jaguars and is obviously a force to be reckoned with. In researching Posluszny, he has told many reporters this year that he wasn’t happy with his performance - didn’t feel like he was a part of enough plays. Well, I think he was (and I think others agree). The Jaguars obviously struggled in general this year but he was a bright spot. Welcome to the team, Posluszny!
CB- A. J. Bouye (HOU)
This season was A.J. Bouye’s year! He started this season as Houston’s 4th cornerback but by the end was one of Houston’s more reliable CBs. He was an undrafted free-agent who has made the most of his opportunities. He told reporters this year that he understands other teams may target him to stay away from more high-profile cornerbacks and it’s up to him to make them regret that. I like it! You have to love an underdog who succeeds. Welcome to my team, A.J. Bouye.
CB- Jalen Ramsey (JAX)
A rookie who finally came into his own at the next level. For the first 11 games, he only had 1 pass defensed. However, in his last 5 games he had 13 - including 2 interceptions for 65 yards. Not bad, rookie. It’ll be interesting to see how teams adjust to him next year. I would expect quarterbacks to respect his presence a little more and avoid his area.
FS- Clayton Geathers (IND)
Injuries cut his season short, but when Geathers is on the field, I don’t think there is a more effective free safety. In 9 games this season, he had 59 tackles and 1 forced fumble. He seemed to be in just about every defensive play. In 9 games, he was able to contribute more than he did playing 16 games in 2015. A good sign for the Colts’ secondary moving forward. Geathers should be a leader for the defense.
SS- Quintin Demps (HOU)
He led all safeties in the regular season with his 6 interceptions and played his best ball in December when the Texans were fighting to retain their title of AFC South Champs. Having a veteran presence in the Houston secondary is no doubt a contributing factor as to why they are the league’s leading defense. He is currently on a one-year deal (something he’s used to) and will be an interesting storyline to follow in the offseason.
Name a more iconic duo in the AFC South (or as far as I’m concerned, anywhere). I’ll wait. But seriously, Adam Vinatieri and Pat McAfee are extremely impressive. Vinatieri sits on top of more than one NFL all-time record board, and Pat McAfee can flip a field and put together a celebration dance to show off his success better than anyone. Add those two with long snapper Matt Overton and they have definitely branded themselves as a very impressive 4th Down Army. The Colts were forced to juggle a few different return guys due to injury but there were games that the special teams made the difference. I’ll take them, any day!
Let me know who would make your AFC South All-Star team by tweeting me @ncarolinecann – look forward to seeing your selections!