2024 NFL Draft Review: One pivotal rookie for each AFC South squad

These 2024 NFL Draft selections could be the difference in a competitive AFC South.
Indianapolis Colts Edge rusher Laiatu Latu
Indianapolis Colts Edge rusher Laiatu Latu / Kevin Sabitus/GettyImages

The AFC South will be a sneaky good division in 2024.

With C.J. Stroud and the reigning AFC South champion Houston Texans primed to take hold of the division again, the Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans will be depending on both strong quarterback play and solid defense to challenge the Texans for the division crown.

be big enough to help a team knock the Texans off the throne?

Which rookies could play a pivotal roles in the AFC South

While each team made moves offensive and defensively to improve their squads, what each team did in the 2024 NFL Draft could be the difference.

NFL Mocks selected a rookie from each team who could play a pivotal role for their AFC South squad. Could that role be big enough to help a team knock the Texans off the throne?

Houston Texans – CB Kamari Lassiter (Round 2– Pick 43)

The Texans could be setting up the league with one of the best young cornerback duos in the NFL.  With one of their top needs going into the offseason at the cornerback position opposite Derek Stingley Jr., the Texans used their first pick in the 2024 NFL Draft on Georgia product Kamari Lassiter.

Kamari Lassiter a pivotal rookie in the AFC South
Kamari Lassiter / Kevin Sabitus/GettyImages

While the team signed Jeff Okudah and C.J. Henderson in free agency, there is more excitement surrounding the 5-foot-11, 186-pound Lassiter who. Was Second-team All-SEC at Georgia while leading the team with 8 PBUs with a total of 37 tackles.

Now, Okudah and Henderson have the experience and if either lives up to their expectations, the Texans will have an interesting battle at cornerback that could end up giving the AFC South champions a suddenly strong cornerback unit.  It all depends on how Lassiter finds his way in the NFL.  He is a tough corner with the instincts and footwork that will gain him snaps Year 1.  His ability to also move up in the box and provide run support will make him an asset on a defense that should be even better in 2024.

In all, Lassiter is a versatile cornerback that Texans defensive coordinator Matt Burke admires given that versatility and football IQ.

“A little bit is going to be how much he can absorb,” Burke said during OTAs regarding Lassiter carving out a role on the team.  “He’s just a really smart football player and grasps things pretty well.”

Looks like the Texans may have found another gem via the draft.

Indianapolis Colts – EDGE Laiatu Latu (Round 1– Pick 15)

The Colts went defense with the No. 15 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft and they picked a player who can help take the defense to another level.

When looking at edge rusher Laiatu Latu attack the offensive line on route to the quarterback, you see a mature player with a motor that is hard for any blocker to stop.  With strength, excellent use of his hands to shield blockers, this UCLA product will help the Colts defense raise havoc in the AFC South, especially with QBs like Trevor Lawrence and CJ Stroud looking to take hold of the division.

With a total of 23.5 sacks over the past two seasons with the Bruins, Latu should fit in nicely with the core of pass-rushers the Colts have drafted over the past few seasons, including Kwity Paye and Tyquan Lewis.  He could be a rotational player to start the season, but if he lifts his pass-rush disruption to the NFL level, watch out NFL!

Speaking of disruptive, Colts left tackle Bernhard Raimann is already praising the rookie pass rusher he has faced during OTAs.

“He’s highly skilled.  He’s quick, he’s strong, and I think he’s going to make an impact immediately,” Raimann said during OTAs.  “But you can still see he’s learning every single day, and a mistake he made last week, he’s not making this week.  I think he’s definitely going to be an impact player.”

Jacksonville Jaguars – CB Jarrian Jones (Round 3– Pick 96)

It’s easy to select first round pick Brian Thomas Jr. as the most pivotal rookie for the Jaguars, but with the addition of Gabe Davis, Jacksonville has enough offensively to already compete in the AFC South.  So, we will go defense here with third round pick Jarrian Jones.

Jacksonville Jaguars rookie corner Jarrian Jones a pivotal rookie in the AFC South
Jarrian Jones / Kevin Sabitus/GettyImages

The Jaguars had a need at corner entering the 2024 NFL Draft and they may have found a steal in this Florida State product who will likely be a slot corner Year 1 in the NFL.  Jacksonville does have Ronald Darby and Tyson Campbell as the outside corners, but with the speed and skillset of Jones, the rookie could challenge either of those veteran defensive backs as a starter by midseason. 

That would be a plus for a Jags defense that should be solid upfront, especially with the selection of defensive tackle Maason Smith with the No. 48 overall pick in the draft.  In Smith and Jones this AFC South squad was able to address their run defense and pass defense.  It is the former Florida State star who may make the bigger impact based on his maturity on the field.

When addressing the 6-foot-2, 190-pound corner, FSC defensive coordinator Adam Fuller gushed about what Jones brings to the table.

“We had some pretty good corners outside,” Fuller said, via the Jaguars official website.  “He was one of them.  But his maturity and his ability to kind of be in the middle of things, to be a communicator, really helped us at nickel.  His maturity inside helped him be the glue to that back end.”

It looks like the Jags got a good one and if that skill as a communicator translates to the NFL level, that Jacksonville secondary will get a major boost.

Tennessee Titans – OT J.C. Latham (Round 1– Pick 7)

Big, strong, dynamic, the Tennessee Titans needed to bolster their offensive line and they did it with the selection of J.C. Latham with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.  With such a high pick, this AFC South squad could’ve gone with the temptation to take another offensive playmaker at this spot, but stabilizing a poor offensive line is most important in helping the growth of quarterback Will Levis.

While the 6-foot-6, 342-pound Alabama product can’t do it alone, he will be a big part of the offensive line, especially in protecting the quarterback.  He will also be monumental in the run game.  If the Titans are to make some noise in the AFC South, Latham will be a big part of the reason why given what he brings to the table as an offensive line force.  NFL.com’s Buck Brooks summed it up after he was drafted.

Brooks wrote:

"To me, this is Ran Carthon [Titans GM] putting his stamp on the team. Knowing Ran pretty well, having watched Ran throughout his time, he is saying the Tennessee Titans are still going to play bully ball. … He is putting them in a position to have success. They can play that smash-mouth football that they want to play. Bill Callahan endorsed this pick, and JC Latham is there because the offensive line coach is saying, 'We want to dominate at the point of attack."

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We can just let that assessment marinate.