2018 NFL Season Preview: Tennessee Titans
2017 was a bittersweet season for the Titans. The team enjoyed their most success in over a decade. Tennessee made the postseason for the first time since 2008 and won their first playoff game since 2003 in a comeback victory over Kansas City in the wildcard round. However, the Titans fell to New England in the divisional round.
Player Notes: Offense
- Quarterback Marcus Mariota had his worst season as a pro, throwing 15 interceptions to just 13 touchdowns.
- Running back DeMarco Murray showed signs of wear and tear, which allowed Derrick Henry to take the reins as the starter. Henry has the potential to start full-time but should be paired with a third down back.
- Tight end Delanie Walker has shown no signs of slowing down at age 33.
- The wide receiver corps needs a makeover. Rishard Matthews took a step back late in the year due to a hamstring injury. Eric Decker was quiet for much of the year but made some key catches in the postseason.
- The offensive line regressed as a whole from 2016. The main concerns were at the center and guards while right tackle Jack Conklin tore his ACL in the divisional round loss.
Player Notes: Defense
The defensive line is the deepest and most consistent group on the roster.
- Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey remains one of the best 3-4 defensive linemen in the league, and DaQuan Jones was having his best season before tearing his biceps.
- Sylvester Williams started slow but settled in late in the year.
- Outside linebackers Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo were solid but are both getting up there in age.
- Wesley Woodyard led the team with 124 tackles while Avery Williamson was just ok as a two down linebacker.
- Kevin Dodd has had just 12 tackles and one sack in two seasons with Tennessee.
- Cornerback Logan Ryan made the secondary adequate after a poor 2016.
- Safety Johnathan Cyprien has value in run support but struggles in coverage.
Pro Bowlers and All-Pro
The team produced six Pro Bowlers:
- Left tackle Taylor Lewan
- Tight end Delanie Walker
- Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey
- Free safety Kevin Byard
- Punter Brett Kern
- Special teamer Brynden Trawick
Lewan was the only consistent offensive lineman making his second Pro Bowl. Walker led the team in receptions and was Mariota's most trustworthy target. Casey made his third Pro Bowl with 60 tackles and six sacks. Byard was first team All-Pro in his second season and led the NFL with eight interceptions. Kern had his best season average—almost 50 yards per punt. Trawick had 12 tackles as a gunner in his first year in Tennessee.
The Rookie Class
The rookie class has a lot to prove going into next season.
- Wide receiver Corey Davis was slowed by a hamstring injury and had issues with route running before emerging late in the year.
- Cornerback Adoree' Jackson steadily improved as a cover corner and handled the majority of the return responsibilities.
- Wide receiver Taywan Taylor had a strong preseason but struggled down the stretch.
- Tight end Jonnu Smith was not the blocker the team needed to replace Anthony Fasano.
Opponent Passing YPG
Opponent Rushing YPG
Titans 2017 Highlights
Changes to the Coaching Staff
Even after the 9-7 season and a playoff win, head coach Mike Mularkey was fired after a 20-21 record in two and a half seasons. Mularkey's dismissal was due to his refusal to make changes to the offensive staff and philosophy as the offense has regressed each year under him.
The team then hired former Houston Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel as the new head coach. Vrabel also played 14 seasons as an NFL linebacker and won three Super Bowls with the New England Patriots.
After the season, the Titans decided not to renew offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie's contract. The team then hired former Los Angeles Rams offense coordinator Matt LaFleur to the position. The Titans also decided not to invite defensive coordinator Dick LaBeau back under the new coaching regime. He was replaced by former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees.
Notable Injuries: On August 1, safety Johnathan Cyprien tore his ACL on a non contact play during training camp, prematurely ending his season.
Notable Additions: QB Blaine Gabbert, RB Dion Lewis, WR Michael Campanaro, G Xavier Su'a-Filo, NT Bennie Logan, LB Will Compton, CB Malcolm Butler, S Kenny Vaccaro
Notable Departures: QB Matt Cassel, QB Branden Weeden, RB DeMarco Murray, WR Eric Decker, WR Harry Douglas, WR Eric Weems, NT Sylvester Williams, LB Kevin Dodd, LB Avery Williamson, CB Brice McCain
2018 NFL Draft
What the Titans Needed
Holding the 25th overall pick in the draft, the Titans have to replace key pieces in order to return to the playoffs. Especially at wide receiver, guard, and linebacker.
- Wide Receiver: Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor are far from polished, and the team let honor three receivers in the offseason. Adding a productive playmaker wouldn't hurt.
- Guard: Much of the offensive line's issues stemmed from the guards. The team signed Xavier Su'a-Filo, but he was a disappointment for Houston.
- Linebacker: Age is catching up to the outside linebackers, and Kevin Dodd and Avery Williamson are both gone. The corps needs an injection of youth.
What Happened on Draft Day
On draft day, Tennessee decided to trade up to the 22nd overall pick with Baltimore in order to draft Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans. Evans was seen as the best tackling linebacker in the draft, but he has a tendency to be over aggressive and miss gap assignments.
The Titans also notably drafted Boston College outside linebacker Harold Landry in the second round and Washington State quarterback Luke Falk in the sixth. Landry has an explosive first step off the snap, but he lacks the moves as a pass rusher to get past offensive linemen. Falk has great timing and touch to deliver catchable balls, but he lacks great arm strength.
Tennessee also notably signed USC wide receiver Deontay Burnett as an undrafted free agent. Burnett is explosive off the ball and runs with burst through his routes, but he likely went undrafted due to his very slim frame and limbs.
Rashaan Evans Highlights
What To Expect
I like the direction the Titans are headed in, and it looks like they can compete.
Under Matt LaFleur, I can see Marcus Mariota to have a bounce back year the way Jared Goff improved from his rookie year. Derrick Henry will have a full year as the starting running back with Dion Lewis serving as a third down back. Hopefully, Rishard Matthews can return to his 2016 form while Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor can make strides in their sophomore seasons.
Delanie Walker should continue to be Mariota's go-to target. The offensive line is still a concern with Jack Conklin starting the season on the PUP list and isn't a lock to play Week 1.
The defense should continue to grow as a result of the hiring of Dean Pees and retaining the 3-4 scheme. Jurrell Casey and DaQuan Jones are a nice pair of ends together, and Bennie Logan will most likely serve as the nose tackle to replace Sylvester Williams. The additions of Will Compton, Rashaan Evans, and Harold Landry help the linebacker corps with Evans likely replacing Avery Williamson easily and Landry being Brian Orakpo's future successor.
Malcolm Butler will likely form a New England reunion with Logan Ryan, which will force Adoree' Jackson to the nickel corner spot. Kenny Vaccaro is a step up over Johnathan Cyprien and should pair well with Kevin Byard.
In the Division
Seeing as how Tennessee swept the series with Jacksonville last season, it's clear that they match up well with them. Seeing the Jaguars' strength on defense, I see the Titans and Texans battling it out for a wildcard spot.
Best Record They Can Hope For: 9-7