2016 NFL Offseason: Tennessee Titans

Tennessee Titans (Last Year: 3-13)

2016 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB Matt Cassel, RB DeMarco Murray, WR Rishard Matthews, C Ben Jones, ILB Sean Spence, CB Brice McCain, CB Antwon Blake, S Rashad Johnson.
Early Draft Picks:
OT/G Jack Conklin, DE Kevin Dodd, NT Austin Johnson, RB Derrick Henry, S Kevin Byard, WR Tajae Sharpe. Titans Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
NT Sammie Lee Hill, DT Mike Martin, ILB Zach Brown, CB Coty Sensabaugh, S Michael Griffin.

2016 Tennessee Titans Offense:
No one was expecting much from the Titans entering the 2015 season, but their 3-13 record was highly disappointing once the first week was over. That’s because the Titans shredded the Buccaneers, 42-14, as Marcus Mariota threw four touchdown passes. Mariota would once again complete that feat while visiting the Saints in Week 9, but had an up-and-down rookie campaign otherwise. He was brilliant in some starts, but was constantly banged up and was out of the lineup for two sets of games.

The Titans did a few things to make sure that 2016 wouldn’t be a repeat of this past year. They asked Mariota to bulk up to 222 pounds, which should help him from sustaining injuries. Mariota was bound to improve upon his rookie numbers anyhow – 2,818 yards, 19 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 252 rush yards, two rush touchdowns – so being more built will obviously give him a better chance to stay on the field.

Addressing the offensive line was also required. The Titans had the chance to draft Laremy Tunsil on two separate occasions in April, but passed on him like many other franchises did. Instead, the moved down from No. 1 to 15, and then back up to No. 8 for Jack Conklin. The Michigan State product can play every position up front except center, and he’ll likely start at right tackle across from Taylor Lewan, who performed extremely well as Mariota’s blind-side protector last year. Conklin will be a big upgrade over Byron Bell, who was a big liability.

With Conklin stationed outside, it’ll allow 2015 third-rounder Jeremiah Poutasi to slide in at guard. Poutasi struggled at right tackle last year, but should be more comfortable inside. He’ll be joined by Chance Warmack, who has been underwhelming thus far despite being a former first-round choice, and newly acquired center Ben Jones, who was just OK for the Texans this past season.

Two other acquisitions who will help Mariota are running backs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. Murray was acquired from Philadelphia for a fourth-round pick after he struggled last year. Chip Kelly, proving that he hasn’t yet grasped NFL concepts, tried to use Murray as an east-west runner when Murray is better as a north-south back. The Titans won’t make that mistake, as they want to play smash-mouth football. The one issue with Murray is that he’s not very durable, so Henry could start some games this season. Henry was overrated by the media; teams never saw him as a first-round choice because they believed he was a product of the Alabama system. However, there’s no doubt that Henry is better than some of the pedestrian runners Tennessee used last year.

One area that wasn’t really addressed was the receiving corps. Rishard Matthews was signed away from the Dolphins, and Tajae Sharpe was chosen in the fifth round, but neither is expected to make a big impact, though the latter has been impressive at OTAs. Matthews will see playing time with Kendall Wright and Dorial Green-Beckham. Wright has been working out extra hard this offseason, while Green-Beckham showed some impressive flashes as a second-round rookie last year. However, Mariota’s primary target will continue to be Delanie Walker, who caught an impressive 94 passes for 1,088 yards and six touchdowns in 2015.

2016 Tennessee Titans Defense:
Even had Mariota remained on the field for all 16 contests, the Titans wouldn’t have compiled a great record because of their atrocious defense. Their stop unit surrendered 26.4 points per game in 2015, including a stretch run of five consecutive contests in which it allowed 30-plus points to close out the year. Unfortunately for Tennessee, not nearly as much attention was paid on this side of the ball.

Second-round choices were used to potentially bolster the front seven. The first was on Kevin Dodd, who has undergone prevantative surgery on his right foot and won’t be present during OTAs as a result. Dodd, who can play both outside linebacker and defensive end, may have trouble contributing early on as a consequence. If he’s stationed at the former spot, he’ll provide depth behind Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo, who are actually the overall strength of this defense. Morgan is coming off a down year, but only because he tore his labrum in October and tried to play through it. He definitely wasn’t nearly as effective, but he should be able to rebound in 2016. If so, he’ll provide plenty of heat on opposing quarterbacks across from Orakpo, who enjoyed a solid 2015 campaign.

Tennessee’s other second-rounder was used to obtain nose tackle Austin Johnson. He’ll start next to Jurrell Casey, the best player on Tennessee’s stop unit. There isn’t much else to write home about in terms of the Titans’ defensive line. DaQuan Jones figures to be the other defensive end, and he’s just a strong run-stuffer who doesn’t provide much as a pass-rusher.

Two big problem areas for Tennessee’s defense last year were the secondary and the linebacking corps. A couple of signings were made to potentially help the former area, but no one should feel too optimistic about them. Cornerbacks Brice McCain and Antwon Blake were obtained, but they struggled last year for the Dolphins and Steelers, respectively. Still, things are so dire at cornerback that they could be asked to contribute. McCain may even start across from Jason McCourty, who played just four games in 2015 because of a groin injury. McCourty would probably be better at safety, but he refuses to help his team by moving there.

Speaking of the safeties, the Titans have one good one in Da’Norris Searcy. That’s it, however, as the other starter from last year, the atrocious Michael Griffin, is no longer on the roster. Rashad Johnson, signed over from Arizona, could be the other starter. He was just average for the Cardinals this past season, but was burned on some instances. The Titans will be hoping that third-round rookie Kevin Byard can step up.

As for the linebackers, this area was largely ignored, save for the signing of Sean Spence, a player who has disappointed the Steelers over the years. Wesley Woodyard is the one good starter at the position, but Tennessee has very little else. If Spence doesn’t crack the starting lineup, it’ll be the pedestrian Avery Williamson again. Williamson is a huge liability in coverage.

2016 Tennessee Titans Schedule and Intangibles:
Ryan Succop was fine as a kicker last year, going 14-of-16. He was just 1-of-3 from 50-plus, but he converted 29 of his 31 extra points.

Brett Kern did a great job in terms of placing punts inside the 20-yard line last year and also ranked 13th in terms of net yardage.

Tennessee’s special teams need to improve by a vast margin. They were outgained by 4.8 yards on punt returns and 6.6 yards on kickoffs.

The Titans have several winnable games, including the Lions, Raiders (home), Dolphins, Browns, Jaguars (twice), Chargers and Bears.

2016 Tennessee Titans Rookies:
Go here for the Titans Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.

2016 Tennessee Titans Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2016 Tennessee Titans Analysis: Tennessee’s outcome this season obviously depends on Marcus Mariota’s status. If Mariota can remain healthy and play every game, the Titans could approach .500 and perhaps even flirt with a playoff berth. However, there are a lot of holes remaining on the roster, so a six- or seven-win campaign is probably the likeliest of outcomes.

Projection: 6-10 (4th in AFC South)

NFL Draft Team Grade: B+ Grade

Goals Entering the 2016 NFL Draft: The Titans are already winners in the 2016 NFL Draft, as far as I’m concerned. They moved down in a mediocre class and acquired a bunch of picks, including a first-rounder in 2017 (here’s my 2017 NFL Mock Draft.) With tons of selections, Tennessee can afford to pick the best players available, some of whom would naturally upgrade big areas of need, including cornerback, right tackle and receiver.

2016 NFL Draft Accomplishments: As mentioned, the Titans were considered winners for moving down from No. 1 and acquiring tons of resources in the process. Unfortunately, Tennessee surrendered a significant pick – a 2017 second-rounder – to move up from No. 15 to 8. Sure, the team had to do so in order to leap the Giants for Jack Conklin, but in hindsight, it could have given up so much less to move up to No. 11 or 12 in order to pick Laremy Tunsil, a far-superior prospect.

The rest of the Titans’ draft was just fine. Derrick Henry is a big name, albeit an overrated one, as teams were never going to select a Nick Saban-coached running back in the first round of the draft. Kevin Byard was a slight reach atop Round 3. Austin Johnson and Tajae Sharpe, however, were solid choices.

If there’s one thing wrong with Tennessee’s draft class, it’s that the front office waited until the fifth round to find a cornerback. Considering that Jalen Ramsey would’ve been the No. 1 overall choice had the Titans stayed put, this is a huge downgrade. Covering opposing receivers will be extremely difficult for the Titans next year, which is very significant considering that they’ll have to battle T.Y. Hilton, DeAndre Hopkins, William Fuller, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns in six games.

If I were grading the Titans’ picks by themselves, this would probably earn a B- or so. However, I have to bump them up nearly a full letter grade for obtaining a first-round choice in a loaded class next year.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

8. Jack Conklin, OT/G, Michigan State B- Grade
I’m usually not a fan of teams trading up, but the Titans had tons of resources to do so. It would’ve been ridiculous for them to keep all of their picks, so moving up for a player they weren’t going to obtain at No. 15 made a ton of sense. Right tackle was a huge need, and that has been filled with Conklin.

What’s interesting is that the Titans passed on Laremy Tunsil. It’s crazy that one of the top two players in the draft continues to fall, and teams that need him are passing on him.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

33. Kevin Dodd, DE, Clemson B- Grade
This pick makes sense. Kevin Dodd was projected to go somewhere in the 30-35 range. Thus, the range is right, though I’d like this pick a lot more if Myles Jack wasn’t on the board. At any rate, I wonder where the Titans will play Dodd. He can play both five-technique and outside linebacker. His versatility is definitely intriguing, and he should be a solid player for Tennessee.

43. Austin Johnson, NT, Penn State B Grade
Austin Johnson tested very poorly at the Combine, so it’s nice to see that he didn’t slip at all, as this was his natural range. Johnson is a very skilled player, and Tennessee’s defensive line will definitely be better with him in the mix. Help was needed up front, so this pick makes a ton of sense.

45. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama C+ Grade
The Titans could afford to take a luxury with three selections in the second round, so this isn’t the worst decision. However, I’m not a big fan of it. Alabama running backs have a dubious history in the NFL, as Nick Saban constantly runs them into the ground (or they’re products of the offensive line). Teams were concerned about Henry for that reason, and I thought it was possible that he would drop to the end of the second frame. I would’ve preferred the Titans to fill a big need in their secondary rather than select someone who will just play behind DeMarco Murray – though it is nice that they’ll have insurance behind such an injury-prone runner.

64. Kevin Byard, S, Middle Tennessee State C Grade
Delanie Walker said that this was made in the 2006 NFL Draft, so does this pick really count? The Titans better hope so, as they desperately needed help in their secondary. Kevin Byard is a decent prospect, but could’ve been taken about a round later than this. It seems like there were better safeties available, but I don’t think this is a horrible selection.

140. Tajae Sharpe, WR, UMass B+ Grade
It seems like we’ve mocked Tajae Sharpe to the Titans at this spot for months. It’s made too much sense, as Tennessee needed a receiver and Sharpe is exactly what it was looking for. Sharpe’s athleticism is lacking, but that may not matter because of his elite route-running skills. It wouldn’t surprise me if Sharpe eventually emerges as a solid starter.

157. LeShaun Sims, CB, Southern Utah C Grade
It took longer than expected for the Titans to find some cornerback help, given that they would’ve chosen Jalen Ramsey had they kept the No. 1 pick. That’s fine, but Tennessee moved up for LeShaun Sims, surrendering a 2017 sixth-rounder in the process. I don’t like that, as the Titans could’ve obtained him or someone equal at No. 176. An average athlete, Sims played very well at Southern Utah, but the level of competition is obviously questionable.

193. Sebastian Tretola, G, Arkansas A- Grade
The bad news is that Sebastian Tretola was the second-worst overall athlete at the Combine, trailing only North Carolina’s Landon Turner. The good news is that Sebastian Tretola is a great fit for what the Titans want to do. Mike Mularkey talked about establishing a strong running game, and Tretola will help in that regard, thanks to his power blocking. He probably should’ve gone a round earlier than this.

222. Aaron Wallace, DE/OLB, UCLA B- Grade
This pick is all upside. Aaron Wallace barely saw any action at UCLA, but he caught Tennessee’s eye during his Pro Day, where he tested extremely well. It never hurts to add a talented pass-rusher.

253. Kalan Reed, CB, Southern Miss B Grade
This year’s Mr. Irrelevant is a solid prospect for a seventh-rounder. Kalan Reed has enjoyed a productive career at Southern Miss, and he also possesses above-average athleticism. The Titans are in desperate need of corner help, so Reed might just be able to make the final roster.

Season Summary:
The Titans obtained their franchise quarterback last April, but they actually worsened their draft position the following year. Marcus Mariota looked good in most of his games, but now Tennessee, under a new coaching regime, will have to find some help for their young signal-caller.

Offseason Moves:
  • Titans sign S Rashad Johnson
  • Titans sign CB Antwon Blake
  • Titans re-sign OT Byron Bell
  • Titans sign ILB Sean Spence
  • Titans re-sign NT Al Woods
  • Titans sign QB Matt Cassel
  • Titans sign WR Rishard Matthews
  • Titans acquire RB DeMarco Murray from Eagles for swap of 4th-round picks
  • Titans sign C Ben Jones
  • Titans sign CB Brice McCain
  • Titans re-sign TE Craig Stevens
  • Titans cut S Michael Griffin

    Team Needs:
    1. Offensive Tackle: Protecting Marcus Mariota is paramount. He was hit way too much during his rookie campaign. Given that the Titans won the Laremy Tunsil sweepstakes, they’re expected to select the stud tackle atop the 2016 NFL Draft.

    2. Center: More protection for Marcus Mariota. The Titans have nothing at center. This can be addressed in Rounds 2-4 in the draft. Signed Ben Jones

    3. Two Cornerbacks: The secondary is Tennessee’s primary defensive weakness. Perrish Cox wasn’t bad last year, but every other corner struggled mightily. Two new cornerbacks have to be acquired. Signed Brice McCain and Antwon Blake

    4. Safety: Michael Griffin has embarrassed himself for far too long in Tennessee. A third defensive back has to be obtained as a starter next to Da’Norris Searcy, who had a solid 2015 campaign. Signed Rashad Johnson

    5. Running Back: The Titans went through a myriad of running backs this past season, and none of them were effective. They could use their second-round pick on Derrick Henry. Traded for DeMarco Murray

    6. Nose Tackle: Sammie Lee Hill happens to be a free agent, but he’s not that good anyway. The Titans will have to find another run-plugger. Re-signed Al Woods

    7. Inside Linebacker: Wesley Woodyard is an excellent linebacker, but another starter has to be obtained. Signed Sean Spence

    8. Wide Receiver: Dorial Green-Beckham showed well as a second-round rookie, but another receiver is needed. Kendall Wright has been a disappointment lately, and he’ll be a free agent next spring anyway. Signed Rishard Matthews

    9. Guard Depth: If the Titans draft Laremy Tunsil, they’ll move Jeremiah Poutasi inside. However, they’ll still need guard depth.

    10. Rush Linebacker Depth: Tennessee needs to add some talent behind Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2016 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Ben Jones, C, Texans. Age: 27.
      Signed with Titans (4 years)

      The Texans moved Ben Jones to center from guard, and the decision panned out, as Jones blocked pretty well.

    2. Rashad Johnson, S, Cardinals. Age: 30.
      Signed with Titans (1 year)

      Rashad Johnson can be a liability in run support, but his solid coverage skills make up for it. He just turned 30, but should be able to play well for the next few seasons.

    3. Rishard Matthews, WR, Dolphins. Age: 26.
      Signed with Titans

      Rishard Matthews was a solid No. 2 receiver for the Dolphins in 2015. He had some quality performances early in the season before missing time with a rib injury at the end.

    4. Sean Spence, ILB, Steelers. Age: 26. — Signed with Titans
    5. Brice McCain, CB, Dolphins. Age: 29. — Signed with Titans
    6. Antwon Blake, CB, Steelers. Age: 26. — Signed with Titans (1 year)
    7. Matt Cassel, QB, Cowboys. Age: 34. — Signed with Titans

    Tennessee Titans Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Zach Brown, ILB, Titans. Age: 26.
      Signed with Bills (1 year)

      Zach Brown has always been expected to take the next step, but has yet to do so. He was just a marginal player for the Titans in 2015. He was fine in coverage, but struggled in run support.

    2. Al Woods, DE/DT, Titans. Age: 29.
      Re-signed with Titans (3 years, $10.5 million)

      Al Woods missed some time with an ankle sprain this season. He’s not a horrible starter, but he can fit into both the 4-3 and 3-4. He’s a jack of all trades; master of none.

    3. Sammie Lee Hill, NT, Titans. Age: 29.
      Sammie Lee Hill was just a part-time run-plugger for the Titans in 2015. He got off to a slow start in 2015 because of a knee injury. He’ll turn 30 in November, so he doesn’t have much of a future ahead of him.

    4. Coty Sensabaugh, CB, Titans. Age: 27.
      Signed with Rams (3 years)

      Coty Sensabaugh was one of Tennessee’s top cornerbacks this year, though that’s not saying much. Sensabaugh, who has been OK in the nickel before, is coming off a down year.

    5. Byron Bell, OT, Titans. Age: 27. — Re-signed with Titans (1 year)
    6. Mike Martin, DT, Titans. Age: 26. — Signed with Eagles
    7. David Bass (RFA), DE/OLB, Titans. Age: 25.
    8. Michael Griffin, S, Titans. Age: 31. — Signed with Vikings
    9. Craig Stevens, TE, Titans. Age: 32. — Re-signed with Titans
    10. Jamon Meredith, OT, Titans. Age: 30.
    11. Steven Johnson, ILB, Titans. Age: 28. — Signed with Steelers
    12. Joe Looney, C, Titans. Age: 26. — Signed with Cowboys
    13. Brandon Harris, CB, Titans. Age: 26.

    NFL Free Agent Tracker:
    Top 90 | QB | RB | FB | WR | TE | OT | G | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | FA Grades | FA Rumors

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