2017 NFL Offseason: Tennessee Titans

Tennessee Titans (Last Year: 9-7)

2017 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
WR Eric Decker, WR/KR Eric Weems, G Tim Lelito, NT Sylvester Williams, LB Darren Bates, CB Logan Ryan, S John Cyprien, S Brynden Trawick.
Early Draft Picks:
WR Corey Davis, CB Adoree Jackson, WR Taywan Taylor, TE Jonnu Smith, LB Jayon Brown. Titans Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
WR Kendall Wright, OT Byron Bell, TE Anthony Fasano, G Chance Warmack, C Brian Schwenke, NT Al Woods, ILB Sean Spence, CB Jason McCourty, CB Brice McCain, CB Antwon Blake, S Rashad Johnson, S Daimion Stafford.

2017 Tennessee Titans Offense:
It’s amazing that Marcus Mariota has thrown absolutely no interceptions in the red zone in his career thus far. By comparison, he has hurled 33 touchdowns. What makes it especially astonishing is that the best receiver he’s had to work with has been Rishard Matthews. Mariota, who finished his sophomore campaign with 28 total touchdowns and only nine picks, has great potential; all Tennessee needed to do this offseason was to surround him with some great receiving talent.

The mission appears to be accomplished. The Titans spent the No. 5 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on Corey Davis, whom Steve Smith compared favorably to Terrell Owens. Davis has some durability issues, but should be a great weapon for Mariota when healthy. Tennessee also used early selections on wideout Taywan Taylor and tight end Jonnu Smith. Taylor has great athleticism and could end up being a similar player to Emmanuel Sanders if all goes well. He, Davis and the emerging Matthews could have combined to be a formidable trio, but Tennessee will have an even better triumvirate in the wake of signing Eric Decker. The former Jet struggled with injuries last year, but had scored double-digit touchdowns in three of four seasons beforehand.

Smith, meanwhile, is an even better athlete than Taylor, and he’s a solid blocker. He’ll have to play behind Delanie Walker for the next year or two, but he could eventually be an effective starter. In the meantime, Walker will continue to perform on a high level if he doesn’t regress. Walker caught 65 passes for 800 yards and seven touchdowns this past season, but he turns 33 in August.

With an improving aerial attack, Tennessee’s offense figures to be pretty potent, given that the team already had a foundation in place. The Titans own one of the premier offensive lines in the NFL. Their tackles, in particular, are very prolific. Taylor Lewan is an exceptional blind-side protector, while Jack Conklin operated as one of the best right tackles in the league last year despite just being a rookie. It’s crazy to think that he could be even better in his sophomore campaign.

Tennesee’s interior blocking isn’t as good, but there are no liabilities at guard or center. Quinton Spain and Josh Kline man the former position, and they are both very capable blockers. Ben Jones, stationed in the middle, is better than both; he was a good signing an offseason ago, as the Titans managed to poach him from rival Houston.

With such exceptional offensive line play, it’s no wonder the Titans ran the ball so well in 2016. That should continue to happen, though DeMarco Murray’s numbers could decline somewhat because Derrick Henry figures to eat into his workload in his sophomore season. Henry has put in tremendous work this offseason and reported to voluntary workouts in incredible shape. If given the chance to shoulder an entire workload, he could threaten 1,500 rushing yards behind one of the top offensive lines in the league.

Everything is looking great for the Titans on this side of the ball, so it’s up to everyone to stay healthy. This includes Mariota, who was knocked out of the Week 16 matchup against the Jaguars with a fractured right fibula. His recovery time was expected to be five months or so, meaning he should be ready for training camp. Still, Mariota has been hurt in both seasons thus far, so Tennessee needs to protect him at all cost.

2017 Tennessee Titans Defense:
The Titans do four things exceptionally well. Two were mentioned already, as Tennessee runs the ball and pass protects prolifically. The other two great attributes have to do with the defense, thanks to a terrific front seven.

The first is generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan are a great tandem on the edge, and they also have Kevin Dodd as a depth player. Dodd struggled this past season, but was projected by some to be a first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, so he could improve. Even if he doesn’t, Tennessee will place heavy heat on signal-callers as long as Orakpo and Morgan are healthy.

The Titans also get a great pass rush from Jurrell Casey, whose transition to the 3-4 has been flawless. Casey is one of the better defensive linemen in the NFL, and he’s only 27, so there’s no reason to believe that he’ll regress. The Titans would also have Karl Klug, a situational pass-rusher, to pressure the quarterback, but he’s coming off a torn Achilles and will probably have to start the season on the PUP list. Former first-round pick Sylvester Williams was added to compensate for the injury, but he’s been a disappointment thus far.

The second great aspect of Tennessee’s defense is its ability to stop the run. DaQuan Jones excels at putting the clamps on opposing rush attacks, and the same could be said for 2016 second-round pick Austin Johnson, albeit in limited action. Johnson figures to play more in his sophomore campaign, which should further enhance Tennessee’s front seven, which is capped off by inside linebackers Wesley Woodyard and Avery Williamson. The latter is just 25 and has a bright future ahead of him, while Woodyard, as a 31-year-old, has regressed a bit.

Despite these positive attributes, the Titans had their struggles defensively last year because of some atrocious secondary play. Thus, it wasn’t surprising in the slightest to see them acquire three potential upgrades in the offseason. Two such upgrades were at cornerback, as Tennessee signed Logan Ryan away from the Patriots and then spent the 18th-overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on Adoree Jackson. It’s unknown how Ryan, who signed a 3-year, $30 million contract, will thrive outside of New England’s system, but he was a very solid player for the Patriots. Jackson, meanwhile, figures to be stationed in the slot. He’s undersized, but he happened to be a terrific defensive play-maker at USC. Jackson will need to thrive for the Titans, as they don’t really have anything at corner beyond him and Ryan.

The third upgrade the Titans made to the secondary was signing John Cyprien away from the Jaguars. Cyprien struggled early in his career, but has improved each season. He was one of the better safeties in the NFL last year, so he’ll be a major upgrade next to either Da’Norris Searcy or Kevin Byard. Searcy was woeful last year because of nagging injuries, while Byard performed relatively well, considering he was a third-round rookie.

2017 Tennessee Titans Schedule and Intangibles:
Ryan Succop had an exceptional season, going 22-of-24. He was 3-of-5 from 50-plus, and he converted 39 of his 41 extra points.

Brett Kern did a great job in terms of placing punts inside the 20-yard line last year, but ranked just 27th in net yardage.

Tennessee’s special teams need to improve by a vast margin. They were outgained by 1.7 yards on punt returns and 2.9 yards on kickoffs, which is better than the 2015 figures. Adoree Jackson figures to help in this regard.

The Titans have some easy non-divisional games against the Dolphins, Browns, 49ers and Rams. However, they also have to battle tough foes, including the Raiders, Seahawks and Steelers.

2017 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.

2017 Tennessee Titans Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2017 Tennessee Titans Analysis: The Titans are the AFC sleeper to make a deep run into the playoffs. They are one of the top teams in the NFL, as they do many things exceptionally well and have shored up their weaknesses (receiving corps, secondary). Marcus Mariota is entering his third season and appears ready to take the next step, and he stands a great chance of doing so because of his prolific offensive line and dominant running game. Tennessee showed glimpses of things to come late last year when it demolished the Packers, beat the Broncos and upset the Chiefs in Kansas City. That will carry into 2017, and the Titans could win their division easily as a result as long as Mariota remains healthy.

Projection: 11-5 (1st in AFC South)

2016 Projection: 6-10. 2016 Actual Result: 9-7.

NFL Draft Team Grade: B- Grade

Goals Entering the 2017 NFL Draft: The Titans are ready to make a deep playoff run. Finding another weapon for Marcus Mariota as well as some help in their linebacking corps and secondary are the top priorities, but Tennessee is in a great position otherwise.

2017 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Some teams will just draft the best player available, regardless of need. The Titans took the opposite approach, purposely attacking the weakest parts of their roster. They had to find weapons for Marcus Mariota and upgrade the secondary, and they addressed both areas with all four of their first- and second-day selections.

That said, I’m not a huge fan of the actual prospects the Titans obtained. Corey Davis seemed like a major reach at No. 5 overall. One team that was actually set to target a receiver in the second round told us that they were going to pass on Davis because of durability concerns, so I can only imagine how shocked they were when Davis was made the fifth-overall pick. Elsewhere, Taywan Taylor was a bit of a reach as well.

It wasn’t all bad for Tennessee, however. Adoree Jackson is a very talented cornerback who will be able to pump some juice into the return game. Jonnu Smith, meanwhile, is an athletic tight end who should be able to replace Delanie Walker in 2018 or 2019.

Overall, this wasn’t a great class for the Titans, but I’d say it was slightly above average. I like that they focused on attacking their needs, but I would’ve liked their haul much better had they traded down and still obtained Davis, which almost certainly had to be a strong possibility.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

5. Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan: D Grade
The Titans got this pick for free via the Jared Goff trade, so it’s a bonus. However, this is way too early for Corey Davis. He fills a need, but we spoke to a team wanting a receiver in the second round that wasn’t even going to consider Davis because of his durability issues. This is a major reach, and if the Titans were so focused on picking Davis, they should’ve traded down, no matter what they received in return. So many better prospects were available, but at least Tennessee gave Marcus Mariota a weapon to work with.

18. Adoree Jackson, CB, USC: B Grade
I had Adoree Jackson going to the Titans, so I definitely think he fits the range at No. 18 overall. Some had Jackson falling into the late 20s, which I thought was crazy, given his talent level. However, O.J. Howard fell right into Tennessee’s lap, so I think the Titans should’ve taken the extremely talented tight end. He would’ve provided a great intermediate weapon for Marcus Mariota for the next dozen years. That said, Tennessee did take Corey Davis earlier, so I understand why they’d want to add a defensive player, and Jackson fills a huge need. He’ll also be a big weapon on special teams.

72. Taywan Taylor, WR, Western Kentucky: C Grade
The Titans reached when they took their first receiver, and they moved up for their second. I’m not thrilled with either pick, but I don’t hate this selection. Taywan Taylor makes sense as a third-round selection, and Tennessee had to keep adding talent around Marcus Mariota.

100. Jonnu Smith, TE, Florida International: A Grade
If this were a weaker tight end class, Jonnu Smith could’ve been taken 20-30 selections earlier than this. Smith is a very athletic player who was highly productive in college. He also blocks well, so there are very few holes in his game. The Titans needed to find a tight end to eventually take over for Delanie Walker, and Smith could be a nice weapon for Marcus Mariota in 2018 and beyond.

155. Jayon Brown, LB, UCLA: C+ Grade
Jayon Brown was extremely productive at UCLA, and based on his play, he could’ve gone in the third round. However, Brown is undersized and could really struggle in run support, so I had him slotted in the sixth frame. At the very worst, he projects as a solid special-teams player.

217. Corey Levin, G, UT-Chattanooga: C Grade
I had Corey Levin as a fringe draftable prospect, so I’m not a fan of taking him at the end of the sixth round. It’s not the worst thing, but Levin will need to translate his skills from 1-AA to the NFL. He could be a decent backup at best.

227. Josh Carraway, DE/OLB, TCU: B Grade
I had Josh Carraway in the fifth round of one of my mock drafts, but he was in the seventh frame (or out of it) otherwise. Carraway was productive at TCU, but didn’t test very well. That hurt, given that he’s on the small side (6-3, 242). Perhaps he can emerge as a situational pass-rusher at some point.

236. Brad Seaton, OT, Villanova: B Grade
Brad Seaton garnered a lot of interest late in the draft process, and I had him projected to go around this range. This pick makes sense to me, as Seaton has the potential to be a solid backup tackle in the NFL.

241. Khalfani Muhammad, RB, California: C Grade
I’m not sure where Khalfani Muhammad fits with the Titans. He’s not really an offensive football player, as he is a track star, and he also struggled on special teams during his time at California. I don’t see him cracking the roster.

Season Summary:
The Titans were the best team in the AFC South. They beat the Packers, Chiefs and Broncos down the stretch. Marcus Mariota, however, suffered an injury in Week 16, thus ruining Tennessee’s chances of making the playoffs. The good news for Tennessee, however, is that the team has a ton of upside going forward and should be able to contend for the divisional title every year in the near future.

Offseason Moves:
  • Titans sign WR Eric Decker
  • Titans cut CB Jason McCourty
  • Titans sign G Tim Lelito
  • Titans sign CB Demontre Hurst
  • Titans re-sign TE Phillip Supernaw
  • Titans sign NT Sylvester Williams
  • Titans sign WR/KR Eric Weems
  • Titans sign CB Logan Ryan
  • Titans re-sign ILB Nate Palmer
  • Titans sign S Brynden Trawick
  • Titans re-sign DE/DT Karl Klug
  • Titans sign LB Darren Bates
  • Titans sign S John Cyprien
  • Titans cut NT Al Woods
  • Titans re-sign QB Matt Cassel

    Team Needs:
    1. Cornerback: Tennessee is a very strong team, but its one glaring weakness is the secondary. Jason McCourty is a decent No. 2 cornerback, but the front office has to obtain a stud player at the position. Perhaps it’ll do that with the fifth-overall pick. Signed Logan Ryan

    2. Safety: Both positions in the secondary must be upgraded. The Titans may go for either Malik Hooker or Jamal Adams at No. 5 overall in the 2017 NFL Draft. Signed John Cyprien

    3. Defensive End: Karl Klug tore his Achilles, so he may not be the same in 2017. He’s also a free agent in March. Re-signed Karl Klug

    4. Wide Receiver: Rishard Matthews played well in 2016, but the Titans could use a true No. 1 receiver. Perhaps they’ll consider one at 18th overall.

    5. Backup Quarterback: The Titans need to do better than Matt Cassel as their backup quarterback.

    6. Offensive Line Depth: Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin are two stud tackles, but depth is needed with Byron Bell hitting free agency. Another interior blocker should be obtained as well. Signed Tim Lelito

    7. Inside Linebacker Depth: Here’s another spot Tennessee is thin because of impending free agents.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2017 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. John Cyprien, S, Jaguars. Age: 27.
      Signed with Titans

      John Cyprien was a second-round pick in 2013 who had failed to live up to his billing – until this past season. Cyprien had an incredible 2016 campaign, as he performed as one of the top safeties in the NFL. Just 27 in July, Cyprien is going to receive a big contract if he’s allowed to hit free agency.

    2. Logan Ryan, CB, Patriots. Age: 26.
      Signed with Titans (3 years, $30 million)

      Logan Ryan struggled to start the 2016 campaign, but bounced back and performed on a very high level once again down the stretch. Ryan has been great the past two years, and he’s only 26 in February, so he should be able to play well for quite a while.

    3. Eric Decker, WR, Jets. Age: 30.
      Signed with Titans (1 year)

      Eric Decker is a great commodity. He just turned 30, and he’s coming off an injury-ravaged 2016 campaign, but it’s almost certain that he can still perform on a high level. Prior to 2016, Decker had eclipsed 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns in three of four seasons. He projects as a terrific No. 2 receiver, and the teams that miss out on Jeremy Maclin can sign him if he’s released. Some teams that make sense are the ones I mentioned for Maclin: Bills, Ravens, Cowboys and Redskins. Additionally, the Panthers make sense, and the Chiefs can also be included if they think they can get Decker at a far lower price than what they had to pay Maclin. Teams shouldn’t give up more than a fifth-round pick for Decker, as they should be aware that they could obtain him on the open market, given the worsened trade value.

    4. Sylvester Williams, NT, Broncos. Age: 28.
      Signed with Titans (3 years)

      Sylvester Williams’ fifth-year option wasn’t exercised, so he’ll be a free agent in March. The Broncos will not miss his pedestrian play. Williams probably should be a 1.5-star free agent, but he was a first-round pick back in 2013, so the potential is there.

    5. Tim Lelito, G, Saints. Age: 28. — Signed with Titans
    6. Brynden Trawick, S/ST, Raiders. Age: 27. — Signed with Titans
    7. Eric Weems, WR/KR, Falcons. Age: 32. — Signed with Titans
    8. Demontre Hurst (RFA), CB, Bears. Age: 26. — Signed with Titans
    9. Darren Bates, OLB/ST, Raiders. Age: 26. — Signed with Titans

    Tennessee Titans Free Agents:

    Salary Cap Space: $72.3M.
    1. Jason McCourty, CB, Titans. Age: 30.
      Signed with Browns

      Jason McCourty was once an excellent cornerback for the Titans, as they got the most out of their sixth-round pick from the 2009 NFL Draft. However, McCourty struggled through a groin injury in 2015 and never fully recovered last season. He didn’t perform poorly this past year, but he wasn’t back to pre-2015 form either. It’s possible, however, that McCourty could rebound. He may have a couple of decent seasons remaining in the tank, as he’s 29 until the middle of August.

    2. Karl Klug, DE/DT, Titans. Age: 29.
      Re-signed with Titans

      Karl Klug is a very solid, jack-of-all-trades defensive lineman. Unfortunately, he tore his Achilles in December and may not be ready for the start of the season.

    3. Sean Spence, ILB, Titans. Age: 27.
      Signed with Colts (1 year, $3 million)

      The early part of Sean Spence’s career was ruined by injury, but it seems like he’s finally healthy and playing like the third-round pick he was selected as in 2012.

    4. Brice McCain, CB, Titans. Age: 30.
      Brice McCain struggled in Miami prior to this past season, but he performed well for the Titans. McCain will be 31 at some point during the season, however, and I don’t trust him to keep up his high level of play.

    5. Rashad Johnson, S, Titans. Age: 31.
      Rashad Johnson can be a liability in run support, but his solid coverage skills make up for it. He just turned 31, however, so he doesn’t have much time remaining.

    6. Kendall Wright, WR, Titans. Age: 27.
      Signed with Bears (1 year, $4 million)

      Kendall Wright had a terrific 2013 campaign, catching 94 passes for 1,079 yards, but he’s been a train wreck since. He’s a knucklehead who isn’t taking his career seriously, but the potential is there for him to be a solid No. 2 receiver.

    7. Chance Warmack, G, Titans. Age: 25.
      Signed with Eagles

      Chance Warmack hasn’t played like a two-star player; he’s been awful. However, he was the No. 10 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, so he has some potential.

    8. Antwon Blake, CB, Titans. Age: 27. — Signed with Giants
    9. Daimion Stafford, S, Titans. Age: 26.
    10. Byron Bell, OT, Titans. Age: 28. — Signed with Cowboys
    11. Anthony Fasano, TE, Titans. Age: 33. — Signed with Dolphins
    12. Marc Mariani, WR/KR, Titans. Age: 30.
    13. Brian Schwenke, C/G, Titans. Age: 26. — Signed with Colts
    14. David Bass, DE/OLB, Titans. Age: 26.
    15. Al Woods, NT, Titans. Age: 30. — Signed with Colts
    16. Antonio Andrews (RFA), RB, Titans. Age: 25.
    17. Matt Cassel, QB, Titans. Age: 35. — Re-signed with Titans
    18. Nate Palmer, ILB, Titans. Age: 27. — Re-signed with Titans
    19. Phillip Supernaw, TE, Titans. Age: 27. — Re-signed with Titans
    20. D’Joun Smith, CB, Titans. Age: 24.


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