2018 NFL Offseason: Tennessee Titans

Tennessee Titans (Last Year: 9-7)

2018 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB Blaine Gabbert, RB Dion Lewis, WR Michael Campanaro, OT Kevin Pamphile, DT Bennie Logan, ILB Will Compton, CB Malcolm Butler.
Early Draft Picks:
LB Rashaan Evans, DE/OLB Harold Landry, S Dane Cruikshank. Titans Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
RB DeMarco Murray, WR Eric Decker, C Brian Schwenke, DT Karl Klug, DT Sylvester Williams, ILB Avery Williamson, CB Brice McCain, S Da’Norris Searcy.

2018 Tennessee Titans Offense:
Former head coach Mike Mularkey promised an exotic smash-mouth offense to help Marcus Mariota, but his scoring attack was anything but exotic. The Titans ran the ball way too often with DeMarco Murray and didn’t utilize Mariota’s legs enough, refusing to incorporate run-pass options into the offense.

That seems nonsensical now, but the new coaching staff has promised to use RPOs with Mariota, which should help him rebound. Mariota is coming off his worst season as a pro, throwing more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (13), and his YPA was a career-worst 7.1. Mariota scored five times on the ground, but struggled as a passer. It didn’t help that he suffered an injury in the middle of the season that sidelined him for one game and hampered him for several others. There’s still hope for Mariota, but the new coach will actually have to utilize his strengths, unlike the previous regime.

The Titans added a dynamic backfield weapon to help Mariota rebound. They signed Dion Lewis over from the Patriots, which was a nice move because he complements Derrick Henry extremely well. Lewis was a great weapon for Tom Brady, and he’ll be a nice receiving threat out of the backfield. Henry, meanwhile, was a better runner than Murray last year, so it’ll benefit Tennessee that he will get most of the early-down work.

Corey Davis’ health should help Mariota as well. Davis, the fifth-overall pick from the 2017 NFL Draft, barely played during his rookie campaign because of hamstring injuries. However, he showed his ability in a playoff defeat at New England, catching five passes for 63 yards and two touchdowns. He’s expected to be a big part of Tennessee’s offense moving forward. He’ll start across from Rishard Matthews, who has served as Mariota’s favorite receiver. Eric Decker is gone, but he was a big disappointment last year. Mariota will also be able to throw to tight end Delanie Walker once again, though Walker’s age (34 in August) is starting to become a concern. If Walker slows down, Jonnu Smith, a 2017 third-round pick, has the ability to play more often.

While the offense will see schematic and personnel changes, the entire offensive line will return intact, which bodes well for the Titans, given that continuity is key for blocking groups. The best players on the front are the two tackles, Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin. Lewan is a stellar blind-side protector, while Conklin, entering his third season, has been solid and has plenty of room for growth.

The interior of the offensive line isn’t as good, but it’s not a bad group either. Guards Josh Kline and Quinton Spain are mediocre, but neither is a liability. Center Ben Jones can be described this way as well. No rookie blockers were added, so there won’t be any room for upside in the interior.

2018 Tennessee Titans Defense:
Dion Lewis wasn’t even the most prominent former Patriot that new head coach Mike Vrabel brought over with him to Tennessee. The Titans made a big splash early in free agency, signing ex-New England cornerback Malcolm Butler.

This was a huge acquisition. Butler has been a stellar cornerback for the Patriots over the past couple of seasons. However, he was mysteriously benched for the Super Bowl, which may have been the catalyst for the loss; it’s highly unlikely that Nick Foles would’ve been as potent had Butler been on the field. The disgruntled Butler was destined to leave New England, and that’s exactly what he did, signing a 5-year, $61 million contract. He’ll help form a stellar cornerbacking group along with fellow former Patriot Logan Ryan and second-year Adoree Jackson, who thrived as a rookie.

It could be argued that none of those cornerbacks deserve the distinction of being the top defensive back on the roster. That could go to safety Kevin Byard, who was terrific last year. Entering his third season, Byard could evolve into one of the best safeties in the NFL. The Titans will be hoping that their other safety, Johnathan Cyprien, performs half as well as Byard after the 2017 disaster. Cyprien, signed to a $25 million contract last year, really struggled in his first campaign in Tennessee. Injuries can be to blame, as Cyprien was hindered by a balky hamstring all season.

Meanwhile, the Titans spent the first two picks of the 2018 NFL Draft upgrading the linebacking corps. They moved up three spots for Rashaan Evans. The Alabama product figures to be a fine replacement for the departed Avery Williamson. Evans will start next to Wesley Woodyard, a team leader who thrives in run support, but can be abused in coverage.

Tennessee’s second-round choice was used on Harold Landry. The Boston College product will be a key depth player in his first year behind Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan. The two edge rushers combined for 14.5 sacks last year, but there’s some concern about a potential decline for Orakpo, who turns 32 just as training camp begins. Orakpo will enter free agency following 2018 anyway, so Landry will start next season.

Speaking of free agency, the Titans brought in nose tackle Bennie Logan to help the run defense. Logan played well in the first half of the season for the Chiefs in 2017, but wore down as the year progressed. Logan will be sandwiched between Jurrell Casey and DaQuan Jones. Casey is a stellar defensive lineman, while Jones is a solid run defender.

2018 Tennessee Titans Schedule and Intangibles:
Ryan Succop was just 35-of-42 in 2017, whiffing on three of five tries beyond 50-plus. Succop was rewarded with a 5-year, $20 million contract.

Brett Kern was 27th in net average in 2016. He improved all the way up to first in that category last year.

Tennessee’s special teams were mediocre last year. Adoree Jackson did well as a returner, but the team had trouble containing opponents on kickoff returns.

The Titans don’t have a very easy schedule. Per the early Westgate point spreads, the Titans are favored in just one of their first five games, which would be the season opener at Miami. Tennessee has to take on Houston (home), Jacksonville (away), Philadelphia (home) and Buffalo (away) after that. It doesn’t get much easier after that, with a three-game stretch against the Chargers (away), Cowboys (away) and Patriots (home).

2018 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.

2018 Tennessee Titans Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2018 Tennessee Titans Analysis: The Titans are a true wild card. They have the ability to make a deep trip into the playoffs, or they could completely miss the postseason. It really depends on how well the new coaching staff gets Marcus Mariota to play. Mariota will have to make a big leap for Tennessee to finally meet its true potential.

Projection: 7-9 (2nd in AFC South)

2017 Projection: 11-5. 2017 Actual Result: 9-7.
2016 Projection: 6-10. 2016 Actual Result: 9-7.

NFL Draft Team Grade: A Grade

Goals Entering the 2018 NFL Draft: The Titans don’t have very many needs, so they can afford to select the best player available. Three areas that should be focused on are edge rusher, linebacker and receiver, but Tennessee can otherwise just focus on adding talent.

2018 NFL Draft Accomplishments: There were four first-round off-LOS linebackers in this class – Roquan Smith, Tremaine Edmunds, Leighton Vander Esch, Rashaan Evans – so when the first three were taken off the board, the Titans correctly realized that they had to trade up to get one in the wake of Avery Williamson’s departure. They moved up three spots to secure Evans, leaping the Patriots, who could have snatched him off the board. This was a great decision; having talented off-LOS linebackers is extremely important in today’s NFL, given the intricacies in the passing game. For example, we all saw what happened to Pittsburgh’s defense once it lost Ryan Shazier. The Cowboys, Panthers, Bears and Bengals have all seen similar declines without Sean Lee, Luke Kuechly, Danny Trevathan and Vontaze Burfict, respectively.

Getting Evans was a win, as was securing Harold Landry in the second round. The Titans once again moved up, recognizing that Landry was a steal at No. 41 overall, given that Landry easily could’ve been chosen in the 20s. Had the Titans taken Landry at No. 25, I would’ve given that a B+ grade.

Tennessee made just two other picks, both of which were solid. Dane Cruikshank will provide some needed depth in the secondary, while Luke Falk was a solid bargain at No. 199 overall. The Titans had just four overall selections because of all the trades they conducted, but they came away with two players who will make a big impact as rookies, as well as two prospects who should serve as solid backups despite being chosen after the 150th-overall pick. General manager Jon Robinson did a great job in the 2018 NFL Draft.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

22. Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama A- Grade
The Titans lost Avery Williamson in free agency, so they had to replace him. With Leighton Vander Esch being taken off the board, there was just one first-round inside linebacker remaining, so I like the Titans taking the initiative and moving up three spots to secure him. Tennessee also needed an edge rusher, but those will be available in Round 2. A player like Evans would not be.

41. Harold Landry, DE/OLB, Boston College A- Grade
Many believe this is a huge steal for the Titans. It’s definitely a nice bargain, as Harold “Arnold” Landry (thanks, Vince Young) could’ve been chosen in the 20s, but he wasn’t this excellent, top-20 prospect some people touted him to be. Some teams we spoke to had a second-round grade on him, and they turned out to be right. However, I like this selection, as Landry is one of the top players available who fills a big need on the edge.

152. Dane Cruikshank, S/CB, Arizona B+ Grade
Dane Cruikshank is a very athletic safety who might be able to play cornerback. His natural position might be safety, however, and the Titans needed to find someone to challenge the disappointing John Cyprien. Cruikshank could’ve gone a bit earlier than this.

199. Luke Falk, QB, Washington State B+ Grade
I wasn’t a fan of Luke Falk going in the middle rounds. He has all the bad traits someone like Drew Bledsoe used to have without the good ones. He takes forever to release the ball in the pocket, and he has no mobility at all. Still, I like the value here, and the fit makes sense because the Titans needed a solid backup.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

Season Summary:
The Titans put together a tremendous comeback against the Chiefs to advance to the second round of the playoffs. And then, the Patriots destroyed them. Mike Mularkey won’t be coming back, so Tennessee needs to find a coach to help Marcus Mariota take the next step.

Offseason Moves:
  • Titans sign WR Michael Campanaro
  • Titans sign NT Bennie Logan
  • Titans sign ILB Will Compton
  • Titans sign G Xavier Su’a-Filo
  • Titans sign QB Blaine Gabbert
  • Titans sign OT Kevin Pamphile
  • Titans cut DT Sylvester Williams
  • Titans cut DT Karl Klug
  • Titans sign RB Dion Lewis
  • Titans sign CB Malcolm Butler
  • Titans cut S Da’Norris Searcy
  • Titans cut RB DeMarco Murray

    Team Needs:
    1. Two Defensive Linemen: The Titans need a new nose tackle to replace the pedestrian Sylvester Williams, and they’ll also have to obtain a defensive end if DaQuan Jones departs via free agency. Signed Bennie Logan; re-signed DaQuan Jones

    2. Cornerback: Adoree’ Jackson had a strong rookie campaign, and Logan Ryan did well when he was healthy. The Titans didn’t have much else at cornerback, however, so they’ll need to add another player at the position. Signed Malcolm Butler

    3. Center: This was the biggest weakness on Tennessee’s front this past season. Ben Jones is sub par at best, so the Titans should think about obtaining an upgrade.

    4. Two Guards: Both of Tennessee’s starting guards, Josh Kline and Quinton Spain, happen to be impending free agents. Re-signed Josh Kline; signed Xavier Su’a-Filo

    5. Edge-Rushing Depth: Brian Orakpo turns 32 this offseason, so the Titans should think about finding some young blood at outside linebacker.

    6. Inside Linebacker Depth: Jayon Brown might be able to take over one of the linebacker spots if Avery Williamson departs via free agency. If so, depth will be needed here. Signed Will Compton

    7. Backup Quarterback: It’s embarrassing that the Titans went into the 2017 season with Matt Cassel as their backup. Signed Blaine Gabbert

    8. Kicker: Ryan Succop is set to hit free agency. Re-signed Ryan Succop

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2018 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Malcolm Butler, CB, Patriots. Age: 28.
      Signed with Titans

      Malcolm Butler went from being an undrafted free agent out of West Alabama, to an unknown guy who made a huge play in a Super Bowl, to one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. His transformation has been amazing, and he’s only 28 in March. He deserves a huge contract.

    2. Dion Lewis, RB, Patriots. Age: 27.
      Signed with Titans

      Dion Lewis has a horrible injury history, but he’s a tremendous running back when healthy. He finally remained on the field the entire season in 2017, and it paid off. Lewis rushed for 895 yards on a 5.0 YPC clip and also caught 32 passes for 214 receiving yards.

    3. Bennie Logan, NT, Chiefs. Age: 28.
      Signed with Titans

      Bennie Logan doesn’t put much pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but he’s a tremendous run defender. He did fine after signing a 1-year “prove it” deal with the Chiefs last offseason, but more was expected from him.

    4. Will Compton, ILB, Redskins. Age: 28. — Signed with Titans
    5. Xavier Su’a-Filo, G, Texans. Age: 27. — Signed with Titans
    6. Michael Campanaro, WR, Ravens. Age: 27. — Signed with Titans
    7. Kevin Pamphile, OT, Buccaneers. Age: 27. — Signed with Titans
    8. Blaine Gabbert, QB, Cardinals. Age: 28. — Signed with Titans

    Tennessee Titans Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. DaQuan Jones, DT, Titans. Age: 26.
      Re-signed with Titans

      DaQuan Jones is a dominant run-stuffer who can also contribute as an interior pass-rushing presence. He had 3.5 sacks in 12 games this past season, which is solid for a 320-pound force. Unfortunately for Jones, he missed the end of the season with torn biceps.

    2. Avery Williamson, ILB, Titans. Age: 26.
      Signed with Jets

      Avery Williamson was a fifth-round pick in 2014, but he has evolved into a capable inside linebacker. He can stand to improve in coverage, but he’s a dominant run-stuffer.

    3. DeMarco Murray, RB, Titans. Age: 30.
      DeMarco Murray is coming off the worst season of his career. He averaged just 3.6 yards per carry. He also just turned 30 in February, so his best days are obviously behind him. Still, Murray carried the ball only 184 times in 2017, so his legs are fresh. He’s also still a dynamic receiving back – 39 catches this past season – so he can still contribute despite his poor 2017 campaign.

    4. Josh Kline, G, Titans. Age: 28.
      Re-signed with Titans (4 years)

      The Titans claimed Josh Kline off waivers from the Patriots two years ago, and the move paid off. Kline has been a solid starter for the Titans. He’s a quality pass protector, though could stand to add more power for the running game.

    5. Ryan Succop, K, Titans. Age: 31.
      Re-signed with Titans (5 years, $20 million)

      Ryan Succop is a pretty average kicker; he was 35-of-42 in 2017 after going 22-of-24 the year before. He’s missed two extra points in each of the past three seasons.

    6. Eric Decker, WR, Titans. Age: 31.
      Eric Decker struggled in his one year with the Titans, catching 54 passes for 563 yards and a touchdown. Perhaps he’ll bounce back in 2018 with a more creative offense, but there’s also a chance that at 31 (in March), Decker has regressed.

    7. Quinton Spain (RFA), G, Titans. Age: 27.
      Re-signed with Titans (1 year)

      Quinton Spain has started at left guard for the Titans over the past two years. He thrived in 2016, but took a bit of a step backward this past season, struggling slightly in run blocking.

    8. Erik Walden, DE/OLB, Titans. Age: 33.
    9. Da’Norris Searcy, S, Titans. Age: 29. — Signed with Panthers (2 years)
    10. Karl Klug, DT, Titans. Age: 30.
    11. Sylvester Williams, DT, Titans. Age: 29. — Signed with Lions
    12. Brice McCain, CB, Titans. Age: 31.
    13. Brian Schwenke, C, Titans. Age: 27.
    14. Eric Weems, WR/KR, Titans. Age: 33.
    15. Curtis Riley (RFA), S, Titans. Age: 26.
    16. Harry Douglas, WR, Titans. Age: 33.
    17. Matt Cassel, QB, Titans. Age: 36. — Signed with Lions
    18. Brandon Weeden, QB, Titans. Age: 34. — Signed with Texans

    NFL Free Agent Tracker:
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