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2012 Team Report: Tennessee Titans

Quarterbacks

Starter: Matt Hasselbeck
Backup(s): Jake Locker, Rusty Smith

Starting QB: Matt Hasselbeck exceeded expectations as the Titans starting quarterback in 2011. Despite a new coaching staff and a new offense, Hasselbeck led the team to a 9-7 record and the cusp of the playoffs. He completed 61.6% of his passes for a respectable 6.9 yards per attempt. Where Hasselbeck struggled, however, was in finding the end zone through the air. A midseason injury to No. 1 receiver Kenny Britt didn't help matters, leading to only 18 touchdowns against 14 interceptions for the veteran signal caller. As of this moment, Hasselbeck is penciled in as the team's starter. That said, second year quarterback Jake Locker is being groomed as the team's future star, and his performance in 2011 means that Hasselbeck will be on a short leash. Hasselbeck's biggest strength in 2011 was helping younger players like Damien Williams and Jared Cook learn to perform consistently. Hasselbeck had excellent command of the huddle, but with the younger players having gained valuable experience in 2011, it remains to be seen how long Hasselbeck will hold on to the job with a younger, stronger-armed, and more mobile quarterback waiting in the wings.

Backup QB: Jake Locker entered the NFL as the eight-overall pick amid lots of questions. His effort, mobility, and arm-strength were unquestionable but his accuracy and seeming lack of college production worried many fans. His performance in 2011 did much to quell the criticism as Locker threw for over eight yards per attempt and four touchdowns against zero interceptions. That said, Locker showed that he still has issues with accuracy (51.5% completion percentage) and touch, particularly on short passes. For the first time since Steve McNair, however, the Titans had a quarterback with ample downfield ability. Locker only played in parts of five games in 2011 but looked to have all the necessary tools to supplant Matt Hasselbeck as the team's starting quarterback sooner than later. Third-year quarterback Rusty Smith is expected to make the team as the third quarterback. Smith is tall and has a big arm, but his delivery is slow and he is not very mobile.

Running Backs

Starter: Chris Johnson
Backup(s): Javon Ringer, Jamie Harper, Herb Donaldson, Darryl Whiting
Fullback(s): Quinn Johnson, Collin Mooney

Starting RB: Despite the Titans having a run-focused offense in the Jeff Fisher era, the 2011 ground game did not live up to expectations. As a team, the Titans finished near the bottom of the league in every major statistical rushing category. Star running back Chris Johnson signed a big contract at the end of the 2011 offseason and promptly began playing about as poorly as a starting running back can play. Despite having one of the better offensive lines in the AFC, Johnson bumbled to average fewer than four yards per rush for the first half of the season to go along with a single touchdown. Johnson was not hitting the hole hard, and the speed that had previously made him a home-run threat appeared to be gone. Despite big games against Carolina (130 yards and a touchdown), Tampa Bay (190 yards), and Buffalo (153 yards and two touchdowns), Johnson simply did not look like a franchise running back in 2012. Most telling about Johnson's 2011 compared to prior seasons was the paltry number of games where he exceed 20 carries. Only five times did Johnson carry the ball more than 20 times whereas all of his huge games in 2009 and 2010 came in games where he carried the ball that many times. That said, because of his prior performance and large contract Chris Johnson is firmly entrenched as the Titans' starting running back.

Backup RBs: Javon Ringer and Jamie Harper will serve as backups to Chris Johnson. Ringer has shown the ability to carry the load in the last two seasons as well as the ability to perform well in short-yardage situations. He is a well-rounded back with good, compact size, and balance. While he is nowhere near as fast or quick as Johnson, Ringer does have good agility in traffic and excels at running between the tackles. Harper is too small and slow to be a feature back and is most useful as a special teams contributor and running back fill-in the case of injury to Johnson or Ringer.

Fullback: As with most fullbacks in the NFL, there isn't much fantasy value here. The Titans long time fullback, Ahmad Hall, left the team in free agency, so new blood was brought in. Quinn Johnson is expected to win the fullback job, but he has only 11 total touches - all catches - in his four years as a pro.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Kenny Britt, Nate Washington
Backups: Kendall Wright [R], Damian Williams, Lavelle Hawkins, James Kirkendoll, Michael Preston, Darius Reynaud, O.J. Murdock

Starting WRs: Kenny Britt was on the cusp of a breakout season in 2011 as he started the season with a bang. Britt was essentially uncoverable for the first two-and-a-half games of the year, posting 17 receptions for 289 yards and three touchdowns. Britt showed a newfound ability to beat coverage at the line of scrimmage and get to top-speed almost immediately. His route running noticeably improved as well, and if he is able to return to form (his injury occurred in September) than the Titans will find themselves with the top-tier receiver that has been missing from their offense since Derrick Mason's prime. However, all is not rosy with Britt's return. He underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in mid-May to reduce swelling in his surgically repaired knee. It was also found that he had a similar procedure on his other knee one month later. Despite these procedures, Britt still maintains that he'll be ready for the start of the season. This is definitely a situation that bears watching. Nate Washington benefited from Britt's absence last season and posted career bests in receptions (74), yards (1023), and touchdowns (seven). Washington showed excellent hands and agility downfield and was very productive despite drawing the opposition's top cover corner on most downs. The Titans wisely did not move Washington into Britt's role as the team's X-receiver in most packages, meaning that both players will be at positions where they have experienced their greatest successes when the season begins. That said, the Titans leaned heavily on the pass last season as the rushing game faltered. It is possible that despite an abundance of talent at the receiver position, the Tennessee passing game might regress due to a lower frequency of use.

Backup WRs: Kendall Wright was drafted out of Baylor with the Titans first-round pick and will no doubt be expected to contribute right away. Wright plays faster than he is and is dangerous in the open-field. He may be used early in the slot and in motion often in an attempt to get him the ball in the open field where he is most dangerous. Wright benefited from Kenny Britt's rehab and was able to get starter repetitions in May. Damian Williams stepped in admirably after Kenny Britt's injury and seems well suited to rotate in with Britt early in the season. Williams is a quality deep threat and uses his length and body to make tough catches. Lavelle Hawkins is a veteran presence with decent route running and hands, but he is likely to lose much of his playing time with Britt back from injury and Wright on board.

Tight Ends

Starters: Jared Cook
Backups: Craig Stevens, Daniel Graham, Taylor Thompson

The Tennessee offense has long leaned on the tight end position to offer flexibility in personnel and play-call. At the moment, they possess two quality tight ends with very different skill-sets. After three seasons of not living up to his billing, Jared Cook broke out in a big way in 2011. He finished the season with 49 receptions and 759 yards including two games toward the end of the season where he eclipsed eight receptions and 100 yards. Cook's natural ability seems to finally be melding with an understanding of the NFL game. His speed and size make him a matchup nightmare, and his route-running and concentration have improved greatly since 2009. Cook will be split out from the line of scrimmage as a receiver on many downs and will be called on to work between the hash-marks while Kenny Britt and Nate Washington handle most of the outside routes. Cook has truly just scratched the surface of his potential and it would not be a surprise at all to see him make another leap this season to the top-tier of tight ends in professional football. The Titans have an embarrassment of riches at the tight end position. While Jared Cook is one of the emerging talents as a pass catcher at the position, Craig Stevens is one of the better blocking tight ends in the league. Stevens is used primarily as a blocking end and only an occasional pass-catcher. That said, he shows reliable hands and runs short post routes and curls as well as anyone in the league. Daniel Graham rotates in for the big package and certain goal line packages. He recorded only two receptions in 2011.

Place Kicker

Rob Bironas : Kicker Rob Bironas has hit above the 90% mark on field goals in each the last two years: 24 of 26 (92.3%) in 2010 and 29 of 32 (90.6%) in 2011. He currently ranks third on the NFL career accuracy list. Brett Kern will again be the holder/punter. They'll be working with a semi-new long snapper this year - Jake Ingram who was signed in January. He's not completely new, having been in the Titans camp last summer. The Titans have been in the middle of the pack in kicker scoring opportunities the past four years, including 17th last year.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Marc Mariani, Damian Williams, Kendall Wright [R]

Though there has been buzz about first round selection wide receiver Kendall Wright's willingness to be a returner, most of that came from Wright himself prior to the draft. Head coach Mike Munchak indicated he would take it slow with Wright and have him learn the offense first before seeing how things develop from there. The Titans lost their primary kick returner Marc Mariani to a broken leg in the preseason. He has been placed on IR and will be lost for the season. Damian Williams is the expected replacement, however it could be a committee handling kick returns.

Punt Returners: Damian Williams, Kendall Wright [R]

Wide receiver Damian Williams looks to be the primary punt returner, especially now that Marc Mariani has been placed on IR with a broken leg.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Michael Roos, LG Steve Hutchinson, C Fernando Velasco, RG Leroy Harris, RT David Stewart
Key Backups: T Mike Otto, T Byron Stingily, C Kevin Matthews

UPDATE: Starting center Eugene Amano was lost for the season with a torn triceps. Replacement Fernando Velasco is well regarded and should step in without too much of a disruption. Still this is a small downgrade to cohesion. The Titans' line is still graded out as the best line in football, but their lead over the field has shrunk with this development. PRESEASON OUTLOOK: The Titans have an outstanding offensive line, led by Estonian-born left tackle Michael Roos. Roos is a quietly efficient three-time All Pro. Left guard Steve Hutchinson is the only new addition to the line, and he brings a resume that includes seven All-Pro honors. Hutchinson is older but should maintain his elite form for at least two or three seasons. Leroy Harris moves from left guard to right guard to make room for Hutchinson. Leroy Harris and center Eugene Amano are both good, solid starters. Right tackle David Stewart is a former All-Pro selection but should be watched for a possible drop in form. The cohesion is very good as the only changes are the addition of Hutchinson and the swapping of Harris from left guard to right guard. The coaching staff is excellent, with Hall of Fame offensive linemen in Bruce Matthews and head coach Mike Munchak. There is a collection of interesting depth including Mike Otto, Troy Kropog and Byron Stingily. Overall, this is a tough and rugged group, clearly the best line in the NFL, based on our grading criteria.

Team Defense

The Titans are not projected to be a top tier fantasy defense in 2012, however depending on who you ask, they could sneak into the Top 12 if several things go well. Last year, the Titans finished in the bottom ten of rushing yards allowed (128.3 YPG), however they only allowed 10 rushing TDs (just five teams allowed fewer). Their pass rush took a big hit as they only managed 28 sacks, second worst in the league. In the off season, Tennessee added DE Kamerion Wimbley via free agency to help their pass rush, plus they hope Derrick Morgan will take a big step forward. CB Courtland Finnegan signed with the Rams, so that leaves Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner as the team's cornerbacks. LB Zach Brown and DT Mike Martin were added via the draft. Brown should contribute at WLB and platoon with veteran Will Witherspoon and Martin should get some snaps at DT to spell Jurrell Casey and Sen'Derrick Marks. Overall, this unit is likely not going to be an every week starting fantasy Def/ST. Iif Wimbley elevates the pass rush and the secondary forces several turnovers, they could be a sneaky bye week filler.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Derrick Morgan, DE Kamerion Wimbley, DT Jurrell Casey, DT Karl Klug
Backups: DE Dave Ball, DT Shaun Smith, DT Leger Douzable, DT Sen'Derrick Marks, DT Mike Martin, DE Pannel Egboh

Starting DL: Derrick Morgan, who was drafted with the 16th pick overall two years ago, hopes to finally live up to that sizable draft status in 2012. A torn ACL limited Morgan to just four games in his rookie season and an ankle injury and a second surgery on his knee limited him last year. The other end will be Kamerion Wimbley. Wimbley comes over from the Raiders after playing LB there the past two seasons. With 42 career sacks, Wimbley should definitely help the Titans pass rush. Jurrell Casey , a rookie third round pick out of USC, was very impressive and finished with 37-12 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Karl Klug played a ton in his rookie year and in fact led the team in sacks with seven. He also had two forced fumbles to go along with his 18-2 tackles. Any way you look at it, Klug will play an integral role in 2012.

Backup DL: Dave Ball was re-signed and will be the first backup at defensive end. Ball had 25-10 tackles and four sacks last year. Sen'Derrick Marks had 15-9 tackles and 0.5 sacks last year, his second in the league. Pannel Agboh is a bit of a surprise in training camp and it could lead to extensive playing time. Leger Douzable might generate a decent amount of playing time but is a non-factor in IDP leagues. Shaun Smith is a long time NFL veteran who provides depth but little else. Mike Martin was drafted in the fourth round and is a big-bodied run stuffer. he can rush the passer a bit too and deserves a look in long term leagues.

Linebackers

Starters: MLB Colin McCarthy, OLB Akeem Ayers, OLB Will Witherspoon
Backups: OLB Zach Brown [R], OLB Gerald McRath, LB Tim Shaw, LB Patrick Bailey, MLB Zac Diles

Starting LBs: Colin McCarthy was drafted in the fourth round last year and was not expected to make much of an impact immediately. But by the second half of the season, McCarthy played more and more and impressed anyone who watched him play. McCarthy had 50-13 tackles in his last eight games. He also forced a pair of fumbles and had an interception. But it was veteran-type field play that was most impressive for those watching McCarthy. When he was playing, McCarthy was vocal and understood the subtleties of opposing offenses. Looks for more of the same in 2012 for a guy that could be an IDP steal. Akeem Ayers was another member of last year's draft class that really helped the team. he finished the year with 50-26 tackles, a pair of sacks and a forced fumble, but 34-11 of those tackles came in the second half of the season. With the same role this year, Ayers should be considered a LB3 or LB4 candidate in IDP leagues. Will Witherspoon plays on the weak side. He'll be 32 on opening day and has seen better days, but it's likely he'll be the starter. With only 40-15 tackles last year, Witherspoon is no longer has the IDP roster impact from his younger days.

Backup LBs: Injuries have not helped his cause, but Gerald McRath has taken steps backward in his NFL maturation. At one time he was thought of as the future at WLB, but no longer. He did not start any games last year and only had 11-4 tackles in 12 games. Rookie Zach Brown was selected in the second round and Brown has the kind of speed that could allow him to make the starting lineup this year. The downside of Brown is that he's not as physical as he should be and it could affect his tackle production. At the very least, he'll play on special teams as the team hopes he's their long term answer for Witherspoon. Tim Shaw and Patrick Bailey are strictly supporting fodder only.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Jason McCourty, S Michael Griffin, CB Alterraun Verner, S Jordan Babineaux
Backups: CB Ryan Mouton, S Robert Johnson, CB Coty Sensabaugh, S Markelle Martin [R]

Starting DBs: Starting at free safety will be Michael Griffin, who was hit with the franchise tag. Griffin regressed a bit in 2011, especially compared to his fantasy breakout year of 2010. With 59-16 tackles last year, Griffin remains a viable IDP support player, but don't expect another year like 2010 when he had 86-22 tackles and four interceptions. Griffin is hoping to be signed to a long-term extension. The strong safety is Jordan Babineaux, who recently signed a two-year extension. After spending his first seven seasons with Seattle, Babineaux excelled in Tennessee last year and finished with 72-21 tackles. He's a reliable, steady sort who is not an elite safety or DB in IDP leagues, but if he can put up the numbers he did last year, he's definitely on a someone's roster. Jason McCourty, entering his fourth season, holds the leadership mantle at cornerback. With 85-20 tackles last year to go with a couple of interceptions, McCourty was one of the best IDP corners in the league. With Cortland Finnegan gone, McCourty's value increases, although asking for last year's production to hit again is not wise. The other corner is Alterraun Verner. Verner did not have as playing time as he saw in his rookie season when he had 85-16 tackles, but he didn't have a bad season either. He's an iffy pick in IDP leagues, though, as he might lose the job as the season progresses.

Backup DBs: Depth in the secondary is a real concern for the Titans. Ryan Mouton is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon but hopes he heals quickly enough to be a factor in the competition for the other starting corner slot opposite McCourty. Coty Sensabaugh is a speedster that was drafted in the fourth round. With their lack of depth, he'll compete right away for playing time. Back-up safety Robert Johnson is about the only depth the team has at safety. Markelle Martin was taken late in the draft but has some skills and could surprise.

Last modified: 2012-09-03 12:20:13

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