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2017 Team Report: Tennessee Titans
Offensive PhilosophyThe Tennessee Titans have done a phenomenal job of putting Marcus Mariota in a position to succeed in his two years in the league, and he has rewarded them with stellar play. As a rookie, the Titans deployed a limited-read, play-action heavy offense similar to the one that helped Robert Griffin III become an instant sensation in Washington. In 2016, they expanded upon it and brought in a pair of terrific running backs to keep Mariota from having to carry too much of the load. While he's thrived under this run-first approach, Mariota has played well enough to earn himself a longer leash; expect the Titans to pile a few more responsibilities on his plate in 2017 and rely a bit more on the pass to set up the run instead of vice versa.
QuarterbacksStarter: Marcus Mariota
Backup(s): Matt Cassel Starting QB: Marcus Mariota built on an impressive rookie season playing behind a limited offensive line and receiving corps. The Titans bolstered the offensive line with rookie tackle Jack Conklin and dramatically improved its ground game with the addition of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. The result was power offense with a dangerous play-action component that also featured set looks for Mariota's running ability. The scheme didn't make a tremendous impact on Mariota's passing production, but he was more efficient. Mariota's yards per game dropped from 234 in 2015 to 228 in 2016, but his rate of passing touchdowns increased to 1.7 per game, and his interception totals dropped from 10 to 9 despite playing 3 additional games. The Titans have developed a framework that should allow Mariota to grow into a productive quarterback rather than expect him to carry the offense immediately. Mariota was the No.13 quarterback last year, expect a similar result this year. Backup QB: Matt Cassel will back up Mariota with Tanney hoping to maintain a roster spot.
Running BacksStarter: DeMarco Murray
Backup(s): Derrick Henry, David Fluellen
Fullback(s): Jalston Fowler Starting RB: The Titans traded for DeMarco Murray to be their bell-cow back and he was the focal point of the offense just as they promised. Despite the addition of Derrick Henry, Murray was the No. 4 fantasy runner last year, compiling 1664 yards from scrimmage and 12 total touchdowns. Henry played well, but he was clearly the change of pace with less than a third of Murray's touches. Although there will be talk of Henry earning more carries, it's hard to imagine that Tennessee will significantly lighten Murray's load unless the veteran gets hurt. Backup RBs: Henry's 490 yards and 5 scores on 110 carries was strong production for a rookie in a reserve role. He displayed the vision, burst, and power that he showed with the Crimson Tide. Henry also dispelled the myth that he wasn't a good receiver, earning 137 yards on 13 receptions. The Titans will want to give Henry more carries but unless he dominates Murray in training camp, expect a similar workload as long as Murray stays healthy. Mike Mularkey believes Henry is faster than he was last year. Fluellen is powerful and makes good decisions, but he's not particularly quick or fast. He has managed to stay in the team's plans as a practice squad veteran, but his place is not assured, and he'll be competing for a final roster spot. Fullback: Fowler is a talented player who can contribute to the offense in a variety of ways. He's a decisive runner with power and enough quickness to produce if called upon. However, the Titans' depth at running back and tight end suggest that his usage will be limited to short-yardage duty.
Wide ReceiversStarters: Rishard Matthews, Corey Davis [R], Eric Decker
Backups: Tajae Sharpe (IR), Taywan Taylor [R], Harry Douglas (inj), Eric Weems Starting WRs: Corey Davis is a first-round pick from Central Michigan. He's a strong receiver with a good catch radius and game that's both physical and technical. He should earn playing time, if not the starting job opposite Matthews, immediately. He earned good marks in OTAs for physical play, including contested receptions. This carried into training camp until a hamstring injury has slowed his progress. Eric Decker has a one-year deal with the Titans. He's a route-savvy veteran who, like Davis and Matthews who has the experience working with veteran quarterbacks that should help this young passing game. Rishard Matthews emerged in a big way last year. Between Weeks 4-12, Matthews caught seven touchdown passes in the next nine games and earned the No.11 spot among fantasy receivers in 2016. Matthews, like Decker, and Davis, isn't a burner, but he wins the ball well in the air and he can get behind a defense with the help of Tennessee's effective play-action game. Backup WRs: Tajae Sharpe impressed enough at the start of training camp to earn a starting role, but he faded quickly. A quick receiver and a good route runner for a college star, Sharpe earned Mariota's trust during the summer but could not get open as the regular season progressed. He'll need to build on his technical strengths to become a reliable starter in the league. Sharpe is rehabbing a foot injury and just had his cast removed in mid-June. He is currently on the PUP list. Taywan Taylor is an athletic receiver with vertical skill and some ability after the catch. He is not a strong route runner and could use a year or two to develop after being selected in the third round this year. Eric Weems is strictly a return specialist, but the former Falcon could help in the slot in an emergency.
Tight EndsStarters: Delanie Walker
Backups: Jonnu Smith [R], Philip Supernaw Jonnu Smith [R], Philip Supernaw, Jace Amaro, Jereome Cunningham. Delanie Walker is arguably still the best receiving threat on the Titans despite seeing his reception and yardage totals drop by 29 catches and 288 yards last year. He earned a career-best seven touchdowns in 2016 and was fantasy football's No. 7 tight end. He'll remain an integral part of the system because of the power ground game and play-action component. If the Titans can get a reliable production with the vertical perimeter game, Walker could have top-five fantasy upside because he'll see wider zones in the middle of the field more often. Without it, he's still a safe bet as a top-10 fantasy tight end. He is Marcus Mariota's security blanket. Philip Supernaw had little chance of making the roster until Craig Stevens suddenly retired last year, but he's hung onto a roster spot thanks to a lack of depth on the roster.
Place KickerRyan Succop: Former Mr. Irrelevant Ryan Succop had a successful year with the Titans from the team perspective, making all of his field goal attempts from under 50 yards and missing only two of 41 extra point attempts. From a fantasy perspective, he was a bust, with only 24 field goal attempts, which actually was his high in three years with the Titans. The Titans offense has certainly improved as Marcus Mariota has developed and they should be even better this year, but the low field goal attempt trend is clear and Succop should be avoided in drafts. If the offense is creating more scoring opportunities for Succop, he might be a good in-season waiver wire pickup.
Kick and Punt ReturnersKick Returners: Eric Weems Tennessee has historically been one of the few teams that prefers a single return specialist to handle all duties. Last year, that specialist was Marc Mariani. Mariani has since departed but Tennessee has signed Eric Weems, who handled two-way return duties for the Falcons in 2016. Punt Returners: Eric Weems Tennessee has historically been one of the few teams that prefers a single return specialist to handle all duties. Last year, that specialist was Marc Mariani. Mariani has since departed but Tennessee has signed Eric Weems, who handled two-way return duties for the Falcons in 2016.
Offensive LineProjected Starters: LT Taylor Lewan, LG Quinton Spain, C Ben Jones, RG Josh Kline, RT Jack Conklin
Key Backups: Dennis Kelly, Corey Levin, Brian Schwenke The Titans' offensive line have an excellent tackle duo in left tackle Taylor Lewan and right tackle Jack Conklin. Both were high first round picks and both started from day one. Lewan has a reputation as a team leader and one of the toughest tackles in the league. Conklin has been effective in both run blocking and pass protection. Few teams have as much upside and talent at the tackle position as the Titans. Ben Jones is a natural football player who has been very good since arriving in free agency prior to last season. The guards are underrated on paper but they don't have to be amazing, with such great talent at the pivot and two tackle spots. Josh Kline is playing the best football of his career at right guard while left guard Quinton Spain is exactly the type of strongman that coaches love. The team has decent depth in swing tackle Dennis Kelly and center Tim Lelito. Overall the Titans' offensive line grade out as a clear top tier unit and barring injury should be among the best in football.
Team DefenseThe Titans were among the worst in the league at forcing turnovers last year, with only Cleveland accounting for fewer combined forced fumbles and interceptions. The team did notch 40 sacks, good enough for sixth in the league, and their young quarterback meshes well with a strong running game and restocked passing game to give the Titans a better chance to control games this year. Tennessee went on a bit of spending spree on defense in free agency, adding corner Logan Ryan, safety John Cyprien, and nose tackle Sylvester Williams to address weak spots. Brian Orapko and Derrick Morgan give the team an excellent pair of edge rushers and Jurrell Casey is one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the league, so the front seven has its virtues. The secondary is being rebuilt, with first round corner Adoree Jackson likely thrown into the fire this year, and it will likely be the achilles heel that keeps this defense from getting into the top half of the league. While they are on the way up, the Titans still belong in the D/ST20 and later range they are going at in 2017 drafts.
Defensive LineStarters: DE DaQuon Jones, NT Sylvester Williams, DT Jurrell Casey
Backups: DE David King, NT Austin Johnson, DT Karl Klug Starting DL: DaQuon Jones hasn't been one to make an impact on the stat sheet, but he has been a durable (he's not missed a game in two years of starting), encouraging team leader. He said of himself earlier this year, "I'm not a real hoorah, verbal type of guy, but as far as through my actions, my work ethic and trying to carry myself as a pro off the field, I feel like I'm a leader in that aspect. I really try to help the young guys, especially, and make their transition to the NFL as easy as possible." Former Denver Bronco Sylvester Williams replaces Al Woods, who signed with the rival Indianapolis Colts. Titans GM Jon Robinson explained his rationale for bringing in Williams by stating, "In the lead-up to the 2013 Draft, I was able to work him out when he came out of North Carolina and he has the ability to two-gap, but also has some quicks to penetrate. Watching him against some of the better offensive lines last year, he played well and we are looking forward to adding him to our group." Jurrell Casey remains the disruptive force on the line, earning yet another Pro Bowl nod and notching 5.5 sacks on his way there. Backup DL: Like Jones, Angelo Blackson is not a player that will be padding his stats, but rather is a role player as an interior lane clogger. Austin Johnson is the likely future at NT for this team, but the team's move in free agency to add Williams shows they do not feel he is ready to take that mantle yet. Instead of pursuing his options in free agency, Karl Klug elected to re-sign with the Titans for a relatively team friendly deal.
LinebackersStarters: OLB Derrick Morgan, OLB Brian Orakpo, ILB Wesley Woodyard, ILB Avery Williamson
Backups: OLB Kevin Dodd, OLB Aaron Wallace, ILB Nate Palmer, ILB Jayon Brown [R], LB Daren Bates, OLB Erik Walden, LB Josh Carraway Starting LBs: Sack specialists Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo man the outside linebacker spots. Last season, they combined for 19.5 sacks and 80 tackles.When asked about expectations for this season, Orakpo said in an interview, "We have work to do, man. What do I look like, a sucker? We have work to do. Expectations are very high within ourselves. But we are not talking about all that Super Bowl stuff right now, because we have a lot of work to do." On the interior of the starting linebacking corps, there remains a liability when it comes to pass coverage. Wesley Woodyard and Avery Williamson are fine options against the run, but struggle to drop into coverage. Sean Spence would often get these duties on obvious passing downs last year, but departed to Indianapolis in free agency. Backup LBs: Kevin Dodd struggled with a foot injury last year and did not get as much work as the Titans might have hoped for their second-round rookie. In late April, Head Coach Mike Mularkey shared that, while Dodd's surgery in December was successful, he was still dealing with pain in his foot and "not completely healthy." The team will undoubtedly be cautious with Dodd leading up to the season. Aaron Wallace was selected later than Dodd (in the seventh round) and while somewhat raw, has experience playing in college in both the inside and outside linebacker spots. The Titans re-signed former Packer Nate Palmer, who looks to be more like a special teams contributor than a player with potential future starter upside. Jayon Brown was taken in the fifth round of this year's Draft and is the most likely candidate to replace Sean Spence as the coverage linebacker for passing work. He doesn't profile as a player that will have the size to become a future starter in the middle of this group.
Defensive BacksStarters: CB Logan Ryan, CB LeShaun Sims, SS Jonathan Cyprien, FS Kevin Byard
Backups: CB Adoree' Jackson [R], CB Brice McCain, SS Da'Norris Searcy SS/FS Brynden Traywick, DB Kalan Reed, DB Curtis Riley, DB Tye Smith Starting DBs: It was very surprising that the Titans did not take multiple corners in this year's draft, especially after cutting long-time staple Jason McCourty only days before. They did acquire Patriots star Logan Ryan in free agency, a much-needed addition to this unspectacular group. The Titans are seemingly prepared to place a great deal of faith in starting second year LeShaun Sims to cover the outside. Sims has the prototypical build of a press-man corner and though he didn't see extensive snaps last year, he played competently when he did see the field. The Titans also mildly surprised by not drafting any safety help. Jonathan Cyprien, a free agent addition from the Jaguars, will be asked to play the strong safety spot, and there is buzz that he may be employed in a hybrid safety linebacker role. The Titans coaching staff remain high on second year free safety Kevin Byard and will slot him in as the starter. Backup DBs: Adoree Jackson is likely to be the team's slot corner, but should get extensive playing time even as a rookie. Brice McCain will continue to be the team's nickel option. Brynden Traywick, a free agent signing from the Oakland Raiders, was brought in to bolster a special teams unit that struggled at times last year. Da'Norris Searcy, who has largely been a disappointment in his time with Tennessee, recently took a pay cut. He will be asked to play in the box when he sees the field. Last modified: 2017-09-05 16:41:53