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2018 Team Report: Tennessee Titans

Quarterbacks

Starter: Marcus Mariota
Backup(s): Blaine Gabbert, Luke Falk [R], Tyler Ferguson

Starting QB: 2017 was a down year for Marcus Mariota statistically. For the first time in his young career, he threw more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (13) and regressed in total yardage (3,232) and yards per attempt (7.1). However, the anecdotal evidence suggests the blame cannot be squarely laid upon his shoulders. The offense as a whole took steps back as the running game struggled, his receivers dropped passes and could not consistently separate from defenders, and Head Coach Mike Mularkey's system didn't change to match the adjustments that opposing defenses made. There are reasons to be optimistic that Marcus Mariota will not follow the same disappointing path this year. New Head Coach Mike Vrabel has appointed Matt LaFleur as Offensive Coordinator. LaFleur is implementing a system similar to that of mentor Sean McVay's that embraces spread concepts and play action passing. Mariota ran a spread-based system in Oregon, so this transition will be a natural one for him. Mariota is also particularly dangerous on play action-- he had the highest passer rating of any quarterback in the league last year (122.8) when running these types of plays. The young receiving corps looked more comfortable toward the end of the 2017 season and should perform better with a year of experience under their belts. Look for Mariota to rebound and perhaps even ascend to have his best year yet as both supporting players and offensive scheme around him improve.

Backup QB: Ineffective in relief of Mariota last year, Matt Cassel was not re-signed with the Titans and instead signed a veteran minimum deal with the Detroit Lions. The Titans signed journeyman Blaine Gabbert, who had moments of above-average play in his last two stops, San Francisco and Arizona. Like Mariota, Gabbert also operated out of a spread system in college and will likely find the new system being implemented to be a comfortable fit. Behind Gabbert, both Luke Falk and Tyler Ferguson are vying for the third spot. Ferguson is an undrafted free agent and Falk was taken in the sixth round, making it likely the Titans prioritize Falk over Ferguson.

Running Backs

Starter: Derrick Henry, Dion Lewis
Backup(s): David Fluellen, Akrum Wadley [R]
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: With DeMarco Murray cut by the team early in the offseason, expectations soared for Derrick Henry, who looked to have finally earned a lead role. Those hopes came crashing back to earth when the team signed former Patriots runner Dion Lewis to serve in a committee situation. Henry, who was leaned on increasingly as Murray dealt with multiple injuries in 2017, put up a career high 744 yard and six touchdowns. Lewis also had a good year, scampering for 896 yards and scoring a career high nine touchdowns. The Titans coaching staff has indicated that they will vary the game plan for both runners depending on the opponent, making usage variable and somewhat unpredictable. Looking at their skill sets, Henry's talents lean more toward an interior, downhill, take-a-physical-toll-on-your-opponent kind of style. On the other hand, Lewis, who is much smaller, is more elusive, quick, and more suited for the pass catching role than Henry.

Backup RBs: David Fluellen continues to make special teams contributions and get occasional touches as the third running back. He'll be pushed for the third spot by undrafted free agent Akrum Wadley, whose explosive, big play abilities and receiving skills may mitigate Fluellen to the practice squad.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Corey Davis, Rishard Matthews
Backups: Taywan Taylor, Tajae Sharpe, Michael Campanaro, Darius Jennings, Zach Pascal

Starting WRs: Corey Davis had a very slow start to his rookie campaign after a hamstring injury that kept him out most of training camp was reaggravated early in the season. He managed only 375 yards in the regular season and did not score a touchdown. Davis did finish strong and showed evidence of his great potential, scoring two touchdowns in the playoff loss against the New England Patriots. With Eric Decker having exited in free agency, Matthews will move into the secondary role, a role in which he historically has done well. Last year, Matthews was statistically the closest thing the Titans had to a leading wide receiver, logging 53 catches for 795 yards and four scores.

Backup WRs: Much more will be expected of sophomore Taywan Taylor, who should be a great asset in LaFleur's new system. The speedy wideout can be used on quick hitters or sent deep to clear defenders from the short and intermediate areas of the field. The team also has high hopes for Tajae Sharpe, who flashed technical skill as a route runner in the 2016 preseason as a rookie, but has had both injuries and off-field incidents derail him since then. Michael Campanaro showed promise in Baltimore, but was held back by repeated injuries and the largely ineffective offensive attack of the Ravens. The Titans will not ask him to start, but instead hope he can provide depth and special teams help.

Tight Ends

Starters: Delanie Walker
Backups: Jonnu Smith, Luke Stocker

Despite preseason promises that he would have a diminished role in the offense, it was Delanie Walker that the team counted on to move the chains and make critical catches with the game on the line. Walker scored only three touchdowns, but hit over 800 yards receiving for the fourth time in his career. Walker turns 34 before the start of the season; but as tight ends typically play longer in the NFL, he should still be an important contributor for this offense. Jonnu Smith is one whom many draft analysts compared to Delanie Walker, so it's natural to see him as the heir apparent when Walker is done. Smith played a surprising amount of time in year one and recorded 18 receptions for 157 yards and two scores. Luke Stocker was acquired by the Titans in December of 2017 after being cut by the Buccaneers. He will primarily be used as a blocker.

Place Kicker

Ryan Succop: Ryan Succop finished ninth in kicker scoring in 2017, but he was also first in field goal attempts (42). All seven of his misses were from 40 yards or more, but it still put his field goal percentage outside of the top 20 kickers. If Tennessee gets even marginally more efficient at extending trips into opponent territory in 2018, Succop's hold on a spot in the top ten kickers will get very tenuous. He's probably not worth a draft pick after putting up draft-worthy numbers last year.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Adoree' Jackson, Michael Campanaro

Adoree' Jackson handled 92% of Tennessee's total returns in 2017 and remains on the roster in 2018.

Punt Returners: Adoree' Jackson, Michael Campanaro

Adoree' Jackson handled 92% of Tennessee's total returns in 2017 and remains on the roster in 2018.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Taylor Lewan, LG Quinton Spain, C Ben Jones, RG Josh Kline, RT Jack Conklin
Key Backups: Dennis Kelly, Xavier Sua-Filo, Kevin Pamphile, Cody Wichmann

Left tackle Taylor Lewan made his second straight Pro Bowl last season. Lewan has emerged as a team captain and true leader of the locker room. Right tackle Jack Conklin was not as dominant in 2017 after his All Pro rookie season in 2016, and had a tough end to the season when he tore his ACL in the playoff loss. Conklin might not start the season, in which case Dennis Kelly and Kevin Pamphile could compete for the role. Pamphile arrived from Tampa Bay via free agency. He or fellow free agent Xavier Sua-Filo from the Houston Texans could push nominal starting left guard Quinton Spain for reps. Center Ben Jones is a good player and Josh Kline appears to be in the good graces of the coaching staff for the time being. Either guard spot could be upgraded however on the strength of the tackles and center the Tennessee Titans' offensive line enters the season ranked as a top-tier option.

Team Defense

The Titans had a solid year as a fantasy team defense, with two eight-sack performances and five games with multiple takeaways. New head coach Mike Vrabel coaxed Dean Pees out of retirement to coach the defense, and he'll have a lot of new talent to plug into the unit. The team used their first two picks in the 2018 draft to add supreme edge rusher Harold Landry and stout, athletic inside linebacker Rashaan Evans, both should have a chance to make an impact. The team also paid up for Malcolm Butler to reunite with their big signing from 2017, Logan Ryan, and hopefully 2017 first-round pick Adoree Jackson will improve in year two. The Titans probably won't be drafted in many leagues, but they have the talent and new energy to be an improved defense from a sometimes promising performance last year.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE DaQuan Jones, NT Bennie Logan, DT Jurrell Casey
Backups: DE David King, NT Antwaun Woods, NT Austin Johnson

Starting DL: There is a great deal of versatility in this group, with multiple guys who can play nose tackle, defensive tackle, and end. DaQuan Jones found his first year as a starter to be a success, recording a personal best three and a half sacks and 31 total tackles. Jurrell Casey remains the lynchpin of the defense. He went to his third straight Pro Bowl this year after a six sack, 60 total tackle campaign. Bennie Logan was brought in on a one-year deal after spending the previous year with the Kansas City Chiefs. As Austin Johnson seems to need more time to develop, Logan will provide a stopgap option for the Titans.

Backup DL: More will be expected of second-year Austin Johnson, who the team hopes will continue to develop and be ready for a bigger role when Logan's contract expires next year. Woods and David King can play multiple spots and remain solid rotational options who will provide rest when the starting unit needs a breather.

Linebackers

Starters: OLB Derrick Morgan, OLB Brian Orakpo, ILB Wesley Woodyard, ILB Rashaan Evans [R]
Backups: OLB Kevin Dodd, OLB Aaron Wallace, OLB Harold Landry [R], ILB Jayon Brown, ILB Will Compton, ILB Nate Palmer

Starting LBs: Sack specialists Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo return, each in the final year of their contract. While their combined production dipped to 14.5 sacks last year, the overall defense improved to 13th in total defense and 17th in defensive scoring across the league. The Titans made an investment in the edge position in the Draft to make sure that they will be able to fill the void should Morgan, Orakpo, or both men exit in free agency next season. Inside linebacker Avery Williamson signed with the Jets in free agency, leaving a void that was filled by drafting Rashaan Evans in the first round. Evans has greater range, speed, and coverage abilities than Williamson and should play a role similar to the one C.J. Mosely played for Baltimore under Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees. Wesley Woodyard is excited about mentoring Evans, telling the media,"That's one thing that my specialty is, mentoring young guys, making sure that I can pull the best out of them. I really won't get to know much about him until he's on the campus with us working out. I'm just excited to have a new guy in the room with us."

Backup LBs: The team moved up to draft Harold Landry in the second round of the Draft. Landry fell to round two because of apparent concerns over durability, but the Titans were excited to land what many considered a first-round pass rush talent so late. Jayon Brown played well last season and will continue to be the coverage option for this unit. Kevin Dodd persists in not adjusting well to the 3-4 schemes the Titans have employed under two different coaching staffs. There have been rumors that a trade with another team is possible later in the offseason. Wallace, selected in the same year as Dodd but in the seventh round, has shown flashes of ability, but injuries have largely kept him off the field throughout his young career. Nate Palmer and Will Compton are merely depth and special teams contributors for this unit.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Logan Ryan, CB Adoree' Jackson, SS Jonathan Cyprien, FS Kevin Byard
Backups: CB Malcolm Butler, LeShaun Simms, CB/S Dane Cruikshank, SS Kendrick Lewis, SS/FS Brynden Traywick

Starting DBs: After some growing pains early last year, the corner group seems to have solidified into a better unit. Logan Ryan played well and gave this unit a stability it had not experienced in many years. Adoree' Jackson was entrusted with a lot of starting time as a rookie last season and played well, recording 70 tackles, three forced fumbles, and 17 passes defended. Jonathan Cyprien struggled with injuries last season, so the team will give him another chance to show what he can do. Kevin Byard continued to ascend, picking off eight passes and earning an alternate Pro Bowl nod. He said of his second year, "I watched a whole bunch of film from the first year and tried to find things I could fix. Coming back your second year, you feel so much more comfortable."

Backup DBs: Logan Ryan is now joined by fellow former Patriot Malcolm Butler, who can cover the smaller, faster receivers from the slot. Simms did decent work in spot duty last year and showed he could play bigger wideouts with physical press style. The Titans moved up in the fifth round of the Draft to snag Dane Cruikshank. He is versatile and the Titans can employ him as an in-the-box safety that can play a little coverage on tight ends and running backs. He can also play as a linebacker against the run in hybrid looks. Kendrick Lewis spent a year out of football; but with previous experience in Pees' scheme, he can provide depth in this unit and can perhaps push Cyprien. Brynden Trawick was voted to the Pro Bowl for his special teams contributions and remains an important part of that unit for Tennessee this year.

Last modified: 2018-05-10 15:59:25