You may recall a little feature we did here at The Sports Post in the early stages of March. It was called “NFL 2017: Which 5 Teams Will be the Busiest in Free Agency?” In it, we attempted to predict which of the clubs would be the most active over the past six-plus weeks. Turns out we weren’t too far off, either, ranking them in the following order:
4. Tennessee Titans
3. Chicago Bears
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
1. San Francisco 49ers
Now as the 2017 NFL Draft approaches, we thought we would do a complete handful of follow-up pieces to review their work as well as our predictions. We have already done our due diligence when it came to the Denver Broncos. Now we turn to a team that has not reached the postseason in nearly a decade: the Tennessee Titans. Though, that drought may soon be coming to an end.
Simply put, it was a job well done by head coach Mike Mularkey and General Manager Jon Robinson this past season. The Tennessee Titans haven’t been to the playoffs since 2008, when the team opened 10-0 and finished with an NFL-best 13-3 record. But this is a club with a lot of young talent and just enough experience on both sides of the ball to make them a big-time threat to the Houston Texans for the top spot in the AFC South. They did just that in 2016, finishing 9-7 and tying for the top spot in the division. But their failures against the Texans (1-1), Indianapolis Colts (0-2) and Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1) combined to do Mularkey’s team in when it came to the postseason.
Still, this was a club that came a long way in a short time. The Titans were a combined 5-27 the previous two seasons, a stretch that saw head coach Ken Whisenhunt lose his job after a 3-20 start. But that was then and this is now. Last offseason, Robinson orchestrated a traded for former Philadelphia Eagles’ running back DeMarco Murray and signed wide receiver Rishard Matthews away from the Miami Dolphins. Combine this with progress being shown by young quarterback Marcus Mariota, and the results were a dramatically-improved offensive unit.
Of course, the main issue with this club in ’16 was the defense. And don’t be deceived by the fact that only the Dallas Cowboys allowed fewer rushing yards per game this past season. Like the NFC East champions, the Titans were highly susceptible to opposing quarterbacks. The team ranked 30th in the NFL against the pass this past year despite the presence of very respectable pass rush that produced 40 sacks. Tennessee allowed 25 TD passes in 16 games while totaling a mere 12 interceptions. All told, Mularkey’s squad came away with a disappointing 18 takeaways.
So this offseason, Robinson addressed those needs in the secondary. The addition of cornerback Logan Ryan, who led the Super Bowl LI champion New England Patriots in tackles this past season, is a very welcomed addition. They thought they had solved some issues at the position with the signing of Perrish Cox in 2015, of course. But he was cut loose this past season. The Titans also recently released veteran cornerback Jason McCourty. But, Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau likes what he saw from rookie LeShaun Sims in 2016:
“He has good size, and size and speed is a good combination for a corner, and it’s the reason the Titans drafted him,” said LeBeau to Jim Wyatt of TitansOnLine.com. “He displayed that. He’s really worked hard, he has a good work ethic. And the veteran corners have helped him a lot.”
The fifth-round pick from Southern Utah got some serious on-the-job training in his debut season. “He is one of our promising young players,” added LeBeau. “I think he has a bright future ahead of him.” Still, the Titans also signed Demontre Hurst (Chicago Bears). And it wouldn’t be a shock to see the club go after a cornerback with one of its two first-round draft choices on April 27. Free agency also brought safeties Johnathan Cyprien (Jacksonville Jaguars) and Brynden Trawick (Oakland Raiders).
The Titans also have a new starting nose tackle—former Denver Broncos’ first-round draft choice Sylvester Williams. A member of that superior unit that paved the way for a championship, the stout performer played his best football during Denver’s postseason run. He should make life even easier for defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, arguably one of the best defensive lineman in the league.
Elsewhere, the Titans added a little depth to their offensive front with the addition of Tim Lelito. He has the ability to play both guard and center. But for now, he will serve as Ben Jones’ primary backup at the pivot. Keep in mind that 2013 first-round pick Chance Warmack left via free agency and signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. Still, the club also bolstered its special teams by adding Eric Weems, who was busy returning kicks for the Super Bowl-bound Atlanta Falcons this past season.
Perhaps the best move that Robinson and the Tennessee Titans made this offseason, however? Getting veteran backup quarterback Matt Cassel under contract. You will recall that Mariota suffered a broken leg at Jacksonville in Week 16. He’s on the mend but having that proven insurance policy is a big thumbs-up for this playoff contender.
The Tennessee Titans are a very talented and intriguing club. Things could get even more impressive for this franchise if they strike gold early in the draft. Robinson has a pair of first-round selections and two third-round picks. All told, the Titans have four of the top 100 choices in this year’s draft.
This team showed last year that it was on the move and trending upwards. It showed all year that it could play with the best of teams. While youth was certainly served and was very much on display, Tennessee’s losses proved to be learning experiences for a team that also totaled five victories over teams (Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans) headed for the playoffs.
If the Titans are fortunate this season, they’ll be back in the postseason for the first time in almost a decade.