The long awaited debut of the new-look Tennessee Titans is now less than 24 hours away, and on this eve of the regular season opener we make our team predictions for the 2016 season.
DeMarco Murray – RBEmbed from Getty Images
Marcus Mariota will have a better command of the offense in his second season under center. Delanie Walker will once again cement his place as one of the elite tight ends in the NFL. Rookie receiver Tajae Sharpe will help improve the passing game, but running back DeMarco Murray will be the straw that stirs the drink on offense in 2016.
With a new emphasis on running the ball in Tennessee, a retooled offensive line, and a renewed determination to return to the upper-eschelon of NFL backs, Murray (and the huge chip on his shoulder) will finish the season with 1,150 yards rushing and 8 touchdowns. His presence and production will make things easier for Mariota and the other skill players on offense this season.
Brian Orakpo – OLBEmbed from Getty Images
With a healthy Derrick Morgan playing opposite of him, outside linebacker Brian Orakpo was off to a terrific start last season…his first in Tennessee. When Morgan went down with an injury that caused him to miss much of the second half of the season, teams were able to shift their focus solely to Orakpo, and he still finished the year with 7 sacks, a forced fumble, and a blocked kick.
Morgan is back and fully healthy, general manager Jon Robinson upgraded the depth at the position this offseason, and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is looking to be a lot more aggressive with his blitz packages this year. Add that up and you have a double-digit sack season for Orakpo in 2016.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Derrick Henry – RBEmbed from Getty Images
While last year’s Heisman Trophy winner enters his rookie season in the unfamiliar role of backup, running back Derrick Henry’s impact on the Titans’ offense this season will still loom large.
As the second half of Thunder & Thunder, Henry’s role will increase throughout the season. His physicality, power, and unexpected elusiveness makes for an ideal goal line and four-minute offense option for the Titans this year. Do not be surprised if Henry finishes the season with more rushing touchdowns than his highly-touted rookie counterpart and fourth overall pick in this year’s draft, Ezekiel Elliott.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Kevin Byard – SEmbed from Getty Images
The rookie third round pick out of Middle Tennessee State had himself an impressive offseason in Tennessee, picking off two passes this preseason while making numerous plays throughout training camp. Current starting safety Da’Norris Searcy struggled at times this summer, and will be looking over his shoulder all season long as the Titans look for ways to get their talented young playmaker on the field. Expect Byard to lead all rookies with four interceptions in 2016, and to supplant Searcy in the starting lineup by season’s end.
Comeback Player of the Year
Taylor Lewan – LTEmbed from Getty Images
After failing to live up to expectations his first two seasons, having his team-captain honor stripped, and seeing his banner removed from the outside of Nissan Stadium, left tackle Taylor Lewan responds with a breakout year in 2016.
Lewan enters his third season in Tennessee in the best shape of his career, and no longer bears the weight of being a vocal leader on offense. The Titans’ new run first…smash mouth identity is better suited for the former Wolverine, who flourished under that style of play at Michigan. So much so that Tennessee selected him 11th overall in the 2014 draft.
With so many of his under-performing high draft pick colleagues being released or traded this offseason, Lewan answers the wake up call and turns in a solid performance this year.
Pro BowlEmbed from Getty Images
After sending two players to Hawaii last year, the Titans will double that number in 2016.
Delanie Walker – TE
Ben Jones – C
Jurrell Casey – DE
Brian Orakpo – OLB
For the first time since Chris Johnson’s record-breaking 2009 season, the Titans will be represented on the All Pro team.
Delanie Walker – TE (First Team)
Jurrell Casey – DE (Second Team)
RecordEmbed from Getty Images
While the Titans will miss the playoffs for a franchise-record eighth straight season, they will win more games in 2016 than their previous two seasons combined (5).
Tennessee will improve by leaps and bounds and climb out of the AFC South cellar with a 7-9 record and third place finish in the division…just ahead of the 6-10 Jacksonville Jaguars. The Houston Texans will repeat as division champs with a 9-7 record, followed by the Indianapolis Colts at 8-8.