Much has been said about the Tennessee Titans’ 2017 rookie class, especially the quartet of wide receivers Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor, cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, and tight end Jonnu Smith.
All four figure to be heavily involved in the Titans’ plans this season.
But we’ve all heard the saying….the biggest leap for an NFL player usually occurs from year one to year two, and the Titans had a bevy of rookies last season that contributed to the team’s remarkable turnaround.
With that being said, today we’ll highlight several sophomores to see who has a chance to take the biggest leap in 2017.
Now, before we get started, right tackle Jack Conklin is eliminated from this discussion…and that’s a good thing.
Conklin earned first-team All Pro honors in his rookie 2016 campaign, so all he has to do is remain healthy and consistent. If he does, then a bust in Canton could be awaiting him when it’s all said and done.
Derrick Henry – RB
In a limited role Henry still amassed nearly 500 yards rushing and five touchdowns as DeMarco Murray’s backup. He averaged 4.5 yards per carry and a whopping 10.5 yards per reception as a rookie.
Henry’s ability to take the leap is directly tied to Murray’s health and overall production in 2017. While the second half of Thunder and Thunder has the tools to be a quality NFL starting running back, he may find his opportunities limited once again if Murray duplicates his Pro Bowl performance from a year ago.
Tajae Sharpe – WR
Tennessee’s 2016 fifth round pick out of Massachusetts burst on the scene last summer, running crisp routes and catching everything in sight throughout the various offseason camps.
As the starting receiver Sharpe finished fourth on the team in receptions (41), and third in receiving yards (522) as a rookie, but he too has his work cut out for him if he is to improve upon those numbers this season.
Newcomers Davis and Taylor will be given every opportunity to take snaps away from Sharpe this season, so he will have to step it up by default. If he is able to fend off the rookie tandem and keep his starting job then he would definitely be in the mix for the biggest leap-taker, because it would take that sort of leap to do so.
Kevin Byard – S
Byard played in all 16 games last season as a rookie, and only Avery Williamson (103) and Jason McCourty (69) finished with more tackles than the 2016 third round pick out of MTSU (58).
To put things into perspective, Williamson and McCourty were day one starters in the base defense, while Byard’s time on the field gradually increased as the season progressed.
As a potential starter in 2017, Byard will have the opportunity to obliterate his rookie numbers. With his confidence, physicality, and athleticism, Byard should be on everyone’s radar for a breakout season.
LeShaun Sims – CB
Now Sims is the dark horse for biggest year-two leap. The 157th pick in last year’s draft got his chance late in the season when Tennessee cut beleaguered starter Perrish Cox. Sims did an admiral job in Cox’s place in some crucial games, finishing the year with an interception and two fumble recoveries.
Tennessee brought in bodies to bolster the secondary this offseason but keep an eye on Sims this summer. His surging confidence and familiarity with Dick LeBeau’s defense could have him on the field and making plays a lot more than he did last season. And with the highest ceiling, he could potentially take the biggest leap by default.