The Tennessee Titans are back on the field for Organized Team Activities. With an offseason full of departures and new acquisitions, we’ll rank the current roster as constructed by position.
1. Offensive Line
Just a few years ago the offensive line was arguably the weakest link of the roster, but changes in personnel and approach has this unit now sitting at number one. Anchored by a young pair of bookend tackles in Taylor Lewan (left side – Pro Bowl 2016) and Jack Conklin (right side – First Team All Pro 2016), the dynamic duo spearheaded the NFL’s third-best rushing attack last season while allowing the seventh-fewest sacks. Veteran center Ben Jones is as nasty as they come, and the unit overall has the perfect chemistry and mindset for smash mouth football. The o’line returns all five starters from a year ago.
2. Defensive Line
Tennessee’s defensive line entered last season atop this list, and remains one of the deepest and most talented units of the team. Led by two-time Pro Bowler Jurrell Casey, the d’line made life miserable for opposing running backs in 2016. As a result, the Titans finished with the league’s second best run defense last season. Tennessee made two huge moves to bolster the position in the offseason by bringing in mammoth free agent nose tackle Sylvester Williams (6’2 313) from Denver and re-signing veteran Karl Klug. This unit can not only stop the run, but they can also get after the quarterback. And with the recent signings they can roll seven deep if need be, staying fresh throughout the game.
3. Running Backs
Like the offensive line, the running back position was one of the worst in the entire league in 2015, until first-year general manager Jon Robinson added the one-two punch of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry last offseason. In a system that catered to his strengths, Murray returned to Pro Bowl form last season with over 1500 combined yards from scrimmage. In spot duty, rookie rb Derrick Henry tacked on nearly 500 more, making Thunder and Thunder one of the most dangerous running back tandems in the entire league in 2016. Both return this season with a realistic shot to finish as the number one rushing attack in 2017.
The 2016 starting linebacker quartet of Avery Williamson, Wesley Woodyard, Brian Orakpo, and Derrick Morgan also played a huge role in Tennessee’s stout run defense, and also returns in tact this season. In addition, the outside duo of Orakpo (Pro Bowl 2016) and Morgan wreaked havoc on opposing qbs last season. They were the only linebacker duo to post at least nine sacks apiece in 2016. The only question mark for this unit is depth, as there are few bodies behind Rak and Morgan should they miss significant time this season.
The health of Marcus Mariota drops this unit to fifth as we creep closer to training camp. His recovery from a broken fibula suffered last Christmas Eve seems to be ahead of schedule as he was able to participate in OTAs last week. We will have to see how Mariota responds to contact before we can move the position up the list. Backup qb Matt Cassel won his only start in last year’s regular season finale in place of Mariota, but the team’s chances for a division title greatly diminishes if he has to carry the load for an extensive amount of time this season.
6. Tight Ends
So far, two-time Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker has shown no signs of slowing down at 32 years old. In fact, he should be in line for a third straight appearance if healthy all year. But behind Walker there are questions. Anthony Fasano was a quality backup, a physical run blocker, and a safety valve for Mariota last season. He is now in Miami. How quickly rookie third round pick Jonnu Smith gets up to speed will go a long way in determining this unit’s ranking by season’s end.
The secondary was a huge concern for Tennessee last season, and the play of their safeties was a big reason why. Da’Norris Searcy and Rashad Johnson struggled, and as a result the Titans will roll out two new starters this season. Strong safety Johnathan Cyprien was a tackling machine last year in Jacksonville, and should help bolster an already stout rush defense. His arrival allows the talented second-year safety Kevin Byard to move to free safety…his natural position. Depth is an issue here behind the starters, and we will have to wait and see if / how the unit gels over the summer.
The cornerbacks were arguably the worst unit on the team in 2016, and have their work cut out for them to move up this list this season. Luckily, the Titans replaced last year’s starters Perrish Cox and Jason McCourty…who were both released. Free agent acquisition Logan Ryan (New England) should be an upgrade over both with his tackling and ball-hawk skills, and rookie first round pick Adoree’ Jackson will step in as the day-one starter opposite of him. While the starting unit has been upgraded from a talent perspective, depth and ability to quickly learn the playbook leaves this unit with more questions than answers right now.
9. Wide Receivers
Tennessee had, by the numbers, one of the worst wide receiving groups in the entire league in 2016. However, to be fair, the unit is not called upon to put up the same type of production as other receivers around the league due to the Titans’ run-first approach. Still, the unit’s success will be heavily relied upon rookies coming in to make an immediate impact. First round pick Corey Davis is the big speedy target that Tennessee has coveted for several seasons, and third round pick Taywan Taylor has the capability to stretch defenses. But when compared to the other positions on the roster, the wide receiver group has the most questions and the most to prove.