When Pro Football Focus released their 2017 NFL roster rankings many people were surprised to see the Tennessee Titans ranked third. The only teams ranked ahead of them participated in February’s Super Bowl (1. New England, 2. Atlanta).
At first glance, especially to casual NFL fans, the ranking seemed preposterous. How can a team that won 14 of their last 48 regular season games be ranked so high?
But if you look closer then you will see that PFF’s assessment is far more accurate than not…and here’s why.
You have to look at Tennessee’s roster two ways….what they have and what they don’t have.
Let’s start with what they have, and at the core of the team the Titans have a young ascending franchise quarterback in Marcus Mariota, who was named the 50th best player in the entire league by his peers. Mariota is the man, but the Titans are no one-man show.
In order to receive a roster rank that high the team must have elite talent…or at minimum…players performing at an elite level.
The Titans check that box as all five of their Pro Bowl players from a year ago returns this season (Taylor Lewan, Delanie Walker, DeMarco Murray, Brian Orakpo, Jurrell Casey).
And that’s not even counting right tackle Jack Conklin, who was a First Team All Pro and Pro Bowl snub in his rookie season.
Now let’s move to the trenches.
Tennessee’s offensive line finished 3rd in rushing and 7th in sacks allowed in 2016, making them one of the best overall units in the league last season. The entire starting five returns in tact for 2017.
On the defensive side of the ball the Titans finished second in rushing yards allowed and sixth in sacks last year, and the entire front seven returns in tack with the exception of newly acquired free agent nose tackle Sylvester Williams.
Check and check.
What about the skill position players?
Tennessee has the reigning AFC rushing leader in DeMarco Murray back, and his backup Derrick Henry could reasonably start for at least 25 other teams.
The Titans have back to back Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker returning as well, one of the best in the league at his position.
Wide receiver Rishard Matthews not only led the team in targets and receiving yards last season, but he also finished sixth in the NFL with nine touchdown receptions in 2016.
Next, and just as important, Tennessee’s ranking reflects what their roster doesn’t have…and that’s a lot of holes.
The Titans’ two biggest areas of need heading into this season were at wide receiver and cornerback…and they addressed both this offseason.
Tennessee spent their two first round picks on wide receiver Corey Davis and cornerback Adoree’ Jackson. In addition the Titans added additional weapons in wide receiver Taywan Taylor and tight end Jonnu Smith with their two third round picks.
Tennessee also added cornerback Logan Ryan from New England and safety Johnathan Cyprien from Jacksonville via free agency, further bolstering the back-end of the defense. Their latest free agent addition, wide receiver Eric Decker from the Jets, solidified the overhaul of the receiver position.
Last but not least, special teams.
Already set with a solid kicker and punter, the Titans moved to upgrade their coverage unit / return game by adding coverage aces Brynden Trawick, Darren Bates, and return specialist Eric Weems.
While the Tennessee Titans are not littered with faces you would recognize at the airport, they do have all of the ingredients for an upper-tier roster….
Franchise quarterback, solid offensive and defensive lines, Pro Bowl talent at the skill positions, and few holes.
All of the makings of the third-best overall roster in the NFL.