The long-awaited regular season opener is now just a few days away, and as we inch closer to Sunday we make our predictions for the 2017 season.
DeMarco Murray – RBEmbed from Getty Images
The wide receivers stole the headlines all summer after the Titans made several high-profile moves at the position, but when the regular season starts it will once again be DeMarco Murray shouldering the bulk of the offense.
The offensive line that propelled Murray to be the AFC’s leading rusher last year returns in tact, but Murray’s intangibles in other areas will cement his place as the most valuable player on offense this season.
With four receivers on the roster, and two being rookies, look for Murray to become a bigger part of the passing game in 2017. So while his rushing yards may dip due to a bigger contribution from Derrick Henry, Murray will still surpass his total yards from scrimmage (1,287 rushing, 377 receiving) from a year ago.
Avery Williamson – MLBEmbed from Getty Images
Williamson will lead the team in tackles for a third straight year, but that alone won’t earn him this honor. It will be his upticks in sacks and turnovers that will finally put him over the top as an upper echelon middle linebacker.
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau praised Williamson for his dedication on improving his pass coverage this offseason, and they both hinted that more things will be schemed for him to make plays in the backfield this year.
115 tackles, 4 sacks, three forced fumbles, and two interceptions for Williamson in his all-important contract year.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Taywan Taylor – WREmbed from Getty Images
No, I am not saying that rookie receiver and 5th overall pick Corey Davis will not make an impact. I’m just saying that Taylor will make a bigger one.
Davis’ preseason-long absence because of an injured hamstring has been well chronicled, so it’s reasonable to expect him to start slowly out of the gate. Taylor has not only been a full participant all summer, but the rookie third round pick has already been used in a variety of ways in just a few preseason snaps. And he’s looked good in all of them.
While Davis will come on strong to end the season, Taylor’s overall production all year will be enough to edge him out.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Jayon Brown – OLBEmbed from Getty Images
Brown hit the ground running on the first day of rookie camp and has not looked back since. The fifth round pick out of UCLA made a name for himself all summer with his relentlessness and play making ability.
Already in need of quality depth at outside linebacker, look for LeBeau…the blitz wizard himself…to find ways to get Brown on the field and in position to make plays early and often this season.
Most Improved Player
Kevin Byard – SEmbed from Getty Images
Byard didn’t see extensive playing time until midway through his rookie season, yet he still finished third on the team in tackles in 2016…and that was playing out of position.
With the addition of Jonathan Cyprien, a true run-stopping strong safety, Byard gets to move to his natural position of free safety, where the ball hawking skills that made him a third round pick last season are finally on full display.
He’s also the day one starter this season, so look for Byard’s numbers to skyrocket across the board in 2017.
After sending five players to the Pro Bowl in 2016, the Titans will send seven this season.
Marcus Mariota – QB
DeMarco Murray – RB
Taylor Lewan – LT
Delanie Walker – TE
Jurrell Casey – DL
Avery Williamson – MLB
Kevin Byard – S
Taylor Lewan – LT
Jurrell Casey – DL
The Titans recover from a slow start to capture their first AFC South division title since 2008 with an 11-5 record. And they do so in unfamiliar fashion, by beating up on the division.
Followed by Houston (8-8), Jacksonville (6-10), and Indianapolis (5-11).