The Tennessee Titans have slowly shown improvement over the last two seasons. In 2016, Tennessee went 9-7, and while only missing the playoffs by a game, the fanbase seemed relatively positive going into the 2017 season.
Last year, the Titans again got better. Their record stood at 8-4 going into the final quarter of the season but stumbled down the stretch to finish 9-7. Tennessee beat Jacksonville 15-10 on the final Sunday of the regular season, and the win clinched the organization’s first playoff berth since 2008. Tennessee was bounced in the Divisional round by New England, 35-14 and on January 15th, Mike Mularkey and his staff were relieved of their duties.
Five days later, owner Amy Adams-Strunk along with general manager Jon Robinson found their guy. Mike Vrabel, the former Ohio State Buckeye, New England Patriots linebacker, and most recently the Houston Texans defensive coordinator was named the next head coach. Vrabel hasn’t really made a lot of noise as it’s been all about work in his first three months at his first head coaching job ever.
Vrabel has said though that he wants to win big, and everyone knows it starts in April with the NFL Draft. Here’s where the Titans need to get better (in no particular order of importance) in the draft if improvement is to continue and Mike Vrabel wants to bring this organization the Vince Lombardi trophy that it’s long desired:
I was elated when Tennessee acquired Brian Orakpo in free agency after the 2014 regular season. He was a guy coming out of Texas that really produced for the Redskins as he had over 150 combined solo and assisted tackles. His 2012 and 2014 seasons were cut short due to injury, and when he was released, Tennessee pounced.
Since coming to the Titans, he’s made a huge difference starting all 16 games the past three years. His counterpart, Derrick Morgan has come on recently, but it’s been slow. Morgan had a slow start to his career early suffering injuries in 2010 and 2011. In seven years, there have been 105 games played and to miss only 11 isn’t too shabby. Last season he posted his second-highest sack total with 7.5 along with a career-high of 59 pressures on the quarterback.
As well as these two have performed, Orakpo turns 32 later this year and Derrick Morgan turned 29 back in January, so it’s time to start looking for the next edge rusher. So I definitely see Tennessee taking a defensive end early.
I’ve heard some rumblings about Sam Hubbard, a defensive end out of Ohio State. While Hubbard recorded his second straight year with 40+ tackles, double-digit tackles for a loss and seven sacks, the question remains about his inconsistency. He has the height, size, and talent to be great, but it never really happened in Columbus. Tennessee defensive coordinator Dean Pees is one of the best there is at his job as a two-time Super Bowl champion. He wants his defense to “tough, smart, and physical” and while Hubbard might need some coaching, his film shows all three.
Since being drafted in 2011, Jurrell Casey has probably been one of the only consistent things about this defense, or maybe the Titans in general. In 110 career games played, he’s made 108 starts. Out of his 387 career tackles, 262 have been made solo. In Casey’s 2017 campaign, he had 60 total tackles and 41 of them were solo. That’s almost 70%.
The two guys in this year’s draft that would work perfectly with him are Da’Ron Payne from Alabama and Taven Bryan from Florida. Payne recorded 47 tackles, two sacks, and a pass deflection last year. He can collapse the pocket very well and a handful of general managers that visited Tuscaloosa in the fall said he was one of the readiest players for the NFL. He also showed his speed in an interception taken back for a touchdown vs Clemson in the Sugar Bowl.
Bryan recorded 40 tackles, four sacks, and six tackles for a loss. He showed his athleticism in the combine back in February and his explosion off the ball is incredible. A great thing about both the Titans is they’ll run multiple fronts under Pees and Bryan is a flexible player going from end to tackle, even going out and lining up in a five-technique.
Tennessee has some questions at wide receiver that need to be assessed. The team lost Eric Decker to the free agent market and now only have Corey Davis, Rishad Matthews, Taywan Taylor, and Tajae Sharpe that have seen extensive action. The team picked up Michael Campanero a few weeks back from free agency, but he’s with a group of guys that don’t scream playmaker and will be lucky if he’s on the team by the regular season.
Guys like Christian Kirk and Calvin Ridley will go early, but there are others that could slip and fall in the late first and early to mid-second rounds. A steal would be Courtland Sutton from SMU. A guy that caught over 2,800 yards almost 30 touchdowns in his four-year career. He has great separation speed and is a defensive back’s nightmare. Another possible pick that could fall is the former Oklahoma State Cowboy Marcell Ateman. Ateman stands at a solid 6 foot 4 and 220 pounds. He’s a powerful receiver that can go up and get the ball, dangerous in open space and is highly underrated.
Losing Avery Williamson to free agency hurts. Jayon Brown, a player that really came on in the second half of the season could see a lot more time. But an injection of talent like the wide receiver spot might see wouldn’t be a bad thing. Tremaine Edmunds, a junior at 6 foot 5 out of Virginia Tech is a highly touted linebacker. Hokie defensive coordinator Bud Foster has said that in 23 years of coaching, he’s never had a player like Edmunds. He has a great ability to recognize a play and go attack. He’s a long player and was all over the field for the Hokie defense. Tennessee would be lucky if he’s there at the 25th pick and they’d be getting one stud of a player.
So there you have it. Those positions are the ones that Tennessee needs to address the most then we can move from there. Tennessee was once known for its stubborn defense with guys like Keith Bullock and Jevon Kearse. And now we have a guy that was a great college player and NFL player at linebacker. Hopefully, he can restore this team to where it used to be.
Written by: Jake Wallman
Edited by: Matthew Peterson