In anticipation of the NFL season starting in less than two months, Head & Heart Sports will feature each division for the next eight weeks and preview each team’s 2016 outlook. This week we take a look at the AFC South, finishing with the Tennessee Titans today.
Recap of 2015: Hide your eyes. The Titans were the very worst team in the NFL in 2015. It was highly touted 2nd overall pick Marcus Mariota’s rookie season, so rough patches and growing pains were expected for this team. Tennessee surprisingly dominated in Week 1 with a 42-14 win over 1st overall pick Jameis Winston and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Mariota had four touchdown passes and it looked like the sky was the limit. The fun did not last long for the Titans and their fans though, as they would only win two more games the rest of the season (at New Orleans and home versus Jacksonville). Tennessee’s disaster of a year included firing head coach Ken Whisenhunt midseason, finishing 3-13 overall, and securing the top overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Mariota was up and down his first season, but showed enough flashes of brilliance (including a second four touchdown game against New Orleans) to give Tennessee hope for their long term future. To top it all off, I also just ranked the Titans as the very worst team to root for in the NFL last week. I apologize Titans fans.
Significant additions: QB Matt Cassel, RB DeMarco Murray, WR Rishard Matthews, C Ben Jones, LB Sean Spence, CB Brice McCain, CB Antwon Blake, S Rashad Johnson
Significant subtractions: QB Zach Mettenberger, S Michael Griffin, CB Coty Sensabaugh
Potential impact rookies: OT Jack Conklin, DE Kevin Dodd, DT Austin Johnson, RB Derrick Henry, S Kevin Byard
Team Strengths: The Titans are pretty bad everywhere, but they worked hard this offseason to improve their running backs and offensive line. By adding DeMarco Murray via trade and drafting Heisman Winner Derrick Henry in the draft, Tennessee will look to take the pressure off of Mariota by running the ball more this season. The offensive line was improved by adding veteran center Ben Jones and drafting tackle Jack Conklin in the first round. DT Jurrell Casey is also a monster for them on defense.
Team Weaknesses: Pick your poison on the back seven of their defense. The Titans linebacking corps and secondary were absolutely dreadful last season. Tennessee allowed 26.4 points per game last year and couldn’t stop anyone. The other issue is, they really didn’t upgrade these areas this offseason in the draft and only signed some mediocre veterans to fill the holes. Expect opposing teams to score a lot of points in the Music City again this year.
Fantasy Players to Watch: Marcus Mariota will be an intriguing quarterback in deeper leagues, along with dynasty and keeper leagues. If he can stay healthy and continue to put up stats with his arm and with his legs, he will have some value. I would caution you to wait and see how the running back situation plays out in training camp between Henry and Murray. I fear they will split carries this year and drive owners crazy. Delanie Walker is definitely a start worthy tight end in all leagues. We keep hearing Dorial Green-Beckham as a sleeper, but I am still not buying the hype. My biggest piece of advice is to start players who are playing against the Titans this year. They are guaranteed to put up big points for you.
2016 Outlook: 2016 will likely be another struggle in Nashville. The Titans are still a fairly poorly run franchise and have very little depth or top end talent on their roster. Also, the promotion of interim head coach Mike Mularkey to the permanent role is a bit of a head scratcher. He has an 18-39 career coaching record and was just 2-7 in the interim role for Tennessee last season. Not exactly a home run hire. Mariota and the offense will show flashes of brilliance and win some games against a fairly pedestrian schedule. As I mentioned though, the defense will still be terrible and good teams will feast on Tennessee. The Titans did make a great trade to get out of the top pick in the 2015 draft with the Los Angeles Rams. This should set up them for a rebuild in the next few years. If Mariota is as good as advertised, the Titans could be trending up in the long term. Just don’t put too much faith in them in the short term.
Record Prediction: The Titans will lose a lot of games again this year. The AFC South is a pretty bad division, but the other three teams are still much better than Tennessee at this point. The Titans could possibly pick up a few wins against teams like Jacksonville, Miami, Cleveland, San Diego, or Detroit. Otherwise, keep your expectations low for 2016. I predict Tennessee finishes 4-12 and is back in the top five of the draft again in 2017.
Photo Credit: TitansOnline.com