The Titans were the definition of nondescript last season in every facet of the game. They moved the chains at a 71.66% rate, 17th in the NFL, while their opponents moved the chains at a 71.71% rate, 19th in the NFL. Their -0.05% rate of moving the chains differential was not only the closest rate to zero in the NFL, it also ranked 16th in the NFL, right in the middle of the league. They went 7-9, but probably deserved to go 8-8, though that obviously wouldn’t have made a difference in their efforts to make the playoffs.
Ryan Fitzpatrick had to start 9 games and play in 11 in the absence of injured quarterback Jake Locker. Fitzpatrick arguably had the best season of his career last year. He had graded out below average on Pro Football Focus every season since 2008 prior to last year (he didn’t play in 2007), including 34th out of 37 eligible in 2008 and 35th out of 38 eligible in 2012. However, he graded out middle of the pack on Pro Football Focus last season (21st out of 42 eligible). He completed 62.0% of his passes for an average of 7.01 YPA (both career highs), 14 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions and also rushed for 225 yards and 3 touchdowns on 43 carries (5.23 YPA).
Fitzpatrick is now gone, with the Titans putting all their stock in Jake Locker staying healthy this season. Locker has had serious issues staying healthy in his career so the Titans could easily regret letting Fitzpatrick go if either Charlie Whitehurst (64.6 QB rating on 155 career attempts since being drafted in the 3rd round in 2006) or Zach Mettenberger (6th round rookie) has to make starts in Locker’s absence. At the same time, if Locker stays healthy, he should be an upgrade at quarterback for the Titans.
Injuries have sidetracked the former 8th overall pick’s career and now he heads into the contract year of his rookie deal without an extension or any expectation of getting one until he proves himself. He’s played in just 23 games in 3 seasons, working as a backup to veteran Matt Hasselbeck as a rookie and then missing a combined 14 games over the past 2 seasons with a variety of injuries. When on the field, he’s definitely flashed, completing 57.2% of his passes for 7.06 YPA, 22 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions on 563 career attempts, essentially a season’s worth. He’s also rushed for 502 yards and 4 touchdowns on 73 attempts (6.88 YPC).
He was on his way to the best season of his career last year, as he completed 60.7% of his passes for an average of 6.86 YPA, 8 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions, while rushing for 155 yards and 2 touchdowns on 24 carries (6.46 YPC). He was Pro Football Focus’ 23rd ranked quarterback out of 42 eligible. The Titans went 4-2 in games he played more than 50% of snaps in and they probably would have had a better record on the season if he had stayed healthy.
He suffered a hip injury after 4 starts, wasn’t the same upon his return, and then suffered a season ending foot injury 3 starts after his return from the first injury. In 2012, it was his shoulder. He seems really brittle. It’s obviously a make or break year for him as he goes into his contract year, with a new regime than the one who drafted him now in power. It helps that his new head coach, Ken Whisenhunt, has a strong history with quarterbacks, though he’s always struggled to develop young quarterbacks.
As I mentioned, the Titans probably would have had a better record last season if Locker had stayed healthy. The framework was in place for the team to be an above average team, even if only a slightly above average team, with slightly improved quarterback play. The issue is the Titans had one of the most head-scratching off-seasons of any team in the league and are a noticeably worse team now around the quarterback than they were last season. These head scratching decisions were most noticeable on the offensive line.
The Titans cut long-time starting right tackle David Stewart, which wasn’t a bad idea, even though he can probably still play (he’s still available on the open market right now, but plenty of veterans available late into the off-season made impacts last season). He was still a decent starter last season, grading out slightly below average on Pro Football Focus, but he’s going into his age 33 season, coming off of a couple of injury plagued seasons, and the Titans saved about 6 million on the cap by cutting him.
The biggest issue is that instead of using the freed up cap space to re-sign talented cornerback Alterraun Verner (who signed with Tampa Bay on a very reasonable 4-year, 26.5 million dollar deal), they used it to sign Michael Oher from Baltimore to a 4-year, 20 million dollar deal with 9.35 million guaranteed. Oher will be a significant downgrade over Stewart. That was a ridiculous deal. I thought Oher would have to settle for a one-year prove it deal on the open market.
That’s because Oher had the worst year of his 5-year career last year, as the 2009 1st round pick graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 68th ranked offensive tackle out of 76 eligible on the right side in Baltimore. Oher has actually regressed in almost every season as a pro. He had a strong rookie year, grading out 15th at his position, but then went 40th, 38th, 57th, and then, of course, 68th last season. He could be a little better than he was last season, but there are no guarantees and he could still struggle either way.
After that, the Titans, for some reason, used the 11th pick in the draft on another offensive tackle instead of adding a replacement for Verner at cornerback, like Kyle Fuller (who went 3 picks later to Chicago). That offensive tackle was Taylor Lewan. That pick makes some sense in that Michael Roos at left tackle is going into an age 32 contract year and it’s possible that Lewan was just far and away the best prospect on their board available at that point, but it still doesn’t change the fact that they used the 11th overall pick on someone who probably won’t play as a rookie and that they decided to sign Oher instead of re-signing Verner. Lewan won’t help them this season.
Theoretically, Lewan can push Oher for the starting job this season. He’s a better football player after all, even as a rookie. That would be the right move if we assume that insane Oher deal is a sunk cost at this point, but they’re likely going to be way too proud to admit their mistake on that one this soon, after guaranteeing him 9.35 million. The worst part of that deal is that the guaranteed money includes almost all of his 2015 salary as well so he’s probably locked in as a starter for at least two years.
That means that Lewan will probably get his chance to start next season at left tackle, which means that this is probably Michael Roos’ last year in Tennessee. That’s a shame, even if he is going into his age 32 season, and it makes their offensive moves at offensive tackle even more confusing. Roos has been a quietly dominant left tackle and a huge asset for the Titans since they drafted him in the 2nd round in 2005.
He’s graded out above average on Pro Football Focus in every season since 2007, maxing out as Pro Football Focus’ 3rd ranked offensive tackle in 2012 (he was also 4th in 2008). He graded out 16th last season and has been a top-16 offensive tackle in each of the last 3 seasons, something only Joe Thomas, Andrew Whitworth, and Eugene Monroe can also say. He’s also missed just 1 start since 2007. It’s a shame that he’ll probably be gone next season, but it a good thing that the Titans didn’t cut him going into this season to put Lewan at left tackle and save 6.625 million in cash and cap space. This was actually reportedly discussed as an idea by a Titans team that seems to have serious issues with personnel decisions.
Things are much more stable at guard, where Chance Warmack and Andy Levitre will return at right and left guard respectively, after both joined the team last off-season. The Titans used big resources on both, drafting Warmack with the 8th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft and giving Andy Levitre a 6-year, 46.8 million dollar deal. Only one of those investments worked out in their first year with the team as Chance Warmack struggled as a rookie, grading out below average and ranking as Pro Football Focus’ 46th guard out of 81 eligible. He could easily be better in his 2nd year in the league though and he was seen as a one in a decade type guard prospect by many coming out.
Levitre, meanwhile, had a “down” year in his first year with the team, but he was still a huge asset, grading out 13th at his position. The only reason last year was a “down” year for him is because he graded out 6th at his position in 2011 and 9th at his position in 2012. Even still, only Evan Mathis and Josh Sitton also have graded out in the top-13 in each of the last 3 seasons among guards. The 2009 2nd round pick has made all 80 starts in 5 years in the league and graded out above average in all 5 seasons. He should have another strong year this year.
The center position is an issue for the Titans. They, for some reason, cut Fernando Velasco in final cuts last year even though he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 11th ranked center in 2012. Velasco turned out to not be as good in 2013 as he was in 2012, playing as an injury replacement in Pittsburgh, but he was still better than what the Titans had at center last year. Veteran Robert Turner started the first 6 games of the season before being benched for poor performance. He was Pro Football Focus’ 3rd ranked center despite only playing 401 snaps. No one played fewer snaps and graded out lower.
4th round rookie Brian Schwenke then took over as the starter from there on out and wasn’t much better, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 6th worst ranked center on 573 snaps. Turner is gone and remains an unsigned free agent right now so the starting job is all Schwenke’s. They don’t have another player on the roster who has ever played a snap at center. He could be better in his 2nd year in the league and his first full season as a starter, but there are no guarantees with a former mid-round pick like him. Center is an obvious position of weakness. The Titans have made their offensive line worse over the past calendar year, but there’s still talent here, particularly at left tackle and left guard.
The Titans also attempted to revamp the running back position this off-season, though they did a better job with that than they did on the offensive line. Chris Johnson was cut, which needed to be done because he was a declining player and clearly not worth his salary. He’s good for a few highlight reel plays, but he won’t he missed much. He averaged just 3.86 yards per carry last season and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 48th ranked running back out of 55 eligible.
The Titans will replace him with Bishop Sankey, who was drafted in the 2nd round out of Washington. Sankey doesn’t have ideal size at 5-9 209, but he ran a 4.49 40 and he runs harder than his size. He showed the ability to carry the load at Washington, with 677 touches over his final 2 seasons combined, but he doesn’t even turn 22 until September so his legs should be pretty fresh. He has three down ability and some considered him the top running back in the draft class. The Titans obviously did, making him the first running back off the board, 53rd overall, the latest the first running back has ever come off the board (breaking the record set in 2013).
Sankey should get the opportunity to be the feature back immediately in Tennessee because they don’t have much else at the running back position. Shonn Greene, who played 154 snaps and had 77 carries last season, remains in that backup role. It was a weird move when the Titans gave him a 3-year, 10 million dollar deal last off-season because he’s only a backup caliber running back. He’s averaged just 4.14 YPC on 899 career carries and offers nothing on passing downs, with just 71 catches in 72 career games. He’s not going to get any better going into his age 29 season.
Greene’s roster spot shouldn’t be safe at a non-guaranteed 2.3 million dollar salary. He might be kept only because their other big back option is Jackie Battle, who is going into his age 31 season with 321 career carries and a career 3.64 YPC. The Titans will have to be awfully reliant on a rookie at running back this year, though it’s not worse than last season, when they were way too reliant on a clearly declining Chris Johnson.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Part of the reason why Ryan Fitzpatrick was able to have the best statistical year of his career last year and why Locker was able to have success as well was solid play in their receiving corps (in addition to their offensive line). The biggest difference between 2012 and 2013 in the receiving corps was a breakout season from 2012 1st round pick Kendall Wright in his 2nd year in the league. Wright only averaged 11.5 yards per reception and only scored twice and in his career he only averages 10.8 yards per reception and only has 6 touchdowns, but he gobbles up underneath targets and dominates that part of the field.
Wright caught 94 passes on 134 targets (70.1%) and totaled 1079 yards on 539 routes run, an average of 2.00 yards per route run, 21st among eligible wide receivers. He also had more than half of his yardage after the catch, as he totaled 583 yards after the catch and averaged 6.2 yards per catch after the catch. That was 10th at his position among eligible wide receivers. He did drop 8 passes, but that’s a relatively low drop rate when you consider how many passes he caught and he also broke 19 tackles, which was 2nd most at his position. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 18th ranked wide receiver and he could easily be better in his 3rd year in the league, a common breakout year for wide receivers. He can become a more complete receiver by catching more passes downfield.
On top of that, Nate Washington continued his solid play, catching 58 passes for 919 yards and 3 touchdowns on 558 routes run, an average of 1.65 yards per route run. Over the past 3 seasons, Washington has caught 178 passes for 2688 yards and 14 touchdowns and averaged 1.62 yards per route run. Last season, he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 16th ranked wide receiver and he’s graded out above average in 2 of the past 3 seasons. He’s more of a deep threat than Wright, averaging 15.2 yards per catch in his career and 15.8 yards per catch last season, but there’s some concern as he goes into his age 31 season. Both Wright and Washington are strong run blockers, which boosted their ranks on Pro Football Focus, but they still graded out 22nd and 23rd respectively in pass catching grade.
Wright spent 68.5% of his snaps on the slot last season, part of the reason why he rarely scored and averaged so few yards per catch. He could see slightly fewer snaps there this season though as slot specialist Dexter McCluster comes over from Kansas City. McCluster will not be the true slot receiver he was in Kansas City, but he’ll play there some, in addition to lining up as a passing down running back, and also possibly returning kickoffs and punts. He’ll play the Danny Woodhead role in Ken Whisenhunt’s offense, with Bishop Sankey playing the Ryan Mathews role.
McCluster caught 53 passes for 511 yards and 2 touchdowns last season and more than half of his yards per reception (5.1 per catch) came after the catch. He did that on 429 routes run (1.19 yards per route run), graded out below average, and ran 79.5% of his routes from the slot. McCluster, a 2010 2nd round pick, has 172 career catches for 1500 yards and 5 touchdowns. He has 152 carries for 662 yards (4.36 YPC) and a touchdown.
He’s also returned 79 punts for 959 yards and 3 touchdowns and 52 kickoffs for 1087 yards. He’s not as good as Woodhead, grading out below average in 3 of 4 seasons in the league, but he graded out above average in the one season he spent primarily as a passing down back and he’ll provide versatility on offense. He’s probably not worth the 3-year, 13.5 million dollar deal they gave him though, as his biggest impact will probably be on special teams.
One player the Titans are hoping can step up this season is Justin Hunter. If Hunter, a 2013 2nd round pick, were to lock down one of the top-3 wide receiver jobs, they could run with Washington and Hunter outside in 3-wide sets and line Wright up on the slot, with McCluster fitting in as an obvious passing situation back and 4th wide receiver. Hunter played 340 snaps as a rookie and was pretty ordinary. He caught 18 passes for 354 yards and 4 touchdowns on 212 routes run, an average of 1.67 yards per route run. That’s a solid average, though he only caught 18 of 41 targets (43.9%) and had 5 drops. Rookie receivers don’t usually do much anyway though and Hunter was regarded as really raw coming out of the University of Tennessee. Going only into his age 23 season, the height, weight, speed freak (6-4, 196, 4.44 40) could become a contributor in 3-wide receiver sets.
The Titans’ receiving corps as a whole should become more efficient with Kenny Britt gone. Britt still has potential and could show that potential this season in St. Louis, but he was awful in Tennessee last season and his “loss” will be addition by subtraction. Britt was Pro Football Focus’ 3rd worst ranked wide receiver, despite playing just 305 snaps. No one played fewer snaps and graded out worse. He only caught a third of his 33 targets, with 11 catches for 96 yards and he dropped 7 passes. He averaged just 0.48 yards per route run on 201 routes run. He was awful.
The Titans don’t get much pass catching production from their tight ends, which is why Wright was so important last season catching underneath targets. The Titans signed Delanie Walker from the 49ers on a 4-year, 17.5 million dollar deal last off-season, hoping that Walker, whose had never caught 30 passes in a season before last year, would become a better receiver with more playing time in Tennessee as the starting tight end. He was a backup to Vernon Davis in San Francisco.
Walker was more productive, catching 60 passes for 571 yards and 6 touchdowns, but he wasn’t that efficient, averaging just 1.19 yards per route run and grading out below average as a pass catcher. He wasn’t as bad as he was in 2012, when he dropped 9 passes, as opposed to 21 catches, but he’s never been a good pass catcher. Fortunately, he’s a strong run blocker, which makes up for it. He’s graded out above average as a run blocker in each of his last 7 seasons in the league and below average as a pass catcher in 6 of the last 7 seasons. Going into his age 30 season, that’s unlikely to change.
Neither Craig Stevens nor Taylor Thompson is much of a pass catcher either as both graded out above average as a run blocker and below average as a pass blocker last season. This also isn’t anything new for either of them. Stevens has graded out below average as a pass catcher and above average as a run blocker in 5 of the 6 seasons he’s been in the league since being drafted in the 3rd round in 2008. Meanwhile, Thompson has graded out below average as a pass catcher and above average as a run blocker in both seasons he’s been in the league since being drafted in the 5th round in 2012. It’s still an above average pass catching group, but the tight end position isn’t great in that aspect.
I already mentioned some of the ways the Titans have a weaker supporting cast than last season. They replaced David Stewart with Michael Oher, lost Alterraun Verner, and then used the 11th overall pick on a backup for Oher. The other thing they did to weaken themselves is they switched defensive schemes from a 4-3 to a 3-4. Ray Horton comes over as the new defensive coordinator. He has a strong history so this isn’t a knock on him, but they’re converting to a system that their two best front 7 players don’t really fit.
Casey was probably their best defensive player last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 5th ranked defensive tackle. He was 8th in 2012 and 16th as a 3rd round rookie in 2011. Going into his 4th season in the league, only his age 25 season, Casey is a supremely talented young defensively lineman, but he’s a questionable fit for a 3-4 at 6-1 290. He’ll play 3-4 defensive end, where he’s not as natural or experienced as he is at defensive tackle and he could struggle by his standards as a result. Casey also lost 15 pounds, going from 305 to 290, for this new role, which could be risky.
The Titans had a lot of depth on the defensive line in terms of big players last season, with guys like Ropati Pitotua, Sammie Lee Hill, Karl Klug, and Mike Martin all playing rotational roles. Those 4 are all still with the team and will continue in rotational roles on the Titans’ new 3-man defensive line. The 6-4 329 pound Hill is most likely to be their nose tackle this season. The 2009 4th round pick has graded out above average in each of the last 4 seasons, though he’s maxed out at 437 snaps. His best season was 2010, when he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 15th ranked defensive tackle on just 367 snaps. He’s never played in a 3-4 as a professional, but he should be fine in the middle.
Pitotua, meanwhile, will start as the other 3-4 defensive end. The 6-8 290 pounder played 585 snaps as a base 4-3 defensive end last season in kind of a Red Bryant role. He played the run well, but he struggled mightily as a pass rusher and graded out slightly below average overall. He has experience as a 3-4 defensive end from his time in Kansas City prior to last season. However, he was awful in Kansas City grading out below average every season he was there. The season he had the biggest role was in 2012, when he played 505 snaps, and, not coincidentally, that was the season he struggled the most, grading out 29th out of 34 eligible 3-4 defensive ends. He’s never graded out above average and should struggle again this season as a starter.
Fortunately, the Titans do have players to rotate with him, as I mentioned above. Both Karl Klug and Mike Martin have shown well as reserves throughout their careers. Klug has graded out above average in 3 seasons in the league at defensive tackle on a combined 1103 snaps, with his best season coming in 2013, when he graded out 14th among defensive tackles despite playing just 330 snaps. He especially excelled as a pass rusher, grading out 10th in that aspect.
Martin, meanwhile, has graded out above average in both seasons he’s been in the league since being drafted in the 3rd round in 2012. He only played 237 snaps this past season, but played 435 snaps as a rookie and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 9th ranked defensive tackle, with no one grading out higher and playing fewer snaps. Neither has much 3-4 experience and neither is an ideal fit for the system, with Martin coming in at 6-1 306 and Klug coming in at 6-3 275, but both should still be solid contributors in rotational roles. There’s a lot of talent on the defensive line, but the scheme change might be trying to fit round pegs into square holes.
Another player the scheme change could easily adversely affect is Derrick Morgan, who has been their best edge rusher over the past 2 seasons. Morgan took until his 3rd year in the league to make an impact because the 2010 1st round pick got hurt as a rookie and then struggled upon his return in his 2nd year in the league, but he’s been Pro Football Focus’ 5th and 11th ranked 4-3 defensive end in 2012 and 2013 respectively, showing those first round abilities. He’s especially excelled as a pass rusher, while struggling against the run.
Morgan played at around 6-3 275 last season and has slimmed down to 6-3 260 to play 3-4 outside linebacker this season, a position he has very little, if any experience with. Dropping into coverage and rushing from a two-point stance are both very new for him. Between the position change and the weight loss needed for the position change, the Titans are taking a major chance tinkering with a proven player with Morgan, as they are also doing with Casey.
The scheme change won’t be bad for everyone though. Akeem Ayers has played a kind of tweener outside linebacker/defensive end position over the past 3 seasons since being drafted in the 2nd round in 2011 and now will get to line up at a more natural position as a rush linebacker. He’s graded out above average as a 4-3 outside linebacker in each of the three seasons he’s been in the league. Last year was his best season as he was Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker.
He’s been a strong pass rusher over the past two seasons, with a combined 8 sacks, 14 hits, and 34 hurries on a combined 339 pass rush snaps, a very impressive rate of 16.5%. Now he’ll get to rush the passer more often, which is obviously good for him, and drop into coverage less. He’s graded out below average in coverage in all 3 seasons he’s been in the league, on a combined 875 coverage snaps. He could have a breakout year this season, perfect timing as he heads into his contract year.
The Titans added Shaun Phillips as a free agent to the 3-4 outside linebacker mix this off-season. He’ll provide depth behind Morgan and Ayers and experience as someone who has spent almost his entire career in a 3-4. The issue is he’s going into his age 33 season, which is why he was available for 4.8 million over 2 seasons this off-season. Shaun Phillips looked done after the 2013 season, going into his age 32 season after grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked 3-4 outside linebacker in 2013. He had to settle for a one year deal close to the veteran’s minimum with the Broncos, but he was able to rehab his value, grading out above average as Pro Football Focus’ 16th ranked 4-3 defensive end in 2013. That being said, he’s still no guarantee to continue being a positive contributor this year given his age.
The Titans will start Zach Brown and Wesley Woodyard inside at middle linebacker in their 3-4. Brown will convert from being a 4-3 outside linebacker. The 2012 2nd round pick graded out slightly above average on 756 snaps as a rookie and then slightly below average on 771 snaps last season. He should continue being an average starter inside in his 3rd year in the league. Woodyard, meanwhile, is a free agent acquisition coming over from Denver. He’ll be an obvious upgrade over Moise Fukou, who was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked middle linebacker last season.
Woodyard isn’t great though, even though he got a 4-year, 16 million dollar from the Titans this off-season. He’s coming off of a year in which he graded out below average on Pro Football Focus and got benched for the archaic Paris Lenon. He has experience at both 4-3 outside and 4-3 inside linebacker, but he’s graded out below average in 3 of the last 4 seasons. He’s been a starter for the past 3 seasons and the only season he graded out above average was perhaps not coincidentally the only season he started at outside linebacker. The 6-0 227 pounder just might not be a natural middle linebacker and he could be an even worse fit in a 3-4. The Titans don’t have a lot of muscle inside at linebacker as Zach Brown is only 6-1 242.
As I mentioned, Alterraun Verner is gone, signing with the Buccaneers. Verner has never been spectacular, maxing out 10th overall in 2011 (he graded out 13th last season). However, he’s made all 64 starts since being drafted in the 4th round in 2010 and he’s graded out in the top-25 on Pro Football Focus in all 4 seasons, something only Joe Haden and Jason McCourty can also say at the inconsistent cornerback position. The common opinion is that Verner broke out last season, when he had a career high 5 interceptions, after a combined 6 interceptions in his first 3 seasons in the league, but that’s the danger with just looking at interception numbers.
The Titans have a few opinions in replacing him. Blidi Wreh-Wilson, a 2013 3rd round pick who played 93 snaps as a rookie, could slot into the starting job. Coty Sensabaugh, who was the slot cornerback last season, could play outside in base packages and move inside in sub packages with Wreh-Wilson coming in, though he could be overmatched on the outside. Sensabaugh struggled on 319 snaps as a rookie in 2012, but graded out slightly above average on 509 snaps last season. Meanwhile, Tommie Campbell is a height/weight/speed guy (6-3 203 4.32 40) who is often anointed an off-season star. He could get a bigger role this season, after only playing 91 snaps in his first 3 seasons in the league combined. He was a 2011 7th round pick.
Luckily, the Titans still have Jason McCourty. As I mentioned, McCourty has also graded out in the top-25 in each of the past 4 seasons on Pro Football Focus. In fact, McCourty has graded out in the top-11 in each of the last 3 seasons, the only cornerback in the NFL who can say that, and the 2009 6th round pick has graded out in the top-20 in each of the past 4 seasons, joining Joe Haden has the only other cornerback who has done that.
Part of that is that he’s been so good against the run and run stopping ability is easily a cornerback’s least important trait. He was Pro Football Focus’ 1st ranked cornerback in 2011 and 2nd ranked cornerback in 2012 in terms of run grade. Still, he was Pro Football Focus’ 17th ranked cornerback in coverage grade in 2013 and 16th ranked cornerback in coverage grade in 2010. He’s graded out above average in coverage in every season in the league. He’s a well-rounded cornerback and their best defensive back, though he isn’t as good as his overall grades would suggest he is.
Things are more stable at safety where Bernard Pollard and Michael Griffin return as starters. Both graded out above average last season, with the former grading out 21st at his position and the latter grading out 14th. Griffin is one of the most inconsistent players in the league and has graded out all over the map. The 2007 1st round pick has had slightly above average years in 2007, 2010, well above average years in 2008 (9th), 2011 (10th), and 2013 (14th), and below average years in 2009 (87th out of 88) and 2012 (87th out of 88). He could have anything from a fantastic season to a horrific season this year, though he probably averages out as an above average safety.
Pollard probably averages out as an above average safety as well, even though he’s been with 4 teams and been cut 3 times in his career. He’s graded out above average in 4 of the last 5 seasons, including each of the last 3 seasons, with his best season coming in 2011, when he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 9th ranked safety. He’s a solid box safety who is better against the run than in coverage. Overall, the secondary is weakened significantly by the loss of Verner, but there is some talent left.
The Titans are weakened on the offensive line and in the secondary as compared to last season and they are trying to fit their two best front 7 players into new roles, which could backfire. They also should suffer more injuries than last season, even if Jake Locker stays healthy, after they had the 6th fewest adjusted games lost last season. And if Locker doesn’t stay healthy, the downgrade from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Charlie Whitehurst/Zach Mettenberger at backup quarterback is significant.
They were an average team last season that was slightly better than their record. However, I don’t see them improving significantly this off-season, if they improve at all. They play in a weak division and should once again have an easy schedule this season (after they ranked 22nd in strength of schedule in terms of DVOA last season). However, I don’t think even that legitimately puts them in the playoff race. I think they’re the 3rd most talented team in the division. I’ll have an official win total when all the team previews are done.
Prediction: 6-10 3rd in AFC South