As per last year, I’ll be sharing projections for every team in the NFL. I use past production in specific roles for each team’s scheme to work out realistic production profiles. You can see how accurate I was in 2017 in my IDP Projection Marking series.
The Titans have long been one of my favourite teams. I loved the color-scheme, their Super Bowl season was early in my football watching career, and I really enjoyed watching them with Vince Young and Steve McNair under centre. Recently, they’ve not been that exciting at all (particularly defensively) but it seems the corner has been turned and there’s plenty of excitement for 2018.
Mike Vrabel may or may not be a good head coach but he’s started well. He’s a charismatic guy and hopefully he absorbed a ton of information after studying under Romeo Crennel and Bill Belichick for so long.
There’s actually a really interesting defensive mesh going on here. Vrabel (in his lone season as Texans defensive coordinator) used a very similar scheme to Crennel. He used split safeties and mostly a three-man front. Dean Pees is the Titans new coordinator (after a very short retirement) and will bring some different ideas from Baltimore. There are many similarities between the systems but we’ll have to wait and see how much they use hybrid fronts and how the safeties line up and rotate in particular.
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Bennie Logan comes out very well here but as you can see from the stats, it’s very much based on his tackling – as you’d expect from a 3-4 nose tackle. There’s unlikely to be a much productivity from pass rushing here so whether to roster Logan (or Johnson) is a very league-specific quandary.
Jurrell Casey is the most underrated player in the NFL: just ask him. He’s certainly an impact player and has some big fans (notably Belichick). He’s consistently good but his role makes it tough for him to get close to the double-digit sack level you really want to see. This is where we need to see how the scheme turns out. In Houston, Crennel (and Vrabel) adjusted the scheme to let J.J. Watt line up more like an orthodox edge player. In Baltimore, they’ve generally been much less willing to mess around with lineman spacing. The compromise will greatly affect Casey.
Wesley Woodyard had a phenomenal 2017. Unfortunately, it was far beyond his career productivity benchmarks which is a bit scary when projecting him to be a top linebacker. It shows a bit more faith in Dean Pees than Mike Vrabel. In Houston, the linebackers have been uninspiring. Certainly when J.J. Watt was fit. But in Baltimore, C.J. Mosley and Zach Orr have recorded fantastic seasons in the last four seasons straight (between them at least). Woodyard should be top linebacker for 2018 too.
Rashaan Evans was drafted in the first round but likely needs some development. He’s a big talent but was a full-time pass rusher not too long ago and needs to learn the intricacies of playing middle linebacker. He’s unlikely to play a full season as a rookie.
Will Compton was signed as a free agent but seems more of a contingency plan. He’s got a more rounded skill-set than the other contenders but is also the least exceptional in any one area. He’ll need volume to be productive. In preseason so far, he’s got plenty of playing time and if either Woodyard or Evans are hurt, he should step right in. But currently, it’s hard to see him playing.
And lastly, Jayon Brown was good in limited snaps as a rookie but didn’t ever really show every-down ability either. His best fit seems to be as a passing-down specialist. If the Titans thought he was a legitimate three-down linebacker, would they have drafted Evans so early? He’s an interesting talent and very much in the vanguard of the NFL’s current defensive revolution towards hybrid linebacker/safeties but he might not be the top IDP ‘backer people are hoping for.
Brian Orakpo has been an effective edge player for a number of years now. He’s averaged nearly nine sacks in his last four healthy seasons. Yes, he’s closer to the end of his career than the start, but he’s very likely to be the team’s best pass rusher still.
Behind him, Derrick Morgan will be fighting with rookie Harold Landry for opportunities. Landry has the look of an impact player and may well end up being the best edge player in this draft class. He would have likely been picked earlier if it wasn’t for the nasty college injury he suffered. He should be brought on slowly but he has huge potential.
Suddenly, the Titans have three good corners. And as we’ve seen recently in Denver and Jacksonville, that can be the basis of a championship-level defense.
Adoree’ Jackson was the second most targeted player in the NFL last season in coverage terms but should have a big year two leap. His tackles will likely drop but he tops those points up with special teams yardage.
Malcolm Butler (fresh of his mystery Super Bowl controversy) will be itching to prove his doubters wrong. He’s too good to be heavily targeted but could do well in big-play leagues.
And lastly, Logan Ryan is a solid player who will likely be asked to play in the slot (in sub package personnel at least). His IDP value is dependent on how the Titans use their corners in base packages. One of the three is going to miss out on some playing time after all.
Kevin Byard was one of the breakout stars of 2017. He led the league in interceptions in his second season and he led all safeties in passes defended.
He’s got the talent to repeat either of those feats but ultimately, they come down to quarterback decisions and it’s hard to see him not being thrown at less. Byard did not have the tackle numbers (unsurprising given how deep he lined up) to maintain value as an elite safety without those coverage plays, so there’s a big risk with him.
With Jon Cyprien hurt, Kenny Vaccaro was brought in to play the second safety spot. How the team lines up is key here. Vrabel is used to playing safeties as simply left and right from Houston. They didn’t always line up as a Cover 2 shell there but there certainly wasn’t anything resembling a designated box safety either. Pees in Baltimore was a bit less rigid but also favoured rotating responsibilities when he could (which led to Tony Jefferson and Eric Weddle both being average IDPs in 2017). Also, Vaccaro has not ever really been a box safety. It’s just that his tattoos and demeanour convinced casual fans he was.
Wesley Woodyard. This feels weird because he’s not a great player – he just found the perfect role in 2017. But that could easily happen again 2018 with the way things have lined up. He’s not a player you should be building a team around or counting on as a weekly difference-maker but he does have the chance to produce big numbers again.
Jayon Brown. The IDP world was desperate for him to step up into a full-time role after 2017 – especially after Avery Williamson left the team. But the other moves they made in the off-season make it look extremely unlikely. Brown is a really interesting player and has a distinct role against certain formations. He’s a good asset for the Titans. But in the IDP world, we want volume and he has too many voids in his game to be that.
Harold Landry. Landry could easily go down as the best pass rusher in this class. There really isn’t much between him Bradley Chubb and Marcus Davenport in potential. The landing spot isn’t ideal for Landry but he’ll have the chance to develop and prove he’s back to full health without as much pressure as the bigger names. He’s likely to impress in bursts and move into a starting role for 2019.
As per the introduction, this is a really interesting team. Coach Vrabel is a breath of fresh air (he’s been getting down in stance to coach in camp) and the scheme he and Dean Pees cook up should be fun to see evolve. This is early days in their development as a unit but we could see a couple of standout performances in 2018.
Thanks for reading.