Improvements around Mariota help Titans to B offseason grade
Titans fans didn’t witness an overwhelming amount of on-field success in terms of wins and losses in 2015, but it’d be hard not to be optimistic about the future with Marcus Mariota in place as the franchise QB. Mariota had an up-and-down season typical of rookie QBs being thrown into the fire, but when it was all said and done, he held his own, and from Week 3 and on, he earned the 17th-best overall grade out of 38 qualified QBs. Heading into last season, Tennessee needed to find their QB of the future; now that he’s here, the focus this offseason has been building the team around him.
Offseason Grade: B
Additions: WR Rishard Matthews (Dolphins), S Rashad Johnson (Cardinals), C Ben Jones (Texans), CB Brice McCain (Dolphins), LB Sean Spence (Steelers), QB Matt Cassel (Cowboys), RB DeMarco Murray (Eagles), LB Nate Palmer (Packers), CB Antwon Blake (Steelers)
Re-signings: TE Craig Stevens, DT Al Woods, OT Byron Bell, RB Antonio Andrews
Departures: LB Zach Brown (Bills), C Joe Looney (Cowboys), QB Zach Mettenberger (Chargers), DT Mike Martin (Eagles), CB Coty Sensabaugh (Rams), LB Steven Johnson (Steelers), DT Sammie Lee Hill (UFA), FB Dorin Dickerson* (UFA), CB Brandon Harris* (UFA), OT Jamon Meredith (UFA), S Michael Griffin (Vikings)
*Didn’t play a single regular-season snap in the 2015 season.
Among the departures, neither Looney nor Meredith will be missed on the offensive line this season, and Mettenberger finished 2015 as the lowest-graded QB to take a snap (albeit a small sample size).
Of the newest additions to the roster, Matthews ranked 35th among 119 WRs with a 79.4 overall grade in 2015. Jones was 18th among 40 qualified centers. The flashiest signing, running back DeMarco Murray, finished 2015 67th among 69 RBs with a 48.6 overall grade, by far the worst mark of his career.
One of the more quietly underrated moves of free agency was the re-signing of Craig Stevens. Stevens has finished each of the last six seasons with a run-blocking grade north of +1.0 on our cumulative scale (anything over +1.0 is considered above-average), and he owns +41.5 cumulative run-blocking grade over his eight-year career. Stevens and Delanie Walker give Tennessee—quite easily, in fact—the best pair of run-blocking tight ends in the league.
2016 NFL draft
- Round 1 (pick No. 8, from CLE via PHI via MIA) Jack Conklin, OT Michigan State
- Round 2 (pick No. 33) Kevin Dodd, DE Clemson
- Round 2 (pick No. 43, from PHI via LA) Austin Johnson, DT Penn State
- Round 2 (pick No. 45, from LA) Derrick Henry, RB Alabama
- Round 3 (pick No. 64) Kevin Byard, S Middle Tennesse State
- Round 5 (pick No. 140) Tajae Sharpe, WR Massachusetts
- Round 5 (pick No. 157, from DEN via NYJ) LeShaun Sims, CB Southern Utah
- Round 6 (pick No. 193, from ATL) Sebastian Tretola, G Arkansas
- Round 7 (pick No. 222) Aaron Wallace, OLB UCLA
- Round 7 (pick No. 253, from DEN) Kalan Reed, CB Southern Miss
Senior Analyst Steve Palazzolo had this to say of Jack Conklin:
“After moving down from No. 1 to No. 15, the Titans came back up to get Conklin, setting the tone for their draft that they wanted to get better in the trenches and in the running game on both sides of the ball. Conklin was the No. 4 run-blocker in the nation each of the last two years, and a good fit for their power scheme.”
Dodd will have to prove himself as a pass-rusher, but he should be able to hold his own against the run from day one, not posting a single negatively-graded game in the 2015 college season. Tennessee doubled-down on run stoppers by taking Johnson 10 picks later; the former Penn State standout posted the third-highest grade against the run among his positional peers in the class. Henry forced more missed tackles than any running back in the nation last season (albeit with the most carries), but his receiving grade ranked 63rd among 67 RBs in the class, and his pass-blocking grade was 46th.
The Titans have focused most of their energy and resources this offseason in surrounding Marcus Mariota with a proper supporting cast. On the offensive line, they’ll insert first-round pick Jack Conklin into the RT spot, which will allow Byron Bell to slide back to LG. Ben Jones was brought in from the Texans to be the Titans’ starting center; he graded out slightly below average overall last season, but even a repeat performance from Jones in 2016 will be a significant improvement over the production Tennessee got from their center spot last year.
Tennessee clearly would like to establish a dominant running game to assist Mariota—they made the move to acquire DeMarco Murray and added another powerful back in Derrick Henry. Murray’s 2015 was a well-documented disaster, but he wasn’t a good fit with Chip Kelly, and he’s graded out positively in every other season of his career—including an extremely positive overall campaign in 2014, which earned the fifth-highest overall grade among RBs that season. It will be interesting to see how Henry is used throughout the year; his ability as a runner might be comparable to Murray’s, but neither are particularly strong at any aspect within the passing game.
On the outside, the Titans brought in Rishard Matthews from the Dolphins to line up opposite Dorial Green-Beckham. Matthews was only targeted 59 times last season, but he was extremely productive with those targets—his 2.08 yards per route ran ranked 17th among WRs, and Ryan Tannehill had a 125.1 QB rating when targeting Matthews, fifth-highest among WRs. Matthews, Green-Beckham in year two, Walker, and Kendall Wright should be a pretty solid core of receiving options for their second-year QB.
On the defensive side of the football, Zach Brown provided some nice LB depth, but he’s really the only player of value that the Titans aren’t bringing back from last season. Sammie Lee Hill has been productive against the run in a limited role throughout his career, but they brought back Al Woods, who has a solid run-defense grade over the past three seasons. Austin Johnson should hopefully provide a run-stopping presence and then some. They’re losing a lot of snaps in both Coty Sensabaugh and Michael Griffin, but they were horrendously unproductive snaps, as both ranked near the very bottom of their respective positions last year.
The Titans also may have gotten the steal of the draft with the very last pick. Coming into this draft, Kalan Reed ranked 54th on our overall Top 250 draft board, ahead of CBs like De’Vante Harris, Xavien Howard, and Cyrus Jones. From our scouting report on Reed:
“Many of the players that grade very well at PFF simply don’t fit the size and speed profile the NFL covets at corner and so aren’t even on the radar of many teams. Reed is different. At 5-foot-11 and 199-pounds with a 40 time in the 4.3s, he ticks every box from a physical standpoint, and this past season, had tape to rival any corner in this class.”
Reed was an extremely sweet cherry on top of what has been an overall successful offseason for the franchise. Titans’ fans should look forward to their team taking a nice step forward in 2016.