Secret Superstars: Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans have posted three consecutive losing seasons in a row, have no elite players according to PFF’s depth charts and had only one player, Jurrell Casey, make it on PFF’s Top 101 list. The team’s malaise looks to be on the way out, though, with an exciting new quarterback and, on the other side of the ball, the hiring of legend Dick LeBeau. While LeBeau’s expertise will be useful in all defensive positions groups, he has a rising young star in inside linebacker Avery Williamson.
Williamson was raised In Tennessee and played for four years at Kentucky. As a senior he was named All-SEC second team. His character was also praised. In his high school senior year he was named Outstanding Senior, which recognized academics, character and athletics. In college he was named captain for all 12 games of his senior year, and was named to SEC Community Service Team.
In scouting reports his strengths were size, tackling, outstanding character and football intelligence. His reported weaknesses included average athletic ability, foot speed and limited coverage ability. He was drafted in the fifth round by Tennessee.
While Williamson did not impress in preseason, an unfortunate injury to Zach Brown in Week 1 created opportunities for the rest of the Titans’ inside linebackers. Williamson was not asked to contribute on defense until Week 3, where he made the most of his 13 snaps. In the first four snaps of his NFL career, he put up three tackles, one for a loss. He also wrapped up the game for the Titans with another tackle.
Increased Playing Time
Despite the promise of his first game, his snap count didn’t increase significantly until he became a starter in Week 5. After playing 26% of the defensive snaps in Weeks 3-4, Williamson saw 84% in Weeks 5-12, and 100% in Weeks 13-17.
Perhaps his most notable feat came in Week 11 against Pittsburgh, a game in which he had three sacks, including back-to-back sacks in the third quarter. While impressive, it was his run defense that was his strength in 2014, with only three negative grades, and none past Week 11.
His abilities against the run were on display in the last series in Week 10 against the Ravens. In the fourth quarter at 9:52, while being engaged by the center, he extended his arm across the line of scrimmage, wrapped it around the runner, and brought him down after 2 yards. A few plays later he threaded through the center and guard, leaped and tackled the back for a 3-yard loss. His ability to finish off the tackle like that is what earned him the fourth highest Tackling Efficiency mark for all inside linebackers, and the best grade among rookies.
Coverage is another area where the fifth-rounder out performed most his fellow rookies, despite the scouts’ concerns. Only Chris Kirksey (16.5) had a better Cover Snap/Reception ratio than Williamson (14.6) in the rookie class, where he ranked eighth overall. The Titans must have liked what they saw as they played him in coverage on 37% of his snaps.
While Tennessee had a forgettable season, Williamson was a bright spot. He recorded the fifth-most tackles (56), second-most assists (18), third-most sacks (4) and fourth-most stops (35) on the Titans’ roster, despite not having significant playing time until Week 5. Under the tutelage of LeBeau, and paired up with the returning Brown, there is every reason to believe that Williamson will continue to develop into a player that will excite his home state.