2020 NFL Team Previews: Tennessee Titans
2020 NFL Team Previews
By Professor MJ
Tennessee’s season completely turned around once they benched quarterback Marcus Mariota in favor of Ryan Tannehill.
After a 2-4 start, the Titans won seven of their final 10 games to sneak into the playoffs as the 6th seed in the AFC. Fun fact: it was the fourth straight season that the Titans finished with a 9-7 record!
In the playoffs, they knocked off the defending Super Bowl champions New England Patriots, as well as the top seed in the conference, the Baltimore Ravens. Derrick Henry ran like a mad man in those games, becoming the first player in NFL history to rack up at least 175 rushing yards in two games in the same postseason.
In the AFC Conference Championship Game, Tennessee grabbed a 17-7 lead in the second quarter, but couldn’t hold off the Chiefs any longer in a 35-to-24 defeat.
2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown
2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)
Ryan Tannehill was clearly one of the best Cinderella stories in 2019. After taking over as the starting QB over Marcus Mariota, he led the league in QB rating.
He crushed his previous career-high in completion percentage with as astounding 70.3%; his personal best was 66.4% in 2014.
During his first six years in Miami, he posted a 123:75 TD:INT mark. That equates to a 1.64 ratio. In 2019, he threw 22 TD passes versus 6 interceptions, which amounts to a 3.7 ratio. As you can see, once again he obliterated his past numbers.
The team thinks he can keep playing at that level after handing him a hefty contract. I do believe he’ll do a good job in 2020, but not at the 2019 levels, obviously.
As of now, the backup QB is Logan Woodside since Mariota signed with the Raiders. Woodside was drafted in the 7th round of the 2018 draft out of Toledo. During preseason games, he completed 46-of-76 passes (a 60.5% completion rate) for 539 yards with 4 TDs and no interception. It’s hard to tell what he can bring to the table.
2.2 Running Backs (RBs)
Derrick Henry was a true beast last year. He won the rushing title with 1,540 rushing yards and 16 TDs on the ground (he added two more as a receiver). His 5.1 yards-per-carry average is mind-boggling considering the high volume.
He didn’t slow down in the playoffs. After rushing for 182 yards in New England, he single-handedly destroyed the Ravens with 195 rushing yards. He was quieter in K.C. by accumulating 69 yards on the ground.
Few people remember how he finished the previous year on a high note as well. In the final four meetings of the 2018 season, he averaged 146 rushing yards and 1.75 rushing TDs per contest. Obviously, he followed up with a season to remember.
Henry’s numbers have steadily increased every single year since he joined the league in 2016. Now 26 years old, defensive coordinators must be getting up at night to game plan against him.
Dion Lewis was a nice change-of-pace back, even though he didn’t have a great year. At least he had NFL experience, which is not the case of the remaining potential backup backs. Both Dalyn Dawkins and David Fluellen are undrafted guys who have combined for 19 rushing attempts in the league.
Tennessee filled a need by drafting Darrynton Evans in last April’s draft. The third-rounder complements Henry’s skillset well, as Evans can spell him on passing third-down situations (a role that used to be played by Dion Lewis). Also, he isn’t great running inside the tackles due to his small size, but he is more of a change-of-pace runner who has home-run hitting capacities.
2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)
Rookie A.J. Brown was hyped as a big-play guy, and he did not disappoint. He didn’t catch that many balls, but when he did he made the most of it.
The Mississippi product led all receivers that caught at least 50 passes with a jaw-dropping 20.2 yards-per-catch average. He scored 8 TDs, while also topping the 1,000 receiving-yard mark (he had 1,051).
Will former #5 overall pick Corey Davis live up to his draft status? It seems unlikely after watching his first three years as a pro. He raised hopes by posting a 65-891-4 receiving line in 2018, but he regressed to 43-601-2 last year. Talent and youth play on his side, though. He may not be a true No. 1 wideout, but he can clearly do the job as a number two or three receiver.
Adam Humphries is an efficient, yet not explosive player. He is good to pick up key first downs. He caught more than 70% of his targets in his final two years in Tampa, and he reached that goal once again in his first season in Tennessee.
Was he worth a four-year deal worth $36 million? Probably not, but having him as your slot receiver is a bonus. His numbers were down last year, but he will be a useful tool as a 27-year old this year.
Tajae Sharpe also made a nice contribution last year with 25 receptions, 329 yards and 4 TDs. He was a nice luxury to have on your roster, but he signed with the Vikings during the offseason.
2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)
Jonnu Smith and Delanie Walker received the most playing time at tight end.
Walker did a decent job, but father time seems to have caught up to him. After being very durable for 11 years, he stayed healthy for just one game in 2018 and seven games last year. Accordingly, the team cut ties with him as he was going to enter his age-36 campaign.
Walker’s absence gave more room for Jonnu Smith to shine. The 2017 third-rounder has seen his numbers increase every year. His 35-439-3 receiving line is nothing to write home about. He could make a jump in 2020, but don’t expect huge steps.
Anthony Firkser will be back with the squad. He doesn’t have the size and speed to become a great TE, but he does a fine job for a guy that was never drafted.
MyCole Pruitt will be the #3 TE. He has never caught more than 10 passes in any of his five years in the NFL. Enough said.
2.5 Offensive Line (OL)
Ben Jones has done a great job at the pivot throughout his entire eight-year career. He raised his game to a higher level last year by finishing at the second-best center in the NFL according to PFF grades. He’s been an awesome pickup when acquired from the Texas a few years ago.
Right tackle Jack Conklin broke the bank in Cleveland, which left a glaring hole in Tennessee. He was a very solid player, and Dennis Kelly or Isaiah Wilson will try to fill his shoes.
Kelly has received his two best PFF grades of his seven-year career in 2018 and 2019, which is a good sign. However, he doesn’t play at the same level as Conklin.
The organization figures to have a better chance at replacing Conklin adequately with Isaiah Wilson, who was taken late in the first round of this year’s draft. This guy weighted close to 400 pounds coming out of high school! He is a mauler.
The rookie needs work for both his footwork and technique, which led to uneven play in college. He has exceptional physical traits and high potential, but may not be great right from the start.
At left tackle, Taylor Lewan is a cornerstone of this offensive line. He’s been good his whole career, never receiving a PFF mark below 76.4, which is remarkable!
Rodger Saffold is the starting left guard for the Titans. He ranked as the sixth-best guard in the NFL last year; needless to say he’s been a valuable piece of the puzzle for this franchise.
The weakest link is Nate Davis at right guard. The third-round rookie struggled big-time last year.
2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE
The Titans did not make a single free agent acquisition on offense.
They lost some depth with the departures of RB Dion Lewis and WR Tajae Sharpe. The team hopes 3rd round pick Darrynton Evans can spell Henry appropriately.
The backup QB will also be weaker due to Mariota leaving for Vegas. And despite his advanced age, Delanie Walker was a decent TE, although he only appeared in seven games last year.
The biggest loss occurred on the offensive line. Seeing Jack Conklin go to the Jets hurts the team. Rookie Isaiah Wilson will do his best to hold the fort, but he is unlikely to play at the same level as Conklin in his first year as a pro.
Finally, how could we expect better production out of Ryan Tannehill in 2020 as opposed to his 2019 heroics?
In conclusion, I am tagging the Titans offense with a moderate downgrade in comparison to 2019.
Final call (2020 vs 2019):
Big downgrade-Moderate downgrade-Small downgrade-Stable-Small upgrade-Moderate upgrade-Big upgrade
3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown
3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)
Jurrell Casey is a strong run stuffer, while also averaging 5.7 sacks per year over a nine-year period. He was traded to Denver for cap reasons, which will hurt Tennessee’s interior of the line a lot.
With Casey gone, the team will hand a much heavier workload to Jeffery Simmons. After missing the first seven games due to a knee injury, he showed fairly good promise as a #19 overall pick from the 2019 draft. His sophomore year will be critical.
The team will also rely on DaQuan Jones to step up his game. He is an above-average DL, whose main strength is defending the run. He only has seven sacks in six years.
The Titans lost some depth as Austin Johnson went to the Giants.
3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)
Harold Landry played twice as many snaps in his sophomore year as his rookie season, and he doubled his sack total (going from 4.5 to 9 to lead the team in that category). He graded as the 62nd-best edge defender in the league out of 107 players. He has the potential to take a leap.
The team hopes to improve its pass rush by adding Vic Beasley, formerly of the Falcons. His numbers are a bit puzzling. He led the league with 15.5 sacks in his second season back in 2016. Since then, he has posted 5, 5 and 8 sacks.
Those are not bad numbers, but they are clearly below expectations coming from a fellow that was the 8th overall selection in the 2015 draft. Also, he is a liability in run defense. In other words, he’s been more name than game recently.
Kamalei Correa racked up five sacks despite playing 39% of the snaps. He had just 3.5 sacks over his first three years as a pro. He’s not a game breaker.
Reggie Gilbert is a role player. The undrafted guy has 4.5 sacks in three years is no more than depth.
3.3 Linebackers (LBs)
Jayon Brown and Rashaan Evans are the leaders of this group. Based on draft status, Evans is supposed to be the superior player, but that wasn’t the case at all last year.
Evans received poor marks from PFF with a 47.6 grade; he obtained spot #74 out of 89 LBs. He struggled a lot in coverage and wasn’t that great rushing the passer. He does a fine job defending the run though.
As for Brown, his 68.8 PFF grade allowed him to finish as the 20th-best linebacker in the league. His sack total went from 6 in 2018 down to just one a year ago. The former fifth-rounder will try to bring that number back up this season.
Wesley Woodyard’s career is clearly on the decline. He lost his starting job, his PFF grades are falling, he’s 34 years old and he is now a free agent after the Titans failed to re-sign him.
3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)
Adoree’ Jackson is the team’s number 1 CB. He was the 18th overall pick from the 2017 draft. Even though he has only two career interceptions, he is still a fairly solid coverage guy. He constantly ranks among the upper tier.
Logan Ryan played almost all defensive snaps last year and he filled the scoresheet more than ever in his seven-year career. He had career-highs in tackles (113), sacks (4.5) and forced fumbles (4). He also picked off four passes, his second-best performance.
Yet, he graded as an average corner by taking the 62nd rank out of 112 CBs because of ordinary run defense and coverage skills. The Titans couldn’t meet his salary demands, so he left via free agency.
Malcolm Butler finished once again in the middle of the pack among all NFL cornerbacks last year. The Super Bowl XLIX hero has seen his PFF grades decrease in each of the past three seasons, but he still manages to intercept 2-4 passes every year. He missed seven games last year with a broken wrist.
LeShaun Sims played 30% of the snaps, while producing poor play on the field. He’s never been a good corner, but he still found a new home in Cincinnati when the Bengals signed him in March.
The Titans took Kristian Fulton late in the 2nd round this year. Many reports suggest he’ll be an average NFL starter. He is best in man coverage due to his physicality. He lost the entire 2017 season when he was caught trying to tamper with a PED test sample, where he submitted a friend’s urine.
3.5 Safeties (S)
Kevin Byard is one of the league’s highest paid safety and he deserves it. He has 17 interceptions over the last three years. In those seasons, his PFF rankings were 4th, 3rd and 10th among close to 90 qualifiers.
Byard turned out to be a huge bargain as a former third-round pick out of Middle Tennessee State. Now 27 years old, there is no reason to believe his play will deteriorate in 2020.
Kenny Vaccaro is well known among fans, even though his play is not great. He probably gets recognition due to his former first-round status, but his best PFF grade was 66.7 back in 2013. Just to give you an idea, such a mark would have yielded him the #48 spot out of 87 safeties last year. And that was his best season.
Amani Hooker played 30% of the snaps last year as a rookie. The Titans had actually traded up to secure his rights during the 2019 draft. He did a decent job, but the jury is still out about the fourth-rounder’s future.
2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE
The Titans allowed the 12th-fewest points in the league last year. Should be expect better or worse play in 2020?
Jurrell Casey’s presence will be missed in a big way on the interior of the line. Also, not getting CB Logan Ryan back is hardly good news. Overall, he was an above-average corner who was constantly on the field and has been very durable in his career.
The only good addition is Vic Beasley. I feel like he’s overrated since his sack numbers are lower than what most people think and due to poor run defense, but he still has valuable pass rushing abilities.
Based on this information, I anticipate a small downgrade from this unit.
Final call (2020 vs 2019):
Big downgrade-Moderate downgrade-Small downgrade-Stable-Small upgrade-Moderate upgrade-Big upgrade
4. Regular Season Wins
According to sportsbooks, the Titans are expected to win 8.5 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?
Here is the methodology I used in order to answer this vital question:
- Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.
- Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.
- Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.
- Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).
- Count the proportion of seasons where the Titans won more or less than 8.5 games.
Here are the results:
- Tip: Bet UNDER 8.5 wins
- Return On Investment (ROI): +12.4%
- Rank: 22nd-highest ROI out of 32 teams
- Minimum odds required to bet (i.e. ROI = 0%): +104
Here are BetOnline’s point spreads for the Titans’ 16 regular season games:
- HOME: -2 vs BUF, -3 vs CHI, -4 vs CLE, -6 vs DET, -4.5 vs HOU, -2.5 vs IND, -11 vs JAX, -2 vs PIT.
- ROAD: +8.5 @ BAL, -1 @ CIN, +2.5 @ DEN, +3.5 @ GB, +1 @ HOU, +3 @ IND, -3.5 @ JAX, +3.5 @ MIN.
Note: The “Best odds” from the table above were obtained after looking at 13 well-known online sportsbooks on May 18th, 2020.
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