Each SB Nation NFL writing team examined their respective franchise and put together a brief season preview. These stories are intended to help explain to fans of other teams some of the most important topics and issues facing each NFL team as the 2018 NFL Season approaches. Wrapping up the AFC South, we take a look at the Tennessee Titans — as reported by Music City Miracles.
Notable free agent additions: CB Malcolm Butler and RB Dion Lewis
Over / under: 8 wins Give me the over. The Titans won 9 games last year with a disaster of an offensive coaching staff. You will see a completely different Marcus Mariota this year with an offense from this century. The defense now features an elite secondary with the addition of Butler and a good pass rush with the addition of Harold Landry.
Rookie I’m most excited about: Harold Landry. He would have been a top 15 pick if he had come out after his junior season. He went back to school and got hurt, but he is going to be the steal of the 2018 draft.
Best position battle heading into camp: Left guard is really the only position battle the Titans have. Quinton Spain is the incumbent and will probably win the job, but he might struggle in the new zone blocking scheme. The Titans brought in Xavier Su’a-Filo and Kevin Pamphile to compete for the spot.
Biggest storyline heading into camp: Mariota in the new offense. So many people are down on Marcus after his struggles in 2017, but he was coming off a terrible injury and playing in an antiquated offense. I have zero reservations on Mariota and cannot wait to see what he does with Matt LaFleur calling the plays.
Under-the-radar storyline heading into camp: Do they have a third receiver? Everyone is high on Corey Davis and Rishard Matthews. Those two are solid, but there are a lot of questions behind him. They hope 2017 third-round pick Taywan Taylor can be that guy, but he struggled last year. I am willing to give everyone of offense a pass for last season because of how terrible the scheme was (you might be noticing a theme here). Taylor needs to step up early in camp and prove he can be the slot guy.
Notable injuries heading into training camp: All-Pro RT Jack Conklin is still rehabbing from a torn ACL in the playoff loss to the Patriots.
A Colts Perspective
In many respects, the Tennessee Titans may be the biggest wild card in the AFC South. Like the Colts, there will be an entirely new coaching staff. Whether Mike Vrabel is ready to take over the reigns is unknown at this point. What is known is that he was highly respected as a player and that transitioned to his young career as a coach. He was the captain of one of the toughest defenses in the NFL for years and played a key role in helping the New England Patriots string together Super Bowl wins in the early aughts.
New offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur is expected to make changes to the the Titans offense but how will Marcus Mariota be impacted by those changes? To this point in his career, Mariota has shown flashes of very strong play and has disappeared or hurt his team for stretches. He had these struggles in an offense designed to mask some of his weaknesses as a quarterback. While the new system may be healthier for the offense overall, what growing pains will Mariota experience and will the new offense do more to expose his weaknesses?
What makes the Titans so difficult to project is that their roster is pretty strong across the board. Their defensive line deserves a lot of respect. Their secondary features a fantastic center fielder and strong cornerbacks. They are hoping that Harold Landry dropping further than many predicted in the draft will be a black mark on the teams who picked ahead of them in the second round who were needing pass rush help.
On offense, their backfield features a budding young NFL star in Derrick Henry and a strong change of pace back in Dion Lewis, one of the best receiving tight ends in the game, and some young promising talent at wide receiver. Losing Jack Conklin in the playoffs last year will certainly hurt the effectiveness of the offensive line, which is undergoing a schematic change.
The difference between the Colts and Titans for now, as it relates to their wild card status is that Andrew Luck is vastly superior to Marcus Mariota. Assuming both are completely healthy, Luck will likely carry Indianapolis to more close wins than Mariota will in Tennessee. In most other areas, the Titans are ready to roll.