The Titans were at one point 7-3 last season, and the division title seemed like a sure thing for them, but after a seven-game losing streak (and a five-game winning streak by the Jaguars) they were forced to watch the playoffs from home, finishing with a 7-10 record. Ryan Tannehill struggled a lot down the stretch, and rookie quarterback Malik Willis was not any better, throwing no touchdowns and three interceptions on three starts. Derrick Henry and their pass-rush could only do so much, and once they dropped a key divisional Week 14 matchup against the Jags it everything just seemed to fall off.
The Titans made a decent amount of moves this offseason, highlighted by the recent signing of former Texans’ All-Pro wideout DeAndre Hopkins. D-Hop was once a top 5 wide receiver in the NFL, but last season was not particularly exciting as he just seemed to quit on the Cardinals after being reinstated from a six-game suspension. The Titans drafted Peter Skoronski with the 11th pick in this past draft to replace the departed Nate Davis. Skoronski is as pro-ready as it gets, so the drop off should not be noticeable. Other than some minor additions and losses here and there, there is not much else to write about. Oh, and the Titans also drafted a certain Will Levis to potentially be the future at quarterback. Despite being mocked by many analysts to go to the Colts at #4, Levis slid all the way down to the second round. Now with an evident chip on his shoulder, Kentucky’s gunslinger might have a special point to make both against the Colts and the Texans.
The Titans’ success relies heavily on two individuals: Running back Derrick Henry, and head coach Mike Vrabel, followed closely by star pass-rusher Jeffery Simmons. Henry is the heart and soul of the team, as the offense is built entirely around him. Head coach Mike Vrabel has done an amazing job at Tennessee and is in my opinion among the best game-planners in the entire NFL, it also helps that he is also an amazing motivator who gets the best out of his players. Jeffery Simmons has improved each season since entering the NFL, and got his second All-Pro team this year.
Putting your offensive gameplan on the shoulders of a 29-year old running back who has over 1.300 touches over the past four seasons is not a plan I consider bulletproof. The Titans will go only as far as Henry will carry them, especially considering that their quarterback situation has worsened over the past couple of years, with the regression of Ryan Tannehill and Willis’ struggles last year. The Titans’ timeline is a weird one, as they are clearly trying to maximize their return on Henry (as made evident by adding a player like Hopkins), but they are also preparing for the future. In the NFL, you simply cannot have both, either you are fully contending or fully rebuilding, being in the middle does not usually end well.
I think the Titans short-lived reign of the AFC South is definitely over, and once Henry’s wheels start to come off I believe it will come crushing down fast and furious. I also could be wrong and Henry manages to keep up this pace and carry the Titans back to the playoffs, but I personally do not see a high chance of that happening.