Byron Dixon| BKD TV
The media and public speculated that the Titans would eschew one of the top two quarterbacks in the draft and instead settle for someone like Leonard Williams. Marcus Mariota was Tennessee’s guy all along; in fact, the team preferred him over Jameis Winston. There was the possibility for a trade, but the Titans were more than happy to select someone whom they believed would be their next franchise quarterback.
Mariota has some adjustments he has to make to his game to fit the pro level, but it’s hard to imagine him not being successful eventually. Mariota is extremely smart and mobile, and he’s also a winner. It should be no surprise if he emerges as a taller version of Russell Wilson. It might take some work, but Mariota has the tools to get there.
While We Were Away: Dorial Green-Beckham, who would’ve been a top-10 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft if he didn’t have off-the-field issues could be a great pick for this team. If Green-Beckham can mature, he’ll be a potent No. 1 wideout in the NFL. He would complement Kendall Wright rather well. Wright saw his receptions plummet from 94 to 57 this past season, but that can be attributed to the awful quarterbacks he was paired with. Mariota will also be able to count on a couple of intermediate targets in slot receiver Harry Douglas and tight end Delanie Walker; the latter was Tennessee’s most consistent option last year, as he racked up 890 receiving yards.
The Titans had an abysmal defense last year that couldn’t stop anyone; the team surrendered 27.1 points per game, struggling both in terms of stopping the run and covering the opposition. The front office had a lot of work to do this offseason, and it seems as though it has made some strides. The big fish Tennessee reeled in was Brian Orakpo. The former Redskin pass-rusher was once dominant, but injuries have slowed him down; he has missed 24 games in the past three years after being out of the lineup in only one contest during his first three campaigns. If the Titans are lucky enough to have a healthy Orakpo on the field, they’ll have a terrific tandem of pass-rushers at their disposal. Derrick Morgan re-signed with the team, which was huge for Tennessee because he was the team’s second-best defender.
2015 Season Outlook: The Titans’ top defender, of course, is Jurrell Casey, who lived up to the 4-year, $36 million extension he signed last summer. Casey saw his sack total drop from 10.5 to five, but that can be attributed to his role in the 3-4. He still rushed the quarterback extremely effectively. The same can’t be said for the other defensive linemen, as Ropati Pitoitua and Sammie Lee Hill clogged running lanes well, but failed entirely to get any sort of heat on opposing quarterbacks. The defensive line won’t get any better in terms of its pass rush, but perhaps Orakpo’s presence will spark the secondary, which was by far the worst unit on Tennessee’s roster a year ago. Safeties Michael Griffin and George Wilson were an abomination in coverage. Wilson is gone, but Griffin is with the team and is still slated to start. Fortunately for the Titans, they were able to bring in Da’Norris Searcy in free agency; Searcy performed well for the Bills in 2014.
Tennessee also found some help at the cornerback position, with its second-most-prominent free agent signing being former 49er cornerback Perrish Cox, who was solid this past season. Cox will be a huge upgrade over Blidi Wreh-Wilson, who was torched often when in the starting lineup. Cox will start across from Jason McCourty, who is a pretty average starting corner. Coty Sensabaugh will once again handle the slot duties, but he struggled with those last year. The Titans didn’t make any alterations to their inside linebacker group, so Wesley Woodyard and Avery Williamson will start there again. Woodyard and Williamson aren’t particularly gifted, but neither is a liability either. Williamson is the better player, as Woodyard tends to get overwhelmed in run support sometimes. Ryan Succop was the team’s new kicker last year, and he did pretty well, drilling 19-of-22 attempts, including both tries from 50-plus.
2015 Record: 6-10
The Titans don’t have a difficult schedule, so they’ll be able to rack up more wins than last year. In fact, they open up against the Buccaneers and Browns, so there’s a chance they could be 2-0 heading into their loss to Indianapolis. The Titans weren’t competitive in many of their games last year, losing a ridiculous nine times by two touchdowns or more. That’ll change now that they have a franchise quarterback, but they still have a long way to go. Still, there’s cause for optimism in Tennessee for the first time in quite a while.