Tennessee Titans 2021 Team Previewby Joe Heller August 9, 2021 1 comment
The 2020 season saw the Tennessee Titans win the AFC South Division. Contrary to their Cinderella playoff run in 2019 (when they fell just one win short of playing in the Super Bowl), they were one-and-done in the postseason. Derrick Henry once again led the NFL in rushing yards, while Ryan Tannehill proved that his 2019 campaign was far from a fluke. Receiver A.J. Brown followed up his rookie season with an even better one, stat-wise. The issue for Tennessee last season was their defense. That group will have to be better if the Titans want to return to the playoffs and make it back to the AFC Championship Game or the Super Bowl in 2021.
Make sure to check out all of our other 2021 NFL Team Previews.
The Titans saw quite a few starters from last year’s team either leave for free agency (Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith), or be released to free up cap space (Malcolm Butler and Adoree’ Jackson). With that cap space they signed free agents, bringing in edge rusher Bud Dupree (Pittsburgh Steelers), wide receiver Josh Reynolds of the Los Angeles Rams and former New Orleans Saints cornerback Janoris Jenkins.
The Titans used their draft picks wisely to address needs and add depth. They added cornerback Caleb Farley in the first round. They added a pair of offensive linemen in Dillon Radunz and Kendall Lamm. The candidate for the steal of the draft (judging by his performance in camp so far) is wide receiver Dez Fitzpatrick out of Louisville, who the Titans selected in the fourth round.
The biggest roster move came when general manager Jon Robinson pulled the trigger on a trade with the Atlanta Falcons for seven-time Pro Bowl receiver Julio Jones in exchange for a 2022 second-round draft pick and a 2023 fourth-round selection.
Last season, the Titans’ offense got 3,800 passing yards and 33 passing touchdowns from Ryan Tannehill, along with just seven interceptions. Running back Derrick Henry rushed for over 2,000 yards and won his second consecutive rushing title. The Titans were also 16 yards away from having a pair of 1,000 yard wide receivers as A.J. Brown finished with 1,075 and Corey Davis with 984.
The defense couldn’t keep their opponents out of the end zone. The lack of a pass rush, even with big offseason acquisitions Jadeveon Clowney and Vic Beasley had little impact, and neither of the two survived the season. Beasley was released around midseason and Clowney landed on injured reserve. That, coupled with inconsistent secondary play (with the exception of Butler) across the board, proved costly. If not for their efficient offense and its ability to score points, they would have been a bigger liability and the team would not have achieved their double-digit win total.
Predicting the 53 Man Roster
A week ago it looked like DeShone Kizer and Woodside would battle to backup Tannehill. But Kizer was cut to make room for Barkley. While it’s likely the Titans only keep two quarterbacks and use the extra roster spot elsewhere. They will be sure to keep the odd man out’s number on speed-dial.
With the addition of a 17th game, Henry has his sights on not only a third-straight rushing title, but also Eric Dickersons‘s single-season record. He will obviously get the bulk of the carries. Evans showed enough in his limited touches last year to make the team. Hill will earn his spot by default, with Jeremy McNichols being the expendable piece
If the team hadn’t signed Reynolds in free agency, Fitzpatrick may have started the season in the WR3 spot. But Reynolds excelled in the slot in the Rams offense, and will do so in Nashville. Westbrook-Ikhine and Johnson will get their share of playing time.
Firkser was Tannehill’s favorite and most reliable third down target last season. The Titans are hoping that translates into an every-down tight end. They will keep the other three, given the scheme the offense runs.
Lewan says he’s ready to go after landing on injured reserve with a torn ACL, which solidifies the left side. The right side will likely be a work in progress, with Radunz and Lamm likely to see extensive playing time.
Autry, the former Indianapolis Colt was added to bolster the defensive line with Jeffery Simmons. Tart and Murchison, while not household names even for diehard Titans fans, will make their respective presence felt. This front will be improved over seasons past.
Dupree is working his way back from his own torn ACL, and although the team is optimistic, he may not be ready for Week 1. That may have led to the late addition of Simon, the former New England Patriot. Weaver, the fourth round pick out of Pitt, will earn additional snaps as the season progresses. When ready, Dupree will be the No. 1 guy on the depth chart. This will be where the quarterback room goes from three to two.
Brown is looking to get back to form after battling injuries last season. Evans is a solid run stopper, which made him a rumored player of interest the Falcons wanted in the Jones deal. The rookie Rice has been slow in transitioning so far in camp, but the third round pick is a perfect moldable piece for head coach Mike Vrabel. Vrabel did the same with Evans and Landry and they have become impactful players as a result.
Farley, combined with last year’s first round pick Fulton (who battled injuries last season), under the veteran leadership of Jenkins makes this a unit that could potentially be a dangerous one to throw against. With their schedule and the receivers on it, they will have to show and prove quickly.
Byard is coming off of a rather pedestrian season, and will look to get back to his Pro Bowl form. The other three will fill the void left by Kenny Vaccaro, who was cut to free up cap space. Cruikshank is a solid special team player, as well.
Kern is a three-time Pro Bowl selection at the punter position who has been an instrumental part of this organization. The kicking position has been a thorn in this team’s side over the last two seasons. McCann has been the better option so far in camp, and it’s his job to lose. Cox will be the long snapper.
One Player to Add
Although rumors have quieted down some, the Philadelphia Eagles have been shopping tight end Zach Ertz to free up salary. If the Titans have any shot at adding Ertz, it’s almost a no-brainer if the cost is a couple draft picks. Adding a Pro Bowl tight end to a team that already has the back-to-back rushing champion and elite and borderline-elite duo of receivers would make this offense rival the top units in the NFL.
2021 Outlook & Odds
According to Jazz Sportsbook, the Titans’ total currently set at 9.5 wins. The defending AFC South champs are in a perfect position to repeat. Last year they scored just under 31 points per game (30.7), and the addition of Jones will lead to them scoring more points. The defense is better on paper and fans hope it translates on the field. The schedule for Tennessee features four games against the AFC East and another four against arguably the best division in the NFL, the NFC West, starting with Arizona in Week 1. Their division mates the Colts and Texans have turmoil at the quarterback position. The Jaguars are in a rebuild with a rookie quarterback and a first time NFL head coach. Unless the Titans implode offensively, they will run away with this division.
Season Prediction: 12-5 and Win the AFC South Division
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