Over the years, there comes a point in time where a franchise morphs from a “contender” to a “title threat.” While different clubs have enjoyed different amounts of time among the league's elite, as we approach the 2021 campaign and a projection for the Tennessee Titans, it’s hard to not include Mike Vrabel’s unit as a group primed to challenge the AFC’s elite for the spot of top dog
Headlined by one of the most elite offensive trios in all of football, Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown welcome Julio Jones to present a potentially dominant group on offense for a Titans squad eyeing an improved impact through the air. Jones’ presence will stem further to the underlying success of the entire offense, as Henry and the Titans’ second-ranked rushing offense will now be presented with a less crowded box with Jones joining Brown on the outside. Gone are the days of teams presenting eight- or nine-man looks to halt Henry’s dominance, as defenses will simply find themselves in a worst-case scenario attempting to defend Ryan Tannehill and his innate ability to carve defenses in play-action. And for that matter, play-fakes have been a key trait in Tannehill’s overall development, as the 2019 Comeback Player of the Year executed play-action concepts to the tune of 12 touchdowns to just three interceptions in 2020, while completing passes at a 60.4% clip.
It’s a case of pick your poison where the league’s leading rusher awaits if you go heavy on the outside to defend through the air, or on the flip side, you load up the box to protect against the run, and the trio of Jones, Brown, and free-agent vertical threat Josh Reynolds find themselves in man coverage—a dream scenario for Tannehill and Vrabel.
Defensively, Tennessee deserves more attention.
A middle-of-the-road group last season, if the Titans want to reach full potential and qualify their 2021 fall as “successful,” an improved unit could be the key to their progression into not only a second consecutive division title but a run late into the winter months. Run out of a base 3-4 front with blazing outside edge rushers in Harold Landry and Bud Dupree, the Titans have formed an above-average front seven with Jeffery Simmons and free-agent addition Denico Autry to serve as the end anchors within their odd front.
Where the most improvement will be warranted could come on the backend, where the departure of veterans Adoree’ Jackson and Malcolm Butler have made way for first-round talent Caleb Farley and former New Orleans Saints corner Janoris Jenkins, who will now play for his third franchise in the last three seasons. However, for Farley, the formula is simple for him to become a productive first-year talent. Staying healthy and available is obviously priority No. 1, but his adaptation to the speed and strength of the league’s wideouts could become the deciding factor if he starts immediately on the outside opposite Jenkins or is brought along slowly as a rotational piece working in tandem with Kristian Fulton and fellow first-year corner Elijah Molden. I advise the prior, as Farley has every tool in the bag scouting staffs look for when projecting immediate impact players within the secondary. His ideal frame, advanced coverage skills, and enticing ball skills have him as one of my sneaky selections for Defensive Rookie of the Year if he’s able to stay on the football field.
For a group led by high-impact talent and productive, progressional depth pieces, it would be unfair to label a successful campaign in Tennessee with just a division crown… they envision more. With the aforementioned trio of weapons and Tannehill set to lead the way, increased chemistry and momentum could carry the Titans back to their second AFC title game in three seasons.
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