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Reviewing the Tennessee Titans free agency

Coming into the 2018 offseason I didn’t really feel like the Titans needed to improve majorly beyond re-thinking their offensive game plan. They seemed to have a ton of talent on their roster but it just wasn’t always clicking and if was clear to most people they were not being utilised correctly. Looking at the actual numbers they were ranked 23rd in total yards on offence, 23rd passing & 15th rushing, and 18th in points scored; defensively they were 13th overall in yards but were very good against the run, 4th, and very bad against the pass, 25th. In an attempt to fix the lack of cohesion the team seemed to have they brought in former Houston Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel to be their head coach. They also acquired Matt LaFleur from the Los Angeles Rams in an attempt to try and change the culture of their offence and be more aggressive in 2018.

Where I was not expecting aggression was in this year’s free agency but they have been quite the opposite and after initially being a little shocked I can see why they have done it. Their division sits at an interesting point; the Colts have a ton of holes and probably no Andrew Luck in 2018, the Texans might not be ready to push in 2018 with Deshaun Watson returning from his knee injury and the Jaguars might need it all to go right again on defence if they are to repeat last year’s success. This all means that this might be their short window to try and go for glory while they still have a QB on his rookie deal and the salary benefits that provides.

So let’s have a look at their free agency moves. You may notice a theme regarding one of their head coach’s previous teams.

Dion Lewis

Lewis really came into his own as the 2017 progressed as starting the year fighting with James White, Rex Burkhead and Mike Gilleslee for playing time. If we split the season into the four quarters this is the carries per game for Lewis in each of those quarters; 3, 11.5, 13.5, 17. In the final half of the season his average yards per game rushing was around 78 yards and he scored four rushing touchdowns. He also increased his role in the passing game in the final quarter of the season and say 4.3 receptions per game at an average of 7.5 yards per reception and that all around ability is what I expect him to bring to the Titans.

Where I perhaps see his role on the Titans differing to with the Patriots is in terms of which downs he features on. My expectations are that Derrick Henry will handle the majority of first and second down rushes with Lewis working mostly on third down roles and maybe getting 40% of the second down rushes. For a player who has generally been seen as injury prone this is the smartest way for the Titans to use him and limit the hits on him and his knees. Having Lewis in the role should also reduce the hits and miles on Henry’s legs and together with some careful management they could be a really useful 1-2 punch for the Titans for the next couple of years. Where Lewis may come into his own is a as dynamic playmaker for Marcus Mariota; Lewis’ elusive ability could make him useful if the Titans decide to incorporate some option style plays into their playbook as well as allowing Mariota to find him on short passes and allow him to go and find the first down marker.

Malcolm Butler

2017 was not Butler’s finest of his career and culminated him being benched for the super bowl for reasons which are still not complete clear. As a Patriots fan I often became frustrated at how he seemed to costly be targeting the big play rather than focusing on the basics of covering his man. In terms of passes defenced he had 12 as opposed to 15 and 16 in the two years prior and for a player who seems to target the big play he only managed two interceptions. Where he was incredibly good was forcing fumbles with three in 2017 when he had only had one in his three prior years in the league. It is clear that Butler needs a change of scenery and no one can blame him if he felt slighted by the Patriots decision to go out and acquire Stephon Gilmore as opposed to giving Butler the contract he desired last offseason.

He will benefit massively this year from playing across from a familiar face in Logan Ryan as well as having two extremely good safeties in Kevin Byard and Jonathan Cyprien behind him. However, Mike Vrabel is no soft touch and if Butler’s behaviour was an issue in 2017 then any repeats could see him on the wrong end of any disciplinary behaviour. The Titans do appear to have built a decent secondary to and they can pair that with a solid pass rush, which for Butler’s sake I hope is significantly better than the Patriots had last year, and a decent group of line backers. With Vrabel’s speciality being defence I expect to see this defence play much tougher this year especially if they can keep the secondary, Jurrell Casey and Wesley Woodyard healthy in 2018.

Kevin Pamphile

Probably the least notable signing of this offseason but Pamphile has started 29 of the last 30 games for the Buccaneers across 2016 and 2017 and profiles as the Titans starting left guard in 2018. Protecting any QB is obviously key but with Mariota’s injury history he really is a guy that needs to be kept clean as much as possible. In a division with strong pass rush both in Jacksonville and Houston this area of the team is particularly important and should hopefully help both the pass and run game.

Looking forward to the draft the Titans have a pick in all seven rounds and with no major holes they could be an interesting team to watch out for in terms that they could be a candidate to trade down if they don’t like the board or package some picks and move up if a player they really like falls far enough to make it worth their while. This team has a real shot of pushing deep into the playoffs in 2018 if they get it right and with this division starting to look more serious with each passing year and Mariota having two more years left on that rookie dead there is a real possibility their window may only be 2018 and 2019.

 

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