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A Titans playoff return depends on their *defensive* improvements

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Now that decisions have been made on Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee had to focus on the other side of the ball.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Tennessee Titans Photo by Bryan Woolston/Getty Images

The Titans were almost the Cinderella story of the 2019 NFL season. Marcus Mariota was supplanted as the starting quarterback after a 2-4 start, clearing the way for Ryan Tannehill to assume the throne in Nashville. Tannehill responded by leading the league in passer rating, and alongside Derrick Henry, got Tennessee back to the playoffs.

The Titans eliminated the defending champion Patriots and the top-seeded Ravens to advance to the AFC title game, but their magical run ended one win from the Super Bowl as the Chiefs dispatched them en route to the Lombardi Trophy. That set a high bar for 2020, and it will be tough to improve on last year’s thrilling finish.

Tennessee Titans (9-7), lost in AFC Championship Game

Tennessee re-signed Tannehill and franchise tagged Henry before either could become a free agent. Those aren’t the only positions that need attention, though.

Before free agency:

  1. Cornerback: Malcolm Butler has failed to live up to his All-Pro form since coming to Nashville as a high-profile free agent. Former first-round pick Adoree Jackson hasn’t yet stepped into the team’s circle of trust. Logan Ryan is a free agent. Tennessee needs both starting talent and depth at the position — especially if a playoff rematch with the Chiefs is in the works.
  2. Edge: Harold Landry led the team in both sacks and QB hits in 2019, but the second-year player needs some extra help to blossom as a pass rusher. That help isn’t currently on the roster. Cameron Wake is 38 and was released in March, while Kamalei Correa, who had only 10 QB hits in 29 games as a Titan, is a free agent.
  3. Offensive lineman: Jack Conklin will be a valued prize in free agency this offseason. Rodger Saffold and Ben Jones, each solid if unspectacular last fall, are both on the wrong side of 30. Additional depth could help convince the team’s next star RB — whether that’s Henry or someone else — Tennessee is a place he can thrive.

What Music City Miracles wants most this offseason: The two things all Titans fans are wishing for right now are the return of Henry, the league’s rushing leader, and a resolution to the quarterback situation. The Titans seemed prime to make a run at Tom Brady this offseason as late as October. Things got a little more complicated, in a good way, when Tannehill came in and set the league on fire. Titans fans seem to be split on Brady vs. Tannehill, but everyone agrees they better have one or the other. — Jimmy Morris

After free agency:

Not many moves were made by the Titans after they locked down Tannehill and Henry. The biggest was a trade that sent Jurrell Casey to the Broncos.

  1. Defensive line: Casey is gone now and the Titans’ addition of Vic Beasley doesn’t fill the void. The team still needs more help on the edge, but it really needs help along the entire defensive front after losing a five-time Pro Bowler. Drafting a defensive end or a defensive tackle at the tail end of the first round would make sense.
  2. Offensive line: Conklin left in free agency, as expected, and signed a pricy deal with the Browns. Now Dennis Kelly and Ty Sambrailo are the best options at right tackle, unless Tennessee can find an alternative in the draft.
  3. Cornerback: This position was a need prior to free agency and still is with Ryan’s departure. If the Titans can find a cornerback who can immediately contribute in the slot, it would be a significant boon to the Tennessee defense.

After the draft:

The Titans prioritized offense — specifically the rushing attack — early in the draft. Their No. 29 pick was used on Georgia tackle Isaiah Wilson, a possible replacement for Jack Conklin. Speedy running back Darrynton Evans, a third-round pick out of Appalachian State, could be a nice complement to Henry.

They snagged LSU cornerback Kristian Fulton, a once-projected first-rounder, in the second round. He has the potential to start right away. The Titans didn’t do much to improve their defensive line, only adding NC State DT Larrell Murchison in the fifth round and skipping over the edge position completely.

Dan Kadar’s draft grade: B+