WELCOME BACK: A stingy defense. It's been 10 years since Tennessee had a top 10 D, but this edition has a chance to be formidable. MALCOLM BUTLER, signed from New England, joins LOGAN RYAN and ADOREE' JACKSON to give new coach MIKE VRABEL perhaps the NFL's best cornerbacking trio. All three can play true solo coverage, with Ryan and Jackson capable of doing so from the slot. With these matchup corners, the Titans can deploy safeties and linebackers on blitzes—which Vrabel and coordinator DEAN PEES, formerly of the Ravens, love to do.
Free safety KEVIN BYARD had two fumble recoveries and a league-high eight interceptions last year. But the All-Pro is more than just a turnover creator. Byard is an excellent run-filler and blitzer, and he can cover tight ends. If he continues to develop, he will be a consensus top five safety by the end of the season.
The Titans should be judicious in using MARCUS MARIOTA as a runner. He's not like Cam Newton, who can take the pounding, or like Russell Wilson, who has incredible vision when plays break down and is brilliant when throwing on the move. Mariota is a timing-and-rhythm quarterback whose best chance is from the pocket. That's why his passer rating on play-action last year was a league-high 122.8.
After Mariota, wide receiver COREY DAVIS, last year's No. 5 pick, is Tennessee's most important offensive player. If Davis, who missed five games because of a hamstring injury, doesn't become a viable perimeter threat, this attack, which lacks speed, will struggle in passing situations.
The O-line returns, but beyond Pro Bowl left tackle TAYLOR LEWAN, this unit has issues. Right tackle JACK CONKLIN suffered an ACL injury in his left knee in January and was already an inconsistent pass blocker. The interior group—QUINTON SPAIN, BEN JONES and JOSH KLINE—didn't move defenders well in 2017. A schematic change might help. New coordinator MATT LAFLEUR prefers outside zone runs, with east-to-west movement. His predecessor, Mike Mularkey, ran more inside zone, gap scheme and split zone, all of which are north-and-south designs.
2017 RECORD 9W 7L
SI'S 2018 PREDICTION 8W 8L
21st @CHARGERS [In London]
5th @COWBOYS [Monday]
26th @TEXANS [Monday]
6th JAGUARS [Thursday]
23rd REDSKINS [Flex/Saturday]
THE VALUE of DELANIE WALKER has never been higher. With so little speed in their wide receiver group, the Titans will lean more heavily than ever on the 13th-year tight end, who can be moved around the formation to create mismatches.