The Tennessee Titans are going to be a hot pick for breakout team in 2017, to the extent that a team that already went 9-7 last year and has a former Heisman winner and 2nd overall pick at QB can be considered a breakout candidate. But the Titans remain largely anonymous nationally, thanks to playing in the smaller Nashville market, and being in the AFC South, a division that hasn’t exactly screamed marquee matchups in recent years.
The Titans should have been in the playoffs last year. They were the best team in the AFC South, but lost the tiebreakers to Houston (who were outscored by 49 points on the year). They showed their flashes of potential in trouncing the Packers at home, dominating Miami, and winning at Kansas City in December, but a loss to Jacksonville in the penultimate week (in which Mariota was also injured) doomed them.
Marcus Mariota put up pretty good offensive efficiency numbers in each of the last two years, in an offense where the best receiver has been tight end Delanie Walker. Last year, Rishard Matthews led all receivers with 9 touchdowns, more than he scored in four seasons in Miami. Now, on top of that, Tennessee has added multiple options that should improve the passing game. First, they drafted Corey Davis fifth overall, and then this weekend they signed the recently released Eric Decker.
Here’s some trivia for you. Only one other team in the last 30 years has added both a top 10 pick at wide receiver and a veteran receiver with previous 1,000 yard seasons in the same offseason: the 2015 Oakland Raiders with Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. Derek Carr jumped from 5.5 yards per attempt to 7.0 yards per attempt with the upgrade at receiver.
Tennessee should have a better passing game if Davis is the real deal, and Decker can be a solid veteran. They were already 12th in net yards per pass attempt a year ago, thanks to Mariota, a good young offensive line with anchors Jack Conklin and Taylor Lewan, and having a running game with DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry that set up the pass.
The Titans last made the playoffs after the 2008 season, when Chris Johnson was a rookie and Jeff Fisher was still coach. That seems like an eternity ago. Marcus Mariota has flown under the radar, but with the additions at receiver, this should be the year he makes the leap nationally. The Titans will hope to be celebrating on the field, like they were in the stands when the Nashville Predators made their Stanley Cup playoff run. The expectations have now moved to the point where it would be a disappointment if they do not.