While there are positions to fill throughout the Tennessee Titans’ depth chart, a good chunk of the defense makes up the majority of these holes.
According to Football Outsiders’ Rivers McCown, linebacker stands to be their greatest hole to fill.
Tennessee Titans: Linebacker
While I am personally not a believer in Jake Locker, this series premise is “plugging the holes,” not “answering the questions,” so let’s focus on a big area of need in Tennessee: the linebacker corps.
The Titans have spent heavily on this position in the past few drafts. They picked Akeem Ayers near the top of the second round in 2011, Zach Brown in the second round in 2012, Zaviar Gooden in the third round in 2013 and Colin McCarthy in the fourth round in 2011. Despite all that, they had free agent Moise Fokou starting at linebacker for most of the season, and, against all odds, staying on the field in nickel and dime packages. Fokou is a heady player who has been a favorite of coaching staffs in Philadelphia and Indianapolis, but he doesn’t exactly have the sideline-to-sideline speed that a highly drafted linebacker should, in theory, have.
Tennessee has essentially relegated McCarthy to the failed experiment table. The two second-round linebackers regressed last year. Brown has speed to burn, but looks more like an athlete playing the part of linebacker than an actual linebacker at times. Ayers was bumped down as a nickel rusher and dropped from 6.0 sacks in 2012 to 1.0 last season. That was a big reason Tennessee’s Adjusted Sack Rate fell from 13th in 2012 to 20th last year.
The Titans probably aren’t going to spend another high draft pick at linebacker; the hope may be that the lumps of moldable clay that Jerry Gray left can be turned into masterpieces in the hands of new defensive coordinator Ray Horton. With the switch to a 3-4, though, a stabilizing middle linebacker like Karlos Dansby or Jon Beason could be something the Titans pursue with their meager cap room. Of course, that’s assuming their negotiations toward re-signing Alterraun Verner don’t prove too costly.
McCown swings and misses with this one. While each of the linebackers “regressed” in Year 2, you have to consider the scheme Gray ran and the skill set each of these guys have.
McCarthy has been injury-prone, showing flashes of brilliance despite his sporadic play. Brown is an athletic freak, registering over 90 tackles in each of his two seasons as a pro. Ayers wasn’t used properly, and it showed with his numbers throughout the season.
McCown is spot-on about Fokou, and the Titans will need a steady hand at inside linebacker moving forward. Beason played in eight games combined over three seasons before resurrecting his career in New York this past year, so he might not be the best option. Dansby’s price tag will be through the roof and it’s tough to see the Titans landing him if they bring back Verner.
Blidi Wreh-Wilson has all the tools to step in and help Tennessee if Verner bolts in the offseason, but the Titans’ main priority on defense should be on the defensive line, replacing Kamerion Wimbley and his bloated contract.
Jurrell Casey is a monster inside, but with the switch to a 3-4, the Titans will need an answer at defensive end.
Under new defensive coordinator Ray Horton, Tennessee should be able to turn things around with such a young unit.