The NFL of today has transformed into a passing league, with some of the most successful quarterbacks residing in the pocket. The best way to counter a gunslinging quarterback is by applying pressure which will could force him out of his comfort range.
Last season, the Tennessee Titans ranked 16th in the league with a total of 39 sacks. But despite finishing in the top half in terms of sacks, they found themselves at 2-14 and tied for the worst record in the league with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
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In the NFL, it is important to have a strong divisional record. In 2014, Tennessee were far from that, finishing with a record of 1-5 in the AFC South. One way they can improve on that is by adding pass rusher to what was a group of players from last year.
The Titans have already looked to increase the pressure applied to the opposing quarterback heading into next season. Tennessee proved their intent with the signing of outside linebacker Brian Orapko. In six seasons with the Washington Redskins, Orapko was a three-time Pro Bowler who recorded 40 career sacks, including 11 in his rookie season in 2009 and ten in 2013.
Orapko received a four-year, $32 million deal from the Titans; however, his signing will come with some uncertainty. In 2014, Orapko missed nine games after he tore his pectoral muscle in Week 7 – ironically in a game against Tennessee. He finished the season with just half a sack.
While Orapko could bring an edge to the defense they didn’t have before, it is important that the front office continues to improve the defensive, particularly the front.
Tennessee has kept quiet during free agency as they did not sign a defensive lineman. This, due in large part, is because of where they lie in the upcoming NFL Draft. The Titans hold the second overall pick – and while there have been rumors surfacing that the San Diego Chargers have shown interest in swapping with Tennessee, which would send quarterback Philip Rivers and draft picks to the Titans – Tennessee finds themselves in an excellent opportunity to strengthen their defensive front.
Nov 13, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans defensive end Leonard Williams (94) pressures California Golden Bears quarterback Jared Goff (16) at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Insert Leonard Williams, the six feet five-inch tall two-time All-American from the University of Southern California.
At USC, Williams constantly created havoc in the backfield. In his junior season in college, Williams racked up a total of 80 tackles, 9.5 of which came for a loss. Of those 9.5 tackles in the backfield, seven of them were sacks, good enough to tie J.R. Tavai for the team high.
His high-level of play allowed him to leave school early, where he will enter the draft as arguably the top prospect.
For Tennessee, it is important they have a stellar pass rush for multiple reasons. One, it is important to get to the opposing quarterback. Two, they must face divisional quarterbacks – a top-five QB in Andrew Luck, an upcoming Blake Bortles and either Brian Hoyer or Ryan Mallett – two times each year, respectively.
The Colts, who have Luck, have improved their offensive line each of the last three seasons. After allowing 41 sacks on Luck in his rookie season, the total dropped to 32 in 2013 and to 29 in 2014. When given time, we have seen what Luck can do. Last year, he was third in the NFL in passing yards (4,761) and first in passing touchdowns (40).
While the Jaguars struggle to protect their quarterback – Bortles and Chad Henne were sacked a combined 71 times in 2014 – they have bolstered their line with the signing of Jermey Parnell, who started five games for the Dallas Cowboys last season. They are also expected to select an offensive lineman in the upcoming draft.
And then there’s the Texans. Houston boasts one of the best pass protection lines in the NFL as they were the fourth best last season in terms of sacks allowed with a mere 26.
Last year, the front line from the Titans failed to produce much pressure on their opponents. Led by Jurrell Casey, who finished with a defensive line-high five sacks, the Titans rotation of their front three produced just 14 sacks.
Back to Williams.
The Daytona Beach, Florida, native would do wonders for Tennessee’s front. Williams possesses a rare combination of athleticism, strength and size. Not only does he have the physical tools to dominate in the NFL, but he is also versatile, as he played multiple positions on the line in his three seasons with the Trojans.
But despite his ability to play throughout the line, many scouts believe that Williams will translate best to the end position, where he can display his quickness off the line to go along with his impressive ability to bull rush an opposing guard or tackle.
Williams can also be effective in the run game; however, there is room for growth. This will bode well for the defensive end/tackle, though, as the Titans must grow as well as they finished in 31st for rushing yards allowed per game in 2014.
Adding a talent like Williams will go a long way in the Titans quest to crawl out of the depths of mediocrity and become relevant yet again. There is uncertainty revolving around what Tennessee will do in the draft, but if they wish to improve their defense, it would be wise of them to select Williams with the second overall pick.
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