Tennessee Titans: 5 Things to watch for in 2017

Photo by Reed Hoffmann/Getty Images
Photo by Reed Hoffmann/Getty Images /

With the opening of training camp just around the corner, it’s time to look at some things that should happen for the Tennessee Titans in 2017.

The Tennessee Titans are a team that many pundits have circled to break out in the 2017 season. It’s not hard to see where that comes from. They flirted with a playoff berth a season ago, and only improved this offseason.

With that said, obvious expectations come with such improvements. Subsequently, let’s take a look at five things everyone should be watching for from the Titans in 2017.

1. Mariota entering stardom

Marcus Mariota will become a true NFL star. Mariota improved his touchdown total from 19 to 26 from his first year in the NFL to the second. There’s a good chance, with the weapons now provided him, that he can increase that total again.

If Mariota improves his touchdown total to 30 or more this season, he and Derek Carr of Oakland will be talked about as the future of the position in the AFC.

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2. Young Derrick Henry takes the starting reins

Derrick Henry will supplant DeMarco Murray as the Titans lead running back by the end of the season, leading to Murray’s release at the end of the year. By all accounts, Henry looked great in OTAs and mini-camp. And Murray is 29. The Titans selected Henry in the second round of the draft in 2016 with an eye to the future.

Murray is slated to make $6.5 million in 2018 at the ripe old age of 30. But the Titans having a buyout option after two seasons — according to Spotrac. Tennessee has plenty of cap space available. But Henry will prove this season that he’s too good to be a No. 2 back.

3. Mike Mularkey wins the NFL Coach of the Year award.

The Titans went 9-7 last season, so they won’t make the huge jump in the win-loss column typically associated with winning this award. But if Mularkey gets Tennessee into the postseason for the first time since 2008 as expected, he’ll most certainly be in the running.

Look for the Titans to not only do that, but go 10-6, win the AFC South and get a home playoff game. That should put Mularkey among the leaders in the clubhouse to win the award.

4. Eric Decker won’t have the impact with the Titans many expect.

30-year old receivers coming off serious hip and shoulder injuries don’t typically put up 1,000-yard seasons. And that’s the expectation for many for Decker, who has just three 1,000-yard seasons in his seven-year career.

Decker got at least 123 targets in each of his previous 1,000-yard seasons. But Rishard Matthews led the Titans in targets last season with 108. Delanie Walker had 102. Even if the Titans throw the ball more in 2017 than they did last season, Decker isn’t going to get enough targets to get to 1,000 yards. His line will end up looking more like 60 catches for 800 yards and seven touchdowns.

5. Titans defense will improve, just not that much

Despite spending big in free agency on defense, the Titans will only make modest gains on that side of the ball. Tennessee ranked 30th in the league against the pass last season and forced just 18 turnovers. The Titans helped make up for that by recording 40 sacks.

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The pass defense will be somewhat better. And if the Titans can play with more leads, the turnover and sack totals should also improve. But a unit that was 20th in the league in total defense last season will only get itself into the teens this year. That will still be good enough to help the Titans get into the playoffs.