Now that the NFL Combine is right around the corner and free agency is approaching in a couple of weeks, the Last Word on Sports NFL department will be looking at the top three needs for each team. Today, the Tennessee Titans are the focus. The Titans have the eighteenth pick in the 2017 NFL Draft as well as the fifth pick thanks to their trade with the Los Angeles Rams last off-season. Tennessee went 9-7 and finished with a winning record for the first time since 2011, so this off-season is important if the Titans want to take the next step and become a true contender.
Tennessee Titans 2017 Off-Season: Top 3 Needs
The Titans’ secondary could use an injection of youth at the cornerback position. Starters Jason McCourty and Brice McCain will both be 30 next season. McCourty has been a solid starter for years, but one has to wonder how much more he has left in the tank. McCain did an admirable job in coverage this year, but given his age, the team cannot expect much more solid production from the veteran. Backup corner and fifth round pick LeShaun Sims showed promise during his rookie year; he has the size at 6’0 and 203 pounds to play on the outside. Look for the Titans to give Sims every opportunity to win the starting job opposite of McCourty next season.
Both McCain and McCourty have one more year left on their contracts, so the Titans must address the cornerback position heavily in the draft or free agency. Houston Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye should be one of the Titans’ top targets in free agency as well as Buffalo Bills corner Stephon Gilmore. The 2017 NFL Draft class is loaded with talented corners, so Tennessee could look to the draft to seize a difference maker at corner with one of their first-round picks.
Marcus Mariota has enjoyed a good start to his young career. He can take his game to another level if the Titans give him a true number one receiver. Rishard Matthews had the best season of his career in his first year as a Titan, but he suits best as the number two receiver on a team. Tajae Sharpe’s rookie season was a success given he accumulated 522 yards as a fifth round pick. The future is bright for Sharpe, but he is not dynamic enough to be relied upon as a number one receiver. Kendall Wright will be a free agent and has suffered injuries each of the past three seasons. After Wright’s second season in the NFL in which he gained over 1,000 receiving yards, many believed the Titans had finally found their game changing receiver, but Wright has proven he cannot be relied upon to stay healthy enough to be the team’s number one wide-out.
Tennessee would be wise to nab a receiver in the draft as the free agent pool for wide receivers is lackluster outside of Terrelle Pryor who has only played the position for two seasons. DeSean Jackson would be a great addition if he wasn’t 30 years old. The Titans should use the fifth pick in the 2017 NFL Draft to select the top wide receiver on their board. Mike Williams would make a great big target for Mariota to rely upon to move the chains and come down with touchdown catches in the redzone. Corey Davis would also make sense for Tennessee with their first pick.
Wesley Woodyard is a good linebacker, but he will be 31 years old next season and has one year left on his contract. Woodyard can cover well, but his age will likely slow him down a step or two. Avery Williamson is decent, and the best thing going for him is that he’ll only be 25 years old come next season. Williamson is more of a 2-down backer; he is good at filling the hole and making stops in the run game. The Titans will most likely try to resign Williamson this summer or during next season. Woodyard may comeback on a one or two-year deal next off-season to mentor a young rookie depending on if Tennessee chooses to address the position in the draft.
Both of Tennessee’s backup inside linebackers are free agents, so the Titans have to sign a inside linebacker in free agency or draft one. The top free agent targets would be Dont’a Hightower or Kevin Minter. New England may place the franchise tag on Hightower especially since they traded away Jamie Collins in the middle of the season. Minter’s 2016 season was the best of his career by far which may concern teams given it came before he the linebacker was set to be a free agent. The draft’s biggest prize at inside linebacker is Alabama’s Reuben Foster who probably will not still be on the board when the Titans pick at 18. Tennessee could choose the talented linebacker at five, but receiver is a more pressing need. However, Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham would be a great selection at 18. He possesses great speed and instincts but may be a tad bit light at 230 pounds to play ILB for a 3-4 team. His combine measurables will be extremely important for 3-4 teams such as the Titans.