By: Lucas Pinsker
To the average fan and the national media, the Tennessee Titans may not appear to be much better than the teams of 2014-2015 that combined to win just five games over the course of two seasons. However, general manager Jon Robinson has brought in an influx of talent to the roster throughout his tenure with the Titans. Take a look at my list of a few potential breakout candidates who could help put the Tennessee Titans back in playoff contention.
Jayon Brown may just be the most underrated player on the roster, and is primed for a great season. After entering the league as a fifth-round pick out of UCLA in 2017, Brown took a year to get acclimated to the pros before making an impact. Standing at just 5′ 11″, Brown is hardly the ideal size for a middle linebacker, and never had the numbers at UCLA to be seen as an every down linebacker in the NFL.
In his sophomore year with the Titans, Brown proved otherwise. He finished the 2018 season with 64 solo tackles, 6 sacks, 6 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles, and a pick-six.
The former UCLA Bruin ended the season with arguably his best game. In a make or break game against the Colts, Brown had a forced fumble, fumble recovery, and a pick-six, each of which helped keep the stagnant offense of the Titans in the game. Working as a rotational player in the Titans defense, the second-year man ended the season with an overall grade of 81.6 by Pro Football Focus, which was the ninth best grade among linebackers (per PFF Twitter). In an increased role, Brown has a great opportunity to increase production in 2019.
The Titans linebacker core looks really good this season when you pair Brown with second-year player Rashaan Evans. Evans entered the league last year as the 22nd overall pick out of Alabama. The former Crimson Tide standout didn’t have the best start to his NFL career due to an injury in training camp that hindered his progression. Evans was unable to get the reps needed to adjust to the professional level, which can be crucial to the development of young players.
After missing the season opener, Evans was finally able to get a taste of the NFL. That taste turned out to be less than pleasant for the rookie linebacker, as he struggled mightily over the first half of the season. The second half of the season was a different story. Later on in the year, Evans showed why the Titans traded up to select him with the 22nd pick in the draft. Evans proved to be a thumper in the run game and has a knack for getting to the ball carrier.
In the video below, watch as Evans shoots into the backfield to make a goal line tackle on 4th down against the Jacksonville Jaguars. That goal line tackle would eventually set up Derrick Henry‘s historic 99-yard touchdown run. From weeks 13-16, Evans had a PFF overall grade of 90.5, which ranked him third in the league behind all-pros Bobby Wagner and Luke Kuechly (per PFF Twitter). The tandem of Rashaan Evans and Jayon Brown could prove to be one of the best linebacker duos for the 2019 season, and for many to come.
Derrick Henry became a household name after winning the Heisman Trophy and National Championship for the Alabama Crimson Tide in 2015. Since entering the league in 2016 as a second-round pick by the Titans, Henry’s career hasn’t been nearly as flashy. The Titans drafted Henry to simply support newly acquired running back DeMarco Murray. Murray ended up having one of his best seasons in 2016, which didn’t allow Henry to see the field all that much.
In 2017, the Titans running game struggled because neither Murray, nor Henry, were ever able to get into a groove until late in the season when Murray was forced to sit out due to injury. During that time, Henry looked to be a force in the run game. The 2018 season looked like it would finally be the year for Derrick Henry to breakout until the Titans signed free agent running back Dion Lewis in the off-season. The Titans appeared to want Henry to be the team’s lead back, but would quickly turn to Lewis if there was any hint of a slow start.
Neither back seemed to have any consistency until the last quarter of the season when Henry finally exploded. In Week 14 against the Jaguars, Henry ran for 238 yards and 4 touchdowns, including a 99-yard run jam-packed with stiff arms. Henry ended the season with 1,059 rushing yards and 12 TDs. Of those, 585 yards and 7 TDs came in the final four games of the season. After the slow start to the season, Henry finished as the highest graded running back in Weeks 10-17 by PFF with an overall grade of 89.6 (per PFF Twitter).
The Titans should look to use Derrick Henry as their feature back in the 2019 season, which could lead to a huge year for him and the Titans.
The player I think will have the biggest breakout among all Titans players this season? Corey Davis.
Davis enters this season as a player not many NFL fans are familiar with, but has a chance at knocking on the door of the Pro Bowl. Davis has a large frame at 6′ 3″ 209lbs and has the prototypical size and speed you want from your number one receiver. The Titans had high expectations for Davis after using the fifth overall pick in the 2017 draft to take the wide receiver out of Western Michigan.
Davis has not yet had the production you need or expect from a wide receiver who was a fifth overall pick. Through two seasons, Davis has 1,266 yards and just four touchdowns, with an additional two touchdowns in the playoffs.
The low numbers might be due to injuries/missed games and inconsistent quarterback play, but this off-season, Davis has worked on becoming a more explosive playmaker. Throughout training camp, it looks like the hard work has paid off. Davis is making jaw-dropping catches on a daily basis. and beginning to become more comfortable with the offense. With more consistent quarterback play, Corey Davis could be the Titans first 1,000 yard receiver since 2013, and their top breakout player of the year.
The Titans have a talented core of young players this season and now look to start working their way back to the playoffs. The AFC South is hardly the cake walk it used to be just a few years ago, so the Titans will be put to the test. Luckily, they might just have the talent to establish themselves as a force in the division.
Cover photo via: Number Fire
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