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Tennessee Titans still looking for respect in the AFC South

Tennessee Titans
USA TODAY-Christopher Hanewinc

The Tennessee Titans have finished with a 9-7 record each of the last three seasons. Despite their offseason moves, there isn’t much optimism in regards to the 2019 season. Last week, NFL Network’s fantasy analyst Adam Rank predicted the Titans would finish with a 3-13 record.

Tennessee Titans 2018 season

Respect is certainly something that should be earned. And after advancing to the AFC Divisional Round in 2018, the Titans certainly took a step back in 2018. Although their record was the same, they failed to advance to the playoffs when they lost their season finale at home against the Indianapolis Colts.

There’s no doubt Marcus Mariota has been inconsistent throughout his four-year career. Last season wasn’t any different as Mariota battled injuries from start to finish. He threw for 2,528 yards, 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 14 games. History says Mariota will suffer an injury during the season, but the Titans have a better backup situation than Blaine Gabbert.

Looking at Tennessee’s roster, it would take several injuries for them to finish 3-13. The Titans have too much talent on both sides of the ball to hit rock bottom. Even with the Jacksonville Jaguars improving their quarterback situation by acquiring Nick Foles, the Titans should figure into the discussion for a playoff spot.

Adding QB Ryan Tannehill

Tennessee acquired former Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill in a trade in March. Mariota will remain the Titans starter for now, but Tannehill can be a serviceable starter, provided he is healthy, which was a question a year ago as he missed five games due to a capsule injury.

Whoever is behind center for the Titans will be working behind an improved offensive line. A few years ago, the Titans were widely considered to have one of the best lines in the NFL. But the unit took a dip a season ago when they gave up 47 sacks, which was the 10th most in the league. They also ranked 22nd for rushing yards as they averaged 4.24 per carry.

Signing Rodger Safford and drafting Nate Davis from Charlotte should help beef up the Titans offensive line, which should improve the production from the quarterback position. The Titans running game should also be a beneficiary of the additions up front.

Tennessee Titans bolster skill positions

After two subpar seasons, Derrick Henry finally broke out last season as he ran for 1,059 yards and 12 touchdowns. Henry registered 585 of his 1,059 yards during the final month of last season. So expect the Titans and first-year offensive coordinator Arthur Smith to rely more on Henry this upcoming season.

Tennessee has also improved their receiver weapons by signing Adam Humphries and drafting former Ole Miss standout A.J. Brown. Humphries will be a reliable weapon in the slot, while Brown has big play, deep ball ability. The Titans also get Delaine Walker back, who suffered a season-ending leg injury in Week 1. This should be a bonus for Mariota, who has a habit of looking at the tight end’s way consistently.

Titans defense gets stronger

Defensively, the Tennessee Titans last year finished eighth in total yards (333.4), and third in points allowed per game (18.9). Not only do they have Jurrell Casey, who is one of the better defensive linemen in the league, but the Titans have an excellent mix of youth and veterans at the linebacker position.

Tennessee signed former Dolphins veteran Cameron Wake to improve their pass rush, which finished with 39 sacks in 2018. Even as he continues to get older, Wake is still able to get consistent pressure on quarterbacks as evident by his six sacks last season. He managed impressive numbers despite dealing with a knee injury that kept him out of two games.

Wesley Woodyard, who led the Titans in tackles (113), will also have a significant presence in their front seven. Jayon Brown, who recorded 97 tackles and six sacks, is one of the Titans better defensive player and one of the more underrated players in the league.

Then there’s Kevin Byard, who is one of the best safeties in the NFL. Last season, Byard finished with 90 tackles, two sacks, and four interceptions.

While the Titans certainly have their question marks, their defense alone will win games for them in 2019. Also, with the additions they’ve made on offense, the Titans not only should exceed the three-win mark that Rank predicted, but they should figure into the playoff race in a difficult AFC South. Maybe then, the Titans will finally get the respect that they continue to seek.

Antwan Staley covers the Tennessee Titans and the AFC South for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.

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