Tennessee Titans' Most Under- and Overrated Offseason Additions
It's been an offseason of turnover for the Tennessee Titans as they ushered in a new era of football with a new owner and coaching staff and of course the typical roster turnover as well.
With a new coaching staff come new preferences for players and who will work for their respective schemes. Some signings are brought in and find a perfect fit with the team and scheme (Bernard Pollard), while others leave something to be desired (Shonn Greene).
No general manager or coach is infallible, as was demonstrated last year, but those mistakes do need to be limited for the success of the team and the longevity of their own careers.
Taking an early look at the Titans roster, without any game action to gain full comprehension of what it has to offer, here are the Titans' best and worst offseason additions.
Overrated: LB Wesley Woodyard
When the Titans brought Ken Whisenhunt and his coaching staff on board, the immediate expectation was that the team's defense would make the transition to a 3-4 front and, in turn, need help at linebacker.
Enter Wesley Woodyard as the team's first offseason addition to the linebacker corps. He comes as a former team captain of the Denver Broncos, before being demoted and losing his starting role.
Woodyard ended up as the Broncos' nickel linebacker and did not start any of the team's final nine games (including playoffs).
Setting aside the disappointment of being benched midway through the 2013 season, with the transition to a 3-4 defense comes the addition of a starting linebacker.
Woodyard is far from ideal as a "Mike" inside linebacker, having finished with a positive Pro Football Focus (subscription required) rating in run defense just once in the last five seasons.
He is better suited for the "Will" inside linebacker role; however, the Titans' top-two candidates to start inside with Woodyard (Zach Brown and Zaviar Gooden) are both best suited for the "Will" role as well.
I don't expect to see a sudden improvement in Woodyard's play and see a potential issue with the interior of the Titans defense with three weak-side inside linebackers atop the depth chart.
Underrated: LB Shaun Phillips
Dipping back into the Denver Broncos' linebacker well, the Titans added some pass-rushing help in the form of Shaun Phillips. In his first and only season with the Broncos, Phillips racked up 10 sacks, a stat the Titans hope he can replicate or exceed.
Though he's not currently expected to be one of the team's starting edge-rushers, having a 10-sack guy coming off the bench in a rotation should prove invaluable for a franchise that has long struggled to find elite rushing talent.
Phillips also brings the ability to play with his hand on the ground. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton has said the Titans will run a hybrid 3-4 defense, according to John Glennon of dnj.com. Adding another player to the roster capable of playing on the line and standing up will be crucial.
Overrated: OT Michael Oher
Do you want the good news first or the bad news? I've been one to take the bad first to help taper off my level of joy from the good news pre-emptively.
Though he has a very famous name, former Baltimore Ravens tackle Michael Oher has not been the stalwart offensive lineman he's portrayed to be in his biographical movie and doesn't even protect the "blind side."
In truth, Oher has been far from a quality talent for some time now. In 2013, Oher drew a minus-12.6 grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), which would have been bad enough if he had not earned a minus-11.5, minus-6.7 and minus-7.7 in the three previous seasons.
With four consecutive mediocre seasons now on his resume, the Titans still paid him handsomely for his services over the next four years. However, there is an out for the Titans that I'll let ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky explain:
Oher received a $4 million signing bonus with a guaranteed 2014 base salary of $2 million. Then $3.35 million of his 2015 base salary for 2015 is guaranteed only for injury.
So it's $6 million guaranteed now. With potential for $3.35 million more in 2015. If Oher is healthy, the Titans can get out of the deal after one season at a cost of $6 million with no further expense.
It's possible Oher could improve with a change of scenery, but at this point, it seems as though getting consistent quality play from him throughout the year would be an anomaly.
The Titans will have first-round pick Taylor Lewan breathing down Oher's neck all offseason for the team's starting right tackle duties, making this an especially shaky signing.
Underrated: NT Al Woods
Al Woods comes over from the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he offers extensive experience of playing in the defense of Horton's mentor, Dick LeBeau.
Though Woods (6'4", 307 lbs) may not become a starter with the Titans, he will offer the Titans quality defensive line depth capable of playing both end positions and nose tackle, per Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean: "Basically, it is the same. I'm learning all three positions and trying to be able to excel at all three. We'll see and find out when it is all said and done where I am playing."
Several of the Titans defensive lineman don't quite have a definite position in the team's "30" front, but with Woods on the roster, the Titans will gain some flexibility when deciding on game-day rosters each week.
Versatility is key in today's NFL, and both Woods and Shaun Phillips offer it for the 2014 edition of the Tennessee Titans.
Overrated: RB Jackie Battle
I understand that no one is expecting Jackie Battle to be one of the Titans' ball-carriers in 2014. He's not even likely to ever be higher than fourth on the team's running back depth chart.
However, too much is being made of Battle being tried out at fullback, in my opinion. Collin Mooney has been one of the league's best fullbacks over the past two seasons, while Battle struggled mightily in his main function of running the ball last year.
Here's an excerpt about Mooney's quality play for the Titans last season from Michael Mountford of Pro Football Focus (subscription required):
Last season Mooney was second only to Anthony Sherman in terms of his run blocking grade, recording an impressive +9.9 run blocking grade on just 105 snaps. His 2013 season also saw him a model of consistency, with only the one outing against the New York Jets in Week 4 seeing him finish with a negative run blocking grade.
Underrated: S Bernard Pollard
In my opinion, re-signing Bernard Pollard was the best move the Titans made in free agency. It's also the one most likely to have a big impact in 2014.
The strong safety position had been a position of weakness for years in Tennessee, but Pollard changed that in 2013, bringing both stability and attitude to the defensive backfield.
With Alterraun Verner leaving, the Titans couldn't afford to lose another key cog in their best unit from 2013, so they re-signed Pollard before free agency began.
Pollard may have cost the Titans some yards via penalties, but he more than made up for it with his ability to defend against the run, and he played better than he had for most of his career against the pass.
Outside of Verner, Pollard was the highest priority free agent that the Titans had, so getting him back was a great move, and it ought to help the defensive backs transition to a Verner-less defense and a new scheme.
While some analysts downplay the value of having a player like Pollard on a team, he actually had one of the best seasons of his career in 2013.
Besides his presence on the field, his leadership during the offseason and the regular season is always at the forefront.
He is very vocal about his expectations as a team and of each of his teammates whenever he feels it is needed, a la a post-practice interview covered by TitansOnline.com's Craig Peters:
We know where we don’t want to go. We know what we don’t want to do, Pollard said. We’ve got some pieces of the puzzle that have been to where we want to go, so now it’s time for us to put that together in a new defense where it’s going to allow us to make plays, it’s going to put the players in position to make game-changing plays for us. We didn’t do a lot of that last year.