Name a couple of great defenses in your head. Now, what made you think of that defense? Linebackers seem to stick in people’s heads when it comes to defense. That doesn’t change when you’re talking about a Dick LeBeau defense. In LeBeau’s defenses, linebackers just seem to stand out. Going into the 2017 season, USA Today ranked the Titans as having the 7th best linebacker corps in the NFL. I think this was a little generous, but I’ll take it none the less. In the 2017 draft, the Titans addressed a need of theirs by drafting Jayon Brown out of UCLA. The idea at the time was for Brown to try and work towards taking Wesley Woodyard’s spot while keeping Avery Williamson in place. How did it work out?
Grading the Linebacker Unit
Linebackers can be anything from a run-stopper to a pass rusher to even a coverage man. A great linebacker is able to do all three. The Titans struggled mightily in covering tight ends in 2016. Drafting Jayon Brown helps that but Brown isn’t viewed as an every-down linebacker because of his size. Brown flashed coverage ability in the preseason and ended up finishing the season with 4 pass breakups. That isn’t a bad number for an undersized rookie linebacker. Unfortunately, Brown hasn’t picked up the same pace in his run stopping abilities. Brown really needs to pick this up if he wants to have a shot at being a consistent starter. Prior to this year’s draft, Brown easily had the highest ceiling of any Titans linebacker.
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Avery Williamson was consistently inconsistent in his time with the Titans. As you probably know by now, Williamson is no longer with the team. In 2017 Williamson was graded as the 29th best inside linebacker by Bleacher Report. Williamson managed to find every way possible to be in the wrong place on rushing plays. Known for his run stopping abilities rather than his coverage, this was a disappointing development in the Titans season.
As a group, I think it’s fair to say that the Titans linebackers overachieved in 2017. Yes, they yielded big plays at times, almost exclusively in the passing game. For the most part, they kept it together. A big reason why is because of the play of Wesley Woodyard. A solid pass rusher and run stopper, Woodyard has been a staple in the Titans linebacker core. Woodyard lacks the speed to go out into man coverage with opposing players. This door open for his spot to be taken during this upcoming season.
Overall Grade and the Future
The Titans linebackers did a decent job. If they could have brought their play to the next level, it could have brought the Titans further in the playoffs. I’m stuck between a B- and a C+, solely on the thought that they overachieved this past season. Put on the spot, I will give the Titans linebackers a B- for the previous season. The future is bright though, with a great draft haul of Harold Landry and Rashaan Evans. The Titans linebackers are poised to break out for the foreseeable future. This will be an exciting group to watch, Titans fans should rejoice at the young athleticism coming into the organization.