Ryan Tannehill MVP candidate heading into next season?
By: Will Baptist
The Tennessee Titans are much-improved heading into Ryan Tannehill’s third season under center. They had a successful offseason, making multiple splashes via free agency and through a blockbuster trade. They now have the pieces in place to make a deep run in the postseason, and Tannehill has a legitimate chance to win the MVP award in 2021.
The Titans have a three-headed monster on offense after their trade for Julio Jones. A.J. Brown paired with Jones will be one of the best WR duos in the NFL, along with arguably the best RB in the NFL, Derrick Henry. This could be the most physically imposing offense in the NFL, and Tannehill should be able to torch opposing defenses with the weapons he has in place.
The Titans will also get back their star LT Taylor Lewan, who suffered a torn ACL in week 5 last season. The stars are aligning for Tannehill to have a dominant season in Tennessee, and with how effective and efficient he has been through his first two years, he should be able to make another leap in 2021.
Tannehill’s career thus far
Tannehill’s career has been rejuvenated in Tennessee, after six disappointing seasons with the Miami Dolphins. After being selected eighth overall in the 2012 NFL Draft, Tannehill was the starter from day one in Miami. He never had much success with the Dolphins, partly because he had a poor coaching staff from the day he arrived, and because they never surrounded him with the type of talent that he has with the Titans.
The best season he had during his tenure in Miami was 2014. The Dolphins went 8-8, but Tannehill showed real improvement, completing 66.4% of his passes for 4,045 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. His improvement earned him a new contract after the 2014 season, signing a six-year $96 million extension. It looked like Tannehill was on his way to being their franchise quarterback for years to come.
He went on to have three up-and-down seasons after his extension, and the Dolphins could never surround him with the right talent. After Adam Gase became the Dolphins head coach in 2016, Tannehill and Gase were never on the same page, and the blame was put on Tannehill.
In 2018, Tannehill struggled with a shoulder injury, and only played 11 games. He finished the season completing 64.2% of his passes for 1,979 passing yards, 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions. It became clear that Tannehill needed a fresh start after never coming into his own and struggling with injuries for his last two seasons in Miami.
Tannehill’s career as a starting QB was in jeopardy, even though he was still relatively young. Along came the Tennessee Titans who traded a fourth-round pick and a seventh-round pick for Tannehill and a sixth-round pick. After the trade was completed, he agreed to a one-year deal worth $7 million, with up to $12 million in incentives.
He was the backup for Marcus Mariota when he arrived, but in week 6 of the 2019 season, Tannehill replaced a struggling Mariota at halftime and took over as the starting QB. The Titans lost 16-0 against the Broncos, but Tannehill showed promise. He went 13-16 for 144 passing yards and an interception.
After being named the starting QB moving forward, Tannehill never looked back. He propelled the Titans to a 7-3 record to finish the regular season, and was one of the most efficient QBs in the NFL. His strong finish led the Titans to the playoffs, where they beat the Patriots and the Ravens, before falling to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship.
He completed 70.3% of his passes for 2,742 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and six interceptions in 2019. He led the NFL in passer rating, earned his first Pro Bowl selection, and was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
It became clear Tannehill was part of the future after the 2019 season. He inked a new contract extension in the offseason for four years’ worth up to $118 million, with $62 million guaranteed. Tannehill had another stellar season in 2020, completing 65.5% of his passes for 3,819 passing yards, 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Tannehill has redefined himself, becoming an extremely accurate and decisive QB. He is extremely mobile, and is the perfect QB to pair with Henry in the backfield. He will look to build off his last two seasons and become even more lethal in the passing game in 2021.
Titans new Offensive Coordinator
The Titans had to find a new offensive coordinator after Arthur Smith departed and became the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. This happened in 2018 as well, when OC Matt LaFleur left the Titans and became the head coach of the Green Bay Packers.
The Titans believe in promoting within, and they did just that when they named Todd Downing their new OC. Downing was hired as the tight ends coach in 2019, and worked with Smith and already has an understanding of the personnel in place. Head coach Mike Vrabel praised Downing throughout the offseason, and he seems like a perfect fit to run this offense.
In Tannehill’s third season with the Titans, he will be on his second offensive coordinator. The offense will not change drastically and Tannehill will not have to learn new vernacular. This should not be an issue for a veteran such as Tannehill, especially under Vrabel’s leadership.
Smith did an excellent job in Tennessee, and Atlanta was one of the many teams attempting to hire him as a head coach. It will not be an easy task to replace such a talented play-caller, but Downing will not make any massive changes to their run heavy offense, and he can now put his twist on the offense.
Downing was the OC with the Oakland Raiders in 2017, which bodes well for him moving forward considering he has prior experience holding that position. With the plethora of talent that Downing has at his disposal, it should be an exciting season for the Tennessee Titans offense.
Breakdown of adding Julio Jones
After the Titans lost their WR2 Corey Davis in free agency, they had a massive hole. They did bring in Josh Reynolds from the Rams through free agency, who is a talented WR, but not a huge threat. It seemed they were satisfied with Reynolds becoming the second option to Brown, until the breaking news was announced on June 6.
Jones and a sixth-round pick was sent to the Titans for a second-round pick and a fourth-round pick. Saying that this trade fills the need at WR for the Titans is an understatement. Jones is one of the most dynamic and electric WRs in the NFL, and has been since 2011.
Jones has 848 career catches, 12,896 receiving yards and 81 touchdowns. His versatility will prove to be just want the Titans need to take their offense to the next level. He can line up all over the field and take any catch to the end zone.
Jones is going to walk into the Hall of Fame whenever he retires, but he seems determined to show that will not be retiring any time soon. The 7x Pro Bowler battled injuries throughout the 2020 season, and only appeared in nine games. Prior to that season, Jones only suffered minor injuries, and only missed more than two games twice, back in 2013 and 2011 (his rookie season).
He is 32 years old, which by NFL standards is fairly old, but Jones is one of the most athletically gifted talents that the NFL has ever seen. Jones and Brown will be a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators to game plan around, and they are two of the most physical WRs in the league.
Tannehill has never had a weapon like Jones, and even though the offense is run through Henry, the Titans now have the firepower to score with anyone. When opposing teams stuff the box in order to stop Henry, Tannehill can fire it overtop to Jones or Brown with ease.
2021 season outlook
Tannehill has all the pieces in place to terrorize opposing defenses and win the MVP award. This offense has the potential to be one of the best in the NFL if Tannehill can continue to improve. He already has the efficiency, and if the Titans look to throw the ball down the field more due to the addition of Jones, then Tannehill could put up monster numbers.
The Titans division is weak outside of the Indianapolis Colts, which puts them in a perfect position to win lots of games. The Houston Texans are in disarray and the Jacksonville Jaguars have a rookie QB and rookie head coach. They both have awful defenses, which is four games on the schedule for Tannehill to light it up.
The Titans are much improved on defense as well, and if they can win 12 or 13 games this season, then Tannehill should be in the discussion for MVP without question, assuming he improves his numbers from last season.