The time has come for A to Z Sports to hand out our end of season awards for the Tennessee Titans.
Included in this list are conventional awards such as MVP, Rookie of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year. Additionally included are award suggestions made by our Twitter followers.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: DERRICK HENRY
AUSTIN’S PICK: HENRY
ZACH’S PICK: HENRY
Derrick Henry discusses the improvements he can make going into year 4. pic.twitter.com/xdyAWNfAo7
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) December 31, 2018
At the end of November, this seemed like an utter impossibility. Yet, thanks to the crazy month of December that he had, Derrick Henry earns the award of being the Titans’ best offensive player in 2018.
In a month where he was named the AFC’s Offensive Player of the Month, Henry ran for over 600 yards and totaled 8 touchdowns. He averaged a powerful 6.44 yards per carry.
But it isn’t Henry’s stats that earn him this award. Rather, it’s the overall impact he had on the Titans offense during its most crucial stretch of the season.
With five weeks left in the 2018 season, the Titans knew they needed to run the table in order to earn a playoff spot. They very nearly did it, and Henry was a big reason why.
During their four-game win streak to close out the season, Henry was the centerpiece of the Titans offense. They made him a true bell cow, pounding him against often hapless defenses.
Moving forward, Henry will need to keep up the aggressive style of running he showed in the month of December. The Titans will need to continue featuring him.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER: COREY DAVIS
AUSTIN’S PICK: JAYON BROWN
ZACH’S PICK: BROWN
As a rookie, receiver Corey Davis was mostly a non-factor. He was frequently injured, and he failed to make any sort of meaningful impact on the Titans’ offense.
In the team’s final game of the 2017 season, though, things started to change. Davis scored two impressive touchdowns, the first of his career, in the Titans’ playoff loss to the Patriots.
The success for Davis continued into 2018. He nailed down his role as the Titans’ #1 receiver, giving fits to a handful of defensive backs over the course of the season.
Perhaps the most positive development for Davis in 2018 was the chemistry he showed with quarterback Marcus Mariota. The two players were frequently in sync, and they formed an important connection.
The next step for the Davis will be to notch a 1,000-yard season. If he continues to improve, he has a good shot to get there in 2019.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: RASHAAN EVANS
AUSTIN’S PICK: EVANS
ZACH’S PICK: HAROLD LANDRY
By only making four draft selections, and only keeping three, the Titans made picking their Rookie of the Year an easy choice. Dane Cruikshank and Harold Landry both made plenty of contributions, but linebacker Rashaan Evans was easily the most impactful Titans rookie in 2018.
The season did not start well for Evans. He missed a vast majority of Training Camp due to an injury, and he got off to a very slow start in the regular season.
Evans really seemed to struggle against the Bills, missing a number of gaps in the run game and looking confused on a long Josh Allen touchdown run.
Eventually, though, things started clicking. Evans became an important presence for the Titans against both the run and the pass. His hard-hitting ways were very evident, especially on his key goal-line stop against the Jaguars on Thursday Night Football.
Evans also made an impact for the Titans as a leader. He has a very energetic personality that provides a big boost to the locker room.
With Wesley Woodyard aging, Evans emergence is a good thing for the Titans. He will look to be more of a weapon against the pass in 2019.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: JAYON BROWN
AUSTIN’S PICK: KEVIN BYARD/WESLEY WOODYARD
ZACH’S PICK: JURRELL CASEY
Jayon Brown is on another level right now.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) December 31, 2018
When Jayon Brown was coming out of UCLA as a draft prospect, he was pegged as an undersized linebacker who could contribute on special teams. Some analysts thought that, at best, he would be able to play a situational role on defense as a coverage specialist.
In 2018, Brown proved his doubters wrong. He emerged as an every-down weapon who did a little bit of everything for the Titans defense.
By season’s end, he led the Titans in sacks and total tackles. He also scored one of two defensive touchdowns the team managed in 2018.
Against the Colts in Week 17, Brown was a one-man wrecking crew. He recorded four solo tackles, a pick-six, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.
“We enjoy coaching Jayon,” head coach Mike Vrabel said following the game. “I think he’s got youthful energy. He’s going to continue to improve…I think he can get even better.”
Brown combined with Evans and Woodyard to give the Titans arguably the best trio of off-the-ball linebackers in the NFL in 2018. The group could be even better next season.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: BRIAN ORAKPO / DERRICK MORGAN
AUSTIN’S PICK: RISHARD MATTHEWS
ZACH’S PICK: TAYWAN TAYLOR/TAJAÉ SHARPE
If it weren’t for contributors like Jayon Brown and Logan Ryan, the Titans’ pass rush in 2018 may have been the worst in the league.
In previous seasons, outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan combined to be a true force to be reckoned with. With their contracts expiring in March of this year, perhaps the biggest question surrounding the Titans entering the 2018 season is which of them or both, the Titans would extend during the offseason.
By season’s end, it seemed that it might be a smart idea to let both of them walk. Orakpo made the decision easier by electing to retire, and Morgan might be a candidate to return on a one-year deal with minimal salary.
The two players combined in 2018 for a grand total of 2.0 sacks. To put it bluntly, that is completely unacceptable for a pair of starting outside linebackers in a 3-4 defense.
Father time hit Orakpo and Morgan very hard this past season, and it was honestly sad to see considering what both of those guys have meant to the Titans over their careers. Harold Landry provides some hope for the future, but the Titans will need to go get some pass rushers this offseason.
BEST NEW ADDITION: MALCOLM BUTLER
AUSTIN’S PICK: KENNY VACCARO
ZACH’S PICK: VACCARO
For the first half of 2018, Malcolm Butler was arguably the worst cornerback in the NFL. He seemed to be good for allowing at least one deep touchdown each week.
Things got so bad that opponents were quite apparently making efforts to target Butler by the middle of the season. Players like Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree abused the former Patriots star.
In Week 9, things started to change. Butler stopped pressing so much and began to let things happen. The result was a major change in Butler’s on-field production.
Per Pro Football Focus*, Butler’s overall grade improved over 40 points from Week 9 of 2018 to the end of the season. He was quietly a key piece in the Titans’ strong finish to the season.
He also helped soften the loss of teammate Logan Ryan, which could have been even more devastating without Butler’s contributions. In the Titans’ first game without Ryan, Butler sealed the game with a pick-six as time expired.
Butler, once he got things turned around, completed what was one of the NFL’s best secondary units in 2018. Thanks to Butler, Ryan, Kevin Byard, Adoree’ Jackson and Kenny Vaccaro, the Titans’ pass defense will be strong for the foreseeable future.
*I typically don’t like PFF, but they’re generally pretty trustworthy when it comes to corners and offensive linemen.
UNSUNG HERO AWARD: DENNIS KELLY
AUSTIN’S PICK: KELLY
ZACH’S PICK: WESLEY WOODYARD
It was an interesting move to say the least when the Titans traded receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, a second-round selection just a year before, for Dennis Kelly, at the time a reserve swing offensive lineman.
The move turned out to be the right one. Green-Beckham became a bust in every sense of the word, and Kelly has become an integral part of the Titans offense.
While he wasn’t a starter for most of the season, Kelly’s impact on the Titans was and is large. He was repeatedly thrown into the fire at offensive tackle due to injuries to Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin, and he always came through.
Interestingly enough, the Titans offensive line seemed to the naked eye to be a more productive group when Kelly was on the field instead of Conklin, a former All-Pro.
During a season in which it felt like the Titans were constantly flying by the seat of their pants, Kelly’s ability to step in when needed kept the ship afloat. He might, and probably should, have an even bigger role in 2019.
MVP: KEVIN BYARD
AUSTIN’S PICK: JURRELL CASEY
ZACH’S PICK: CASEY
Kevin Byard, no stranger to being overlooked, was decidedly positive after his Pro Bowl snub.
“I know what kind of player I am. At this point, I don’t really need any extra validation. Because at the end of the day, my numbers speak for (themselves).”https://t.co/iJUPTIFAo8 pic.twitter.com/HfPNkFkKUf
— Erik Bacharach (@ErikBacharach) December 20, 2018
For the second year in a row, safety Kevin Byard was snubbed of a spot on the initial Pro Bowl team (last year, he went as a reserve). He was also left off of AP’s All-Pro team this year, a list he made in 2017.
Both are inexcusable. He may not have had the same absurd total of interceptions that he did last season, but Byard remained one of the NFL’s best defensive players in 2018.
He did have 4 interceptions to his name in 2018, but Byard’s impact on the Titans defense goes beyond the box score. His immense talent allows the coaching staff to play him all over the field, and he brings a unique energy to the team both on the field and in the locker room.
Byard is a true leader for the Titans, a fact evidenced by his response to the team’s shutout loss to the Baltimore Ravens. While Jalen Ramsey of the Jacksonville Jaguars met reporters with responses of “no comment, next question, I don’t know,” following a disappointing loss, Byard stood next to his locker for 10 minutes answering questions.
He didn’t just answer them, he answered them with actual substance. In doing so, Byard proved that his contagious and charismatic personality remains with him after tough losses.
With Byard coming up on a contract year, the Titans need to pay him whatever he and his agent demand. How crucial he is to the Titans cannot be understated.
Cover image: USA Today/Christopher Hanewinckel