The 2010’s were not a particularly good decade for the Titans franchise. Tennessee went just 69-91, the 26th best mark in the NFL over that time period. They failed to win the division during this decade and had just two playoff appearances and one playoff win.
They've gone through five head coaches, three general managers, and three controlling owners since 2010. The lack of stability at the top has no doubt helped contribute to the overall poor product on the field.
However, the current regime has offered some new hope. Since taking over as controlling owner in 2015, Amy Adams-Strunk has gone about modernizing the Titans as a football organization. She’s increased the team’s overall staff by 50% since taking over four years ago as well as making significant investments in facilities upgrades, including an upcoming addition to Saint Thomas Sports Park that will almost double the team’s office space. Strunk has also brought in new uniforms and taken an interest in improving the team’s gameday experience at Nissan Stadium.
She hired Jon Robinson to be general manager as one of her first acts of duty — even if the process was flawed — and he’s turned out to be a hit, vastly improving what was a terrible Titans roster when he took over after the 2015 season. The Titans are 36-28 since Robinson took over with four straight 9-7 seasons and two playoff appearances. While nobody should be completely satisfied with 9-7, it’s been a pretty big improvement from the team’s 33-63 record over the first six seasons of the 2010’s. Most of those that study the league as a whole view Robinson as one of the brightest young GMs in the league.
Things are looking up for this franchise as we head into the 20’s, but this article is about looking back, not ahead, so let’s take a look at the bright spots in what was a pretty dark decade with my Titans All-Decade Team.
Quarterback: Marcus Mariota
Runner Up: Ryan Tannehill
Honorable Mention: Matt Hasselbeck
Despite how his career in Tennessee is ending, it’s pretty clear that Mariota was the best Titans quarterback of the 2010’s. He started 61 games with a 29-32 record, completing 62.9% of his passes for 13,183 yards at a 7.5 yards per attempt average. His 76 touchdown passes are more than triple the next most prolific Titan during this timeframe.
Mariota is also responsible for the team’s lone playoff appearance and playoff win since 2010. The end of his tenure as a Titan will likely spoil his memory for some fans and that’s a tragedy. While he ultimately couldn’t get over the hump in Nashville, he did help bring this franchise out of the 5-27 darkness of 2014-2015 and into the light of NFL relevancy. That counts for something and he should ultimately be remembered fondly.
My runner up here is Ryan Tannehill. While his time as a Titan has been very brief, he’s doing things that no quarterback has ever done in the two-tone blue. He set new franchise records for yards per attempt (9.6) and passer rating (117.5) in 2019 (minimum 100 attempts) — both led the NFL in 2019 as well — and helped his offense produce the highest scoring season for the Titans since 2003.
Matt Hasselbeck would get my nod over Jake Locker for the honorable mention spot. Hasselbeck’s 3,571 passing yards in 2011 is still the team’s best single season mark since moving to Nashville, a stat that remains the bane of my existence.
Running Back: Derrick Henry
Runner Up: Chris Johnson
Honorable Mention: DeMarco Murray
There are three obvious choices to look at here: Chris Johnson, DeMarco Murray, and Derrick Henry. I think Henry is the right one.
With Chris Johnson’s historic CJ2K season belonging to the previous decade, his run from 2010 to 2013 saw a tail off in his production. Over those four seasons, Johnson rushed for 4,731 yards at a 4.2 yards per carry clip with 27 touchdowns to go with it. He also added 1,240 yards and 5 more touchdowns through the air.
Murray’s brief-but-productive stint as the Titans starting back in 2016 and 2017 provided 1,946 yards at 4.1 yards per carry and 15 touchdowns. He led the AFC in rushing in 2016 with 1,287 yards. Murray was the best receiver of the three with 643 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns in just two seasons.
Ultimately, this spot belongs with Henry though. His 3,833 yards are second in this group behind Johnson, but his 4.8 yards per carry are far stronger than the other two and his 38 touchdowns on the ground is a huge number. He’s also added another 578 yards and 3 touchdowns as a pass catcher. Henry also won the NFL’s rushing title in 2019.
Further, it was his 23-carry, 156-yard, 2-touchdown performance in Kansas City that helped propel the Titans to their only playoff win of the decade and he also tied an NFL record that will never fall with his 99-yard touchdown run against the Jaguars in 2018.
Wide Receiver: Nate Washington, Kendall Wright, and A.J. Brown
Runner Up: Corey Davis
Honorable Mention: Rishard Matthews
This wasn’t a great decade for Titans wide receivers, but things are looking up heading into the next 10 years at least. Nate Washington with his 260 catches for 4,022 yards and 22 touchdowns from 2010 to 2014 is the one pretty crystal clear choice. Averaging over 800 yards per season with guys like washed Kerry Collins, Rusty Smith, Charlie Whitehurst, and Zach Mettenberger throwing passes at points during his run here is pretty impressive. Matt Hasselbeck was — by far — the best QB Washington got to work with during this decade, but that didn’t keep Washington from producing.
Brown finished the 2019 season with 1,051 yards and 8 touchdowns and should be seriously considered as an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate. He led the NFL in receiving after the Titans Week 11 bye. His ceiling is sky high and I think it’s already safe to say that he’s the best Titans receiver since peak Derrick Mason.
Wright’s 1,079 yard season in 2013 was the highest single season mark of the decade for a Titans receiver and his 3,244 yards and 18 touchdowns are both second behind Washington. Wright wasn’t perfect by any means, but I think he gets slightly underrated by the fan base.
I think you can make a pretty decent argument for Corey Davis (138 catches, 1,823 yards, and 6 touchdowns) or Rishard Matthews (121 catches, 1,751 yards, and 13 touchdowns) as well, but they miss the cut for me. Their highs weren’t as high as Brown’s and their overall production doesn’t touch what Washington and Wright did.
Tight End: Delanie Walker
Runner Up: Anthony Fasano
Honorable Mention: Jonnu Smith
This one is pretty easy. Delanie Walker has been a cornerstone of this franchise since he signed as a free agent before the 2013 season. He’s racked up 4,423 yards and 28 receiving touchdowns during his seven seasons in Tennessee. The 28 touchdowns broke Frank Wycheck’s franchise record for the most by a tight end in franchise history. Walker was a bright spot in the darkest years of the Titans franchise and he was a major factor in pulling them out of the basement of the AFC and turning them into the yearly playoff contender they are now.
My second choice here is Fasano. He didn’t put up huge stats — 33 catches for 429 yards and 4 touchdowns — but he was one of the best blocking tight ends to play in Nashville. People love to underrate blocking as a skill from players who aren’t offensive linemen, but it’s a critical part of the game and few were better at what they did than Fasano.
Jonnu Smith is an ascending talent who is having his best season as a pro in 2019. He’s got 73 catches for 854 yards and 8 touchdowns through three seasons. He’s an elite athlete that is growing into a professional tight end, but his work habits have made him one of Mike Vrabel’s favorites and I fully expect him to become the tight end of 2020s.
Offensive Line: LT Taylor Lewan, LG Quinton Spain, C Ben Jones, RG Jake Scott, and RT Jack Conklin
Runner Up: Michael Roos
Honorable Mention: David Stewart
Offensive line is always pretty subjective since there aren’t really a lot of stats to back it up, but I feel pretty good about this group.
Lewan is the most obvious of these choices. He’s the Titans most talented lineman since Bruce Matthews, and while he can sometimes be frustrating with his penalties and antics, he’s a three time Pro Bowler for a reason. He gets the not at left tackle over Roos (who might be the second best lineman on this list overall).
Left guard hasn’t been a great spot for most of the decade. Quinton Spain gets the nod thanks to three years of quality work between Lewan and Jones. Rodger Saffold is probably the second choice at this spot, but Huggy Bear gets the nod due his three years of good play compared to Saffold’s one.
Center is an obvious choice as well. Hall of Famer Kevin Mawae left prior to the start of the decade and his successors — Eugene Amano and Brian Schwenke — left much to be desired. Adding Jones was one of GM Jon Robinson’s first moves after getting the job in 2016. Since then, Jones has missed just one start and is finishing the decade with his best year as a pro.
Right guard was the toughest call to me. Guys like Chance Warmack, Josh Kline, and Nate Davis all had turns, but none were as good as Scott was at the beginning of the decade. He was a part of the line that blocked for the CJ2K season in 2009 and he continued to play at a high level even as the guys around him either left or regressed.
Jack Conklin narrowly gets the nod over “Big Country” David Stewart. Both are similar players, but Conklin’s All-Pro season as a rookie in 2016 — regardless of whether you think that was or wasn’t deserved — puts him over the top here. Conklin was also a top 10 right tackle in both 2017 and 2019 with his line down year being the injury riddled 2018 season. Stewart was a fan favorite thanks to his mauling style, but he wasn’t the all around player that Conklin is.
Defensive Line: Jurrell Casey and DaQuan Jones
Runner Up: Karl Klug
Honorable Mention: Jeffery Simmons
Casey is the clear top choice on the defensive line. He leads the Titans this decade in a ton of categories, including 51 sacks, 137 games started, 84 tackles for loss, and 115 QB hits. He’s also the team’s only four time Pro Bowler this decade.
Jones is my other choice. He’s never been a high end pass rusher — as evidenced by his 7 career sacks — but he’s one of the better run stuffers in the league and that matters. Jones is often asked to control the line of scrimmage by taking on double teams and freeing up his linebackers to make plays behind him and he excels in that capacity.
Karl Klug (21.5 sacks, 30 tackles for loss) is a fan favorite and you could make an argument for him over Jones. He was an extremely productive pass rush specialist from the interior and made a bunch of big stops during his time here.
Honorable mention goes to Jeffery Simmons. While he played just 9 games this decade, his talent is undeniable and I’d expect him to top this list in the 2020s.
Edge Rusher: Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan
Runner Up: Harold Landry
Honorable Mention: Jason Babin
This was an easy choice. Morgan (44.5 sacks) and Orakpo (26 sacks) are No. 2 and No. 3 behind Casey for most sacks this decade as a Titan. At their peak they were among the top handful of edge rushing duos in the league. Both guys were instrumental in the team’s culture turnaround in the back half of the decade, acting as leaders both on and off the field.
Landry and his 13.5 sacks over the last two years get the runner up spot. While he’s cooled off of late, his 9 sacks in 2019 led the Titans and showed a glimpse of a bright future here.
Jason Babin only played one year in Tennessee this decade (2010), but he made a big impact, registering 12.5 sacks, the highest single season mark for any Titan this decade.
Inside Linebacker: Wesley Woodyard and Avery Williamson
Runner Up: Jayon Brown
Honorable Mention: Rashaan Evans
While Delanie Walker is undoubtably the best free agent signing in Titans history, Woodyard would rank among the next handful of signees for me. He’s racked up 506 tackles as a Titan, 20 sacks, and 34 tackles for loss, ranking 2nd, 5th, and 3rd in those categories over the decade. He’s also among the group with Orakpo, Morgan, Casey, and Walker that were instrumental in changing the team’s culture.
I had some trouble deciding between Williamson and Brown for the second spot. While I believe Brown to be the better player of the two, Williamson was extremely productive over his four years in Tennessee, posting 377 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, and 11.5 sacks.
Brown just missed the cut, but his 252 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and 8.5 sacks over three years put him very close to Williamson’s pace and he adds the coverage skill set that makes him a better fit for the modern NFL. He’s a playmaker.
Evans has just two years under his belt, but we’ve seen the difference he can make on the field already. He finished 2nd on the team in tackles this year and added 2.5 sacks, 9 tackles for loss, and a defensive touchdown.
Cornerback: Jason McCourty, Logan Ryan, and Alterraun Verner
Runner Up: Adoree’ Jackson
Honorable Mention: Malcolm Butler
McCourty is a no-brainer. Over his seven years as a Titan this decade he produced 473 tackles, 73 passes broken up, and 13 interceptions. He was often the best player on a bad Titans defense during the time he was here.
Verner’s 2013 season when he posted 22 pass breakups and 5 interceptions was probably the best single season by any Titans corner this decade.
Ryan’s consistency and versatility — 8.5 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, and 4 interceptions in 3 years — put him over the top to me. He makes the players around him better.
Adoree’ Jackson deserves mention here as well. He’s on his third year as a starter since being drafted 19th overall in 2017 and he’s consistently graded out as one of the better corners in the league. His impact has been made clear during his recent absence with a foot injury.
Finally, Malcolm Butler, despite a rocky start to his Titans career, had settled in as a plus pass defender for this secondary before going down with a broken wrist earlier this season. His two pick sixes are tied with former linebacker Zach Brown for the most by a Titan this decade.
Safety: Kevin Byard and Michael Griffin
Runner Up: Kenny Vaccaro
Byard is easily the top player here. He’s one of the game’s best ballhawks with 17 interceptions since being drafted in 2016. Byard also contributes as a blitzer and run support player. A true do-it-all star on the back end of Tennessee’s defense.
Griffin will probably be an unpopular choice, but I think he’s the right one here. He leads all Titans with 555 tackles in the decade and is 2nd behind Byard with 14 interceptions. His last couple years weren’t great and that’s what he mostly gets remembered for, but there was a time when he was one of the best safeties in the league.
You could make an argument for Vaccaro over Griffin. He’s been a huge part of a good Titans secondary over the last two years, bringing an element of physicality to the back end of Dean Pees’ defense.
Kicker: Rob Bironas
Runner Up: Ryan Succop
Bironas and Succop have given the Titans a great decade of kicking (which makes the current predicament that much more frustrating). Bironas went 103 of 118 (87.3%) and never missed a PAT between 2010 and 2013, though all those kicks were before the NFL moved the extra point marker back.
Succop’s numbers were close — 117 of 140 (83.6%) and a 94.7% conversion rate on PATs — but not quite as good as Bironas and when you factor in Bironas’ big leg, it’s really an easy choice even though both were good kickers.
Punter: Brett Kern
Brett Kern was the only player to punt a single football for this franchise from 2010-2019 so this was an easy choice, but it’s not like he would have had competition anyway. Kern is the best punter in franchise history and the best in the NFL right now.
Return Specialist: Marc Mariani
Another easy choice. Mariani was both reliable and dangerous with three return touchdowns during his time in Tennessee. He averaged an excellent 10.3 yards per punt return and 24.1 yards per kick return.
Head Coach: Mike Vrabel
Runner Up: Mike Mularkey
This was pretty close, and there are arguments for both Vrabel and Mularkey, but I give the slight nod to the current Mike. Both went 9-7 twice with a playoff berth in their second season. We will see if Vrabel can get a playoff win like Mularkey did in a few days.
However, my decision comes down to the fact that Vrabel’s Titans have been more convincing in producing the same overall record. Mularkey’s Titans produced a point differential of -19 during his two year stint as head coach while Vrabel’s 2018 and 2019 squads have combined for a +78 differential despite facing tougher schedules in both years.
It’s fair to point out that Vrabel’s teams have been more talented overall than Mularkey’s, but at the end of the day, Vrabel and his staff deserve some of the credit for developing and deploying that talent.
GM: Jon Robinson
This couldn’t be easier to choose. Mike Reinfeldt and Ruston Webster were absolute disasters during their turns at the head of the franchise, but Robinson has now compiled a 36-28 record with a playoff win during four years. His draft classes have consistently produced and he’s executed some absolute highway robberies on the trade market, including landing DeMarco Murray for a flip of 4th rounders with the Eagles, the amazing Dorial Green-Beckham for Dennis Kelly deal, and getting Ryan Tannehill for a 4th this past offseason.
He’s had some misses to be sure. Kevin Dodd and Taywan Taylor were total busts and Austin Johnson and Corey Davis have failed to live up to their draft slots, but there have been far more hits. Kevin Byard in the 3rd, Jayon Brown in the 5th, and A.J. Brown in the 2nd were all steals. He’s managed to avoid the terrible full class busts that his predecessors produced far too frequently. He’s gotten two All-Pro selections and two Pro Bowl nods from players he’s drafted and may add an Offensive Rookie of the Year in a few weeks.
Robinson has the Titans trending up heading into the 2020’s. Happy New Year!