Next up in the grading system for the 2016 season is the safety unit.
With the offensive units all completed and graded, we move on to grading the Tennessee Titans defense. We begin with the back-end contingent of the defensive group, which makes up half of a secondary that struggled mightily in 2016. But were the safeties to blame for all the struggles? Not necessarily.
A third-round rookie out of Middle Tennessee had to grow up quickly and learn on the go as he was thrown into the fire from day one. A ballhawk in college, Byard was asked to play more strong safety than expected and delivered seamlessly. He was always around the ball, making tackles for losses in the run game and also getting his hands on four pass deflections. With Rashad Johnson gone and Johnathan Cyprien in, Byard will get to show off his ball skills much more often in 2017. The interceptions are coming for the young stud.
Signed to a four-year, $24M contract two offseasons ago, Searcy has failed to make much of an impact in his initial two years with the Titans. He’s picked off just two passes, and recorded his lowest tackle total last year since 2012. Considering newly signed strong safety Cyprien has recorded at least 102 tackles in each of his first four NFL seasons, Searcy’s 105 total tackles as a Titan so far is disappointing. I know tackles aren’t exactly the best stat to measure success for defensive players, but anyone who has watched Titans games has seen Searcy whiff on plenty of would-be tackles. He’s not good but not terrible in pass coverage. Searcy is best served to be used as a backup and nickel safety.
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A hard-hitting safety who’s much more comfortable inside the box, Stafford was an effective player for Dick LeBeau as he began to emerge in his fourth year with the team. He was used a lot in nickel and dime packages and outplayed his more-expensive counterpart, Searcy, for much of the year. Cyprien’s arrival looks to have spelled doom for Stafford’s chances of returning to Tennessee, but a reunion shouldn’t be ruled out yet because it’s possible that Searcy could get cut in favor of Stafford. Regardless of where he ends up, his next team will get a useful and instinctive player.
Signed to a cheap one-year deal after a long and productive stay in Arizona with the Cardinals, Johnson looked to be one of the more underrated signings of Jon Robinson’s first offseason. Unfortunately, father time seemed to have caught up with Johnson as he entered his age-30 season. After picking off 14 passes and recovering three fumbles in his last four years in Glendale, Johnson failed to record an interception, forced one fumble, and deflected only one pass during the entire 2016 season. He wasn’t a horror show, but he failed to make much of an impact and it showed. Johnson won’t be back with the Titans.