Next up in the grading system for the 2016 season is the linebacker unit.
We recently finished grading the secondary unit, taking a look at how the cornerbacks fared last season. Spoiler alert: they didn’t grade out well. We move on to a unit of a bad defense that actually did their part in trying to stop opposing offenses. Let’s see how the Tennessee Titans linebackers did in 2016.
Under Dick LeBeau’s wing, Orakpo has reverted back to his non-injured Washington Redskins form for the Titans. In 2016, Orakpo was a constant menace for the league’s best left tackles and racked up double digit sacks. His 10.5 sacks were tied for 13th-best league, five spots ahead of teammate Derrick Morgan. Orakpo is signed for relatively cheap through the next two years.
Morgan’s Titans career started slowly, and he didn’t really start blossoming until his third year in the league. That was as a 4-3 defensive end, which is his natural position. A change to a 4-3 defense resulted in Morgan needing to convert to a 3-4 linebacker. Morgan has transitioned seamlessly and has picked up 13.5 sacks over 25 games under LeBeau. He is playing the best ball of his career as heads into his age 28 season.
Williamson has turned into a key defensive player for the Titans since being drafted in the fifth round in 2014. He can contribute in a variety of ways, but he makes his bread in run defense. He sheds a good amount of blocks and tackles ball carriers with ease. The problem with Williamson, and it’s a rather big one, is that he can’t cover. He can’t cover anyone. Whether it’s a running back, a tight end, or a slot receiver, Williamson gets exposed because of his slow feet and hips in coverage. He’s a vital run defender, but the Titans must help him improve in coverage or find better ways to hide him in it.
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Woodyard was easily the Titans’ best inside linebacker in 2016, but that’s not saying much. He showed up in the run game and was better in coverage than his counterpart. He was rewarded with a two-year extension in the offseason, but it’s fair to wonder whether the Titans actually see him as a starter for much longer. He’ll be 31 this upcoming season and the Titans need to get more athletic and dynamic at the position. For at least 2017, though, Woodyard will man the middle.
I’m not going to sit here and act like Spence was a savior at linebacker, but he was far from the defense’s problem last year. He wasn’t that much of a liability in coverage, he made athletic plays, and he made some big hits. I would’ve liked to see him be brought back in a backup role, but he was allowed to leave and signed with the Indianapolis Colts. The Titans will likely draft his replacement, although newly signed Daren Bates could theoretically take some of his snaps.
A backup inside linebacker and core special teams player, Palmer played his role well last year. He made 10 special teams tackles, which led the team, and earned himself a new contract with the Titans. He’ll continue in his specialized role on defense and special teams.
After a strong finish to the 2015 season, it looked like Bass would be a decent backup at outside linebacker going forward. It turns out that short stint of competence was an aberration, as Bass made no impact in 13 games in 2016. He is now an unsigned free agent.
Dodd played in just nine games and was limited in both games played and games missed by a foot injury that just never healed after offseason surgery. Already 25 years old, Dodd needs to show something in his sophomore year.
A seventh round rookie, Wallace was only active for 10 games and didn’t play significant defensive snaps. He helped out on special teams and, like fellow rookie Dodd, picked up just one sack throughout the season.