It’s an amazing feat, a historic accomplishment and a dream come true.
All right, enough about that. Plenty of people will be talking about what Marcus Mariota going second in the NFL Draft means to him, to his family, to the state of Hawaii. But, come on. It’s been almost 24 hours. Old news.
Mariota is now a Tennessee Titan. While getting that phone call had to be the thrill of a lifetime, looking at what the Titanswill surround him with, the celebration should be on hold.
From a pure talent standpoint, there may have been no offense in the league with less than Tennessee in 2014. The Titansscored the third-fewest points in the league, tallied the fourth-fewest total yards and and were the worst in the NFL onthird downs. Part of that certainly came from quarterback play, so with Mariota upgrading that position, things could getbetter.
The good news is that Tennessee had made a concerted effort to fill those gaps for whoever they ended up with undercenter. While the team lost Nate Washington to free agency, they added Harry Douglas from the Falcons and Hakeem Nicksfrom the Colts. Nicks was once considered one of the 15 or 20 best receivers in the league while with the Giants, but he hasseen his numbers drop significantly the past few seasons. Douglas was a big part of Atlanta’s offense and seems to beexactly what a young quarterback would want in a reliable slot receiver.
The Titans bring back Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter, who have each flashed signs of potential, but neither has puttogether a full season. Tight end Delanie Walker had career highs in receptions (63) and yards (890) in 2014, though a lot ofthat came from a lack of options on the outside. But all of a sudden, looking at the Titans’ passing game with Mariota,Douglas and Nicks in the fold is a lot scarier than it was a year ago.
The running game was a bit of a disaster. The team spent a high pick last year on running back Bishop Sankey, but he andveteran Shonn Greene failed to provide much production. Sankey averaged just 3.7 yards per carry during his rookiecampaign. Greene has fewer than 700 rushing yards total in his two years with the Titans after a pair of 1,000-yard seasonsfor the Jets. They say that a young quarterback’s best friend is a good running game. If that’s the case, Mariota’s BFF is stillTBD.
During Russell Wilson’s rookie season in Seattle, his top receivers were Sidney Rice and Golden Tate, neither of whomcaught more than 50 passes. Mariota probably comes into a better passing situation than Wilson had, but he won’t haveanything like Marshawn Lynch to rack up 20 carries a game and rush for 1,600 yards.
Mariota could have wound up in New York for the Jets with Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, Stevan Ridley and Chris Ivory. Hecould have wound up in Philadelphia for the Eagles with DeMarco Murray, Jordan Matthews and Darren Sproles. He couldhave wound up in Cleveland with Dwayne Bowe and, uh, Josh Gordon in 2016. He’s probably happy it’s not Cleveland, butthose other situations seem more pleasant than what he’ll encounter with Tennessee.
Winding up in the AFC South also means that Mariota will have the privilege of facing Houston’s J.J. Watt, Indianapolis’Roberth Mathis and Jacksonville’s third overall pick Dante Fowler each twice a season. Good thing he’s got quick feet.
With just one round of the draft in the books, the Titans have done an admirable job rebuilding an identity for a teamdesperately seeking one. A couple months ago, they were anemic. They’re now on the road to recovery and while Mariotawill probably have to be more of the solution than he might be elsewhere, I’m fairly certain he’s up to the challenge.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.