Every year we talk about a team’s “X-Factor”. A relative unknown that could elevate a team to new heights. Even certain players can be an “X-Factor”; in fact this is more often the case. These players that can be the difference in making the playoffs and hovering around .500. However, this door swings both ways. As much as these players can make a positive impact, they can also leave a gaping void if they fail to perform to standard.
The Titans, a team most consider to be on the rise, are no exception to having these “X-Factors”. In fact, they have several. Guys who could be the difference between a return to the playoffs and a massive disappointment. Here are the guys who could make or break the Titans season.
The 11th overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, Lewan was toted as a strong pass blocker who played with a great deal of nastiness. However, the first few years of his career were pretty disappointing. He consistently committed stupid penalties (something he had always done in his college days as well) and put the offense in long down situations.
Last year we finally saw Lewan put it all together. He was great in protecting Marcus Mariota and was one of the key factors in Tennessee having one of the league’s top rushing attacks. So now the question is, what Taylor Lewan will we see in 2017? Will it be the stupid, sad clown that we’d seen for the majority of his career? Or will he continue to live up to all the talent he has? For better or for worse, the Titans success will greatly depend on Lewan.
Brian Orakpo has been very successful while with the Titans. In his two years in Nashville, he’s racked up 17.5 sacks and has been one of the leaders of the Tennessee defense. However, despite his personal success, the Titans were still in the bottom third of the league in sacks last year. They were tied for seventh worst in the NFL in total sacks, even with Orakpo posting his second-highest sack total of his career.
So basically, even with Orakpo having one of the best years of his career the team was still very weak in this area. That means the pressure is really on him to repeat his success in 2017. For a guy who is now into his early thirties, that may be easier said than done. It’s not that I think Orakpo will drop off this year, he’s still has plenty left in the tank; but if he does slow down even a little bit compared to last year then this team will be in big trouble when it comes to rushing the passer.
Last season the Titans secondary was terrible. The only real bright spot was rookie Kevin Byard. After slipping to the third round in last year’s draft, Byard came into the season with something to prove. After being eased into the action early it wasn’t long before you could point to him as the most talented player in the secondary by the end of the year. Now he’s the only returning member of that secondary, as the Titans brought in two new corners and a strong safety in the offseason. In theory, this should make Byard better with more help around him.
However, there are a few question marks with him entering the season. With all the other starters being replaced, it doesn’t really say much that he was the best of that group last year. Some will question if he only looked good in comparison to those guys. There is also the question of if he will get the dreaded “sophomore slump”. He was eased into things last year and had low expectations coming into the season. Now all of a sudden he’s the longest tenured member of the Titans secondary and is expected to be a leader. Such a quick rise could lead to a letdown in 2017.