INDIANAPOLIS — The Tennessee Titans had a dominant pass rush in 2022. Until they didn’t.
By most basic measurements, the Titans’ pass rush was pretty good last season. The Titans were 19th in the NFL in sacks, 10th in the NFL in quarterback knockdowns, fifth in quarterback hurries and seventh in total QB pressures. But the Titans’ pass rushers weren’t so much up-and-down as a unit as they were up-then-down; 74% of the Titans’ sacks and 68% of their quarterback hits came in the first nine games of the season, compared to 26% and 32% in the last eight games.
The decline in pass rush productivity perfectly coincided with the Titans’ losing streak to end the season and miss the playoffs. Injuries to defensive linemen Jeffery Simmons, Denico Autry and Bud Dupree contributed to the decline and exposed some of the Titans’ depth issues, a problem exacerbated by star edge rusher Harold Landry III’s season-long absence because of an ACL injury.
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Dupree, Landry, Simmons and Autry all figure to be back in 2023, but the Titans could be in the market for pass rush help beyond their Fab Four. Multiple edge rush and defensive line prospects projected to be picked in the mid-to-late rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft told The Tennessean about informal meetings they’ve had with coach Mike Vrabel and the Titans leading up to this week’s NFL Scouting Combine, an indication that at the very least the Titans are doing their diligence at the position.
“I talked to the Titans,” Louisville edge rusher YaYa Diaby said. “Talking to those guys, it was really awesome. I could just tell the head coach, he loves defense. I’m a defensive guy and I love defense. Just talking to them, I know that if I end up being a Titan, me and him are going to get along really well.”
“It was great,” Tennessee defensive lineman Byron Young said. “Great vibes. Just talking with the coaches. Getting to know them, getting to know the playbook a little bit. It was great.”
“It was good,” Ole Miss outside linebacker Tavius Robinson said. “Coach Clint (McMillan) from the Titans as well was coaching me at the Senior Bowl. It was cool to kind of learn bits of their defense and how they coach things. It was good for sure.”
Young, Robinson and Diaby all participated in the Senior Bowl, where every prospect gets face time with every team, so it’s not at all surprising the Titans spoke with these prospects. The Titans only own six picks in April’s draft, and with needs at offensive line, wide receiver and in the secondary it might be tough for the Titans to fit drafting an edge rusher into the plan.
But if last year’s losing streak proved anything, it’s that a dip in pass rush productivity can lead to a big dip in winning. Finding one or two sack specialists to help with depth could go a long way toward ensuring those dips don’t happen again.
Nick Suss is the Titans beat writer for The Tennessean. Contact Nick at email@example.com. Follow Nick on Twitter @nicksuss.