Now that I’ve chosen offensive, defensive, and special teams most valuable players for the 2011 Titans, it’s time to move on to some of the other awards. Some years this is an absolute no-brainer choice, simply for lack of options, but four rookies ended up seeing extensive playing time on the defensive side of the ball, and all of them brought some strengths to the table. Despite the efforts of Akeem Ayers, Karl Klug, and Colin McCarthy, though, my choice as the top rookie on the 2011 Tennessee Titans is defense tackle Jurrell Casey.
Casey, a third-round pick out of Southern California, didn’t quite have the splash of Karl Klug, who led the team in sacks with 7.0, but was an immediate impact player, starting from day one, and ended up as the Titans’ most consistent and consistently productive defensive lineman. He was involved in almost 50% more plays than any other defensive lineman.
In fact, by Football Outsiders numbers, he had more successful tackles on run plays than any other member of the Titans, and had almost as many successful plays in total as any other member of the Titans defense. To put that in comparison, last year Stephen Tulloch had more than twice as many successful plays as any defensive lineman. Many times when a player was involved in a play, it’s because he was getting beat or making plays downfield. By contrast, Casey’s rate stats were as good or better than any defensive lineman on this year’s Titans team or last years. While he had 2.5. sacks and one forced fumble, he wasn’t quite enough of a disruptive force to declare Dave Razzano was right when he declared Casey would end up looking like a top-seven pick, but he still had a fine rookie year regardless.
Honorable mention: it seems to me like Barrett Ruud [oops -T.] Colin McCarthy and Karl Klug have gotten a lot of ink for their play as rookies, and to some extent that’s overwhelmed the overall solid season Akeem Ayers had. I’ve been critical of Ayers at time for being over-aggressive and getting out of position on play-fakes, and the Titans were probably expecting more “splash” plays than he provided most of the year, but he’s far from the first Titans linebacker I’ve criticized for precisely those two things. More importantly, he was a consistent starter and didn’t look out of place. If he’s still ending up out of position at times and not making splash plays in 2012 or 2013, I’ll be giving him plenty of grief, but I’d say he at least met expectations as a rookie starter.