Programming Note: Last year, I picked a special teams MVP. I'm not going to do that this year. If I did, it would probably be Darius Reynaud given the Titans ranked first in the league in Football Outsiders Punt Return value. More on that and related matters in a future post.
.Last year, this was a very difficult choice, as there were four members of the rookie class who had highly productive seasons and could stake some sort of claim to the honor of rookie of the year. I ultimately chose Jurrell Casey, but Akeem Ayers, Karl Klug, and Colin McCarthy all had some sort of argument in their favor. This year, only two rookies became starter-level contributors, which meant they were the only two rookies I considered for this award. (Sorry, Beau Brinkley, I don't consider long-snapping a starter-level contributor.) Of the two choices, I had to pick a winner, and decided to go with outside linebacker Zach Brown over wide receiver Kendall Wright.
Brown, a second-round pick out of North Carolina, picked up his first NFL start in Week 2 at San Diego and would end up starting 14 of 16 games. The early start notwithstanding, it took him until midseason to solidify his status as a major contributor. As late as the Week 7 contest against the Bills, he played only 7 snaps on defense as the Titans spent the majority of the game in the nickel package and they did not yet trust Brown to play weakside backer in that role. That changed the next week against the Colts, and the change was confirmed a week later against the Bears, when he played more snaps than any other linebacker. I broke down his play against the Bears in some detail and was pleasantly surprised by the improvement even from earlier in the season. While he still made plenty of mistakes due to inexperience, that kind of elevation from afterthought to major contributor and the improvement I noticed in his game was enough for me to make Brown my rookie of the year.