The flip side of picking a disappointment is the other end of the scale, the surprise in a good way. Even in 2012's grimness on defense, I thought Derrick Morgan fit the ball last year, and 2013 has candidates on both sides of the ball.
I never bothered to precisely define, even for myself, what the criteria was for a surprise player. I certainly did not expect Ropati Pitoitua to finish tied for third on the team in sacks. I did not expect Alterraun Verner to have the kind of year he did. Chris Johnson, while still the same type of runner he had been and while he did not break any extremely long runs, was more consistent with his effort and showed at times some power we'd almost never seen from him the previous couple seasons. Michael Griffin's tackling was much improved from the previous season, another pleasant surprise.
Ultimately my choice for the most pleasant surprise came down to the two players I picked as offensive and defensive MVP. Between the two of them, it came down for me to which of the two performed better relative to my expectations. Before the 2013 season, I wrote Jurrell Casey was almost certainly the Titans' best defensive tackle, and I noted in Football Outsiders Almanac 2013 that if there was a very good play from a Titans defensive lineman in 2012, chances were good it was either Casey or Derrick Morgan. Of Wright's 2012 season, however, I described him as "a better version of Lavelle Hawkins." Yes, the highlight videos looked great, but there were about 8 plays in 2012 where I thought he looked like a good NFL player. While I predicted before the season he would lead the team in catches, my preseason thoughts were pretty tempered.
As it happened, Kendall Wright was pretty darned good in 2013. After losing those 15 pounds in the offseason, he looked much more like the dynamic, explosive player the Titans were expecting. Running him on whip and jerk routes showed he had the short area burst and quickness to escape from defensive backs, a far cry from the linebackers picking him up on shallow crossers we saw in 2012. His route-running improved. Ryan Fitzpatrick even found him downfield, something Jake Locker did not do. The result was an explosion in his numbers, well past the 60 catches I thought he might have and the 64 he had as a rookie, up to 94 grabs and 1079 yards, a not-great but healthy 11.5 yards per catch average well above the sub-10.0 figure he posted as a rookie. He still wasn't the explosive vertical seam threat we saw at Baylor, but that's a heck of a lot more than "a better version of Lavelle Hawkins" and more than enough to make Kendall Wright my 2013 Tennessee Titans biggest surprise.no comments