Sunday, April 3, 2016

Titans/Oilers All Career-Year Team

By John Turney
We at Pro Football Journal are trying to pick the best individual seasons in the history of each franchise, which we will continue today with the Titans/Oilers franchise. By "Career-year" we mean the best performances at each position, with the following rule: Only one season per player per position. For example, here, we cannot pick Earl Campbell’s best two seasons and use both RB slots.

Here is the team, First-team on left, Second-team on right:
Yes, the best two seasons for kick returners were in the same season—1981 when Carl Roaches and Willie Tullis both had good seasons, splitting the kick return duties. Billy "White Shoes" Johnson had several great seasons, but none better than 1975 when he led NFL in runt return average, punt return touchdowns (with three) and added a kick return touchdown on top of that. He also was a starting wide receiver.

Hentrich was an excellent placement punter, Montgomery more of a boomer (to use Paul Zimmerman terms), but received lots of post-season honors for their respective seasons as did Bironas and Fritsch. Fritsch won four games with last-minute kicks in 1979.

Eugene Seale, 1988, and John Henry Mills, 1996, are the bomb-squad men. Scott McGarrahan, 2004, Tim Shaw, 2010 and Keith Bullock, 2000 are honorable mentions for core special teams players.

Bruce Matthews does get two slots, one for center and one for guard since he played both positions in different seasons and dominated at both. Kevin Mawae, 2008, is the Second-teamer and honorable mentions go to Carl Mauck, 1979, and Mark Stepnoski for his 1996 season.
Bruce Matthews. Credit: Merv Corning
Mike Munchak, like Matthews, had plenty of qualified seasons, we went with 1991. Bob Talmanini was an All-AFL selection and for the other guard we went with old man Bob Young, who was All-Pro for the Cardinals in 1979 and came to the Oilers in 1980 and helped Earl Campbell gain over 1,900 yards rushing. Sonny Bishop's 1968 AFL All-Star season of 1968 is the lone honorable mention.
Mike Munchak. Credit: Merv Corning
Leon Gray was a dominant player with the Patriots and a contract dispute took him to the Oilers and he continued his excellent play in 1979. We went with Michael Roos in 2008, over Al Jamison's 1961 All-AFL (consensus) season. We've seen plenty of Oilers highlights from that era, but frankly, it is hard to get a real gage on tackles and guards and centers in those clips. What we know is Blanda was hard to sack, likely due in part to his quick release and smarts and in part to the blocking. The players and writers of the era voted him All-AFL so we take them at their word.  Brad Hopkins, 2000, and Jamison are the backups. David Stewart's 2008 season is an honorable mention.

Tight end was a tough one but we went with Willie Frazier, 1965, when he was a consensus All-AFL selection and Alvin Reed's 1968 campaign. Mike Barber gets an honorable mention for 1980 as does Frank Wycheck's 2000 when he was Second-team All-Pro. Delanie Walker, 2015, put up huge numbers and gets an honorable mention.

Dave Casper's 1982 is worth a mention as well. Though he only caught 36 passes for 573 yards and six touchdowns, he did it in nine games. Over a 16-game season that translates to 64 catches for 1019 yards and 11 touchdowns. Currently, Casper's eight touchdown catches and Willie Frazier's eight touchdowns in 1965 are the team record. If Delanie Walker can break that record, he'd jump into this First-team quickly.

Lorenzo Neal was the lead blocker for Eddie George's 2000 season, which was his best and Ahmard Hall, 2009, blocked for Chris Johnson's 2000-yard effort. Neal gets the nod. Tim Wilson's 1978, 1979 and 1980 would be honorable mentions, he's the kind of fullback who carried the ball, whereas Hall and Neal are the "guard in the backfield" types. In fact, he may have pioneered that position.
Earl Campbell
We went with Earl Campbell's 1979 over 1980 and 1978 in that he was a consensus MVP. In 1978 and 1980 he won MVP awards, but not all of them. Chris Johnson's 2000-yard season of 2009 was next after Campbell. Eddie George was third. We went with Billy Cannon's 1961 season where he was as good a back as there was in the AFL and he likely would have been one of the top backs in the NFL as well.
Billy Cannon
George Blanda takes the top spot, he was AFL MVP, All-AFL and won the AFL Championship, throwing 36 touchdowns. Steve McNair gets the nod for his MVP season in 2003, though Warren Moon's 1990 saw him receive the NEA MVP and the AP Offensive Player of the Year. It was close.
Steve McNair

Warren Moon
Charley Hennigan's 1964 season was his best and we went with Haywood Jeffires, 1991, which was much-honored in the Run and Shoot offense. Next was Ken Burrough, 1977, when he was Second-team All-Pro, just slightly ahead of his 1975 season. This is one that we went back and forth on. His 1,000-yard season in that dead-ball era was special. Bill Groman, 1961, is possibly being cheated and should be on the First-team, but sometimes you have to make a call.

For the non-starter slot, we went with Duncan in 1991 and Derrick Mason, 1998

Charley Frazier is 1966 is a big honorable mention for his  57 catches, 1129 yards, 198.8 average and twelve touchdowns. Other honorable mentions are Drew Hill, 1988, Ernest Givins 1990 and Tim Smith, 1983.

Jevon Kearse, 1999, was an easy pick. His 14.5 sacks and 10 forced fumbles were in "The Freak's" rookie season. Stats, LLC shows he had 8 forced fumbles, but this particular stat is one that we trust the coaches film review more than the gamebook. I recorded all those 1999 games on VHS (remember those?) and he did have ten forced fumbles. A couple were "bang-bang" plays where one has to really look close to see who deserved the credit, and in this case it was Kearse.
Jevon Kearse
Elvin Bethea is a great Hall of Famer, but he's rare in that he was never a First-team All-pro. He was a Second-team pick in 1973, 1975 and 1978. We looked at those as well as 1969 when he had 14½ sacks and 1976 where, again, he had 89 tackles, four forced fumbles, and 14½ sacks, but didn't even get named to the Pro Bowl. We settled on his 68 tackle (6½ stuffs), 16-sack season of 1973 when he was a Second-team selection on the Player's (NEA) All-Pro team. That is high praise for someone who was laboring on a 1-13 team.
William Fuller, 1991, 15 sacks to go with 53 tackles (4.5 stuffs) only got him minimal post-season honors. That year, 1991, was very deep in defensive end talent. And in a year that didn't go so deep in DE talent, one could get Defensive Player of the Year consideration with the numbers Fuller posted but he only got Fuller All-AFC and Pro Bowl selections. Pat Holmes was one of the Second-team picks as he was All-AFL selection in 1967.
Pat Holmes
Kyle Vanden Bosch, 2005 and 2007, Sean Jones, 1993, are all honorable mentions as well as Andy Dorris's 1979 season with 9½ sacks. We've always felt his contributions to the Oilers defense in that era was underrated. Don Floyd was a Second-team All-AFL pick and gets a mention as well.

Jesse Baker, 1979, had 15½ sacks as a sub-player on passing downs, usually from right tackle but also he played some RDE. Sean Jones, 1988, would come in the game in nickel and was very effective. Lee Williams, 1992, did start some games due to injuries to others but was a pass-rushing tackle in their nickel in 1992, and a good one.

Ray Childress was a 3-4 end the first part of his career, but when the Oilers went to their nickel he was a left defensive tackle. In 1990 the Oilers went to a 4-3 scheme and Childress excelled. In 1992 he was the best defensive tackle in football and that is saying a lot since that era was filled with some excellent defensive tackles. Childress ended the season with 80 tackles, 6.5 of which were stuffs, and 13 sacks while being named a consensus First-team All-Pro.
Ray Childress
Albert Haynesworth was named the Sporting News Defensive MVP in 2008 and that put him over the top. Ed Husmann, 1962, and Jerrell Casey, 2013, are the Second-team, though we think Casey is the kind of player that could have a monster year very soon and find a place next to Childress in Titan/Oiler annals. Husmann had at least ten sacks in 1962, and possibly a bit more as four sacks are unaccounted for in the gamebooks. A strong honorable mention is Mike Tilleman's 1972 season with 106 tackles and 11 sacks and he was also an honorable mention All-AFC by UPI. It was neck-and-neck between him and Husmann.

Nose tackle was easy. Culp, a Hall of Famer was the NEA Defensive MVP in 1975, he had 11½ sacks STILL the only season where a pure nose tackle had double-digits in sacks, though a few have been in the 9 to 9½ range. Culp had 74 tackles (8 were stuffs), six forced fumbles (recovered three, one was a scoop and score).
Curley Culp
As the Second-teamer we went with a talented, but oft-injured, Doug Smith. In 1988 he was a rock in the Oiler middle and when healthy was able to muster a decent rush. Mike Stensrud and Ken Kennard did steady work between Culp and Smith but really didn't merit an honorable mention.

For middle linebacker in a 4-3, we went with All-Pro in 1991 Al Smith and then with Randall Godfrey, for his 2000 season. As the inside linebackers in the 3-4  it was Greg Bingham, 1975, and John Grimsley, 1988. Bingham was very consistent and a key in the conversion to the Bum Phillips "Okie" or 3-4 defense. He led the team in tackles with 128 in 1975, 6.5 were stuffs, and he picked off four passes. But, if you looked at his other years, through 1983, the numbers were very similar, but the four picks stood out. 

Robert Brazile, 1978, and George Webster, 1968, were easy choices, but the season we chose was not easy. We went with 1978 because he got six votes for Defensive Player of the Year and deservedly so, He had a career-high 115 tackles and 9.5 stuffs to go with 11 passes deflected and five sacks. However, any season from 1976-79 for Brazile would qualify.

Any of Webster's first three seasons all would be good picks as well but we went with 1968 when he had 118 tackles, 10 passes defended and was a consensus All-Pro. 
Robert Brazile. Art: Chuck Ren
Webster was a three-time All-AFL selection before knee injuries hampered him. He hurt a knee in 1970 and never recovered his explosiveness as he went to the Steelers and then the Patriots. In 1974, for the Patriots he was effective as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme they converted to that year. It was hard to tell what Webster could have been if he had been healthy. In the late 1960s he was being called a "young Bobby Bell" by AFL writers.
George Webster
Keith Bulluck, 2003, was excellent and the final slot goes to Ted Washington, 1974, who was the first linebacker we've found in our research to have double-digits in sacks. That year he had 11. The next OLBer to do that was Joel Williams in 1980. We also considered Washington's 1976 season (16 stuffs and 5 sacks) and 1975 (3 picks). But before Brazile arrived in 1975, Washington was the glue that held the newly adopted 3-4 defense together.

Bulluck had 135 tackles (9.0 stuffs), five forced fumbles, three sacks and picked off three passes while deflecting nine en route to an All-pro season,

Lamar Lathon, 1991, is an honorable mention as is Micheal Barrow, 1996 when he had 6 sacks and 4 forced fumbles. Johnny Meads, 1988, had 8 sacks (some as a DE) and he gets a mention, too.

Cornerback was difficult. Miller Farr, 1967, was a consensus All-AFL, Cortland Finnegan, 2008, get top spots. Samari Rolle, 2000  and Cris Dishman, 1991 are next as the Second-teamers.

Honorables are Greg Stimrick, 1980,  Alterraun Verner, 2013, Tony Banfield, 1961, W.K. Hicks, 1965.

Safety also has tons of excellent competition. Ken Houston's 1971 and his 4 pick six's are top at strong safety. Vernon Perry, 1979 and 1980 may be better. Proscout Inc's rating were high, and if you throw in post-season his 1979 season was better than the All-Pro season of Keith Bostic in 1987 who does get an honorable mention. Then throw in Jim Norton, a consensus All-AFL left safety in 1962.
Ken Houston
Other honorable mentions for strong safety are Bo Eason, 1985 (Second-team All-Pro) and Bubba McDowell, 1991 also a Second-team All-pro, and Blaine Bishop who also garnered some post-season honors and in 1995 he was All-AFC and a Pro Bowler. 

At free safety it's Mike Reinfeldt, 1979, and  Marcus Robertson, 1993. Reinfeldt not only has the 12 picks (a team record) he was very highly rated by Proscout, Inc. in 1979 and 1980 and was a consensus All-Pro in 1979.

Fred Glick, 1963, Lance Schulters, 2002 (All-AFC) and Chris Hope, 2008 and Michael Griffin, 2008 (Pro Bowlers), are also honorable mention safeties.

For nickle/5th defensive back we went with Richard Johnson, 1988. He was more talented than the CBs starting but he was a strong key to the 1988 House of Pain defense and 1988 was his best season. Jack Tatum, 1980, was not a nickel back, he was the 5th DB, who'd play deep safety and Vernon Perry would play corner or more often, Tatum would play what was essentially a linebacker position. In this role, in his final season Tatum intercepted a career-high 7 passes despite not starting a game and had a career low of 25 tackles, but in his role contributed to the Oilers playoff run.

The honorable mention extra defensive back is Rod Kush. Like he did with the Buffalo Bills, Kush, in 1985, would enter the game as an in-the-box safety and often blitz, but sometimes drop into short zones and he was very effective. He made 21 tackles had 4 passes defensed for and extra back and had 5.0 sacks and intercepted two passes for the Oilers. It is a position that is common today, a good tackling DB playing, essentially a linebacker spot in the sub defense (nickel or dime).
Bum Phillips
Agree or disagree? Post in comments section below.


  1. ....very thought provoking John! Tony B's '61 season was by far his best, and was the best left corner in the AFL in a league that lacked talent at the position, and Freddie Glick in '63 had solidified his place in Pro Football with the many other right(free) safeties. Digested as much film as I could on the '67 Oilers(a truly remarkable turn around from '66), and they might have had the best "strong side defense in AFL history with Webster, Houston, and Farr. Webster's rookie campaign ranks as one of the best ever by a strong side linebacker, .....much like Wally Chambers of the Bears, we can only try to imagine how GREAT they could have been.

  2. What was the analysis of Elvin Bethea's performance in 1979? Was he still pro bowl caliber?

    1. Maybe as a run player, but 1-1/2 sacks in 1979. Often lifted on pass downs and replaced by Jesse Baker.

  3. Hmmm, I saw the Oilers three playoff games from 79 and a game at Dallas and I had Bethea for an assist sack at Dallas and two sacks in the playoff games.

    1. That would bring his total to 3-1/2 in 18 games

  4. Hmmm, I saw the Oilers three playoff games from 79 and a game at Dallas and I had Bethea for an assist sack at Dallas and two sacks in the playoff games.

  5. Its just that.... I only saw four of his games and he had 2.5 sacks in them. In the 14 other games he didn't do anything? Just seems hard to believe.