David Long Jr, Linebacker
Second-year player and sixth-round pick in 2019, David Long Jr, wasn’t exactly supposed to be in a position to be gunning for this award.
Of all the position groups in the Titans defense, inside linebacker looked, on paper, to be one of the strongest heading into the 2020 season. Both starters, Rashaan Evans and Jayon Brown, were coming into the year young, healthy, and both off of individually strong seasons. But Long was a nice depth player.
But after an injury to Brown, Long was pressed into action. And, well, that second-year player and sixth-round pick in 2019 is starting to make a name for himself. Starting every defensive snap in three of the team’s last four games, combing for 34 tackles in that time, and looking more often than not like a better player than Evans.
Jonnu Smith, Tight End
Through the first five weeks of the season, it looked like Jonnu Smith was on pace to give the people what they wanted. The Jonnu Smith Breakout Year.
With 18 catches for 221 yards and five touchdowns over the course of four games, Smith looked the part of an emerging star at the position. And to his credit, Smith has never looked bad since that stretch but has managed only three touchdowns, 23 catches, and 227 yards in the 12 games following.
Smith has shown us all some elite potential, but that breakout season might still be a year or two away.
Corey Davis, Wide Receiver
For the first season of his four-year NFL career, Titans receiver Corey Davis looked consistently like, dare I say, a first-round talent.
Note the hesitancy. From the first day Davis set foot on an NFL field, finding any compliment to offer Davis could only be met with swarms of comments to the effect of “yeah, but is he playing like a top-five pick?”
And while Davis fell just short of being a 1,000-yard receiver, he still managed to tie a career-best in catches, while hitting new career bests in receiving yards and yards per reception. But more importantly, Davis passed the eye test with flying colors.
Did he play like a fifth overall pick in 2020? Maybe not. But did he play like a truly great receiver? It’s hard to argue on the contrary.
Winner: Jeffery Simmons, Defensive End
Maybe the first upset winner of awards season. In just about any other season, Davis wins this award in a runaway. But, in taking the leap from a promising rookie to a legitimate NFL star this season, the aptly nicknamed Big Jeff Simmons takes the cake.
One of the lone bright spots on a troubling Tennessee defense, Jeffery Simmons looks like the Titans’ next great “oh my god this guy is so good why is NOBODY talking about him” player. He ranked consistently in the top 10 in ESPN’s run-stopping win-rate, while also finishing second on the team in both sacks and quarterback hits.
Once the Titans figure out their pass-rush and get some playmakers on the edge, Simmons’ job will only be made easier as offenses will be less willing to scheme around him and only him. That thought alone should send panic across the league.