Identifying the Tennessee Titans foundational pieces

Tennessee Titans Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Tennessee Titans Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

From year to year NFL teams shuffle about 30% of their roster, so trying to predict who the Tennessee Titans will have anchoring the franchise in two years is a difficult, but important task.

The reason why two years (2024) is an important benchmark, is that most GMs try to identify and address needs a year in advance. So, while free agency is a way to address immediate needs, the NFL Draft is your chance to get players who can make an impact by their second season.

Every GM hopes that they have instant plug-and-play starters like Treylon Burks, Roger McCreary, Nicholas Petit-Frere, and Chig Okonkwo, but you really don’t know if you have a hit until the second season.

While the Tennessee Titans have said repeatedly that they want to be contenders this season, I just don’t see any way for them to do that unless they can finally stay moderately healthy for an entire season. After back-to-back seasons of being the most injured team in the NFL, I will believe they can be healthy when I see it.

So, even if ownership wants this team to contend this season, fans should hope for a team that builds around their foundational pieces that will be here in 2024 and beyond.

Foundational players aren’t just average starters though, they have to be more than that. Guys like Amani Hooker and Nicholas Petit-Frere should both be starting in 2024, but if a great safety fell or if someone developed well over the next 18 months, I don’t feel comfortable saying that Hooker is so good that a great player couldn’t take his spot.

These are the players that I have seen enough from to consider them as foundational players or players with a strong chance of becoming foundational pieces by 2024.

Who are the Tennessee Titans foundational players?

Guys who would make it if they are still here (2):

-Derrick Henry, RB

-Denico Autry, EDGE

I think Henry and Autry will have some left in the tank by 2024, but I don’t know what role they will have whether that is with the Tennessee Titans or somewhere else. Every day there are more rumbles about Henry being on the trade block (and from increasingly reliable people) and Autry will be 34.

With that in mind, I don’t think you can guarantee that either player will be on the roster in 2024, but if they are then they could defy Father Time and be on this list.

Definitely foundational players (4):

-Jeffery Simmons, DT

-Harold Landry, EDGE

-Kevin Byard, S

-Ryan Stonehouse, P

The Tennessee Titans have impact players on every level of their defense, and their three best players all affect the quarterback.

Unless he is involved in a trade for the #1 overall pick this year, Jeffery Simmons is going to be with the Tennessee Titans for a long time. Big Jeff was challenged to be this franchise’s next great defensive tackle and he has exceeded expectations. Relentless effort, elite traits, leadership, and the versatility to win vs the run and the pass make him one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL.

People forget just how important Harold Landry is to the Tennessee Titans. From 2019 to 2021, Landry played 3,329 snaps for the Titans defense and he lined up everywhere from EDGE to slot cornerback. Landry will only be 27 this year and Shane Bowen knows exactly what to do with a defensive line that has him and Simmons on it, so expect him to remind everyone why he earned his big contract last offseason.

Kevin Byard was hard to put on this list because he is going to be 31 by the 2024 season. However, Byard has been one of the leaders of this team for a long time and he is still one of the best ballhawks in the NFL. Safety is a position that can age well and Byard has done a great job maintaining his body over the years, so I expect that he will still be in Nashville making plays in 2024.

Stonehouse is the best punter in the NFL and he did it as a rookie…that’s all I have to say about that.

Players with a clear path to becoming foundational players (4):

-Chig Okonkwo, TE

-Treylon Burks, WR

-Kristian Fulton, CB

-Roger McCreary, CB

While the defense has the most established talent, after this offseason I believe that the majority of the up-and-comers will be on the offensive side of the ball. If the Tennessee Titans believed in the forward pass, Burks would have been on every All-Rookie list and Okokwo would have made the Pro Bowl.

It is easy to see just how explosive they can be and having an OC like Tim Kelly who seems to understand that it is 2023 and not 1983, should help the passing game.

Kristian Fulton is so interesting because I could see him being traded at any point in the next 18 months, but I could also see him turning into one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Is he going to be healthy enough for Mike Vrabel to sign off on a new contract? Or will Vrabel push him out the same way that he pushed out Adoree Jackson?

If he is here, he has a chance to be a blue-chip player.

McCreary had a tough season this year in that he was asked to do something different every week. Over the course of the season, there were more than a dozen injuries to Tennessee Titans defensive backs and McCreary was constantly asked to move around and change his role from week to week.

Despite that, he ended up as PFF’s top rookie cornerback in run defense while also playing more coverage snaps than any other rookie corner. In college, he showed that he could stick with the likes of Jameson Williams, John Metchie, Jahan Dotson, and all of the other talented receivers he faced over his four years at Auburn.

Since cornerbacks tend to develop slowly, Tennessee Titans fans should be optimistic about what they will get out of McCreary in 2023 and beyond.