After losing seven games in a row to finish the 2022 season, the Tennessee Titans had a difficult decision to make in the offseason. Were they going to take advantage of their high draft pick and start their rebuild, or were they going to lean on veterans like Derrick Henry, Ryan Tannehill, and Kevin Byard and make one more playoff push?
When you look at the decisions to keep those veterans instead of trading them, it is clear that the Tennessee Titans went into this season expecting to compete for a playoff spot. Unfortunately, they clearly misevaluated where this roster is and the ability of the coaching staff.
After just 10 games, the postseason hopes are dashed and the focus has shifted to trying to pull out of this tailspin while also identifying which players can be a part of the solution in 2024.
This weekend against the Carolina Panthers, the Tennessee Titans are going to have as many as five rookies starting on the offensive side of the ball. While Peter Skoronski walked into the building as the team's unquestioned starter at left guard, the other four rookies had to wait their turn to get their first start.
Looking at that 2024 depth chart, I think you could confidently say that there are only three starters that you can write in pen, and that is Peter Skoronski, Daniel Brunskill, and DeAndre Hopkins. Everyone else is either an impending free agent or they haven't done enough to prove that they are above-average starters.
These are the rookies with the best chance to cement a starting role next year with a strong finish to the season.
Which Tennessee Titans rookies will step up?
1. Will Levis, QB
On one hand, there is a 95% chance that Levis already has the starting quarterback job locked down for 2024. On the other hand, Mike Vrabel is 3-14 in his last 17 games so you can't confidently say that this team won't continue losing and end up with a top-2 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.
If they do end up with one of those spots and Will Levis has a lackluster end to the season, there could be serious questions around him (especially if Amy Adams Strunk decides that she thinks another coach can do a better job rebuilding his roster).
2. Tyjae Spears, RB
Spears should be the Tennessee Titans starting running back today. This used to be a hot take, but each week there are a dozen or so Derrick Henry runs where he falls down as soon as someone gently touches his shoelace, and it becomes even more evident that he just isn't that guy anymore.
Meanwhile, Spears has to beg for five touches a game despite him being clearly more explosive and versatile than Henry.
The only reason why he isn't a lock to be a starter next season is that the coaching staff loves him as a third-down running back and that might mean he has to split touches with a bigger running back on early downs.
3. Josh Whyle, TE
Did you know that Josh Whyle has started in three of the last five games including back-to-back starts over the last two weeks? Well, he has, and with Chig Okonkwo's depressing fall from grace, the starting tight end jobs look like they will be wide open next year.
Tight ends are relatively cheap on the open market and the Tennessee Titans could certainly go out and add a third name to compete with Chig and Whyle this offseason, but a good stretch of games to close the year could lock down one of the starting tight end spots for the rookie.
4. Jaelyn Duncan, Right Tackle
Mike Vrabel had to be pulled kicking and screaming, but Jaelyn Duncan is finally getting his chance to get some reps at right tackle. All it took was for Jamarco Jones to be cut in training camp, a concussion for Andre Dillard, a shoulder injury for Nicholas Petit-Frere, a biceps injury for Chris Hubbard, and for Dillon Radunz to already be on the field at left tackle.
And you know what? He wasn't bad!
While he is still clearly unsure about what he is supposed to do on every play, a lot of that will come with reps. He obviously has power in his upper body and he can knock EDGEs off of their path, but he really does his best work when he uses his wide frame and footwork to wall off defenders.
If (and it is a massive if) Jason Houghtaling can coach Duncan up just a little bit, a good year from Duncan and the return of NPF next year would mean that they can battle it out for the right tackle and swing tackle job. It could turn into a situation where a blue-chip left tackle is really the one thing that turns this into a good offensive line.