The Tennessee Titans made several mistakes last season, but if you really want to paint a fair picture of the team then you have to start with the players that they didn't have due to injuries.
Any conversation about missing pieces on the Titans' defense has to start with Harold Landry. Many people would argue that EDGE is the most important position on defense and Landry was coming off of a Pro Bowl season where he had 13 sacks.
Before the 2022 season, it seemed like Landry was poised to do it again since he was surrounded by the same supporting cast and coaching staff. Unfortunately, he was lost for the year with an ACL injury right before the season started in a gut punch for Tennessee Titans fans.
That injury overshadowed the injury problems that second-year slot corner Elijah Molden was dealing with. To this point, he has still been largely overlooked when people talk about players whose returns should help the team this year, but hopefully that narrative shifts.
Not only is Molden a good player in his own right, but his identity as a slot corner that is equally as good against the run or the pass elevates the play of everyone around him. His absence created a domino effect last year and his resurgence should help multiple players stand out this season.
Which Tennessee Titans defenders will be elevated by Molden's return
The first and most obvious beneficiary from Molden's return will be second-year cornerback Roger McCreary.
There is an idea that Roger McCreary should move inside to play in the slot despite him holding up pretty well on the outside for a rookie. Last season the Tennessee Titans thought he could be the starting boundary cornerback opposite Kristian Fulton after training camp, and they haven't done anything to suggest that that will change this year.
Allowing McCreary to focus solely on his job as a boundary corner should be a huge help to his development, especially now that the Titans have a good defensive backs coach instead of what they had last season.
Not only does Molden's return help the other corners, but it also means that safety Amani Hooker will get a chance to do what he is best at.
In 2021 when Molden and Hooker were both healthy, Hooker spent just 11% of his snaps in the slot because Molden was obviously the dedicated slot corner unless there was a particular matchup that the Tennessee Titans wanted for Hooker.
However, in 2022 Hooker spent 49% of his time in the slot after Molden's injury. It wasn't Hooker's fault that he was their best option in the slot once the team was hurt by injuries, it was more a matter of him being a victim of his own versatility. Allowing him to spend the majority of his snaps next to Kevin Byard will make the defense less predictable and more effective.
In 2021 the Tennessee Titans' defense was better than it had been in a long time, and there should be plenty of optimism that it can get back there in 2023. In 2021 the defense was led by strong performances from the defensive line, and that should be the same story this year except you can swap out Bud Dupree with Arden Key as the EDGE opposite Harold Landry.
Combining a high-end defensive front with a healthier group of defensive backs that are all in a position to thrive, should mean that the Tennessee Titans have a fighting chance in every game this year. However, Molden is a crucial piece of this defense and they need him to stay healthy this season because of what he allows guys like Hooker and McCreary to do.