The Tennessee Titans defensive line was ranked in the bottom half of the league. Is the Titans defensive line underrated?
When you think about the Tennessee Titans defensive line, you might think of Jurrell Casey. He was drafted by the Titans in 2011 and has spent every season up to this point with the Titans. That will come to an end when Week 1 of the NFL season comes around, though, since the Titans traded Casey to the Denver Broncos.
The NFL schedule makers made sure to make that matchup a key game for Casey and the Titans with it being slated as a Week 1 primetime game. But with Casey now gone, that leaves a big gap on the Titans’ defensive line for someone to fill.
Luckily, general manager Jon Robinson and the Titans front office prepared for the eventual departure of Casey. When the NFL Draft made its debut in Music City, the Titans wanted to leave with a splash and drafted Jeffery Simmons in the first round.
This wasn’t seen as a big splash pick at the time, but Simmons was seen as a potential dominant defensive lineman that could line up next to Casey and hold down the trenches for the Titans defense. Robinson and company have different plans for Simmons.
With Casey now gone, Simmons is the top-dog on the d-line and will be expected to fill the gap of Casey this season. That’s not a small ask for a second-year player, but I think Simmons has what it takes to fill in that gap and be the Titans premiere defensive lineman.
DaQuan Jones also had one of the best seasons of his career in 2019 and will be expected to emulate that again in 2020. Jones had a breakout season in 2015, where he had over 40 tackles during that season but failed to reach that mark again until 2019. If he can find consistency next to Simmons, then they could be a force to be reckoned with.
The third guy on the defensive line is still unknown, though. The Titans made some solid moves in free agency and the draft in hopes of finding a player that can fill in that gap, but it’s still unclear who that could be. The battle for the starting job will be between 2020 third-round pick Larrell Murchison, 2019 UDFA Isaiah Mack, and Jack Crawford.
Crawford is the only player of the three with regular season experience in the NFL, and he has eight years of experience to his name. Don’t be surprised if the veteran gets the nod to start the season, especially if there isn’t a preseason.
With the uncertainty at that defensive tackle position, Pro Football Focus ranked the Titans in the bottom half of the league. With inconsistency in the Titans’ past combined with the uncertainty of the defensive line in 2020, the ranking seems harsh but fair.
The Titans’ defensive line landed at No. 21 in Sam Monson’s rankings. At first glance, that seems absurd. How could the same defensive line that was in the AFC Championship last season be ranked that low? But it’s hard to argue with most of Monson’s outline of the d-line.
“Jeffery Simmons had a debut to remember after recovering from an ACL injury that many thought would sideline him for the entire season,” PFF’s Sam Monson wrote. “Simmons notched a sack, two hurries and three defensive stops in a performance that earned a PFF grade of 90.6 and set pulses racing, but he never quite hit those heights again over the remainder of the season. Simmons is hugely talented, and the team was confident enough in his ability to trade away stalwart defensive lineman Jurrell Casey for a throwaway late-round draft pick, but now is the time Simmons needs to prove them right.
“Depth is a concern along this defensive line, with little in the way of proven quality or even players who have shown well across limited snaps. Rookie Larrell Murchison was a fifth-round pick who has solid but not spectacular grades over the past two seasons at NC State. And while he was more of a run defender than a pass-rushing force, he will hope to earn some playing time as a rotational body early on.”
If Simmons can stay healthy, he can serve as the anchor for the defensive line and help find some consistency. If Simmons is able to do that and get most of the attention from opposing offensive lines, then that could help Jones be consistent and allow the Titans to find the best defensive lineman of the remaining players battling for the third starting job.
I like what the Titans have on the defensive line right now. They have a pretty solid mix of young players and veterans to mix together, and it could come out as one of the better defensive lines in the league. I definitely think they will be better than the No. 21 d-line this year when the season is over.
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