The Tennessee Titans already boasted one of the top offenses in the NFL a season ago.
But to make life more difficult on opposing defensive coordinators, the Titans went out and added seven-time Pro Bowl receiver Julio Jones in the offseason.
Sure, Arthur Smith is gone. But new offensive coordinator Todd Downing spent two years learning under Smith and the transition to him as OC this year should be a seamless one.
Downing is expected to work from a similar playbook as Smith and employ many of the same concepts and schemes as his predecessor. To make his life easier, he has the best running back in football to work with, plus a top-10 quarterback and two top-10 wide receivers to throw to.
Unlike the Tennessee defense, which underwent a major face lift during the offseason, the offense has many of its pieces already in place. Downing was essentially handed the keys to a Ferrari, and it’s his job not to crash it.
With Tennessee’s first preseason game tonight against Smith and the Atlanta Falcons, here are the Titans’ 10 most important offensive players this season:
10. Chester Rogers
I’ll admit, this one could be considered a bit of a reach. However, Rogers has been quite impressive though 12 training camp practices, and aside from Marcus Johnson, he’s been the most notable Titans receiver so far.
Rogers stands a good chance to make Tennessee’s 53-man roster thanks to his versatility. Although head coach Mike Vrabel said not to put too much stock in the team’s first unofficial depth chart, Rogers was listed as the primary punt returner and behind Josh Reynolds as the second slot receiver. His punt returning ability could earn him a roster spot but his underrated ability as a receiver could make him an integral part of the 2021 team.
9. Dillon Radunz
Investing a second-round pick in Radunz, it’s safe to say the Titans have a lot riding on the rookie tackle’s success. But as training camp has worn on, Radunz has been noticeable for the wrong reasons.
Vrabel has said Radunz needs to be better and show more consistency than he had been in practice. Right now, it doesn’t look like Radunz will be a factor at right tackle as Kendall Lamm and Ty Sambrailo have both looked better and have actual NFL starting experience.
The way things look now, Radunz could be a rotational guy who could slide in at guard if either Nate Davis or Rodger Saffold get hurt, but it’s not likely Radunz sees the field at tackle during his rookie year unless he suddenly kicks it into high gear or the Titans are brutalized by injuries.
8. Kendall Lamm
Speaking of Lamm, he left practice early a few days ago with an apparent shoulder injury. He was listed with Sambrailo as co-starters at right tackle on the team’s first unofficial depth chart, but his injury couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Lamm will likely be limited in Tennessee’s first preseason game against Atlanta, leaving Sambrailo, David Quessenberry and Radunz to potentially see the lion’s share of snaps at tackle.
However, if fully healthy, Lamm could be a sold starting option on the right side as the 6-foot-6 tackle has 74 games of NFL experience, including 27 starts.
7. Ty Sambrailo
While Lamm was the early sexy pick to be Tennessee’s starting right tackle before training camp, Sambrailo might just be the better option.
The 29-year-old played in 10 games last year, starting five after Taylor Lewan went down with an ACL injury, and the offensive line didn’t look too much different with Sambrailo on the left side.
He was only called for two penalties all season and allowed four sacks on 415 offensive snaps.
6. Anthony Firkser
It’s quite clear the Titans’ coaching staff has plenty of confidence in Firkser. Many, myself included, believed Tennessee would have signed or traded for another veteran tight end by now to compete for the starting job, but it appears the Titans are content rolling with Firkser, Geoff Swaim and Tommy Hudson.
Firkser had a career year in 2020, benefitting from an increased role in Tennessee’s two tight end sets. He was targeted 53 times even with Jonnu Smith playing in 15 games, and his nine-reception, 113-yard game in a 42-36 overtime win over the Houston Texans on Oct. 18 proved he’s capable of being a difference maker in the passing game.
I’m not ready to give Firkser the same stamp of approval as Delanie Walker just yet, but I believe Firkser can be an effective part of Tennessee’s offense.
5. Taylor Lewan
I’m sure nobody is more thankful to get a healthy Lewan back more than Derrick Henry. Although he rushed for 2,027 yards last season, Henry has to be happy being able to run to his left again. No disrespect to Sambrailo or Quessenberry, but neither are Taylor Lewan.
In 239 offensive snaps last season, Lewan didn’t allow a sack and he wasn’t penalized once. He hasn’t allowed more than four sacks in any of the last five seasons, and his presence in the lineup is one less thing for Tennessee to worry about.
The Titans were the second-best rushing team in the NFL last year and were tied for the fifth-fewest sacks allowed (25). Getting back one of the top five left tackles in the league will only strengthen an already solid offensive line.
4. Derrick Henry
What does one do for an encore after running for over 2,000 yards and leading the NFL in rushing touchdowns?
While it’s a tad unrealistic to expect Henry to replicate the production he had in 2020, he’s still clearly the best running back in the NFL and that alone speaks for itself.
Several of Henry’s workout videos went viral during the offseason, showing the 27-year-old is in just as good of shape, if not better than he was a year ago.
Henry is already a freight train that very few are willing to stand in front of, and he should be right there among the rushing leaders again in 2021.
3. Julio Jones
With all due respect to Corey Davis, the Titans wide receiver group is miles better in 2021 with the addition of Jones than it was las year.
Jones gives Tennessee two bona fide playmakers who can stretch the field and hit a home run on any given play. Throw Josh Reynolds in the slot and Tennessee has the makings of one of the more dangerous passing offenses in the NFL.
Expect Jones to free up A.J. Brown quite a bit, leaving the Titans to take advantage of the 24-year-old’s big-play potential even more this year.
If Jones is fully healthy, the Titans could be looking at two 1,000-yard receivers, something Tennessee hasn’t had since Derrick Mason and Drew Bennett in 2004.
2. A.J. Brown
All the pieces are in place for 2021 to be A.J. Brown’s year. The third-year wideout has been nothing short of dominant during training camp and if fully healthy, he could move into the conversation of being one of the NFL’s top 10 receivers.
With back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons under his belt, Brown hasn’t played with a playmaker the caliber of Jones. We saw what Brown did last season playing on two bum knees. Offensive coordinator Todd Downing has to be foaming at the mouth thinking of what Brown could be capable of with a Hall of Famer split out wide on the opposite side and Reynolds keeping teams honest over the middle.
I’m not saying Brown will put up Madden numbers, but a 90-reception, 1,300 yard season seems very much in the realm of possibility.
1. Ryan Tannehill
Top-10 quarterback debate aside, there’s no arguing Tannehill has been a revelation for the Titans offense since taking over the starting job in 2019.
New offensive coordinator Todd Downing has made every quarterback he’s worked with, whether as a QB coach or offensive coordinator, better (see Matthew Stafford, Kyle Orton, Derek Carr), and the same should be expected this year.
Tannehill has the best supporting cast he’s had possibly in his NFL career. Handing off to Henry certainly makes his life easier, and having Brown and Jones split out wide with Josh Reynolds working the slot and sure-handed Firkser as TE1 will give Tannehill options on pretty much every play. I don’t see any way he doesn’t end his 2021 season with less than 4,500 passing yards and 40 touchdowns.
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_