The Titans had an incredible run in 2019 and there are a few players I think could aid them in repeating this feat. The Titans have many young players with a lot of potential and they have consistent talent across the whole roster. The last couple drafts by Jon Robinson have yielded some great players, many of which have a high likelihood of breaking out this upcoming season and beyond. I chose 3 players that standout to me as candidates to breakout in 2020:
1. Jonnu Smith
Jonnu Smith was drafted by the Titans 100th overall in the 2017 draft as an eventual replacement to Delanie Walker. Walker, 32 at the time, was a pro bowler in 2017 and was voted as a top 100 player in the NFL by players across the league. It did not appear that Walker showed many signs of slowing down until he suffered a gruesome ankle injury in Week 1 of 2018.
Throughout 2017, Jonnu sat behind Walker and played all 16 games. He showed signs of promise but ultimately finished the season with just 157 yards. His 18 receptions and 2 touchdowns in 2017 were solid since he was a rookie and a backup to one of the league's top TE’s.
After Walker went down with the injury in 2018, it gave Smith a big opportunity. The only other TE’s on the roster were Luke Stocker and Philip Supernaw at the time. Smith began to play very well but unfortunately, in Week 13, he tore his MCL, ending his season. That season, Smith increased his receptions to 20, his yards to 258, and his touchdowns to 3, in 3 fewer games.
Smith’s most recent season was highlighted by the best play of the 2019 NFL season. Smith had a strong regular season, recording 78 rushing yards, 35 receptions, 439 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns, adding another touchdown in the playoffs. Unfortunately, Walker had more complications with his ankle injury, which ended his season in Week 7. Smith had more competition at TE with Anthony Firkser and MyCole Pruitt on the roster but he was clearly the most talented out of the group.
Smith proved that he can be a #1 Tight End and he improved in many areas. He greatly improved his pass protection, making him very valuable and versatile. Offensive Coordinator, Arthur Smith, experimented with Smith in the backfield which showcased his speed. Smith was one of the most consistent offensive players for the Titans and caught all the balls he was expected to.
Smith is poised for a breakout season in 2020 because of his rate of improvement, among other factors. Smith, 24, has a great work ethic and is very confident in his abilities. In a virtual interview last week, Smith spoke about his role next season, “You know I'm TE1 now. You know, I'm just going to take advantage of the opportunity that I have in front of me. Like I said, continue to work.” Smith knows that he is capable of great things and he knows that he has a good opportunity next season. Another ability that Smith has is the big play ability. Smith has scored 3 touchdowns of more than 30 yards and makes some incredible catches not expected by a TE. Smith also totaled the most broken tackles per touch in the league, showcasing his ability to catch like a WR and run like a TE.
2. Jeffery Simmons
Jeffery Simmons was drafted by the Titans 19th overall in 2019, with the Titans likely not expecting him to play much in 2019. Simmons was coming off a torn ACL suffered while training for the draft in February of 2019. Amazingly, Simmons appeared in his first NFL game just 7 months later. Simmons, who is 6”4 305lbs, played his first game in Week 7 against the Chargers and recorded the first sack of his career. Simmons was strong throughout the season given his circumstances and made an impact on many occasions.
Simmons' play is highlighted by his raw strength and ability to move anyone. He made a very good combo with DE Jurrell Casey, who the Titans traded to the Broncos earlier this offseason. While the pass rush is still a huge hole for the Titans, Simmons, Casey, DaQuan
Jones, and Harold Landry were a pretty strong pass rushing core and changed some games. Simmons, 22, was drafted out of Mississippi State where he was one of the best players in the nation. It was widely believed that Simmons was a top 10 talent and he only fell because of his injury.
My thought is that the Titans traded Jurrell Casey in large part because of their trust in Jeffrey Simmons. Casey was due $11.25m in 2020 which expedited the shift from Casey to Simmons. In addition to his sacking ability, Simmons is great at stopping the run. His main role is not to sack the Quarterback because he plays primarily in the middle but his run stopping ability is among the best in the league and it will only get better. Simmons wins a large percentage of 1v1 matchups and is able to clog up the middle and stop a lot of runs.
With Casey gone, Simmons will likely gain more attention from other teams but I think he will be able to handle it. With Simmons now fully recovered from his injury, that is another positive and another reason he can breakout in 2020.
3. Rashaan Evans
I could really chose any of the 3 young linebackers of Jayon brown, Rashaan Evans, or Harold Landry III to breakout in 2020 but I think Evans will be the most consistent out of the 3. Evans was chosen 22nd overall by the Titans in 2018 and has produced a good amount since then. His rookie season was uneventful and he started just 7 games. Evans is a hard hitting and commanding Linebacker with the ability to quickly identify plays.
Evans, 24, took a huge leap from his first to second season and was vital to the defense in 2019. Evans was known as “Razor” by his teammates at Alabama because he “tears it up”. This name is very accurate and describes his play style well. Evans had a much more prominent
role in 2019 then in 2018 and I think he will be even more important in 2020. The Titans lost a lot of leadership on defense this offseason and I think Evans will fill a leadership role well. Notably, the Titans lost veterans Logan Ryan, Wesley Woodyard, and Jurrell Casey.
Evans, along with the other young linebackers, has a huge amount of potential. From 2018 to 2019, he increased his tackle total from 53 to 111 and increased his tackles for loss from 2 to 9. Evans was a huge factor in the playoffs making one of my favorite plays of the season in an epic goal line stand against the Patriots. In addition to his clutch tackles, Evans has been great in the run game. He has the ability to track down running backs like very few players and consistently takes them down, often with a big hit. He can also get into the backfield quickly with his explosive speed and punish both Running Backs and Quarterbacks. Evans can breakout in 2020 because he is rapidly improving and will take on a more prominent role in 2020.
Smith, Simmons, and Evans are all young players and all have a very high ceiling. In addition to the players mentioned above, I think Adoree' Jackson, Harold Landry III, Jayon Brown, and Corey Davis have an opportunity to emerge in 2020.
The Titans future is promising, despite losing 10 players who started at some point in 2020. I will write about more potential breakouts as the offseason progresses but I think Smith, Simmons, and Evans all have promising seasons ahead.