The Tennessee Titans have a lot of young offensive firepower, but the other side of the football has a clear edge when it comes to talent at or under the age of 25 heading into 2020. After the playoff run in 2019, the expectations are higher now than they have been in recent seasons and the Titans will look to get back to – and past – the AFC Championship with their top 5 defensive players 25 or under..
The Titans finished the regular season with a 9-7 record — good enough for a Wild Card spot — and then went on to upset the New England Patriots 20-13 before an impressive 28-12 win over the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round.
Unfortunately, that run came to an end at the hands of the eventual Super Bowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs. Hope remains for 2020, however, especially after some of the holes on the roster were patched during the offseason.
The list below includes Tennessee’s top five players on the defensive side of the football under the age of 25, and they’ll all go a long way in determining the team’s overall success this upcoming season.
The top Titans defensive players 25 or under heading into 2020
5. Jayon Brown, Linebacker
2019 stats: 105 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 INT, 8 PBU, 1 FR, 1 TD (14 games)
PFF grade (2019): 68.8 (No. 20 LB)
Jayon Brown, a fifth-round selection for the Titans in the 2017 NFL Draft, is the lowest drafted player who made this list, as the other four who will join him were either first- or second-round picks. That different in draft status doesn’t mean much, however.
Despite being undersized at 6-foot, 226 pounds, Brown has proven to be a valuable commodity. The UCLA product has thrived as a coverage linebacker while racking up 202 total tackles, 14.0 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks, 14 pass breakups, two interceptions and two defensive touchdowns over the last two seasons.
Considering he just turned 25 back in February, Brown was an obvious candidate to make this list, and it’s possible that he could make a climb if he continues to improve. Last season, he played 892 snaps, which ranked fifth on the team.
4. Rashaan Evans, Linebacker
2019 stats: 111 tackles, 11.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 FR, 1 TD
PFF grade (2019): 47.7 (No. 74 LB)
Rashaan Evans didn’t have the best start to his NFL career after missing the start of his rookie season due to injury, but he’s slowly started to become one of the league’s top young off-ball linebackers after showing versatility and an aggressive style of play.
Evans was second on the team in tackles last season, trailing only the now-departed Logan Ryan (115). His 2.5 sacks don’t stand out, but the former first-round pick out of Alabama is also capable of playing as a standup edge rusher in addition to playing inside linebacker in Tennessee’s 3-4 defense.
There are still some consistency issues lingering, but the amount of closing speed and recklessness that Evans plays with is unmatched in the NFL. If he can put it all together, he has a chance to be the No. 1 player on this list before it’s all said and done.
3. Jeffery Simmons, Defensive Line
2019 stats: 32 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 PBU (9 games)
PFF grade (2019): 67.2 (No. 57 IDL)
Jeffery Simmons tore his ACL while preparing for the 2019 NFL Draft, and that forced a slide to the Titans all the way down at No. 19 overall. But after sitting out the start of last season recovering, he showed enough in the regular season and postseason to make the front office feel comfortable trading long-time Titan Jurrell Casey to the Denver Broncos.
At 6-4, 305 pounds, Simmons is an absolute load who is capable of playing all along the team’s three-man defensive front when in the base defense — or four-man front in sub-packages as a disruptive penetrator. The combination of strength and explosiveness is rare, and it’s something that will be needed this season.
Simmons will only be turning 23 years old in late July, and there’s a growing belief that a massive jump will happen from Year 1 to Year 2 for the defensive tackle out of Mississippi State.
2. Harold Landry III, Edge Rusher
2019 stats: 68 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 9.0 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 1 FF, 2 FR
PFF grade (2019): 65.4 (No. 61 EDGE)
Harold Landry is the team’s best edge presence while also being the best pure pass rusher on the roster. His 13.5 sacks and 21.0 tackles for loss over the last two seasons both lead the returning players on the roster, and the hope is that he can continue to improve on both of those numbers.
His 1,171 snaps from last season trailed on the starting safeties in Kevin Byard and Kenny Vaccaro. Free agent Vic Beasley was brought over from the Atlanta Falcons, and Kamalei Correa was re-signed after a solid performance as a rotational player. But Landry will continue to be heavily relied on in 2020.
If the Titans can somehow land Jadeveon Clowney, they could possibly compete with the Broncos (Von Miller, Bradley Chubb), the Saints (Cameron Jordan, Marcus Davenport) and the Bears (Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn) to field one of the league’s best 1-2 punches on the edge.
1. Adoree’ Jackson, Cornerback
2019 stats: 45 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 6 PBU (11 games)
PFF grade (2019): 79.9 (No. 8 CB)
Adoree’ Jackson still doesn’t get enough credit among the national media for developing into one of the best young cornerbacks in the NFL. But his play over the last few seasons is a major reason why the team chose to exercise the USC product’s fifth-year option.
Jackson only has two career interceptions to his name, but that’s not an accurate representation of the impact he’s had on Tennessee’s defense. In fact, Jackson had his best season in 2019 despite missing significant action due to foot and knee injuries.
When he was on the field, however, Jackson did an excellent job containing some of the top receivers in the league, including Odell Beckham Jr. with the Cleveland Browns. Can the 24 year old continue that level of play and success? All signs seem to point towards yes.