NASHVILLE – We all know the NFL offseason is also the league’s unofficial ranking season.
So, as June slowly creeps toward July – and with training camp still nearly a month away – expect to see a proliferation of team, coach, player and position rankings concocted to create speculation.
Why not, for lack of anything else going on?
The 33rd Team, a website created by former NFL executives Mike Tannenbaum and Joe Banner weighed in Tuesday with their rankings of the league’s top 25 players under 25.
There were no current Titans on the list, though wide receiver A.J. Brown – traded from Tennessee to Philadelphia in April – came in at No. 17 overall. Defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons is currently 24 and unquestionably deserving of a spot, but he will turn 25 next month and, therefore, won’t be under 25 at any time during the season.
That doesn’t mean we can’t create our own list for the Titans.
First disclaimer: This one is built more on what players have actually done for the Titans in their young careers – as opposed to what they might do when they get on the field. It also will feature players 25 and under, which allows for Simmons – and a few others – to be included.
So, with that logic in mind, we’ll leave the 2022 rookie class – which includes wide receiver Treylon Burks, cornerback Roger McCreary and quarterback Malik Willis among others – entirely out of the equation. In addition, some potentially high-upside players from last season’s draft class – like cornerback Caleb Farley, tackle Dillon Radunz and edge rusher Rashad Weaver – were downgraded or eliminated simply because we haven’t seen enough sample size.
One thing worth noting: It appears the core of strong young players – at least at this point – is more heavily weighted toward defense. Four of the top five and eight of the top 10 listed here play on that side of the ball. The 2022 draft class may change that in years to come, as it includes Burks, Willis, tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere, running back Hassan Haskins, tight end Chig Okonkwo and wide receiver Kyle Philips.
Here’s the list of the top 10 Titans currently 25 or younger, which, again, is based primarily on production as opposed to potential:
1. Jeffery Simmons, DT
Why: Head and shoulders above everyone else on the list, the 2019 first-round pick had a monstrous season last year – totaling 54 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 58 quarterback pressures and 12 tackles for loss. When does the new contract arrive and what will it look like?
2. Kristian Fulton, CB
Why: After being limited to just six games as a rookie, the 2020 second-round pick put together a strong second year – leading the Titans with 14 passes defended, contributing a pair of interceptions and playing the role of shutdown corner at times. He looks to be set at his position for years to come.
3. Amani Hooker, S
Why: Has proven to be an excellent complement to fellow safety Kevin Byard in the defensive backfield. In a combined 15 starts over the past two seasons, Hooker has delivered five interceptions, 12 passes defensed and 106 tackles.
4. Nate Davis, RG
Why: Claimed a starting spot early in his rookie season (2019) and has held onto it since. Davis took a step back in pass protection last season, but the hope is that it was at least partially related to health issues – two bouts with COVID-19 and a concussion that lingered.
5. David Long, ILB
Why: Another standout selection from the 2019 draft, Long came into his own last year, stealing starts and playing time from Rashaan Evans and Jayon Brown. He started nine of the 10 games he played last season – finishing tied for second on the Titans with 75 tackles and adding two interceptions and six quarterback pressures.
6. Elijah Molden, CB
Why: After some bumps in the road early in the season, Molden settled into his role as slot cornerback and improved. He contributed in the secondary (one interception and four passes defended) and behind the line of scrimmage (six quarterback pressures, three tackles for loss).
7. Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, WR
Why: In two seasons, this undrafted free agent has progressed from a roster longshot to a solid piece of the passing game. He had 38 catches for 476 yards and four touchdowns last season, and those totals might rise this year based on the Titans’ questions at the position.
8. Monty Rice, ILB
Why: The Titans didn’t get to see a lot of the 2021 third-round pick during his rookie season due to an Achilles injury that ended his season early, but Rice was productive when called upon – totaling 28 tackles in his four starts. He should see increased playing time this season assuming he recovers fully from the injury.
9. Naquan Jones, NT
Why: The undrafted free agent got better and better during his rookie season, earning starts in six of the last nine games – including the playoff contest. Jones did some nice stat-stuffing in limited snaps, totaling 29 tackles, 2.5 sacks, four quarterback pressures and four tackles for loss.
10. Teair Tart, NT
Why: Like Westbrook-Ikhine on the other side of the ball, Tart was an undrafted free agent who faced long odds of making the team in 2020. But he earned a roster spot as a rookie and then stepped things up during his second season, starting nine of the Titans’ first 11 games last year. Tart posted 16 tackles, three quarterback pressures and two tackles for loss.