The Titans got some bad injury news today as five players were officially ruled out for Monday night’s matchup with the Broncos. Backup center/guard Jamil Douglas (hand) and outside linebacker Derick Roberson (knee) were expected as those two had been missing practices for several days leading up to the official designation.
Mildly more surprising were rookie running back Darrynton Evans (hamstring) and outside linebacker Vic Beasley (knee), but the real shocker was starting cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, who popped up on the injury report Friday with a knee issue, missed practice today entirely, and then was ruled out for Monday.
Jackson is the only starter of the five players the Titans will be missing and his absence is a big one for Tennessee. This injury is a tough break for both the Titans, who are losing their best corner for at least one game, and Jackson, who I think is primed to have a breakout season… if he can stay healthy.
Staying healthy hadn’t been a problem for him early in his career. Jackson played in all 16 games of both of his first two seasons, but last year the injury bug bit as foot injuries cost him five games. The good news here is that we likely would have already heard if this was a season ending type injury. The team is notoriously tight lipped when it comes to injuries so I wouldn’t expect to hear a ton more about this until we see the first Week 2 injury report on Wednesday.
With that, let’s dig into what matchups we can expect to see from the Titans corners and Broncos wide receivers on Monday night.
I think it’s fairly obvious to say that we can expect to see a lot of second round corner Kristian Fulton and veteran free agent addition Johnathan Joseph in addition to regular starter Malcolm Butler. There is a chance we see third safety Amani Hooker a little bit more in this game, either through additional usage of the three safety looks the Titans used frequently in 2019 or maybe even getting some opportunities to line up in the slot (a role he excelled in during his final season at Iowa). It’s also possible that special teams studs Chris Milton or Joshua Kalu get some snaps on defense or that seventh round rookie Chris Jackson gets some early action, but I’d expect to see a lot of the Butler-Fulton-Joseph trio.
Those three will be lining up across from an interesting group of Broncos wide receivers that starts with 2019 Pro Bowler Courtland Sutton. The 6’-4”, 216-pounder put up 72 catches for 1,112 yards and 6 touchdowns last season in his second year and brings a massive catch radius and tremendous athleticism to the position. He’s the full package.
However, he’s also hurt. Sutton landed awkwardly in practice this week after catching a pass and sprained his AC joint in his shoulder. He’s officially listed as questionable and Broncos head coach Vic Fangio said on Saturday that Sutton would have to do ten jumping jacks to be cleared to play.
That sounds like a relatively low bar, but the injury makes it difficult for receivers to be able to lift their arm above their head so it remains to be seen if he can go.
Let’s assume for a second that Sutton does play (I think he does, even if he’s a little bit limited). The Broncos lined him up almost exclusively outside last year and I’d suspect that will remain the case under new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. His snaps were very evenly distributed between the left and right side of the field which means he’d probably see a good bit of both Butler and Joseph throughout the game if the Titans play sides with their corners as they usually do.
However, I think you have to give some real thought to asking Malcolm Butler to follow Sutton if he goes. While Butler has struggled at times during his tenure in Tennessee, he was playing his best football before getting injured midway through last season and reportedly had a very good camp. He’s your best corner with Jackson out and he needs to answer the challenge if Sutton goes.
The next biggest threat in the Denver wide receiver room is rookie Jerry Jeudy. While many projected him as a top-10 pick, Jeudy somehow fell into John Elway’s lap at pick 15 in the first round and has impressed Broncos reporters in camp. Ben Allbright of KOA News Radio in Denver told Justin Melo and Justin Graver on the Music City Audible podcast that he expects Jeudy to primarily work out of the slot for the Broncos.
The Titans looked at a few options in the slot this summer, but it seemed like it was trending towards Fulton getting the nod inside, at least initially. Fulton’s familiarity with Jeudy from their time competing against each other in LSU-Alabama matchups makes this a no-brainer to me. Not only is Fulton familiar with Jeudy, but he played some of his best college football against him and fellow first round pick Henry Ruggs.
Denver’s third starter at receiver is likely to be Tim Patrick. The 26-year old former UDFA has worked his way up from the practice squad to the starting lineup over the past couple years and brings a lot of size and athleticism to the table at 6’-4” and 212 pounds. He’s been a part of the Broncos offense for a couple years, compiling 39 catches for 533 yards and 1 touchdown over the past two seasons combined.
If the Titans go matchups and have Butler trail Sutton — which is unusual for them, but possible in these circumstances — that would leave Joseph covering Patrick. Patrick has a significant size advantage over the 5’-11”, 186 pound Joseph, but the veteran corner has a big experience edge. I don’t know that I’d feel totally comfortable about having the former Texans star on the field for 60 snaps against anyone at this point in his career, but Patrick isn’t the worst matchup for him.
The other wide receiver of note for Denver is second round pick K.J. Hamler. The former Penn State star has electric speed — something that’s given the Titans secondary trouble in recent years, especially with Adoree’ Jackson out — but it sounds like it’s unlikely Hamler plays on Monday night. He’s officially listed as questionable with a hamstring injury and has missed a lot of practice work over the past couple weeks, with Fangio adding that Sutton has a better shot to go than Hamler.
Kristian Fulton would be the best available corner to deal with Hamler’s speed if he does go, but it’s unlikely that the Titans will have to worry about this matchup.
If neither Sutton or Hamler go, the Broncos wide receiver depth will be tested. DaeSean Hamilton, Diontae Spencer, and rookie Tyrie Cleveland round out the room for Denver. Hamilton has some experience, primarily working in the slot, and would probably be the next man up, though seventh round pick Cleveland was impressive in camp according to Allbright. Spencer is primarily a special teams contributor.
The Broncos also have speedy receiving tight ends in second year pro Noah Fant and rookie Albert Okwuegbunam, but the charge for covering those guys will likely be handled by Kevin Byard, Kenny Vaccaro, Amani Hooker, and Jayon Brown.
We will obviously keep an eye out for news out of Denver regarding Sutton. If he can’t go, or is significantly limited, it’ll be a huge break for the Titans, particularly with Adoree’ Jackson sidelined.