Early Thursday afternoon, the Tennessee Titans’ star pass rusher Harold Landry III tore his ACL in practice, almost certainly sidelining him for the entire 2022 season. The definition of durability through his first four seasons in the NFL, Landry had only missed a single game.
This durability was seemingly a significant factor in Jon Robinson’s decision to sign him to a 5-year, $87.5 million deal less than six months ago. That fact is undoubtedly contributing to the sting the organization is now feeling.
Not only was Landry incredibly durable up to this point, but he was a dominant and versatile pass rusher. His 2021 campaign was a career-best, in which he amassed 12 sacks, 14 tackles for loss, 75 total tackles, and 43 pressures.
There is no sugar coating this loss for Tennessee; it’s a massive blow. Their front four of Landry, Simmons, Autry, and Dupree had been the Titans’ most solid group on the team. There were questions to be asked about elements of the defense heading into 2022, but the pass rush was not one of them. It was arguably the Titan’s only position of absolute certainty.
Now, of course, that is no longer the case.
What If Nothing Else Changes?
What will this defense look like if Landry is replaced by average production and nobody steps up to fill the void? Well, let’s look at what it would have looked like last season:
Tennessee finished 2021 with 43 total sacks, landing them in the top 10 in the NFL. Landry ranked 9th in the league individually with his 12 sacks. If Landry had been replaced by an average pass rusher who managed a mundane 5 total sacks, the Titans would have ranked 18th in the league; below league average.
The Titans also ranked 9th in the NFL for total pressures, led by Landy with 43 on his own. Had Landry only produced an average total of 26 pressures on the year, Tennessee would have landed at 23rd in the league; even further below league average.
Needless to say, if this team wants to maintain its elite defensive expectations going into the season, it cannot afford an average replacement without other starters stepping up.
But who can step in to fill Landry’s shoes? And who else among the defensive starters can rise to the occasion and pick up the slack left behind? Let’s dive into these new opportunities:
Rashad Weaver Steps Into The Spotlight
Every good team has a young player who flashes enough talent to see the field, but rarely does because of the player they’re behind on the depth chart. Rashad Weaver was this guy on Tennessee’s squad.
Much had been made about Weaver in the preseason of both of his first two years in the NFL. Drafted in the 4th round in 2021, he looked like a potential steal in limited action. His rookie year was cut short by injury, and this year he was primed to have to sit patiently behind Landry and Dupree, struggling to see much playing time once again.
Now, the narrative around Weaver has been turned on it’s head. No longer is he the promising young talent stuck behind stars; he’s the promising young pass rusher given the lofty task of filling Landry’s shoes.
A Pitt product, Weaver has done little but impress in Tennessee so far. He’s been outstanding in preseason games and has received the praises of his coaches and teammates. The element of his resume that’s missing? Production in real games. 2 games, 12 defensive snaps, 34 special teams snaps—that’s all he has to show from his rookie year before hurting his leg. In this extremely limited sample size, Weaver managed 2 tackles. If he is to step into the spotlight and be the fill-in this team needs, he’s going to have to play to his potential, and quickly.
Bud Dupree Returns To Form
People seem to have forgotten how this ferocious front four was, at best, a front three and a half last year. Dupree was signed by the Titans before the 2021 season coming off of an ACL tear of his own, sustained late in 2020. Dupree was still clearly getting back up to speed at the beginning of the season, and missed 7 of the first 13 games with setbacks and other injuries.
It wasn’t until the final month of the year that Dupree truly began to look like himself again, and that corresponded with the dominant finish to the year the Titans had in the pass rushing department.
Before Dupree was back to full strength, Tennessee’s front was far from uninspiring. His return to form only multiplied their rein of terror. With a full offseason of rest and recovery between him and last season, all indications are that Bud Dupree is poised to make his biggest impact on this Titans team yet.
Depth Replaces Landry By Committee
Jon Robinson surprised many with his decision to keep seven defensive linemen on Tuesday when the roster was cut down to 53. Add in the four OLB’s he kept, and the Titan’s war chest of frontline defenders was chock full of capable players. Even more, this somehow didn’t include the likes of David Anenih, a promising rookie UDFA who was cut and signed to the practice squad.
Rashad Weaver and Ola Adeniyi are the 3rd and 4th string OLB’s, and I expect them to get the lion’s share of replacement snaps. However, Anenih feels like a lock to be called back up to the active roster in short order to join the cause.
Also on the list of potential help is DL Denico Autry and DeMarcus Walker. Though neither is really a stand-up OLB, both have experience playing outside. And with five other defensive linemen deemed talented enough to be on the active roster, sliding Autry or Walker to the edge shouldn’t pose a significant personnel issue.
Landry not only never missed starts; he practically never came off the field in the game. But the Titans don’t need any one player to replace that element of his game (which is good news, because that player almost certainly doesn’t exist on their roster). A committee of Weaver, Adeniyi, Autry, Walker, and Anenih could serve as the perfect rotational unit of fresh legs to try to replace Landry’s production.
The Secondary Helps Do The Heavy Lifting
The Titans secondary got the short end of the stick from a narrative perspective in 2021, and for the most part that was rightfully so. They were in fact the weaker half of Tennessee’s defense, and they struggled at times due to lack of depth.
What wasn’t entirely fair, however, was the notion that the secondary was being carried along entirely by the efforts of the defensive front.
While the pass rush managed to wreak havoc on a regular basis, they were quietly granted the time needed to do so by the secondary. James Foster of AtoZ Film Room gives a great visual representation of just how much time Tennessee’s pass rush had in 2021 to close-in on the quarterback:
The secondary in 2022 is only poised to improve with the addition of Caleb Farley and Roger McCreary. If this young group can reach their impressive potential in their first year playing together, it will have a significant positive impact on what the Titans’ front is capable of.
Easton Freeze is the Director of Published Content at Broadway Sports Media, covering the Titans and the NFL
Get more Titans coverage from Easton on Twitter @eastonfreeze