Will Levis and the 3-6 Tennessee Titans will meet the 6-3 Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. It’ll be unfortunately different from their last meeting when the two AFC South rivals met in a win-or-go-home scenario in Week 18 last season. The Titans are nowhere near threatening to capture the division title. When they meet Jacksonville on Sunday, instead of battling for postseason positioning, they should be studying how the Jaguars surrounded franchise quarterback Trevor Lawrence with an excellent supporting cast. General manager Ran Carthon will be tasked with doing something similar around Levis this offseason.
Before Titans fans log off, the Jaguars aren’t the model franchise. They nearly bundled Lawrence’s development with the nightmare hiring of Urban Meyer. Luckily, they quickly recovered via Doug Pederson. Yet they still have a long way to go. That was evident on Sunday when Jacksonville got blown out 34-3 by the San Francisco 49ers. It was a stark reminder that they’re not yet rubbing shoulders with legitimate Super Bowl contenders like the Kansas City Chiefs, 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles. Jacksonville’s offense hasn’t met its full potential this season, but it remains significantly better than what the Titans are fielding. And that’s largely because of how they’ve invested around Lawrence.
Levis was routinely harassed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. It was par for the course. Levis has been hit 13th most among quarterbacks despite just three regular-season appearances. Levis is currently being protected by one first-round pick, an undrafted center, a low-cost right guard, a veteran journeymen, etc. Meanwhile Lawrence will play behind an offensive line that features three top-65 picks, all of whom were drafted after Lawrence.
The Jaguars had a franchise left tackle in place via Cam Robinson when Lawrence was drafted. That, undeniably helps. But general manager Trent Baalke, who arrived in Jacksonville with a lackluster reputation, has done an outstanding job filling other needs around his ascending quarterback.
The No. 45 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, Walker Little has played majority reps at left tackle this season, but is now positioned as the left guard with Robinson back in the lineup. Little is a successful Dillon Radunz, if you will. Pro Football Focus has credited Little with allowing one sack and five pressures this season. Little has earned a pass-pro grade of 76.8. That’s effective positional versatility.
In the interest of fairness, it’s not like the Titans haven’t tried. They simply missed on Isaiah Wilson, Radunz, and Nicholas Petit-Frere. The backup plans at left tackle (Andre Dillard & Dennis Daley) missed, too.
It’s early, but the Jaguars are, in my opinion, three-for-three on drafting offensive linemen from 2021-23. The jury remains out on Luke Fortner and Anton Harrison, but they’re playing like long-term building blocks, and league-average starters, at worst. Meanwhile the Titans are nowhere near receiving league-average play from their putrid offensive line. To state the obvious, that’s the difference between hitting and missing.
Jacksonville’s offensive line was filled out by high-price signing Brandon Scherff, who’s been outstanding at right guard this season. The Titans will be in a similar position, with approximately $100 million in cap space this summer, to add at least one proven linemen in free agency. An interior blocker is likelier than a tackle based on the players expected to reach the market. New England Patriots guard Michael Onwenu is one to watch.
Surrounding the quarterback with an improved cast has gone beyond the offensive line in Jacksonville. The Calvin Ridley gamble hasn’t completely paid off, but was certainly worth a roll of the dice. The Evan Engram and Christian Kirk additions were once-upon-a-time mocked, but both pass-catchers have been terrific fits in Jacksonville’s offense.
Sunday’s meeting with the Jaguars will be a humbling reminder of how far the Titans have fallen in the AFC South. They’ll enter and exit the contest in last place, even behind the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans, who were supposed to be in steeper rebuilding mode entering 2023. What the Titans can achieve on Sunday extends beyond the football field, where they’re unlikely to enjoy success versus Jacksonville. Take a look around Lawrence’s supporting cast. Clarity should arrive in abundance.