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Titans need young cornerbacks to step up in 2021

A young cornerback group remains one of the biggest questions surrounding the 2021 Titans.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 Tennessee Titans were bad on defense. You already knew this. The front office decided to attempt to fix the problem by keeping the coaching staff in place while making sweeping changes to the personnel. This signaled a clear line of thinking by Jon Robinson and company — Not coaches, but players, were the problem.

No group went through more overturn than the cornerbacks did. Veteran cornerback Malcolm Butler and his hefty salary was released before the start of free agency. One of the bigger surprises occured when Adoree Jackson was released. Desmond King and Tye Smith were also allowed to walk in free agency. A few depth pieces such as Chris Jackson and Breon Borders remain on the roster, but probably shouldn’t be counted on to contribute much in 2021.

Replacing them are veterans Janoris “Jackrabbit” Jenkins and a pair of rookies in Caleb Farley and Elijah Molden. Veteran players Chris Jones, Quenton Meeks and Kevin Peterson have been added to the 90-man roster. Second-year player Kristian Fulton will also be expected to step up in a major way after his rookie season was hampered by injury.

The Titans and their coaching staff have a lot to sort through here. I would feel comfortable penciling in Jenkins as one of the starters on the outside, but guaranteeing anything other than that this early in the game would be a fool’s errand.

In an ideal world, Farley starts opposite Jenkins from the moment the season kicks off. That’s why you spent a premium first round pick on him. We’re in July and it’s not that simple. Farley is starting training camp on the NFI list. With that uncertainty still looming, it’s impossible to guarantee that Farley starts in Week 1. As talented as he is, training camp is an important part of a rookie’s transition from college to the league. If Farley is nursing an injury early in camp, he probably won’t be ready for a heavy workload in September.

That brings me to second-year player Fulton, who knows what it’s like to have a rookie season derailed by injury. Fulton played in just six games last season. He spent six weeks on injured reserve, and several more weeks rehabbing from an injury. Fulton was credited with 16 tackles, one sack, and one interception in 2020. Fulton was largely considered a first round talent in the 2020 draft, but the Titans snagged him late in the second round. The majority of the fan base was thrilled with that outcome. It’s time for Fulton to prove that he was the second round ‘steal’ so many made him out to be a year ago.

There’s a lot of exciting potential here. Young players like Farley, Molden and Fulton have sky high potential. But with potential comes question marks. If the Titans hope to be better in the secondary in 2021 than they were in 2020, it’s because several of these young players play up to that potential.