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Can Elijah Molden claim Kevin Byard’s starting role?

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NFL: OCT 08 Titans at Colts Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Tennessee Titans third-year safety Elijah Molden should be the biggest benefactor of the trade that sent Kevin Byard to the Philadelphia Eagles. Molden is expected to receive the biggest opportunity to start opposite Amani Hooker. Can Molden seize the moment?

The Titans acquired Terrell Edmunds in the Byard deal. They also recently claimed K’Von Wallace off waivers. Both Edmunds and Wallace will likely have to prove themselves on special teams before stepping into a defensive role. Veteran safety Mike Brown is another option. No one single player can replace Byard. It may be a by-committee approach. But Molden is undeniably the most talented of the in-house choices.

Molden is set to return Sunday after being sidelined with a hamstring injury. Recurring hamstring ailments limited Molden to two regular-season appearances as a sophomore in 2022. First things first, Molden must stay healthy if he hopes to claim a sizable role on Shane Bowen’s defense.

Molden has played in four of six contests this season. He’s earned a elite run-stopping grade of 81.4 from Pro Football Focus. In coverage, he’s been credited with allowing six receptions on eight targets. Molden is allowing 10.5 yards per reception, and opposing quarterbacks are seeing a passer rating of 97.4 when targeting Molden in coverage. The former Washington standout has been an effective player when on the field.

Molden enjoyed his best performance of the season against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 5 before exiting prematurely with injury. He earned a season-high coverage grade of 73.6. The sample size was fairly small, but indicates Molden was on the appropriate track.

Molden will be entering a fate-deciding contract season in 2024. He could begin earning goodwill by helping the Titans replace Byard down the stretch of the current season. Health and availability will be key to Molden’s chances of stringing quality performances together.