The Tennessee Titans‘ 2013 squad features a lot of very promising young players. Just from the last three drafts, there is Jake Locker, Akeem Ayers, Jurrell Casey, Kendall Wright, Zach Brown, Chance Warmack and Justin Hunter.
All have tons of potential, and all could end up being franchise players, but they’ve got a long way to go.
There have been a lot of great players in the Titans’s short history in Tennessee, and here are, in this writer’s opinion, the 25 best.
25. Stephen Tulloch, Linebacker, 2006-2010
Stephen Tulloch was one of the more reliable tacklers in the league while he was with the Titans, but he ended up following his old defensive coordinator up to Detroit.
It’s too bad. The Titans really could have used a run-stuffer like him in the middle of the defense in 2012.
While with the Titans, Tulloch compiled 457 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 11 passes defended and a couple of interceptions. He was also the man in the middle when the Titans were consistently fielding one of the league’s top defenses every year.
He’s still doing a great job, it’s just that now he’s doing it for the Lions.
24. Steve Hutchinson, Offensive Guard, 2012
I debated whether or not to put Steve Hutchinson on the list. On the one hand, he’s a surefire Hall of Famer and one of the best guards in the history of the NFL. On the other hand, the one year he played for Tennessee was less than impressive.
Over his long and distinguished career, Hutchinson made it to seven Pro Bowls and blocked for both Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson.
In 2012, his last year as a football player, Hutchinson’s age caught up with him. He wasn’t terrible, but he wasn’t as quick or strong as he once was, and his lingering injury issues ended his season against the Houston Texans.
23. Drew Bennett, Wide Receiver, 2001-2006
Drew Bennett never made a Pro Bowl, but he was a pivotal part of the Titans passing game for years.
Despite being undrafted, Bennett racked up 4,033 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns in his six years with the team.
His best season came in 2004 when he started every game and caught 80 passes for 1,247 yards for 11 touchdowns.
He played for the St. Louis Rams briefly after being cut by the Titans, but he never made the impact elsewhere that he made with Tennessee.
22. David Stewart, Offensive Tackle, 2005-Present
Right tackle isn’t a position that gets a ton of recognition. They almost never make Pro Bowls and are valued far less than their counterparts on the left side.
Still, a good right tackle is a great thing to have, especially one as big and powerful as David Stewart has been for the Titans. Ever since he and Michael Roos became the bookend tackles for the team in 2006, the Titans have had one of the top tackle combinations in the league.
He showed just how important he was last season, when his injury turned offensive line play into a complete mess.
He only has one second-team All-Pro selection to his name, but he was a big part of the offensive line that allowed the Titans to win 13 games in 2008 and Chris Johnson to rush for 2,000 yards in 2009.
No one will dispute his impact on the franchise, and by the end of his career, he may end up higher on this list.
21. Yancey Thigpen, Wide Receiver, 1998-2000
Yancey Thigpen was a consistent, reliable receiver in his time with the Titans, and he gave Steve McNair a good, veteran target during the Titans’ Super Bowl run in 1999.
Although he has a couple of All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections to his name, neither was while he was with the Titans. Even so, he was instrumental in the Titans’ 1999 season, rounding out a roster that also featured Kevin Dyson and Derrick Mason.
That season, Thigpen caught 38 passes for 648 yards and four touchdowns. His presence was missed in the Super Bowl game, where he didn’t play a snap.
20. Marcus Robertson, Safety, 1991-2000
There was a time when the Titans had one of the more feared safety tandems in the NFL. That time seems far removed these days, but when Marcus Robertson was with the team, safety play was very good.
Robertson made Pro Bowl appearances in 1993 and 1997, and in his stint with the Oilers/Titans, he recorded 648 tackles and 22 interceptions.
He ended his career with a couple of years playing for the Seattle Seahawks and is currently the secondary coach for the Detroit Lions.
19. Rob Bironas, Kicker, 2005-Present
Rob Bironas just got a big contract this offseason, and he’s earned it. He’s been with the Titans for eight years now, and despite coming off a down year, he’s been consistently one of the better kickers in the league for nearly that whole time.
With a career long of 60 yards (for comparison, Sebastian Janikowski’s is 63) and a career field-goal percentage of 85.6 percent, Bironas could end up usurping Al Del Greco’s spot as the leading scorer in franchise history.
He was a Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection in 2007.
18. Lorenzo Neal, Fullback, 1999-2000
Lorenzo Neal is one of the best fullbacks in recent NFL history, but I put him pretty low on this list because he only spent two years with the Titans.
In those two years, he blocked for the great Eddie George, and one of those years saw the Titans make it to the Super Bowl, but it’s still a pretty small impact in the grand scheme of things, so he’ll have to be content with No. 18.
Over the course of his whole career though, Neal was selected for four Pro Bowls and had a couple of All-Pro selections as well.
17. Brad Hopkins, Offensive Tackle, 1993-2005
It’s been a long time since the Titans/Oilers franchise hasn’t had a stable left tackle situation.
Before Michael Roos, Brad Hopkins held down the left side of a legendary offensive line that also featured Hall of Famers Bruce Matthews, Mike Munchak, and, on the right side in 2005, Michael Roos.
He also protected Steve McNair’s blind side for the quarterback’s entire career with the Titans, so his impact can’t be overstated.
After his long and outstanding career (he made two Pro Bowls), he was replaced by current left tackle Michael Roos.
16. Samari Rolle, Cornerback, 1998-2004
Samari Rolle was a great corner in his day. In his seven years with the Titans, he racked up 23 interceptions, 51 defended passes and one appearance in the Pro Bowl in 2000.
That year, he was an invaluable part of the Titans defense, netting them seven interceptions.
Of course, he had a lot of safety help from Marcus Robertson and Blaine Bishop, but he still proved himself to be a very good corner.
He went on to play for the Baltimore Ravens before retiring in 2007.
15. Frank Wycheck, Tight End, 1995-2003
Frank Wycheck was central to the Titans’ passing game for years. In a time when tight ends weren’t utilized like they are now, Wycheck went six straight seasons with over 500 receiving yards.
He distinguished himself as a blocker as well, clearing downfield threats away from Derrick Mason and Eddie George.
He appeared in three Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro once, all while he played for the Titans. Other than his first two years with the Washington Redskins, he stayed with the Oilers/Titans franchise for his entire career.
14. Cortland Finnegan, Cornerback, 2006-2011
I really hated to see Cortland Finnegan head to the Rams. He brought an attitude to the Titans defense that’s tough to replicate.
Finnegan is still a top-level corner, but now his coverage skills are helping the Rams get better under former Titans coach Jeff Fisher.
Finnegan is disliked by many players, but Titans fans loved him. When a guy has to face one of the greatest wide receivers of all time twice a year, every year, and still does a pretty good job of keeping him covered, he’s doing something right.
Finnegan only went to the Pro Bowl once, but he deserves more. His career is far from over, so he may get there.
Not bad for a seventh-round draft pick.
13. Kyle Vanden Bosch, Defensive End, 2005-2009
Kyle Vanden Bosch was recently cut by the Lions, but before that, he played for current Lions coach Jim Schwartz at his previous job: defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans.
Vanden Bosch started with the Arizona Cardinals, but didn’t make a big impact with the team. Then, when defensive line coach Jim Washburn got hold of him, he put his skills to use.
In his first season with the Titans, Vanden Bosch racked up 12.5 sacks. He only had four sacks in his whole career before that.
He went on to be a three-time Pro Bowler and part of one of the fiercest defensive lines in football, alongside Albert Haynesworth. He was a big part of the tough trench play that made the 2008 Tennessee defense so dominant.
12. Chris Johnson, Running Back, 2008-Present
I am one of those guys who criticizes Chris Johnson an awful lot, but he’s still the second-best running back in franchise history, with a chance to become the greatest.
With a new and improved offensive line, CJ2K has a good shot at making yet another Pro Bowl to add to his résumé. He already has three to his name, along with an All-Pro designation.
He’ll never have another 2,000-yard season, but having just one puts him on a very short list, so I don’t think only having one will hinder his legacy.
He also still has his scouting-combine record, along with more 80-yard runs than any other running back in NFL history.
11. Al Del Greco, Kicker, 1991-2000
When you look back over a franchise’s history, it’s easy to forget kickers. Al Del Greco was one of the best ever, and in fact, he’s No. 11 in all-time scoring in the NFL’s history.
He spent 10 seasons with the Oilers/Titans, and in that time, kicked an untold number of game winning field goals. In the Titans’ only Super Bowl appearance, he made one field goal to tie the game. The Titans eventually lost, but it certainly wasn’t due to him.
I love Bironas as much as the next fan, but he’s got a way to go before he’s on Del Greco’s level.
10. Michael Roos, Offensive Tackle, 2005-Present
Brad Hopkins was a great player, but his replacement turned out to be even better. Michael Roos is the best player who’s still with the Titans, where he’s spent his entire playing career thus far.
Roos has been a top-five left tackle in the league for nearly his entire career. Even in an era where left tackles can go with the first overall pick, this second-rounder outplays all but a few, season after season.
Roos only has one Pro Bowl to his name, but he’s been selected as an All-Pro three times. He’s closer to the end of his career than the beginning now, but he still has plenty of football left in him.
Also, his alma mater named their field after him, so there’s that.
9. Albert Haynesworth, Defensive Tackle, 2002-2008
Albert Haynesworth is unfortunately remembered now as one of the biggest free-agent busts ever, but for a time, he was the best defensive player in the NFL.
He was a two-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro, but those numbers just don’t do his play justice. He was double-teamed on almost every play, but still came away with 14.5 sacks in 2007 and 2008, along with six defended passes, three forced fumbles and 91 total tackles.
In 2008, James Harrison won Defensive Player of the Year because people like to see sacks, but Haynesworth was the better player.
8. Blaine Bishop, Safety, 1993-2001
Blaine Bishop is the kind of player whom the Titans could have really used in 2012. Bishop was a hard-hitting, tackling machine, who accumulated 517 total tackles and 12 forced fumbles in his time with Tennessee.
In the last few years of his career, he, Marcus Robertson, and Samari Rolle formed one of the most formidable defensive backfields the NFL had to offer. Robertson and Rolle were great, but Bishop was the unit’s unquestioned leader.
In his 10-year career, he went to four Pro Bowls and was selected as an All-Pro three times.
He provided veteran leadership, not just for the defensive backs, but for the entire Titans defense, and without him, the Titans may not have made it from a wild-card spot all the way to an AFC Championship and a neck-and-neck loss to the “Greatest Show on Turf.”
7. Kevin Mawae, Center, 2006-2009
Kevin Mawae is one of the best centers in recent history, but he gets knocked down to No. 7 on the list because he didn’t spend that many good years with the Titans.
From 2006 to 2008, he earned his reputation as the best center in the game. In 2008, it was the dominating play of the Titans offensive line that allowed them to win 13 games, despite playing their entire season with backup quarterback Kerry Collins under center.
Without that offensive line, led by Mawae, the Titans’ smash-and-dash running back system would never have been as effective as it was.
Over his entire career, Mawae’s honors are staggering. He has eight Pro Bowls and eight All-Pro selections to his name, even though only two of each came while he was with the Titans.
6. Derrick Mason, Wide Receiver, 1997-2004
Derrick Mason spent a lot of time as a Baltimore Raven, but most of his prime playing career was spent with Tennessee.
Even though the Titans are stacked at the receiver position right now, Mason is undoubtedly the most talented receiver that ever played for the team.
In his time with the team, Mason had 453 receptions, over 6,000 receiving yards and 39 touchdowns. He also made a couple of Pro Bowls.
Over the course of his entire career, he increased his numbers to 943 receptions for over 12,000 yards and 68 touchdowns.
5. Jevon Kearse, Defensive End, 1999-2003, 2008-2009
Nicknamed “The Freak” for his athleticism, Jevon Kearse was the best pass-rusher in Titans franchise history.
In his first year as a player, he showed just how he earned that nickname by picking up 14.5 sacks and forcing eight fumbles. After that, he hardly saw a snap that didn’t have him double-teamed.
Even so, he finished his career with 74 total quarterback sacks, 22 defended passes, 28 forced fumbles and 245 total tackles.
He was also selected to the Pro Bowl three times, and most importantly, returned to the Titans to play his last two seasons before retiring.
4. Eddie George, Running Back, 1996-2003
Chris Johnson is great, but at this point in his career, Eddie George is the better running back.
The Heisman Trophy winner was the picture of consistency for the Titans. In his eight years as the Titans’ primary runner, he only came short of 1,000 yards once and earned a trip to four Pro Bowls on the way. You don’t see that level of durability in running backs anymore.
The combination of Eddie George and Steve McNair kept the Titans relevant even when the team was in flux.
In total, while with Tennessee, George’s numbers look like this: 2,733 carries, 10,009 rushing yards, 2,144 receiving yards and 74 touchdowns.
In 2011, George was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
3. Keith Bulluck, Linebacker, 2000-2009
Keith Bulluck is, in my opinion, the best defensive player in the history of the Tennessee Titans. He was a tackling machine, a leader on the field, and seemingly, an all-around nice guy.
The three-time All-Pro totaled 770 tackles, 15 forced fumbles, 69 defended passes, 19 interceptions and 18 sacks while he was with Tennessee. Not to mention the fact that from 2002 onward, he didn’t miss a single game.
He was durable, he was reliable, he was consistent and he was even occasionally a playmaker.
Bulluck played one year for the New York Giants before retiring a Titan in 2012.
2. Bruce Matthews, Center, 1983-2001
Bruce Matthews is the only player who played for the Tennessee Titans to be in the Hall of Fame, but that’s not all he has on his résumé with the team.
Matthews appeared in a ridiculous 14 Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro selection 10 times. Add to that the number of years he played in the league (19 years) and you see why Matthews was an easy choice for the Hall of Fame, since he may be the best center to ever play the game.
Currently, Matthews is with the Titans as offensive line coach, under his former teammate and fellow Hall of Fame offensive lineman Mike Munchak.
His nephew, Clay Matthews III, has already turned himself into a regular at the Pro Bowl, and his son, Jake Matthews, is considered one of the top left tackle prospects in the 2013 class.
1. Steve McNair, Quarterback, 1995-2005
No. 1 Steve McNair has to be the only true franchise quarterback in the team’s history.
“Air McNair” took the Titans to the playoffs four times and split an MVP award with Peyton Manning, while also getting selected to three Pro Bowls and picking up a Walter Payton award in 1993 for good measure.
McNair threw 156 touchdowns in the 10 years he played for Tennessee, rushing for 36 more. If Kevin Dyson had made it one yard further, he’d also have a Super Bowl ring.
Tragically, Steve McNair was killed in a murder-suicide in 2009. Members of the Tennessee Titans wore a No. 9 sticker on their helmets the following season in his memory.