The Tennessee Titans’ hopes of moving past the 9-7 record they’ve posted for three seasons in a row seem to rest squarely on the shoulders of three players in 2019.

While every player on the Titans’ final 53-man roster will certainly have importance, as will be the case with all NFL teams, these three players’ performances, in particular, will go a long way toward determining the team’s fate.

1. RB Derrick Henry

It took quite some time for the Titans’ fan-favorite running back to get going during the 2018 season, posting above 3.2 yards-per-carry just once during the team’s first seven games. Once he did get into a rhythm, though, he was a major force to be reckoned with.

In just a few weeks, Henry went from being frequently criticized by both himself and the media to almost single-handedly carrying the Titans’ offense during a four-game winning streak the team went on during the month of December.

The transformation was shocking, considering how ineffective Henry was at the beginning of the season. Confidence and a new, more aggressive style of running both contributed to the change.

Heading into 2019, Henry will need to avoid reverting to his old ways. If he is able to continue the dominance that he started at the end of the 2018 season, every member of the Titans’ offense will have a much easier job.

“Derrick is going to be a big part of our offense,” new Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith said shortly after being hired. “Derrick has got a rare skill set, he’s one of the few guys that – he’s a home run hitter.

“Obviously, as I said, we’re taking another step hopefully with him. What he did the last five weeks will open up a lot of things, and hopefully, again, to improve what he did. But, Derrick will be a big part of the offense.”

An ineffective Henry in 2019 would make things a lot more difficult for quarterback Marcus Mariota, as the Titans would be forced to count on him for essentially all of their offensive production. That would not bode well for the fifth-year quarterback, as he has repeatedly shown that he struggles when placed in one-dimensional situations.

In a contract year, Henry should have extra motivation to keep up his newfound aggressive style of running. For the Titans’ sake, he better do just that.

2. OLB Harold Landry

The Titans’ starters at outside linebacker in 2018, Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo, put up horrific production. The two players, whose primary charge was to get after the quarterback, combined for a putrid 2 sacks.

With Morgan and Orakpo now retired, it will be up to veteran Cameron Wake and second-year player Harold Landry to give the Titans a respectable pass rush in 2019.

Despite the lack of pass rush success, the Titans’ defense was one of the most productive in the league last season, thanks to their outstanding secondary and speedy corps of inside linebackers.

Adding a pass rush that frequently gets after the quarterback to those two elements could make the Titans’ defense a true force to be reckoned with in 2019.

At age 37, Cameron Wake figures to play only limited snaps. His role will likely be geared more toward being a third-down specialist. Landry, on the other hand, is full of youth and will be counted on by the Titans in a big way this season.

“I expect a lot from myself,” Landry said during Titans OTAs. “That’s why I take this game so seriously…I expect myself to be a game-changer, a playmaker out on the field that guys can look at me and not say, ‘oh, he can just get the job done.’ I want to get the job done and make plays be able to create turnovers, help our defense out to give our offense as many chances as possible.”

By not drafting an edge rusher until the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, the Titans showed that they have a lot of confidence in Landry to take on a big role this season. If that confidence ends up being misguided, the Titans’ pass rush could be in for another long season.

3. QB Marcus Mariota

Marcus Mariota has more riding on him than any other player on the Titans’ roster heading into 2019.

As the commander-in-chief of the offense, quarterbacks always face pressure and have a lot to do with their team’s overall success. But for Mariota in 2019, things will be at a different level.

Not only is Mariota heading into a contract year, but he’s also heading into a season that will ultimately decide how he spends the rest of his career.

If Mariota finally steps up to the plate, produces at a high level, and leads the Titans to a successful season, then he will all but certainly either be extended or receive the franchise tag. If he misses a handful of games due to injury and, yet again, produces at a lackluster level, then he will likely be forced to move onto another franchise.

Luckily for Mariota, a major focus of the Titans’ offseason was improving the pieces around the quarterback on offense. They signed receiver Adam Humphries and guard Rodger Saffold in free agency, and they drafted receiver A.J. Brown with their second-round pick.

The Titans also helped out Mariota by hiring from within to fill their vacancy at offensive coordinator. Arthur Smith will keep much of the same terminology and verbiage that Matt LaFleur, now the head coach in Green Bay, used last year.

That also means that, if Mariota is unable to succeed this season, there will be no excuses. He no longer has inferior talent to work with or an overwhelming new offense to learn.

The Titans’ roster, as a whole, looks to be set up for a great season. But if their quarterback is unable to rise to the occasion, it could all be worthless.

Cover image: Christopher Hanewinchel/USA Today

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