For a team coming off a division championship in 2020, the Tennessee Titans need help in many areas during the 2021 NFL Draft this week. Other than running back and quarterback, the Titans will be looking to add talent to the roster for every other position group via the draft.
The Titans were one of the worst defenses in the NFL in 2020. The team was 30th in sacks and was horrendous at preventing 3rd down conversions. Some help has arrived with the pass rush as the team signed Bud Dupree (OLB) from Pittsburgh and Denico Autry (DL) from Indianapolis. Last year these two combined for 15.5 sacks. The entire Titans team only managed 19 in 2020 (for reference, the Steelers led the league with 56). So, pass rush was a need that has been at least somewhat addressed through free agency but will still be a draft need for the Titans on day two or three.
Desmond King, Adoree Jackson, and Malcolm Butler were starters for the Titans’ secondary last season, but they are on different rosters starting in 2021. Tennessee only added the very veteran (32 years old) Janoris Jenkins during free agency, so there is a definite defensive back draft need here.
Offensive line was a need the Titans thought they were getting help within the 2020 draft. Sadly, they ended up with one of the greatest draft busts of all time in tackle, Isaiah Wilson. Wilson played only a handful of snaps all year and was in and out of trouble (mostly “in”). During the off-season, the Titans traded Wilson to the Dolphins for the equivalent of a bag of slightly used gym socks. About a week later, Miami released him. So, unfortunately, offensive line will once again be a need for Tennessee.
The passing corp revolves around rising superstar A.J. Brown. The Titans also added a versatile veteran by signing Josh Reynolds away from the Rams. Every other pass catcher of note from last season (Jonnu Smith, Corey Davis, and Adam Humphries) are all gone. Fortunately for the Titans, this is a fairly deep wide receiver class.
Priorities: First Round Draft Needs and Beyond
In my opinion, the Titans have helped the pass rush side of the defensive equation with the additions of Dupree and Autry. Adding depth there is always a good thing, but not with a first-round pick.
Offensive line help eluded Tennessee last season, but the first-round-worthy offensive tackles in this class will likely be gone by the time pick 22 rolls around. If by some miracle one of the top tier trio of Penei Sewell (Oregon), Rashawn Slater (Northwestern), or Christian Darrisaw (Virginia Tech) fall to the Titans, then general manager Jon Robinson should snatch them up. Otherwise, the Titans would be wise to use day two or three to build depth at the o-line positions.
That leaves us with pass catchers and defensive backs. Those spots are the ones to consider when the Titans submit their first-round selection on Thursday night.
Titans’ Draft Options: Pass Catchers
The top-shelf pass-catchers will be long gone when the Titans get their turn at the podium. Kyle Pitts (Florida), Ja’Marr Chase (LSU), DeVonta Smith (Alabama), and Jaylen Waddle (Alabama) will be off the board in the first 15 picks.
Tennessee will likely have the selection of these very talented, second-tier pass catchers (all wide receivers):
- Elijah Moore (Ole Miss) is a speedy (4.35 forty), undersized (5’-9”) slot receiver. He was extremely prolific in Lane Kiffin’s offense last year with 86 catches and nearly 1,200 yards in just 8 games.
- Rashod Bateman (Minnesota) is a good-sized and versatile receiver as he works both on the outside and in the slot. He has a reputation as a skilled route runner and can make the tough catches.
- Terrace Marshall (LSU) was a very productive pass catcher at LSU scoring 23 TDs over the last two seasons for the Tigers. He is on the big side (6’-3”) for a slot receiver and has a reputation for making contested catches with apparent ease but dropping the easy one from time to time.
- Kadarius Toney (Florida) is an electric and elusive athlete. He has sub-4.4 speed but is a very raw wide receiver with poor route-running skills. Toney reminds me of the kind of player Al Davis would pick way too early in drafts. As a point of reference, Toney had 8 catches for 108 yards and a TD against the Vols in 2020.
- Other wide receivers to watch in later rounds: Rondale Moore (Purdue), Dyami Brown (North Carolina) and, the Vols’ own, Josh Palmer. Palmer has been moving up draft boards over the last few weeks. Also, look for Pat Freiermuth (Penn State) to be an option at tight end during day two.
Titans’ Draft Options: Defensive Backs
Similar to wide receivers, the top corners will likely be gone before the Titans make their first-round selection. Patrick Surtain II (Alabama) is likely a top ten pick (with many mock drafts sending him to Dallas), and Jaycee Horn (South Carolina) will be gone by pick 15 at the latest.
The Titans still have some players to choose from that can start day one for their barren secondary:
- Caleb Farley (Virginia Tech) would be a top ten pick in this draft if not for recent back surgery. Tennessee has been known to roll the dice on elite players with injuries. That is how they landed Jeffrey Simmons (defensive end) in the 2019 draft. Farley, a cornerback, is big (6’-2”) and fast and allowed a meager 26.8 passer rating in 2019.
- Greg Newsome (Northwester) is known as a versatile cornerback. He excels as a pass defender and a run stopper. There isn’t much game experience to go by for Newsome, however, and that would be a concern to me.
- Trevon Moehrig (TCU) is a good-sized safety (6’-2”) who led FBS in pass breakups for safeties each of the last two seasons. He is also known as a good open-field tackler and has the ability to cover slot receivers one-on-one.
- Other defensive backs to keep an eye on in later rounds: Cornerbacks Asante Samuel, Jr. (Florida State) and Eric Stokes (Georgia) and safety Elijah Molden (Washington)are good options for the Titans’ secondary if they go a different direction in round one.
With the 22nd Pick…
…Commissioner Goodell will add, “the Tennessee Titans select Rashod Bateman, wide receiver, Minnesota.” (“Roger” that!)
Assuming the top-tier offensive tackles, wide receivers, and corners are all taken, Bateman makes the most sense. While there are glaring needs at both receiver and secondary, I think a solid defensive back or safety can be found on Friday. Most of the Day Two receiver options are a project to some degree and might not provide immediate help at the position. I prefer Bateman over other receivers that will likely be available at Pick 22 because of his size and his ability to play both the slot and on the outside. The other probable receiver options available to the Titans in round one are almost exclusively slot receivers.
Bateman’s polished route-running skills mean he will be spending more time in camp learning the playbook and less time working on technique. That kind of flexibility and prowess is valuable when looking at the lack of weapons Ryan Tannehill currently has on this Titans’ roster.
I would be happy with Elijah Moore, Caleb Farley, or Trevon Moehrig, too, as drafting any of these players can fill a need for the Titans. However, Bateman is a great fit in the offense, whether lining up opposite A.J. Brown or inside him positioned as a slot receiver. Of course, when Jon Robinson drafts a defensive lineman with the Titans’ first pick, none of this conjecturing will matter anyway.
I have always loved watching the NFL Draft, and I have done more research on players this year than in the past. I hope passing along some of this information will help you enjoy Draft Day a little bit more yourself, regardless of the accuracy of my prediction.