3 draft needs for the Tennessee Titans
The Titans’ physical transformation took a perfect form last offseason. The hiring of Mike Mularkey was mocked by multiple sources, yet the clarity of his old-school approach has benefited Tennessee tremendously. Building the trenches was the priority, and the revamped offensive line emerged as one of the best units in the league. They plowed plenty of holes for the dangerous duo of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. On the other side of the ball, the defense has plenty of adequate performers, yet few difference-makers. Playmakers are more of a priority in this year’s draft than specific positions for the Titans’ talented roster.
Need: Wide receiver
Rishard Matthews was one of the best signings of the 2016 free agency. He came close to cracking 1,000 yards, scored nine touchdowns and dropped just a single pass. Matthews remains one of the league’s underrated wide receivers. Behind him, however, the Titans lack quality options. Tajae Sharpe enjoyed a respectable rookie season, but he’s yet to convince as an NFL starter. Harry Douglas, meanwhile, is more a special-teamer than a regular wideout. The physical upgrade enacted across the roster under Mularkey is likely to spread to the receiver position this offseason.
Early-round target: Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
A physical prototype of Williams’ quality could complete the Titans’ offense. His skillset is imposing for any defensive back, including some of the NFL’s specimens. Williams dominates at the catch point, using his large frame to bully corners. Spectacular catches are commonplace for the Clemson product, who produced a memorable performance in his team’s National Championship victory. Williams is also a terror on back-shoulder throws, using his huge wingspan to generate separation. He is maybe the top wideout of this class, capable of making an instant impact in the pros.
Mid- or late-round target: Bug Howard, WR, North Carolina
North Carolina has three legitimate NFL receivers entering the draft this year. Howard is the least discussed, but could emerge as the best at the next level. Again, he fits the size requirements to fill a specific niche in the Titans’ receiving corps. At the very least, Howard would improve Tennessee’s ground game. He is the most physically imposing blocker in this class, relishing his duals on the perimeter. Howard is also an effective receiver, displaying ridiculously strong hands, sufficient speed to get deep and an ability to catch in traffic. He would be an excellent mid-round option.
Logan Ryan was the Titans’ most significant investment in free agency. In contrast, coming off injury, Jason McCourty’s starting spot is anything but secure. Like with other positions, Tennessee is not desperate for a corner, yet an elite individual at the position could take the performance of the group up a notch. Sitting at fifth overall, the Titans will likely have their pick of the position.
Early-round target: Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
Shutdown corners are rare in college, yet Lattimore blanketed receivers almost faultlessly in 2016. He only allowed 18 receptions, or just over one per game on average, last season, also picking off four passes and giving up just one touchdowns. Lattimore has all the tools of a top-five prospect, displaying the length to press, instincts to play zone and movements skills to close cushions. The former Buckeye also recorded a perfect season as a tackler, successfully completing all 40 takedowns he attempted in 2016. Lattimore is a special corner prospect.
Mid- or late-round target: Corn Elder, CB, Miami (FL)
Dick LeBeau likes to get creative on the backend of his defense. Versatile players capable of executing a number of coverages are a priority for his scheme. A veteran of close to 40 years in the coaching ranks, Lebeau saw first-hand the success of the cover two. Although not his primary coverage last year, the Titans still use the two-high zone fairly frequently. Elder is an outstanding curl/flat corner. He relishes mixing it up close to the line of scrimmage, attacking plays aggressively from the perimeter. Elder sheds blocks with ease, and reads misdirection marvellously. He’s also competent in man coverage, even if he could track the ball better at the catch point. That minor weakness won’t prevent him from succeeding in the NFL.
Need: Edge rusher
Great defenses are built on pass-rush depth. After selecting Kevin Dodd in the second round in 2016, the Titans should dip back into the position this year. There are few weaknesses across the roster, leaving the front office with the license to select difference-makers when their card comes up. Elite edge rushers can elevate whole units. Incumbents Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan are more than solid, but age and injury are concerns respectively. Dodd, on the other hand, struggled upon his return from injury. The Titans would be wise to invest in a variety of options for collapsing the pocket.
Early-round target: Carl Lawson, Edge, Auburn
Few prospects possess Lawson’s consistency. While his sack totals underwhelm, his overall pressure profile stands out as among the best in this class. Lawson has rare explosion, combining that quickness with an incredibly refined technique. He runs the arc beautifully, turning the corner effortlessly against overmatched tackles. The middle of the first round is a perfect spot for him. Although Lawson won’t add a ton of physicality to Dick Lebeau’s front-seven, he could provide the final touches taking the group from good to great.
Mid- or late-round target: Deatrich Wise, Edge, Arkansas
Versatility is one of Wise’s key assets. He could play outside linebacker in base and goal line packages, before kicking inside in the nickel. Alongside Karl Klug and Jurrell Casey, he would help provide one of the deeper interior pass-rush units in the league. His violence at the point of attack suits the tone of the Titans’ defense, and Wise combines that strength with above-average athleticism to collapse the pocket. A ludicrous, MVP-level performance in the Shrine game (eight pressures in 35 rushes with three stops) only boosted his stock.