Who should the Titans select with the No. 1 overall pick?
The playoff matchups are set, which of course means the top of the draft is locked in as well. After drafting second overall last season, the Tennessee Titans are now on the clock as months of draft speculation begins. The one bright side to Tennessee’s position is having quarterback Marcus Mariota on the roster after selecting him a year ago. The new head coach should feel comfortable with Mariota, as he showed enough in his first year that he can be the franchise QB going forward. That opens up a myriad of questions as far as which direction the Titans turn, and even with their pending offensive and defensive schemes unknown, there are only a few names at the top worth watching.
Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
Our top-graded edge defender for the second year in a row, Bosa is the draft’s best player, bringing an all-around ability to rush the passer and play the run.
His +43.5 pass rush grade ranked second in the nation this season, compared to a nation-leading +56.6 last year as he outplayed first round edge players such as Dante Fowler (Jacksonville Jaguars), Vic Beasley (Atlanta Falcons), Bud Dupree (Pittsburgh Steelers), and others.
Bosa was similarly dominant against the run, grading at +21.5 last season (third in nation) and leading the way at +28.5 this year. The only question with Bosa may be that of defensive scheme, but he’s best equipped to play 4-3 defensive end or kicking inside to take on guards as an interior rusher. No matter what the defense looks like for the Titans next season, Bosa is a game-changer on the defensive line and he would be a strong addition for an underrated front-7 in Tennessee that includes Jurrell Casey, Derrick Morgan, and Brian Orakpo.
DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon
Staying on the defensive line, Buckner was similarly-dominant this season, leading all interior defensive linemen with a +70.0 overall grade. Like Bosa, Buckner’s impact is twofold, whether rushing the passer (+42.2) or playing the run (+27.7).
While Bosa may be a better fit outside on a four-man line, Buckner is more of a defensive end in a 3-4, also capable of playing inside on a four-man line rushing the passer. For that reason, Tennessee’s defensive scheme may dictate that Buckner is a better fit if they stick to a similar 3-4 that they ran this season.
At 6-foot-7, 290 pounds, the easy comparison for Buckner is that of Arizona Cardinals DE Calais Campbell, and it’s not far-fetched to expect similar production from the former Oregon Duck. Regardless of scheme, Buckner is capable of rushing on the outside against offensive tackles, using his length to lean on the pocket in an oversized Chandler Jones kind of way. Keep an eye on the Titans’ hire on the defensive side of the ball as a true 3-4 coach may look to a pairing of Buckner and Casey at defensive end as a perfect building block to go with Morgan and Orakpo at outside linebacker.
Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
Perhaps the most common mock draft selection for the Titans is Tunsil, who fits the classic left tackle mold and may be the top offensive tackle prospect in the draft. He came on strong this season, ranking seventh among OTs at +16.4 since returning from suspension in week eight.
The problem here, and this is more of a personal one, is the lack of need for a “franchise” left tackle in the NFL these days. While offensive line play around the league has been poor, and adding any good player to the mix is a positive, the value of the left tackle is not what it once was, as the NFL continues to move their pass rushers around and right tackles face a more difficult slate of pass rushers than their left tackle brethren (and the results are similar when the QB is pressured off either edge).
So for the next five months, you’ll hear about “protecting Mariota’s blindside” and Tunsil’s perfect fit for Tennessee, whereas I’m more inclined not to overdraft a left tackle and would rather get a game-changing defensive lineman. The other factor in play? The NFL passing game is evolving to the point that a quick-hitting attack and spread running game can help mitigate weaknesses along the offensive line, so stocking up on unique skillsets at the skill position players may be a more viable strategy than ever. That’s why Tunsil’s teammate may be a wild card to be the top pick, despite flying in the face of conventional wisdom.
Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
A wide receiver at the top?
It may be a stretch, especially considering how most experts scoff at wide receivers at the top of the draft, but the new NFL is more conducive to playmakers than ever. Rules changes make it easier to pass and a wide array of playmaking options can turn good quarterback play into a great passing game, and that’s the strategy the Titans should be looking to take with Mariota.
Wide receivers need to be able to either win contested downfield catches or create yards after the catch, and Treadwell has the ability to do both. He had the number eight receiving grade against Power-5 competition (+12.7) and as the bowl game showed (+2.9), a healthy Treadwell can take over the game.
He was successful this season despite coming off a major injury and he has the physicality to bring an all-around threat to any offense. So while there are better options to take with the top pick, and enough wide receiver depth to dive into the second and third rounds, surrounding Mariota with a variety of playmakers should be a priority for the Titans this offseason.