It’s already been a busy offseason for the Titans. They’ve managed to re-sign players such as DaQuan Jones and Josh Kline in the trenches while also bringing in cornerback Malcolm Butler and running back Dion Lewis via free agency.
The new additions are a welcomed sight. A starter needed to be brought in to play the outside cornerback opposite last year’s first-round pick, Adoree’ Jackson. With the addition of Butler, Logan Ryan can slide into the slot where he can be the most effective.
Lewis’ presence will provide a perfect complement to Derrick Henry, who has now moved into the starting role with the release of DeMarco Murray. Lewis can make an impact in the run game, but the biggest attribute that he’ll bring to the table is his ability to make game-changing plays as a receiver out of the backfield.
There’s no doubt that this Titans team has the chance to make a run at a second-consecutive playoff trip. They just need a little more help. Now it’s time for them to turn their attention to the upcoming NFL draft, which will start on Apr. 28 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Tex.
Here are five players they need to look at:
1. Rashaan Evans LB, Alabama
There aren’t too many players in this draft that have a higher ceiling than Alabama’s Rashaan Evans. After spending a majority of his career as an edge rusher, the 6-3, 234-pound specimen made the move to inside linebacker prior to the 2016 season.
The results have been outstanding.
Evans possesses closing speed that is reminiscent of another former Alabama linebacker — Reuben Foster. No, he doesn’t bring the same instincts to the table, but we did see significant improvement in that area in year two.
For those calling for an edge rusher, Evans has the ability to fill that void on passing downs. His elite explosiveness allows him to be a terror getting after opposing quarterbacks. He can also provide a strong presence at inside linebacker on early downs. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him used in a similar way to how the Packers have used Clay Matthews in recent years.
It’s possible that Evans doesn’t even make it to Tennessee at No. 25 overall. If he’s there, he’s the most logical choice for a team that lost its top inside linebacker — Avery Williamson — in free agency.
2. Braden Smith OG, Auburn
Tennessee decided to bring back both guards — Josh Kline and Quinton Spain — from last season. Kline was resigned to four-year, $26 million deal with $12 million guaranteed. That’s obviously a strong indication that he’s in the plans long-term.
Spain, on the other hand, was only tagged with the “right of first refusal” tender, which could mean that the team isn’t too worried about losing him. It makes sense considering his fit in the Titans’ new zone-blocking scheme is questionable at best.
Auburn’s Braden Smith is the type of player who can start on the interior of your offensive line from day one and be effective for the next 10-plus years. At 6-6, 315 pounds, he’s got ideal size but also plays the leverage game well. His movement and athleticism (5.22 40-yard dash at the combine) fits perfectly in the new scheme.
Smith is set up to be an ideal pick on Day Two.
3. Harold Landry EDGE, Boston College
Most people are in agreement that the Titans need more youth at edge rusher. Brian Orakpo will be 32 years old in July and the 30s are quickly approaching Derrick Morgan as well.
As a result, Landry has been one of the most common picks for them in a lot of mock drafts.
It’s easy to see why he’s such a popular selection. Athletically, he’s one of the most explosive edge defenders in this year’s class. He doesn’t possess ideal size (6-3, 252) but he’s got a great combination of speed and burst that allows him to turn the corner on opposing offensive tackles.
Someone like Evans would kill two birds with one stone. But if Tennessee wants a true edge defender in the first-round, Landry will be the preferred selection at No. 27.
4. Nyheim Hines RB, N.C. State
The Titans have set themselves up nicely with a 1-2 punch of Henry and Lewis at the running back position. Both players complement each other well and should excel in the new offense.
That doesn’t mean the running back position should be ignored in the draft, however.
If you don’t think there’s a need to address the position any further, look at the New Orleans Saints. Despite signing Adrian Peterson in last offseason to pair with Mark Ingram, they decided to add a versatile piece like Alvin Kamara in the third-round of the 2017 draft.
It worked out well for them, too.
Hines is an exceptional fit as an outside zone runner. With his 4.38 40-yard dash at the combine (best among the running backs), he’s actually got a lot more speed than even a guy like Lewis. Otherwise, the two are fairly comparable as far as measurements are concerned. Hines is 5-8, 198 pounds while Lewis stands 5-8, 195.
Hines should be one the prime targets on Day Three.
5. Da’Ron Payne DT, Alabama
This is the third player from the state of Alabama to make this list. While that may seem excessive, the fits for all of these players couldn’t be better.
New defensive coordinator Dean Pees is coming over from the Baltimore Ravens, where he was able to field an elite presence at nose tackle for his entire stint. First, it was Haloti Ngata. Then, it was followed by Brandon Williams.
Resigning DaQuan Jones could end up making this selection less likely with Jurrell Casey already on the roster. But Payne brings the presence and versatility that would make it hard to pass up on draft day if he was there at No. 25. He’d be an ideal fit in Pees hybrid defense.
Payne is the least likely candidate on the list, but don’t be completely shocked if you end up hearing his name called when Tennessee is on the clock.