No need for some elaborate lede to this story. The Tennessee Titans hit a home run in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
The Titans moved up three spots via trade and selected Alabama ILB Rashaan Evans with the 22nd pick of the first round. Tennessee traded the 25th pick and 125th pick (fourth round) to the Baltimore Ravens for the 22nd pick and the 215th pick (sixth round).
Evans fills an immediate need for the Titans, perhaps the biggest need coming into the draft after Avery Williamson walked for a three-year, $22.5 million deal with the New York Jets in free agency. Tennessee general manager Jon Robinson and head coach Mike Vrabel just gave defensive coordinator Dean Pees a versatile 3-4 inside linebacker who will probably start Week 1. This pick has to be graded as an A.
Coming into draft day, many experts and fans alike had the Titans pegged to take a pass rusher in the first round. It was hard to argue the logic. OLBs Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan are getting older and are both in the final year of their contracts. Drafting a pass rusher like Boston College OLB Harold Landry, the best pass rusher on the board at the time and the selection many mock drafts had for the Titans, made all the sense in the world. Ideally, Landry would have sat behind Morgan and Orapo for a year, seeing action on situational passing downs, and groomed his way to a starting role in the future.
Instead, Robinson opted for arguably the best non-pass-rushing linebacker in the draft. Titans fans can expect a rangy linebacker who will fill many different roles in Pees’ attacking 3-4 defense. Almost as important, Evans plays with a high IQ and an angry attitude to go along with the championship pedigree of playing under legendary college coach Nick Saban for the national champion Alabama Crimson Tide.
Evans gives the Titans someone who will most likely be starting right away alongside ILB Wesley Woodyard. His ability to track the run with speed and rush the passer makes him a likely three-down linebacker. His only knock was slow play recognition in the middle, making him susceptible to getting exposed in pass coverage. While that is a severe red flag for Titans fans, who have had nightmares of the revolving door of ILBs giving up big plays to opposing tight ends over the years, you have to believe Vrabel and Pees don’t see any issue with further developing him as an anchor for the defense.
The Titans hold the 57th pick in the second round scheduled and there are still several impact players still available, including Landry. Robinson has shown the willingness to move around in the draft, so don’t be shock if the Titans make another move if they feel the value is there.