It’s the time of year Tennessee Titans fans look forward to almost as much as the season opener.
The 2018 NFL Draft is less than a week away, with the first round scheduled to get started at 8 p.m. ET on April 26.
The Tennessee Titans have had an inspiring offseason. Tennessee general manager Jon Robinson brought in Mike Vrabel as the head coach and put an impressive coaching staff together around him, notable offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur and defensive coordinator Dean Pees. Free agency has been highlighted by the signings of cornerback Malcolm Butler and running back Dion Lewis, both former New England Patriots. The additions of offensive lineman Kevin Pamphile — a swing lineman who can play all over the line, and fill in for right tackle Jack Conklin if he is unable to go at the start the season — defensive tackle Bennie Logan and backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert helped strengthen the free agency period. The Titans also retained defensive end DaQuan Jones, an incredibly-underrated signing, and offensive linemen Josh Kline and Quinton Spain.
With the vast majority of difference-making free agents finding new homes, it’s time to look at the five greatest needs for the Tennessee Titans heading into draft day.
With incumbent pass rushers Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo aging and entering the final year of their respective contracts, and former second-round pick Kevin Dodd showing little to nothing to inspire hope of any kind of production, outside linebacker is arguably the top need for the Titans. Tennessee has the luxury of drafting a future starting pass rusher while giving him a year to get his legs under him by playing behind veterans Morgan and Orakpo.
It is a real possibility the Titans use their first-round selection on this position. Investing so much in the secondary over the past two offseasons, it would make sense to see Robinson help out the secondary by providing another weapon in the pass rush, particularly early in the draft.
Though Wesley Woodyard has been a steal since coming to Nashville, the Titans lost starter Avery Williamson after he priced himself out of town during free agency. While Williams was solid in run defense, he often got exposed when dropping back in pass coverage. The Titans drafted Jayon Brown a year ago, but he hasn’t given the indication he can step in and start in 2018.
Tennessee should nab a well-rounded inside linebacker early. While drafting an edge rusher in the first would fill a future need, if the Titans can get a day-one starter at ILB with the 25th pick, that may be the route Robinson goes. Don’t be surprised if the Titans use their first two picks on the linebacking unit.
Tennessee signed Ben Jones two years ago and have gotten mixed results. In his first season, Jones played above average. He graded out overall as an 83 in 2016, according to Pro Football Focus’ grading system. Last year was a different story. Jones saw his production drop, grading out as an average run blocker (75.5 per PFF) but played poorly in pass protection (36.0).
Jones is a free agent after the 2019 season, but the Titans could choose to move on from the six-year pro prior to that. If Jones’ production continues to dip this season, Tennessee could decide to cut him and and save $4.5 million towards the cap, with just an $875, 000 hit in dead money in 2019. The Titans may be looking for his replacement in the middle rounds of the draft, using either the 89th or 125th pick.
Though the Titans retained Kline and Spain, offensive guard is still a fairly high need because the same duo weren’t especially effective.
Kline graded out overall at 75.8 and was above average in pass protection (84.0). His flaw — he was well below average in run blocking with a 46.4 grade. Spain was similar in production. He graded out 79.8 against the run but came in with a 58.8 grade in pass protection.
While the Titans may want to see how both players fit in their new system, it is very possible the coaching staff and front office look for a future starter at the position in the third of fourth rounds.
Though the Titans have their franchise quarterback in Marcus Mariota, the team still needs a reliable backup for the future. Tennessee thankfully moved on from Matt Cassel and upgraded the position by signing Gabbert to a two-year contract. Though Gabbert isn’t great, he is stable and can win in a pinch.
With Gabbert on board, the Titans can afford to draft a quarterback to groom for a backup role. Using a fifth or sixth-round selection on a signal caller would be wise, allowing the Titans to groom him for the next couple of seasons in the new offense before being able to step up to the No. 2 spot as Gabbert’s deal expires.