We are back in draft season, and it is time for all 32 NFL teams to make the necessary adjustments to be competitive going into next year. The Tennessee Titans have had yet another disappointing year, and have the first overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft as a result. It seems impossible that a franchise could have this many consecutive low draft picks and still have so much room for improvement, but these are the three key areas that the Titans need to address before the beginning of next season.
Tennessee Titans 2016 Off-Season: Top 3 Needs
Mariota was hit continuously and ferociously throughout 2015, which resulted in a string of missed games for the promising young quarterback. Although the Titans have a developing backup in Zach Mettenberger, this is a route that should be avoided at all costs by the Titans front office. With the addition of DeMarco Murray to the Titans’ roster, there is no doubt that the offensive line should be the focal point of the off-season plans.
Whether they draft a stud left tackle with the first overall pick of the 2016 draft or delve into what is a surprisingly deep free agency market remains to be seen. But I fully expect a revamped offensive line in 2016. Adding a true franchise tackle to the Titans front line relieves much of the pressure which has weighed down Taylor Lewan for much of his early career. Hopefully it will allow him to grow into a solid starter at either side of the offensive line.
Drafting a tackle would be an obvious solution to the Titans’ headaches, and it seems as though Laremy Tunsil is worthy of the first overall selection in this year’s draft. The Ole Miss star has drawn comparisons to four time Pro-Bowler Trent Williams, which will only increase his value for the Titans as they desperately seek someone who can provide consistent protection for Mariota. Many analysts have rumored that Tennessee could look to field offers for the top spot. Therefore it is important to look deeper into the class to see if there are any players who would be able to provide a similar level of protection as Tunsil moving forward while giving the Titans better value.
The Titans are unlikely to move out of the top five in the draft if they were to vacate the top of the order, and therefore another name high on their draft board will likely be Ronnie Stanley out of Notre Dame. Standing at 6’6″ and 312 pounds, he is a man mountain, and has the potential to be a Pro Bowl caliber starter in his rookie season in the NFL. Stanley is not only unanimously named as one of the top two tackle prospects in the country but is seen by many as a top 10 talent in this year’s class. He ran a 5.20 40-yard dash time, which is quicker than the average in the NFL. He also has 35 1/2 inch arms which shows he has all the physical tools needed to be successful at the next level. If the Titans look toward a tackle in the draft, then I am sure one of these two men will have their name emblazoned on a Tennessee jersey for years to come.
Alternative options lie in free agency, where the Titans would be able to find starting quality tackles on much smaller contracts than a first overall pick would cost them. With nearly $50,000,000 in cap space players such as Mitchell Schwartz become realistic possibilities. Schwartz is coming off of a stellar year, and has been the subject of much hype since the post-season as he has been recognized as the only tackle in the league able to shut down Von Miller all season. A reputation such as this is something which would undoubtedly entice the Titans front office. If the tackle position is addressed during free agency, then Lewan and his new partner will be responsible for the protection of Mariota, but if the Titans look to the draft, then expect either Tunsil or Stanley to get their first experience of pro football in Tennessee.
The wide receiver group is unfortunate, as they wouldn’t be such a point of emphasis had the Titans not just traded for DeMarco Murray. But now that there is an elite three-down back and a plethora of young runners in Tennessee, the Titans biggest issue besides the offensive line is the fact that their most reliable pass catcher is Delanie Walker.
This needs to change before they even think about competing in 2016. Thankfully for the Titans there are many veteran wideouts such as Roddy White, Brandon LaFell and Jerricho Cotchery who could all prove helpful in a receiving corps which is currently led by Kendall Wright. None of these options will offer you longevity at receiver (with the youngest of these three being 29 years old). Nevertheless, they could all make an instant impact in a lackluster group of wideouts at a relatively low cost. Not only would a veteran prove valuable to the team in terms of instant production, but players such as Dorial Green-Beckham would benefit hugely from having a leader in this offensive unit. If the Titans are willing to invest during free agency, then Marvin Jones from the Cincinnati Bengals would be a worthy pick-up this spring. He has developed into a solid number two receiver under Andy Dalton, and could improve further if placed at the top of the depth chart for Mariota’s offense.
Looking at the draft, adding a wide receiver from any of the first three rounds could be an option for the Titans if they move out of the first overall pick of course. Players such as Michael Thomas (Ohio State), Corey Coleman (Baylor) and Josh Doctson (TCU) all look as though they could be superstars at the next level but have been given late first to early second round grades by multiple scouts. This means that one if not all of them should be there to choose between with the 33rd overall pick of the draft. Corey Coleman is a man who would fit perfectly alongside DGB and Wright for Tennessee. At 5’11” and 194 lbs with a 40+ inch vertical jump, Coleman has all the physical tools necessary to be productive at the next level. If he is passed over by other teams in the latter stages of the first round, look for the Titans’ to be drafting him, or one of his competitors early in the second round.
One name who has intrigued many as a prospect is Ohio State’s Braxton Miller. Miller certainly didn’t lose value at the Combine. Instead, he used it as a platform to highlight his lateral quickness in front of the entire football community. He finished top of both the 2o and 60-yard shuttle among receivers, reinforcing the ideas which would have already been planted in the minds of NFL scouts at the Senior Bowl. Most analysts expect Miller to still be on the board in the third round, so if the Titans were to look at other positions of need, or go best player available with their early pick in round two, then he would be an option capable of providing help for Mariota in the future. Whichever option the Titans decide to take this off-season, there is every indication that a new wide receiver will make the Titans offense much more dynamic in 2016.
The Titans’ secondary was woeful last season. Although this was largely due to the absence of Jason McCourty, the level of depth beneath him at the cornerback position is underwhelming at best. Coty Sensabaugh underperformed last season, and should therefore be allowed to enter free agency without too much trouble. And so it is expected that the Titans will make an aggressive move for a cornerback in free agency. Prince Amukamara would be an excellent acquisition for Tennessee’s defense, having won the Super Bowl as a rookie. He would be able to bring invaluable experience to what would hopefully be an overhauled secondary while also being a reliable player at the top of the depth chart.
I’m sure many Titans fans are hoping that they pick up all the necessary pieces to fix their offensive line during free agency. Taking a left tackle at the top of the draft will never be considered a ‘fashionable pick’, and there is no prospect trending higher right now than Jalen Ramsey. The former FSU defender has been a superstar throughout college, and has been ranked by the majority of draft scouts as the top player of this year’s draft. It remains to be seen whether or not the Titans are willing to go with him at number one. But other than picking Tunsil to fill a need, there is arguably no other prospect who could challenge Ramsey to go first overall.
There are many options to explore in the second round of the draft and with the sheer number of quality corners in this year’s class, there is no question that there will be players capable of starting in the NFL still available at number 33. William Jackson (Houston), Eli Apple (Ohio State) and even Mackensie Alexander (Clemson) are all potential players who could land at Tennessee’s feet on April 28th. If the Titans are able to pull a cornerback in the early rounds of the 2016 NFL Draft, and perhaps also address this need in free agency, then they will have a much better chance in a disappointing AFC South.
There is the prospect of fans having a lot to be excited about regarding the future of the franchise. The Titans are in such a weak division that if these needs are addressed properly, then there is every possibility they could be a surprise team in 2016.