The Tennessee Titans’ Cinderella run at a Super Bowl berth fell short in the AFC Championship game, where Mike Vrabel’s squad fell to the Kansas City Chiefs by a score of 35-24 after jumping out to an early 10-0 lead. Now, with Tennessee’s season in the rearview mirror, the focus turns to the future, and more specifically, prolonging this unexpected championship window. By pinpointing their top three NFL Draft needs, Tennessee can start this complex process.
The Titans have a lot of solid pieces in place, but the NFL landscape changes quickly. With several star players set to hit free agency, and several key veterans aging past their primes, the Titans 2020 offseason will be a pivotal offseason for the franchise. It’s this kind of uncertainty that can send playoff teams crumbling back into the depths of mediocrity. How Tennessee handles this will be a harrowing test. Without further consternation, let’s diagnose Tennessee’s top three draft needs.
Running Back: Quality running backs can be found at various junctures in the NFL Draft, so this need doesn’t carry as much weight. But if the Titans are to reprise their run-oriented offensive attack in 2020, they’ll need a runner who can carry the torch if Derrick Henry leaves. Henry had a lot of help from Tennessee’s offensive line, but his individual prowess deserves recognition as well. There are a lot of reasons to let him walk, but the void left by his departure would be undeniable.
Quarterback: There seems to be momentum on the Ryan Tannehill extension front, and Tannehill certainly played well enough in 2019 to warrant a long-term contract after taking the job from Marcus Mariota. But there’s still a remote possibility the Titans decide he isn’t worth the money. They can’t pay for everyone, and there exists a scenario where Henry and Jack Conklin stay, while Tannehill doesn’t. If that’s the case, they need a new quarterback.
Tennessee Titans top three NFL Draft needs
The Titans’ inability to adapt on offense was one reason the team failed to overcome the Chiefs’ comeback in the AFC Championship game, but another reason for failure was the inconsistency of the pass defense. The Titans have two starters in Adoree Jackson and Logan Ryan, but Malcolm Butler has regressed heavily since joining Tennessee, and Ryan turns 29 in February, growing ever closer to the cornerback cliff.
The depth of this cornerback class plays into the Tennessee Titans’ hands, and it will allow them to address one of their top three draft needs. Getting more speed at the position is always the best bet, and it’s one the Titans recently took with Jackson. Players like Jeff Gladney and C.J. Henderson could provide that if they’re still available at #29, and a bit later on, there are other alternatives, such as Utah’s Jaylon Johnson.
#2. Edge Rusher
Harold Landry took a massive leap in Year 2, solidifying himself as a foundational centerpiece on Tennessee’s defensive front. But Landry only makes half of an edge-rushing duo, and the Titans didn’t get the expected return from Cameron Wake. The veteran exploded for 2.5 sacks in Week 1, then disappeared for the rest of the season.
It’s never a bad idea to invest heavily in one of the most important defensive positions, so edge rusher is no doubt an area Tennessee should look to insulate in the 2020 NFL Draft. In this sense, Tennessee’s playoff run hurts them; edge-rushing options might be sparse at #29. Yetur Gross-Matos is one exciting option who could slip, and Curtis Weaver might also be Vrabel’s kind of defensive end.
#1. Offensive Lineman
Like most of Tennessee’s roster outlook, the offensive line situation is contingent on free agency. Right tackle Jack Conklin played well down the stretch in the playoffs, serving as a key cog in the team’s rushing attack, and he’s a free agent in March. There’s also the interior to consider, where Rodger Saffold is set to turn 32 in June. He played very well in 2019 for Tennessee, but his long-term outlook is uncertain.
The 2020 NFL Draft is deep at tackle, so the Tennessee Titans will have ample opportunity to fill one of their top three draft needs, whether with the 29th pick or later on. Mekhi Becton is a powerful bookend who moves well for his size and could be a good fit. On the interior, there is depth as well. Round 1 might not be the best place for that position, but on Day 2, players like Shane Lemieux and Lloyd Cushenberry could work out well.