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2020 NFL Draft: Tennessee Titans Defensive Line Moves

Tennessee Titans Defensive Line

Tennessee Titans 2020 Draft

If there is one bright spot in the currently dark world of sports, it’s the NFL. With the NBA and MLB seasons on pause, the NFL has kept their offseason moving along with free agency and the upcoming draft. The draft will no longer be held in Las Vegas because of the coronavirus, but at it least hasn’t been postponed. However, with teams unable to bring players in for workouts, we could see a lot of unexpected twists and turns. 

As we try to gain some clarity heading into the draft, let’s dive into how things might play out for the Tennessee Titans. They have the 29th pick in the first round after having a surprisingly successful 2019 campaign. They didn’t exactly start off well, posting a 2-4 record through their first six games. Outside of a big performance against the Browns in Week 1, they generally struggled to score points across those first six games. In fact, they scored seven points or fewer in three of those contests. Their 16-0 loss to the Broncos in Week 6 resulted in quarterback Marcus Mariota being benched and Ryan Tannehill being inserted as the starting quarterback. Frankly, Mariota played poorly for much longer than those six games. Across the last two seasons, he combined for 24 touchdown passes and 23 interceptions. He also averaged just 180.6 passing yards per game in 2018.

Tannehill never panned out as a starter with the Dolphins, which resulted in him joining the Titans during the offseason as a backup. He only produced a winning record in one season in Miami and missed the entire 2017 campaign with a torn ACL. He didn’t exactly shine in his return in 2018, either, throwing 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions while averaging 179.9 passing yards across 11 games. However, he proved to be just what the Titans needed under center, lifting the team to a 7-3 record as a starter. He threw 22 touchdown passes across the 12 total games that he played, which was only the fourth time in his career that he threw at least 20 touchdown passes in a season. His 70.3 percent completion percentage was also the highest mark of his career. More importantly, though, is that he was only intercepted six times. 

Tennessee Titans 2020 Draft

The change at quarterback not only resulted in the Titans making the playoffs, but they did some damage once they got there. First, they eliminated the Patriots in what ended up being Tom Brady’s last game with the team. Then, they knocked off the Ravens in Baltimore. Ravens’ star quarterback Lamar Jackson had 365 passing yards and 143 rushing yards in that contest, but he threw just one touchdown pass while turning the ball over three times. The Titans ultimately fell short of reaching the Super Bowl after losing to the Chiefs, but the fact that they even made it that far was a huge boost to the organization.

2020 Offseason

Heading into the offseason, the Titans had two main goals. First, they wanted to lock up Tannehill long term. They did just that by signing him to a four-year contract extension worth $118 million. The next big item on their list was to retain star running back Derrick Henry, who often put the team on his back. He carried the ball 303 times during the regular season, racking up 1,540 yards and 16 touchdowns. In their two playoff wins, he totaled 377 rushing yards and one touchdown on 64 carries. By placing the franchise tag on him, they will keep him in the fold for at least one more year.

With both Tannehill and Henry returning, the Titans are unquestionably in a win-now mode. That’s big for General Manager Jon Robinson, who took on the role in January of 2016. They were 3-13 the season prior, but have gone 9-7 in each of the four seasons during his tenure, twice making the playoffs. His first draft in 2016 has to be considered a success since he selected offensive tackle Jack Conklin in the first round, Henry in the second round and safety Kevin Byard in the third round. The headline from his first draft was that he traded out of the top overall pick. In that deal, he sent the pick to the Rams, and eventually ended up with five picks in the first three rounds of the draft, as well as additional picks in upcoming drafts. He actually received the 15th overall pick back in that deal, but then traded back up to the eighth spot with the Browns to grab Conklin.

The additional picks that they received from the Rams in the 2017 Draft have also proven to be important. They turned out to be wide receiver Corey Davis, who was selected fifth overall, and tight end Jonnu Smith, who was drafted in the third round. Smith has the makings of being their tight end of the future after flashing some promise last season. He caught 35 of 44 targets for 439 yards and three touchdowns. Davis hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations yet, but some of that could be attributed to the Titans’ run-heavy style of play. He received more than five targets in a game only four times all last season, finishing with 69 in total. With that being said, if one thing is certain about Robinson during his tenure as GM, he’s not afraid to make a big trade. 

After going heavy on offensive players in the draft in 2016 and 2017, the Titans have loaded up on defenders the last two years. Seven of their 10 selections were on the defensive side of the ball. One of their most notable picks was outside linebacker Harold Landry in the second round of the 2018 Draft. After posting 4.5 sacks during his rookie campaign, he followed that up with nine sacks and 12 tackles for loss in 2019. They did appear to hit a home run with one of their offensive selections when they drafted wide receiver A.J. Brown in the second round in 2019. He has the makings of being a number one receiver after registering 52 catches for 1,051 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Brown especially thrived after Tannehill took over, finishing the season by registering at least 100 receiving yards in four of their last six games including five touchdowns. 

An interesting note is that Robinson has only drafted one quarterback during his tenure as the GM. That selection was Luke Falk in the sixth round in 2018, which obviously didn’t work out. A lot of that was probably because Mariota was drafted in 2015. Even with Tannehill locked up long term, do the Titans once again dip back into the quarterback pool of the draft? While it’s unlikely that they spend an early round pick on a quarterback, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them select one in the later rounds. Right now, backing up Tannehill is Logan Woodside. He has yet to throw a pass in the NFL after being selected in the seventh round of the 2018 Draft by the Bengals.

Among the players that they lost during the offseason is Conklin, which deals a massive blow to their offensive line. As of right now, Dennis Kelly is likely to replace him a right tackle. He’s mostly been a backup during his first four seasons with the Titans, starting a total of just 16 games. They liked him enough to lock him up long term, though, signing him to a three-year, $21 million contract this offseason. Still, don’t be surprised if the Titans use some of their draft capital on another tackle.

Another big area of need is the defensive line. They traded five-time Pro Bowler Jurrell Casey to the Broncos, creating a big hole in the middle. They haven’t addressed his departure via the free agent market yet, so this could be a position that they target in the draft. Another noteworthy departure is that of tight end Delanie Walker. The Titans will likely turn to Smith to fill his shoes, but they might also look to add some depth to the position.

Vic Beasley Tennessee Titans Linebacker

In terms of new additions this offseason, the biggest is that of linebacker Vic Beasley. He had eight sacks and 12 quarterback hits with the Falcons last year, both of which were the second-highest marks of his career in their respective categories.

Now that we’ve dug a little into the Titans past drafts under Robinson and what moves they have made during the offseason, let’s try to figure out which areas they might look to address in the 2020 Draft. They do not have a pick in the fourth or sixth rounds, but they do have two selections in the seventh round. In his recent roster breakdown, John Glennon of The Athletic mentioned that he expects the Titans to pursue a right tackle, help on the defensive line, a cornerback and a running back in the draft. He specifically mentions that he would not be surprised to see them select a right tackle and a cornerback early in the draft. With regards to players on the defensive line, he noted Auburn’s Marlon Davidson and TCU’s Ross Blacklock.

Let’s dive into some mock drafts to see players who the Titans could wind up with. Peter Schrager of NFL.com posted his most recent mock draft that had them selecting Davidson in the first round. Kevin Hanson of Sports Illustrated has them selecting Clemson cornerback A.J. Terrell with their top pick. His mock draft goes through the first three rounds, which is even more intriguing. He has the Titans addressing their need at right tackle with TCU’s Lucas Niang in the second round. In the third round, he has them selecting Utah running back Zack Moss. Those three picks all line up with the positions that Glennon mentioned he believed would be addressed with the Titans’ early selections.

In his latest mock draft on ESPN, veteran draft analyst Todd McShay dove two-rounds deep for the Titans. Like Schrager, he has them addressing the defensive line in the first round, but his prediction is defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos from Penn State. Gross-Matos is an interesting option who earned first-team all-conference honors last season with 9.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss. In the second round, he has them going with offensive tackle Isaiah Wilson out of Georgia. At 6’6”, 350 pounds, Wilson could fit in nicely with their run-heavy scheme. Among the honors that he earned was being named to the SEC All-Freshman team and the Associated Press All-American second team during his sophomore season. McShay’s colleague Mel Kiper Jr. believes the Titans will draft Boise State offensive tackle Ezra Cleveland in the first round, according to his most recent mock draft

Gross-Matos Penn State Tennessee Titans Defense

With all of this in mind, where do the Titans go in the draft? I think it’s safe to say that they will be addressing both sides of the line early. The 2020 draft is considered to be deep on the offensive line, so they may decide to fill their need at right tackle in the second round. I like the idea of them taking Davidson in the first round. He had a stellar senior season, earning first-team All-SEC honors with 7.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss.

I also like Hanson’s idea that the Titans would target Moss if he’s still available in the third round. While he’s not as tall as Henry, he’s another powerful runner at 229 pounds. If you want a little insight on the type of player that Moss is, look no further than his strengths that Lance Zierlein of NFL.com listed for him in his player profile. The two that stand out are, “absorbs contact like a cement truck” and “arm tacklers might want to call in sick.”

Can the Titans make the playoffs again this season? With them retaining some key players from last season’s squad and the potential for Robinson to have another strong draft, the odds are certainly working in their favor.

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