NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Around three months ago, on a brisk Sunday afternoon in Kansas City, the Tennessee Titans held a ten-point lead over the Chiefs in the AFC Championship.
The Super Bowl hopefuls, who had soundly defeated MVP Lamar Jackson’s Ravens a week earlier, then realized that they were no match for the intense firepower of the Chiefs and their quarterback, Patrick Mahomes.
A 17-7 Titans lead somewhat quickly became a 35-17 deficit to the eventual Super Bowl champs. The Titans started to look overmatched on both sides of the ball.
They were talented enough to take an early lead on the Chiefs, but not talented enough to sustain it. The Titans were close to being a Super Bowl-caliber team, but not quite close enough.
With a little bit of added juice, though, they can take the next step in 2020.
That’s why the Titans need to use the 2020 NFL Draft, particularly the first round, to find players that will help them to be more competitive in the 2020 season.
Vrabel on what’s fair to ask of a rookie: “We usually like to give them a lot. May not be quite as much this year with digital meetings, but we ask a lot of those guys.”
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) April 20, 2020
Luckily for them, their general manager seems to understand that. Jon Robinson explained on Monday that while building for the future is an important part of the draft, you can’t lose sight of the present.
“I think you’re always looking at the current roster and how you’re going to construct that, and how those players are going to impact this year’s team,” Robinson said. “I think that’s first and foremost.”
The Titans are good enough to do it.
The Titans are in a unique situation because of their 2019 success and just how close they were to finishing the season atop the NFL ladder.
Often, the teams that are hurt by an overemphasis on a “win now” strategy are ones that aren’t very good, to begin with. It wouldn’t make sense for a far-from-contending team like the Giants, for example, to throw a player off their board simply because he may not be a big boost in 2020.
The reason why that’s the case is simple: one player, no matter how talented, isn’t going to single-handedly change the fate of the Giants in 2020.
But for the Titans, one could reasonably argue that an influx of talent at just one position or just one more big play could have propelled them to earn a spot in the Super Bowl.
This season, that influx can come from the draft.
They trust their rookies.
It would be one thing if the Titans were an organization with a philosophy of giving rookies time to simmer and develop, but that just isn’t the case.
Ever since Robinson took over as GM and especially since Mike Vrabel took over as head coach, the Titans have asked a lot of their rookies.
DL Jeffery Simmons, LB Rashaan Evans and CB Adoree’ Jackson, to name a few, all played major roles and, in some cases, played multiple positions for the Titans as rookies.
“We try to give them a lot, we do normally in our normal circumstances,” said Vrabel. “I think that probably will change a little bit on this virtual meeting stuff, but we try to give them a lot and see what they retain and then fill in the blanks as you go.
“I think you ask yourself, ‘Is this player changing positions?’ Are you asking him to go to a different position when he gets here? Is it a defensive end that’s going to outside linebacker? That workload may not be as much. Or, is this a player that has been in a similar system?”
Taking advantage of what they have.
Another reason that a “win now” approach to the draft makes sense for the Titans is the fact that one of their best players, RB Derrick Henry, is on a one-year contract.
It’s unclear whether the team will be able to afford Henry in 2021 and beyond, so they need to make the most of the 2019 season’s leading rusher while they have him.
Would it make sense for the Titans to draft a tackle in the first round to potentially replace Dennis Kelly down the line? There’s certainly a fair argument to be made. Could adding to a low-impact position like interior defensive line help the team? Perhaps.
But the optimal strategy for the Titans in the 2020 NFL Draft, in the first round and beyond, is to make a splash. It’s the best way for them to take advantage of the talented roster and coaching staff they currently have.
If they do, there’s a chance that they won’t end the 2020 season in a place “not quite close enough” for a Super Bowl berth. A win-now draft strategy could put them right where they need to be.
Cover image: Denny Medley/USA Today