NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Before the 2020 NFL Draft, Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson stressed the importance of striking a balance between building for the future and planning for the upcoming season.
“I think you’re always looking at certainly 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.”
“So, certainly the short-term is at the forefront but you’re thinking about the long-term as well.”
Thanks to Robinson’s savviness during draft weekend, the Titans were able to find that balance to near perfection with their 2020 class of selections.
“Having the opportunity to work with Jon and his group, they were fantastic throughout this entire process,” head coach Mike Vrabel said.
Building for Now
I was on the fence about the Wilson pick because I thought Fulton was a better choice. Jon Robinson, yet again, plays the board masterfully.
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) April 25, 2020
The Titans’ targeting of players that are likely to play major roles in 2020 began on day two of the draft with their selection of LSU cornerback Kristian Fulton in the second round.
Heading into draft weekend, the Titans were dangerously thin at cornerback and seemingly had no one on the roster capable of managing a starting role in the slot.
In Fulton, they found someone who can step right into that spot.
“That was one of the first questions they asked me, ‘was I comfortable playing inside, and how did I feel about playing inside?’” Fulton said. “I told them I’m comfortable doing it.”
The 6-foot, 197-pound defensive back also figures to at least partially solve the Titans’ problem of not having enough speed in the secondary. Fulton ran a 4.46 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, and he excelled at covering faster receivers in college.
Next up on the list of new Titans that figure to make an immediate impact is RB Darrynton Evans, who has experience returning punts and lining up at slot receiver in addition to playing tailback.
Evans’ speed and explosiveness adds an element to the Titans offense that hasn’t been present in quite some time. His versatility should give offensive coordinator Arthur Smith a swiss army knife to play with.
“I’m very hard to tackle in the open field,” Evans said. “That’s just one area that I’ve always worked on in the offseason, just getting quick to where if I see a hole I can hit it fast.”
He also gives the Titans something else they were previously missing: a legitimate complement to star RB Derrick Henry.
Whenever Henry came off the field in 2019, it became abundantly clear that the Titans were most likely going to run a pass play. Evans eliminates that predictability.
“He’s a different style of runner, obviously, than Derrick, but he’s certainly good when you hand him the ball,” Robinson said.
Larrell Murchison, the Titans’ fifth-round pick, also fills a need. The NC State defensive lineman is a good boost to what was previously a thin position group for the Titans.
Planning for the Future
Here’s my take on Isaiah Wilson: I think he’s a good player and a fit with the #Titans. But does he make them a better football team?
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) April 24, 2020
When it comes to players that the Titans picked with an eye to the future, tackle Isaiah Wilson is, obviously, at the top of the list.
The Titans’ first-round pick is a physical run blocker who prides himself on making life miserable for defenders.
“I think the best part of my game right now is that I’m physical and I enjoy beating people up,” Wilson said. “I enjoy running the ball, and I enjoy, essentially, trying to break another man’s will.”
However, Wilson isn’t exactly a finished product. He had some struggles in pass protection at Georgia, and his status as a perennial first-rounder leading up to the draft was mainly a tribute to his physical gifts.
Additionally, Wilson may not play very much for the Titans as a rookie. Dennis Kelly, who has been with the Titans since 2016, just got a three-year contract extension and figures to at least begin the 2020 season as the team’s starter at right tackle.
Down the line, though, Wilson could prove to be a valuable asset for the Titans.
“I think he’s definitely going to make us a better football team,” Robinson said. “We try to get as many good football players at every position as possible, and he’s a guy that fits that mold.
The Titans were also able to get good down-the-line value out of their first seventh-round pick, which they used to take Hawaii QB Cole McDonald.
McDonald is very gifted physically and produced at a very high level in college, but his elongated throwing motion and other technical issues will need to be corrected.
He figures to compete with Logan Woodside in Training Camp for the Titans’ backup quarterback role.
Striking the Balance
Teams rarely produce draft classes that so perfectly strikes the balance of filling actual needs and planning for the longterm.
The Titans’ success in the 2020 NFL Draft is a testament both to Robinson’s abilities as a general manager and to his ability to work well with Vrabel.
“We’re in constant communication about our football team, so working through the draft process isn’t new or something different,” Vrabel said.
It may be a while before the Titans’ draftees can get onto a football field together because of the coronavirus, but when they do, the Titans will be in a lot better shape than they were just a few days ago.
Cover image: NFL and Trevor Ruszkowski/USA Today