There are three main factors that could lead to the Tennessee Titans selecting an edge pass rusher when they are on the clock in a couple of weeks in the 2019 NFL Draft’s first round.
Unlike in years past, it has been difficult this year to pinpoint exactly which direction the Titans will go with their first-round pick. There are a number of positions that would make sense.
Over the next week, I will be writing a few articles like this one on the positions of need that the Titans very well could use their first round pick on.
Please note that I am not advocating for the Titans taking a pass rusher, but rather exploring the reasons why such a decision might make sense.
Here are three of those reasons.
One final note: A major part of my pre-draft process and, in turn, this article is SportsInfo Solutions’ “The SIS Football Rookie Handbook.” You can (and should) order a copy here.
1. They have a major need at that spot.
Heading into last season, it seemed that the Titans were set at the edge rusher (referred to from now on as outside linebacker) position. They still had veterans Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo in the fold, who combined for 14.5 sacks in 2017.
The Titans also had rookie Harold Landry, whom they selected in the second round of the 2018 draft, waiting in the wings.
Unfortunately for them, pretty much everything went wrong at those positions. Father time caught up with Orakpo and Morgan in a big way, as the two of them combined for just two sacks in 2018. Landry showed some promise in his rookie season, but he certainly wasn’t a consistently reliable player.
That left the Titans with Landry, Sharif Finch and Kamalei Correa at outside linebacker. There’s some talent and potential in that group, but probably not a whole lot of production.
The Titans did go out in free agency and add veteran sack-master Cameron Wake to the fold. Wake put good things on film in a limited role last season with the Dolphins, but it is fair to wonder just how much he has left in the tank at age 37.
Because of that, the Titans still have a big need at OLB. The players they have in-house are pure projection guys. If you’re the Titans, you’re hoping that Landry takes a massive step forward in year two and that father time doesn’t catch up to Wake in the way that he did with Orakpo and Morgan.
Bringing in a rookie OLB who produced at a high level in college with their first-round draft pick would bring a much-needed boost to a less than desirable position room.
2. It’s an impact position.
There is a reason that of the 20 highest annually paid players in the NFL, the only non-quarterbacks are pass rushers (Khalil Mack, Aaron Donald, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Von Miller).
That’s because, outside of the quarterback position, pass rushers have the biggest impact on NFL games.
If you look back to games last season in which the Titans’ typically strong defense struggled, there was almost always a concerning lack of a pass rush. That same principle is probably true for every good defense in the NFL.
With how talented the Titans are in the secondary, giving the defense a consistently productive pass rush could turn it into an elite unit. It would certainly make things very difficult for opposing quarterbacks.
Despite the Titans’ needs at other positions like interior offensive line, interior defensive line and receiver, no position has as high of a potential to make a major difference as an outside linebacker.
3. There are a lot of good ones in this year’s draft.
The 2019 NFL Draft figures to be a treasure trove of talent in the defensive front. There are so many star pass rushers on the inside and outside available that several figure to be off the board before the Titans even get their chance to pick.
But because of the sheer depth of this class at those spots, there is a pretty good chance that the Titans encounter a situation where a first-round quality OLB is on the board when they pick at 19.
The most talented OLB prospects in this year’s class are Ohio State’s Nick Bosa, Kentucky’s Josh Allen and Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat. All three of those players figure to be long gone by the time the Titans are on the clock.
That would leave Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell and Flordia State’s Brian Burns as the most sensical options for the Titans, should either one of them still be on the board at pick 19.
Burns is probably the closest thing in this class to Harold Landry. He is a bendy pass rusher who uses his athleticism to beat tackles on the outside, and he also has prototype size for the position. He produced at a high level for three seasons at FSU, totaling 23.5 sacks in his collegiate career.
The concern with Burns would probably be that because he is so similar in playing style to Landry, he would be a bit of a redundancy for the Titans. But, as draft analyst Justin Melo brilliantly put it on last week’s episode of the Titan Sized Podcast, “if [Burns] gets ten sacks every year, nobody is going to care.”
Ferrell also produced at a high level in college, notching 26 sacks in his three-year career at Clemson. As you might expect from someone coming from a high-quality program like Clemson, Ferrell is a polished prospect who plays well against both the run and pass.
Ferrell’s skill set would provide a nice compliment to Landry, as he tends to play more with power and technique than speed and athleticism. Having to deal with both of those guys would probably be an issue for offensive tackles.
The Titans picked a good year to need an OLB. There are a lot of good ones available.
Cover image: Glen Beil/USA Today