The Tennessee Titans entered this offseason needing to accomplish two goals. At the end of the 2019 NFL Draft, it looks like they have done a pretty good job of working in the right direction.
Good to Great
Goal #1 for the Titans was one that head coach Mike Vrabel frequently professed publicly: go from good to great.
“It might not work,” Vrabel said a few weeks ago, “but we’re going to try to remind ourselves that we’re trying to be great every day. Instead of throwing it out there, ‘Hey, I’m good,’ ‘I’m great.’ We’ve got to believe that we can be great to take the next step and do that every single day.”
Through their draft selections, the Titans did themselves a lot of good in this regard.
In Mississippi State defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons, the Titans added another disruptive player to their front seven. While many would have preferred if they went for an edge pass rusher instead of an interior lineman, it’s hard to fault them for pulling the trigger on someone as talented as Simmons.
Though Simmons will take a while to actually hit the field—he suffered a torn ACL just a few months ago—when he does, he should make a big impact and help take the Titans’ pass rush to the next level.
DaQuan Jones, the Titans’ incumbent starter at IDL opposite Pro Bowler Jurrell Casey, is a fine player who’s mostly steady and makes the occasional flashy play. But for Jon Robinson, mostly steady is clearly not good enough.
“I think that to get these types of players that can make an impact along the defensive front,” Vrabel said, “they’re disruptive. I think when you try to draw up blocking schemes and you figure out, ‘How am I going to block this guy each and every week?’ We feel like we have that in Jurrell [Casey], and we feel like when Jeffery [Simmons] is ready, and it’s time for him to come back, he will be another one of those players that can help us.”
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) April 27, 2019
The Titans also continued to upgrade their offensive line, which was all over the place last season, through the draft by selecting Charlotte guard Nate Davis.
For three years, the Titans were comfortable with Quinton Spain and Josh Kline as their pair of guards. At their best, they were average, and at their wors, they were disastrous. Once again, it seems that average was no longer good enough for the Titans.
Another way that the Titans were able to go from good to great through the 2019 NFL Draft was by upgrading their depth at a few positions on day three of the draft.
Iowa safety Amani Hooker, Georgia linebacker D’Andre Walker, and West Virginia linebacker David Long are all great athletes who give the Titans much-needed extra bodies at their respective positions.
Not only are those guys extra bodies, but they’re cheap bodies. You don’t just draft players in the NFL, you draft contracts. After only drafting and keeping one player past the second round from last year’s draft (Dane Cruikshank), the Titans did well to end up with quality, affordable depth pieces this year.
“By moving up last year,” general manager Jon Robinson said, “we gave up some depth… We weren’t really in a position to do a whole lot of trading up. I didn’t feel like going into the draft and giving up, at a minimum, depth players and guys to work with on the team. We really tried to stay with, at a minimum, the number of picks that we came into the draft.”
More Help for Mariota
The Titans’ second goal was one that they never openly spoke about, but their actions over the last few months proved its truth. That goal was to get Marcus Mariota some help.
Anytime the Titans were asked about whether they were explicitly making errors to get Mariota help, they deflected to coach speak. “Every member of our team is important,” was the most common response.
But Robinson isn’t blind, nor is Vrabel; they know exactly how sticky of a situation they are in with Mariota. If he doesn’t succeed in 2019, the last year of his rookie contract, the Titans will likely be forced to find themselves a new franchise quarterback.
So, in free agency, the Titans went out and got Mariota the most reliable receiver he will have had in his career to this point (Adam Humphries) and a major upgrade at left guard (Rodger Saffold) to stabilize pass protection.
Through the draft, on day two, in particular, the Titans continued the process of making life easier for their quarterback. If Nate Davis transitions well to the NFL level, he should be a big upgrade over the Titans’ starting right guard from 2016-2018, Josh Kline.
Receiver A.J. Brown of Ole Miss, who the Titans selected with their second-round pick, was arguably the most complete receiver in the entire 2019 draft class. Some analysts even had him as their top overall receiver.
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) April 27, 2019
“Really productive in a strong football conference,” said Robinson of Brown. “Has played a couple of different positions, has played outside receiver, has played inside receiver. He’s got good size. He’s got strong hands, a good route runner, and he’s got good play speed. Really felt like he kind of fit what we were looking for in a player.”
The Man With a Plan
The one thing that always sticks out about Robinson’s approach to the draft, aside from the fact that he almost exclusively selects prospects who produced at a high level in college, is that he always seems to have a plan in mind.
Of course, every general manager enters the NFL Draft with a plan. They know who they like, who they don’t, and who they would prefer to take in each round. But for Robinson, it seems to be a little more specific than that.
Last year, Robinson’s plan was clearly to make aggressive moves in order to be in a position to take players that he felt could be game-changers for the Titans franchise. This year, his plan was to let the draft come to him. He played the board strategically, and it worked.
With Robinson, there is never any chaos. There are no blatant reaches, and there are no picks that seem impulsive or leave everyone scratching their heads. There is no panicking.
He always handles the draft with a certain grace and elegance, and that is perhaps his finest quality as a general manager.
The Titans got a lot better this weekend in a lot of different ways. While we won’t know until September if they have become a truly “great” team or if Mariota finally has the tools to succeed, it’s hard to criticize the steps the Titans have taken to head toward those goals.
Cover image: AP/Donn Jones