Pass rushers are some of the most important players in the NFL (two of the top ten highest paid players in the league are pass rushers, Khalil Mack and Von Miller), but despite this fact the Tennessee Titans waited until the fifth round to select a player who specializes in getting to the quarterback.
Tennessee chose Georgia’s D’Andre Walker with the No. 168 overall pick. Walker is a solid player who fell down draft boards due to a groin injury that hampered him during the pre-draft process. The former Bulldog edge rusher has the potential to make a significant impact in the NFL, but he’s far from a sure thing.
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) April 27, 2019
Tennessee’s decision to wait until the fifth round to take a pass rusher means they passed on names like Montez Sweat, LJ Collier, Chase Winovich and Jaylon Ferguson. It also means they decided trading up for a guy like Josh Allen or Brian Burns wasn’t the best move for the future of the franchise.
I think Tennessee’s decision to wait on an edge rusher until the fifth round tells us a lot about how the Titans view their roster heading into the 2019 season.
It seems clear that general manager Jon Robinson and head coach Mike Vrabel fully believe in Harold Landry and his ability to develop into a game-changing pass rusher.
Landry, who was drafted by the Titans in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, started only three games for the Titans last season. But he still managed to finish tied for third on the team in sacks with 4.5. For comparison’s sake, that’s one less sack than JJ Watt finished with as a rookie in 2011 (and Watt started all 16 games) and a half sack more than Khalil Mack had as a rookie in 2014 (while also starting all 16 games).
Obviously it would be a stretch to say that Landry is going to have a career like Watt or Mack — that would be completely unexpected. But it’s also not out of the question. Pass rushers don’t tend to burst onto the scene as rookies. Typically they need some time to develop. Minnesota Vikings edge rusher Danielle Hunter is another example of this. He had six sacks as a rookie in 14 games in 2015. Since then, he’s developed into one of the league’s top pass rushers, compiling 34 sacks over the last three seasons.
There’s no reason that Landry can’t develop into a player who achieves double-digit sack totals on an annual basis. The Titans certainly believe he can, otherwise they would’ve made more of a concerted effort to upgrade their pass rushing situation in the draft.
Do the Titans have enough of a pass rush in 2019?
Landry, who turns 23 in June, is still a young player. There’s no guarantee that 2019 will be the season he turns into the player the Titans believe he can be.
Tennessee, however, is absolutely trying to make a playoff run in 2019. The Titans made several key upgrades to their roster. Adding one of the top free agent slot wide receivers in Adam Humphries and signing offensive lineman Roger Saffold, along with drafting wide receiver AJ Brown in the second round, shows us the Titans are all-in when it comes to competing next season.
But do they have enough of a pass rush to stop Andrew Luck, Deshaun Watson and Nick Foles in the AFC South?
In the Titans’ two losses to the Colts last season, they sacked Luck one time. ONCE (which was Harold Landry, by the way). That’s clearly not a recipe for success against the Colts. And it’s something that has to change.
Enter Cam Wake.
The Titans signed Cam Wake this past off-season specifically (in my opinion) to be a disruptive force against Foles, Luck and Watson. The only way the Titans are going to be successful in 2019 is if they can wreak havoc on opposing AFC South quarterbacks. Landry alone this season isn’t the answer. But the Titans believe in Landry’s ability so much that they didn’t think going out and spending a ton of cash on Trey Flowers or DeMarcus Lawrence was a wise idea. Tennessee believes Landry will develop into that type of impact player for the franchise.
But they don’t believe that development will fully show itself this season.
With Wake in the picture, however, the Titans have built a pass rush that can help the team achieve success in 2019 while also allowing Robinson to continue to build up other areas of the roster.
I was skeptical of the Titans’ approach when they decided to pass on Flowers, who was seemingly a perfect fit for Tennessee. But after watching the rest of the off-season unfold, I think Robinson’s approach was exactly what the Titans needed.
Robinson didn’t mortgage the future to add a “sexy name” to the Titans’ roster. He made the necessary upgrades through free agency, which also allowed the team to take more of a best player available approach in the draft.
I’d say it worked out pretty well, because the Titans have a team that’s built to win in 2019. And they were also able to add some talented players (Jeffery Simmons and Walker) who could have a major impact on the franchise for years to come.
Only time will tell if Robinson made the right decisions this off-season. But based on the information we have right now, I think he nailed it.
Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports