The major waves of 2021 NFL free agency have, essentially, come to an end, and the Tennessee Titans still have a handful of roster needs to address before the season begins.
Five positions stand out about the rest as being deficient at this point.
#Titans‘ Josh Reynolds: Tannehill texted him early on, welcomed him to team. Said that gets him ready to meet Tannehill, ready to help Titans win.
— John Glennon (@glennonsports) March 25, 2021
This is the Titans’ biggest need. They simply have to add at least one capable receiver through the draft and the remainder of free agency, preferably more than one.
All that the Titans currently have beyond Pro Bowler A.J. Brown at the receiver position is Josh Reynolds, a borderline No. 3 wide receiver who played a complementary role with the Rams from 2017-2020, and a bunch of practice-squad level players like Nick Westbrook-Ikhine and Cameron Batson.
For the Titans to be competitive on offense in 2021, they need a receiver who can fill the void left by Corey Davis’ departure. Their best course of action would be to draft one in the first or second round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
While it is possible that Reynolds could prove to be an effective No. 2 receiver when given more opportunities to shine, or that Westbrook-Ikhine could develop into the player the Titans seemingly think he is, the Titans need to treat those possibilities as outliers, not as the likely outcomes.
Brown is a really, really good player, but he can’t do everything for the Titans’ passing game.
Edge Pass Rusher/Outside Linebacker
The Titans gave former Steelers OLB Bud Dupree a huge, five-year contract on the first day of free agency. He will be a major boost to a pass rush unit that was anemic in 2020.
Tennessee can’t be done upgrading its pass rush, though.
If the Titans fail to sign or draft another quality edge pass rusher, too much responsibility will end up falling on the shoulders of Dupree and OLB Harold Landry, both of whom have been victims of overuse in the past.
Landry, in particular, played entirely too many snaps in 2020, mainly because he was so far superior to the Titans’ other options at OLB that the team had no choice but to leave him out there.
Whether it’s a veteran like Ryan Kerrigan or a draft pick, having another OLB who can get after the quarterback will make Dupree’s and Landry’s jobs much easier and, in turn, make the entire Titans’ defense better.
As a part of a flurry of cuts geared toward opening up salary cap space, the Titans parted ways with cornerbacks Adoree’ Jackson and Malcolm Butler, both of whom were previously quality starters for the team.
While second-year CB Kristian Fulton figures to take on a major role in 2021 and free-agent signee Janoris Jenkins will also likely be a starter, the Titans need to add at least another decent cornerback to the fold.
At this point, the Titans really don’t have a good option at cornerback to play in the slot in nickel situations.
Their best bet if the season began this week would either be Breon Borders, an undrafted player who’s bounced around the league for the last few seasons; Kevin Johnson, a former first-round bust who the Titans signed last week; or Chris Jackson, a 2020 seventh-round pick.
None of those options would induce any confidence in Titans fans or, more importantly, any fear in opposing offenses.
Luckily for the Titans, there are still a handful of quality cornerback options on the free-agent market, notably former Chargers Pro Bowler Casey Hayward.
Losing Jonnu Smith, who signed a contract with the Patriots in free agency, will be a blow to the Titans’ offense. However, his likely replacements, Titans tight ends Anthony Firkser and Geoff Swaim, should be able to capably fill some of that void.
Still, the Titans need to add to the tight end position in the NFL Draft.
While Firkser and Swaim are good players, they could use some extra help in filling the void left by Smith’s departure.
Whether that comes in the form of a tight end who’s mainly a blocker or a receiver is definitely up for discussion, but the Titans do need to add someone at that position regardless of his strengths.
Additionally, Firkser will be an unrestricted free agent in 2022, so the Titans may need to start planning to replace him.
Kenny Vaccaro, a productive starter for the Titans from 2018-2020, was also part of the team’s pre-free agency cap casualties.
Third-year safety Amani Hooker will likely slide into the starting lineup as Vaccaro’s replacement, but the Titans really need to add some depth to this position through the draft and, perhaps, the remainder of free agency.
Behind Hooker and former All-Pro Kevin Byard on the Titans’ safety depth chart are Dane Cruikshank, mostly a special teams player whose contract is set to expire in 2022, and Maurice Smith, who’s never been on an NFL active roster.
An injury to either Byard or Hooker would be catastrophic for the Titans if their depth at safety doesn’t markedly improve before 2021.
Cover image: Christopher Hanewinckel / USA Today