Living in the heart of Tennessee in the midst of thousands of avid Titans fans, a question I am asked time and time again each year during draft season is who the Titans are going to pick with their first round draft pick. Fresh off three winning seasons, coupled with having a coach the fan base believes in, expectations in Nashville are as high as they have been in quite some time. Because of this buzz, the pressure on general manager Jon Robinson and the Titans front office to nail this first round pick is immense. So what will the Titans do? As someone with no ties to the front office, I have no idea. However, we can always theorize based off of past picks and current needs to see who will get to make this draft’s host city their home.
First, let’s start with team needs. One position group that all of the national media says may be the biggest need for the Titans is at pass rusher. While it is certainly a group that needs addressed in the draft, I don’t know that it is the Titans biggest need. With the retirement of Brian Orakpo and the Titans wise decision to let Derrick Morgan walk, they will be starting two new players on the edge. Harold Landry, Sharif Finch, and Kamalei Correa will be three familiar faces for the Titans. Harold Landry, the Titans 2018 second round pick, had a solid rookie season and should be in for a starting role this year. Correa is what we thought he was. He provides some quality depth, but he is by no means a starter. Finch is a super intriguing player. Though he was undrafted just last year, he showed many flashes of excellence his rookie year. I was in attendance when the rookie recorded a strip sack and fumble recovery of Jaguars quarterback Cody Kessler in Week 14. I think he has earned more playing time this season. Those three, along with this offseason’s addition of Cameron Wake, makes for at least a respectable group of outside linebackers at worst. Adding depth is still important, but the Titans are not in a position where they have to draft a pass rusher in round one. They can explore their options.
In my opinion, the biggest position of need for the Titans is on the interior of the offensive line. They let Quinton Spain walk and cut Josh Kline after both had below average seasons, leaving two gaping holes in the middle of the offensive line. They signed the cream of the free agency crop this offseason in Rodger Saffold to man the left guard position, but there is not an obvious replacement to plug and play at right guard, and I think there is a strong chance that this is where the Titans look in the first round.
Outside of those two position groups, tight end could be a position of need. Delanie Walker is coming off of a serious ankle injury, and the Titans are still trying to figure out what they have in Jonnu Smith. With a tight end group of Walker, Smith, Anthony Firkser, and MyCole Pruitt, I would be confident going into the season, but if there is value at the position at #19, it could be a place the Titans look. Talent along the defensive line could be another position that the Titans look into drafting if the right person falls to them.
There are thirteen players that I would not mind the Titans drafting at 19, but if those players are not available, I would be in full support of trading down for another mid-round pick. Obviously some of those thirteen such as Nick Bosa, Josh Allen, Quinnen Williams, and Montez Sweat will more than likely not be available when the Titans select, so let’s look into options that could potentially be there. I think it is going to and should come down to deciding between an offensive lineman and a tight end. Sure, there is slim chance that a player like Ed Oliver or Rashan Gary falls that far, and if they do, I would be happy to have either one of them. Chances are, the Titans will be strongly keyed in on Garrett Bradbury and Noah Fant. I personally think that Fant is a better player than his Iowa counterpart, TJ Hockenson. Despite being an inch shorter, Fant is so much more of a physical specimen than Hockenson running a 4.5 forty at the combine while weighing in at 249 pounds. And it is disputed by almost no one that he is a better pass catcher than Hockenson. That is exactly what the Titans need if they are going to look for a skilled player. They need to attempt to surround Marcus Mariota with high level pass catchers for his contract year so that there is no doubt as to if they should give him a solid extension after this season. And perhaps more notably, Hockenson probably won’t be there when the Titans select. Peter Schrager, Charles Davis, and Bucky Brooks all have Hockenson not being available when the Titans pick in their most recent mock drafts.
So, if we eliminate everyone that is sure to be gone when the Titans select, it leaves us with four players that I would be okay with the Titans selecting in the first round.
1.) Dalton Risner OL/Kansas State
I really do not know why the hype on Risner has not been greater than it is. He is a consensus late first to early second round pick, but I think he is a top 15 talent and maybe even the best lineman in this draft. He dazzled at the Senior Bowl where he got a chance to meet with the Tennessee Titans. He played at a high level at Kansas State for a long time. He was a three-time captain and a two-time All-American starting games at both center and right tackle. Many executives also think that he can play guard. Drafting a guy that could plug and play both inside and out would be huge for the Titans offensive line. He also would fit in well with the culture of their offensive line. He said at the senior bowl that he wants to “help create the foundation of just a nasty culture on the offensive line.”
2.) Garrett Bradbury C/North Carolina State
The second guy that I would be more than happy with the Titans drafting is Garrett Bradbury. The North Carolina State product was an All-American and awarded the Rimington Trophy for being the best Center in the nation. The thing that stood out to me the most about his game this year was his success blocking in the run game. He was very good at helping turn the shoulders of defensive lineman for the guard to get into him and then his precise footwork and elite athleticism allow him to work up to linebackers very well.
3.) Cody Ford OL/Oklahoma
Cody Ford anchored what many thought of as the best offensive line in the NCAA this past season. Though he played both tackle and guard at the University of Oklahoma, he looks to be solidified as only a guard when he gets to the NFL. Ford is more of an unpolished product than Risner or Bradbury. At times, he struggles in pass protection with getting too far back on his heels or opening his shoulders too quickly. He also struggled at times blocking down against powerful three techniques in the run game. This was especially evident in the Orange Bowl against Alabama. I do not see him as a sure thing like I do the other two, but I also wouldn’t be mad if I saw my team draft him.
4.) Noah Fant TE/Iowa
Lastly, I would be ecstatic to see the Titans draft Noah Fant. Does it fit as much of a need as the other three? Probably not. Is he a better player than the other three? Possibly. Noah Fant is the real deal, and that is evident to anyone that has scouted him. He is never going to be the best run blocker, but hopefully, we leave pass-catching tight ends blocking JJ Watt one-on-one in 2018. Actually any tight ends, for that matter. On a serious note, I think Fant will end up at least being sufficient at blocking. I think he will more than make up for his blocking though with his elite playmaking ability. The dude can fly. Coming in at 250 pounds, the fact that he can run a 4.5 forty is just insane. But, he is not simply a workout warrior. He has excellent field awareness, and this helps him while working the sidelines and the back of the endzone. He can also jump. His 39.5-inch vertical jump put him two inches above the next tight end and ranked him similarly to running backs and receivers such as Justice Hill and Parris Campbell. And he is a tight end.
With all of that being said, I think it is going to come down to Bradbury or Fant. My gut is telling me that the Titans want Garrett Bradbury if he is there when they pick. I think they will then move Ben Jones to right guard and be more than happy to have Taylor Lewan, Saffold, Bradbury, Jones, and Jack Conklin holding down the offensive line.
The draft is going to be a blast, and I cannot wait to get to be in Nashville watching the Tennessee Titans make the selection that hopefully will help put them back into the playoffs this season. I for one have faith in J-Rob.