2021 NFL Draft: Mike Herndon’s 7-round Titans mock draft

After five drafts with Jon Robinson, I think I’m beginning to get a pretty good feel for his approach to the NFL Draft. As John Glennon detailed here, he has been far more likely to move up than move down — a bad habit that has led to some of the depth concerns that are now apparent across the Titans roster — and we know he tends to favor players from Power 5 programs early in the draft (11 of his 12 first and second round picks have come from Power 5 schools with 6 of those 12 coming from the SEC). He also tends to favor long track records of production.

Out of Robinson’s six first round picks, he’s taken two tackles, one corner, one wide receiver, one defensive lineman, and one inside linebacker. Three on offense, three on defense. When you expand the pool to all of his picks in rounds one, two, and three the breakdown is as follows:

  • QB: 0
  • RB: 2
  • WR: 3
  • TE: 1
  • OL: 3
  • DL: 2
  • OLB: 2
  • ILB: 1
  • CB: 2
  • S: 1

This year, the Titans have a host of needs to fill across the roster. By my estimation, they really need to address the following positions before the end of the draft on Saturday:

  • WR (1)
  • TE (1)
  • OL (2)
  • DL (1)
  • LB (1)
  • OLB (1)
  • CB (1)
  • S (1)

That’s nine players and the Titans just so happen to have nine picks right now. However, some of those spots are more urgent than others. Wide receiver stands out as the biggest need on the roster as it currently stands, but corner, tight end, defensive line, outside linebacker, and right tackle all could use some pretty immediate help as well (not necessarily day one starters, but guys who can rotate in and contribute as rookies).

Last year, through piecing together reports of interest with meeting trackers — like the one Justin Graver and Justin Melo have compiled for us here — I was able to correctly guess three of the Titans six draft picks (though I was a round late on Darrynton Evans). Repeating that hit rate is highly unlikely in an offseason that has provided even fewer tidbits of information than years prior thanks to no combine and fewer in-person events that allow for intermingling between scouts, coaches, and media, but here is my best guess as to what the Titans might do in the 2021 NFL Draft.

(I’m not including any trades in this mock, but my ideal scenario for the Titans would be to move down a few spots in the first round and still end up with one of your top targets while picking up an extra day two pick)

Round 1, Pick 22 Overall: Elijah Moore – WR, Ole Miss

I wrestled back and forth between Moore and Bateman quite a bit. After the top three wide receivers — Ja’Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith, and Jaylen Waddle — the position really opens up. Todd McShay said that Elijah Moore was the WR4 on the board for “every team that he’s talked to this week” on Ryen Russillo’s podcast earlier this week so there is at least a chance that Moore won’t even make it to 22, but if he’s there, I think he’s the guy.

Obviously, the connection (and deep mutual respect) with Titans star A.J. Brown makes this interesting, but this pick is about so much more than that. Moore led college football in yards per game in 2020, producing a sizzling 149 yards per game to go along with a touchdown per game for the Rebels.

His pro day performance backed up the explosiveness he showed on tape as Moore wowed scouts with 90th percentile testing numbers in all movement drills.

His size at 5-9½ and 178 pounds is on the slight side, but it’s not much different from guys like John Brown (5-10, 179), Tyler Lockett (5-10, 182), T.Y. Hilton (5-10, 183), Antonio Brown (5-10, 186), and Tyreek Hill (5-10, 185). Frankly, it’s hard for me to figure out why size gets brought up as a knock against Moore when it’s never mentioned as a problem for Jaylen Waddle who, like Moore, stands 5-9½ and 180 pounds. Moore is also significantly bigger than 2019 first round pick Marquise Brown (5-9½, 166) with similar levels of production. His size should no more restrict him to a “slot only” designation than any of those other players.

I think an argument can be made that Moore is the best route runner in this draft (DeVonta Smith would be his top rival in that category) and the amount of separation he creates would bring an element to the Titans wide receiving corps that is currently missing. He’s an ideal long term complement to the physical game of A.J. Brown and is the rare player that could replace both the chain moving third down prowess of Adam Humphries and the over-the-top speed of Kalif Raymond.

If Moore is gone by pick No. 22 — don’t rule it out if he’s really WR4 on a lot of boards as McShay reported — Rashod Bateman would be a very nice consolation prize. In fact, he’s more of the 1B to Moore’s 1A for me at this pick.

Round 2, Pick 53 Overall: Joseph Ossai – EDGE, Texas

I know, I know… the Titans need a corner, but I like Ossai better than the corners that are likely to be available at this pick (I’m not a fan of the Georgia guys and I think Samuel is going to go in the first round). With Harold Landry entering the final year of his rookie deal and Bud Dupree on the mend from ACL surgery just five months ago, Ossai gives the Titans both some short term and long term insurance at one of the most important positions on the roster.

At 6-4 and 256 pounds with 34-inch long arms and elite athleticism, Ossai is a prototype 3-4 outside backer who barely scraped his considerable upside during his time in Austin.

Ossai got his first action as a starter for the Longhorns as a sophomore off-ball linebacker in Todd Orlando’s 3-4 scheme in 2019. Despite mostly playing off the line of scrimmage in 2019, he led the team with 5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss before moving into more of a traditional edge role under Chris Ash in 2020. This past season he finished with 5.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss, a total that tied him for third nationally.

While his sack totals weren’t gaudy during his college career, his high marks in tackles for loss is noteworthy. Studies have shown that college tackles for loss are a better predictor of NFL sack totals than college sacks are. That, combined with Ossai’s freakish athletic ability, non-stop motor, and off-field work ethic, are very good indicators that he could develop into an elite pass rusher at the professional level.

The Titans have met with Ossai multiple times per The Draft Network’s Crissy Froyd so it’s clear that there is some interest from Jon Robinson.

Adding Bud Dupree and Denico Autry certainly will buoy Tennessee’s pass rush, but they shouldn’t be done adding at this position and Ossai represents the rare opportunity to add a pass rusher with elite traits outside of the first round. I think this would be a home run pick.

Round 3, Pick 85 Overall: Tommy Tremble – TE, Notre Dame

One of my favorite players in the entire draft, Tremble is one of the best run blocking tight ends to enter the draft in recent years, joining George Kittle and T.J. Hockenson at the top of that list for me. While I certainly don’t project Tremble to become the all-world performer that Kittle did, the similarities are pretty striking. Like Kittle, Tremble showed up on his college tape as a mauling blocker who seemed to take great joy from snatching souls of linebackers and defensive backs, but wasn’t asked to do much in the passing game. Also like Kittle, Tremble’s athleticism that flashed on tape bore out in testing:

MeasurableKittleTremble
Height6-46-3 3/8
Weight247241
Arm Length33 1/831 7/8
Hand Size9 1/49 1/4
40 Yard Dash4.52s4.65s
Vertical Jump3536 1/2
Broad Jump132122
Bench Press1820

It’s worth noting that Kittle’s testing came at the combine while Tremble’s numbers are from Notre Dame’s pro day (pro day times are almost always faster than combine times historically), but they aren’t that different athletically.

Kittle’s lack of usage in Iowa’s passing game in college is even more mysterious than Tremble’s. Tremble finished with 401 yards and four touchdowns over two seasons with the Irish, but was overshadowed in the passing game by 2020 second round pick Cole Kmet in his sophomore season and by super freshman Michael Mayer last season. Despite the modest numbers, Tremble flashes natural hands and route running ability in the limited targets he saw at Notre Dame.

Without Kittle’s ascent from fifth round pick to All-Pro tight end, Tremble is probably a day three pick, but teams have seen the blueprint for an elite blocking tight end with good athletic traits and limited opportunities in the pass game and that should lead to Tremble hearing his name called on day two. If the Titans can land him, they’ll get a great running mate for Geoff Swaim in the run game and a player who could eventually develop into a better blocking version of Jonnu Smith.

For a Titans team that loves to run the football and could use an athletic tight end that can help them do that, Tremble makes a ton of sense. We know that the Titans have met with Tremble per our own Justin Melo so seeing them take the Notre Dame tight end somewhere on day two would not surprise me in the slightest.

Round 3, Pick 100 Overall: Tay Gowan – CB, UCF

Gowan is the least heralded of the three UCF defensive backs expected to go in this draft, but he could end up being the best pro. After spending some time at the JUCO level and then opting out of the 2020 season, Gowan appeared in just 13 games at the FBS level which means he’s got a tiny sample size to look at for evaluators. However, what can be seen in those 13 games is quite good.

At 6-1 and 186 pounds, Gowan has good size for the position and ran 4.49 at his pro day — a time that qualifies as “good enough” — with an above average time of 6.86 seconds on the three cone drill. During his short time at UCF he saw 50 targets and allowed just 20 completions while creating 9 forced incompletions and according to PFF charting. The forced incompletions and two interceptions during his college career highlight his excellent ball skills — a trait that I’ve come to value highly in cornerbacks projecting to the NFL level.

There is no doubt that Gowan is a tough evaluation due to the limited sample size available — and his projections and rankings are all over the map as a result — but I think late day two or early day three is the right window for him and he’s got a ton of upside for a corner at this point in the draft.

Again, the Titans have met with Gowan according to Justin Melo and I think that if they wait on corner — as I did here — he could be a prime target for them in the middle rounds.

Round 4, Pick 126 Overall: Trey Smith – G, Tennessee

Guessing where Trey Smith is going to go in the draft is a very difficult proposition. From a pure talent standpoint, he probably belongs somewhere in round two, but the blood clot issues that cost him the 2018 season may linger as a long term concern for teams, especially in a year where less medical information is available to teams without a full combine.

At 6-5½ and 321 pounds with top shelf athletic measurables, the former 5-star recruit is an ideal long term replacement for the soon-to-be 33 year old Rodger Saffold at left guard.

Smith plays with a nasty streak that we know the Titans love in their offensive lineman and it’s not hard to see Jon Robinson and Mike Vrabel loving his fit in their run-heavy scheme. We know that both Vrabel and Robinson attended Tennessee’s pro day and there are lots of photos and clips of Vrabel putting Smith specifically through the paces.

Smith is a particularly interesting option for Tennessee because I don’t think we should completely rule out the idea that he could play tackle at the NFL level. His arms are just a little short of the famous 34-inch threshold, but his 82-inch wingspan offsets that concern to some degree, as does his high level athleticism. He could be a guy that the Titans look at for the right tackle spot with the worst case scenario being that he has to fall back to guard and become the heir apparent to Saffold. I really like this fit and if he’s still around this late it would be a tremendous value as well.

Round 5, Pick 166 Overall: Tyler Shelvin – NT, LSU

At 6-2 and 350 pounds Tyler Shelvin is your prototypical, old-fashioned 3-4 nose tackle who can eat double teams and be a rock in the run game on early downs, but should not be on the field in passing situations. With DaQuan Jones signing in Carolina last week, Shelvin could compete with 2020 UDFA Teair Tart and recent signee Daylon Mack to help fill an early down role between 3-tech tackle Jeffery Simmons and 5-tech end Denico Autry in the Titans base 3-4.

Like Gowan and Smith, Shelvin’s projections are all over the map. It’s possible he could go as high as the third round, but most experts are slotting him somewhere in day three due to a combination of concerns. For one, like Gowan, he has just one year of college football tape as a starter, a tiny 13 game sample to evaluate for scouts and the last time he hit a football field was 16 months ago before he opted out of the 2020 season. The other big concerns are his ability to control his weight — Shelvin was reportedly at 390 pounds at one point while at LSU — and rush the passer. Two down run stuffers are valuable, but the league wants players who impact the passing game in the early rounds.

Those concerns could cause Shelvin to tumble into this range and that would be a win for the Titans, who could really use a body like Shelvin’s to plug into their base and goal line fronts to help keep Rashaan Evans and Jayon Brown clear to range at the second level. There have been no confirmed meetings between Shelvin and the Titans, but this fit would make a lot of sense.

Round 6, Pick 205 Overall: Isaiah McDuffie – ILB, Boston College

The Titans inside linebacker position is one of the most intriguing spots on the roster. Rashaan Evans has been a disappointment after being selected 22nd overall in 2018 and he’s heading into the last year of his rookie contract (assuming that his fifth year option is not picked up). It would be a surprise if he’s not one of the starters in 2021, but his future certainly isn’t secure beyond this season. Jayon Brown re-signed on a one year deal after testing the free agent market and he figures to start next to Evans again as the team’s best coverage backer. David Long heads into year three as the top backup, but has shown flashes that he could be ready to push for a starting job soon.

Long will be back in 2022, but neither of the starters are guaranteed to be around past this season which makes things very interesting for Jon Robinson in this draft at this position. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see them go inside linebacker as early as day two, but here I’ve got them waiting a bit and taking a swing at finding another Jayon Brown/David Long type in the late rounds with Isaiah McDuffie.

McDuffie is a 6-1, 227-pound coach’s son who checks all the intangible boxes from a football IQ, leadership, and work ethic standpoint. He tested as a slightly above average athlete, but his production was there, tying for 5th in FBS with 107 tackles in 2020 to go along with 6.5 tackles for losss, 3 sacks, and an interception.

The Titans met with McDuffie per our own Justin Melo, and of course, they have a little insider knowledge in the Boston College program with Tyler Vrabel serving as the Golden Eagles starting left tackle. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them take McDuffie some time on day three.

Round 6, Pick 215 Overall: Deommodore Lenoir – CB, Oregon

Lenoir is a compact corner at 5-10 and 199 pounds and he plays with the physicality that should endear him to Mike Vrabel. His pro day testing showed just an average athlete for the position, but excellent ball production and durability — highlighted by 27 PBUs and 6 interceptions in his 34 consecutive starts for the Ducks — also fit the mold of a Jon Robinson corner.

His physical, attacking nature could lend itself to a role in the slot at the NFL level, a spot that the Titans currently need to fill. At the very least, I think Lenoir will end up as a highly capable special teams player who can be a quality backup for several years, but his ceiling is high enough to envision him fighting his way into the starting lineup within his rookie contract which is all you can ask for a pick this late in day three.

Since I have the Titans waiting a little longer at corner in this mock, I figured I would double dip here.

Round 7, Pick 232 Overall: Jose Borregales – K, Miami

The seventh round is such a crap shoot that you might as well go get a kicker that might be able to stabilize the Titans kicking situation for years to come. Borregales hit 20 of 22 field goal attempts including a 57-yarder last year for the Hurricanes after transferring in from FIU. While his results at FIU were far more middling, his big leg is worth a shot at the end of the draft.

Comments

  1. E. Moore would be a “fun” pick, but I think the better value for the quick WR is in the middle rounds. Hell with the depth at WR who knows who will fall to us at 53 as we saw with AJ.

    If we wait till the 4th pick for CB I think that is a serious mistake and could land JRob in hot water if the secondary is as bad again as it was last year. Yes it’s a deep class but waiting that long when really good corners that can help right away are available would be tough to understand.

    This also means we are just okay with Lamm as the starting RT. Ugh can we hit on D. Kelly 2.0. Maybe but I wouldn’t bet my job, or the health of my starting QB on it.

    Gonna be a long weekend. Let’s hope this year is more 2019 than 2018/2020.

    1. I’m not as crazy about the top of the corner class. If Farley can stay healthy he’d be a steal, but I think there are real injury concerns with both him and Newsome. I like Samuel at 53 if he’s there, but as I mentioned I think he goes earlier. Don’t like the UGA corners and have had a hard time finding guys I think are a good value at 53 if Samuel isn’t there.

      I’d certainly rather come away with a more high level corner, but I just feel like Ossai is so much better as a prospect than the CBs I’d expect to see at 53.

      Ultimately, I don’t think there is any perfect draft that fixes every issue on the roster. You’ve gotta pick and choose where you’re comfortable leaving holes and where you think the best players are. I can guarantee that we’ll leave day two with a priority position that’s unaddressed.

      1. Agreed. Which is why the FA leftover bin is still intriguing. Still some OT and CB out there that could make a diff on a team thin at those positions.

        1. For sure. Still think there are some trades that could be awfully interesting at some of those spots too if they wanted to revisit that market after the draft.

  2. Is there a snowball’s chance in hell that Horn or Surtain II fall far enough for us to go up and grab one of them?

    How far would you say one of them has to fall for it to make sense?

    I know you don’t wanna see any trade ups, Mike. But for a premium CB talent, would you pull that trigger at some point?

    1. Say Dallas picks Surtain at pick 10. Then the next 4 teams prioritize other positions and Bellichick is now on the clock at 15 with the final pick before Arizona at 16.

      Could you see us jumping 7 spots to get the last elite CB (without health concerns by maybe trading them pick 22, 100 and 126?

      Or possibly just pick 22 and pick 85?

    2. I love Horn and Surtain but neither are getting past the Eagles at 12 and I think the cost to go up into the top 10 or 11 would be pretty huge. I just have a hard time justifying that cost for one player when they have so many depth issues as it stands already.

      1. So you feel like there’s no chance the Eagles get tempted by a premium receiver talent at number 12 and choose to forgo the quarterback position?

        I agree with you, I definitely wouldn’t want to jump up do nine or 11 in order to beat out the Cowboys and Eagles for those players.

        1. I think the Cowboys are definitely going corner. Eagles could go WR if one of the top 3 fall to them, but I think corner is highly probable for them too. Giants and Panthers also could go corner from what I’ve heard.

  3. What if San Francisco’s real plan is to stick with Jimmy G and draft Kyle Pitts to play opposite of George Kittle in the heaviest, nastiest play action offense the NFL has ever seen? I’ve not seen anyone mention this, but it absolutely sounds like the kind of move Kyle Shanahan would make. I think he believes it’s the system that makes his QB not the QB who makes his system. And he would rather spend money at TE than at WR or RB any day.

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