Titans general manager Jon Robinson held a press conference Tuesday afternoon. In addition to touching on topics such as J.J. Watt and Isaiah Wilson, Robinson talked about how the defense can improve next season. Everybody that supports this team is hoping that they will add several EDGE rushers this offseason, and you have every right to feel that way after they were one of the worst pass rushing teams in 2020. But Robinson mentioned that there are many ways to improve a defense and create pressure on the quarterback, and playing tighter coverage is one of them.
That brings me to the point of this article. Cornerback could be an underrated need for the Titans this offseason. The Titans learned a hard lesson last season: They didn’t have enough depth in the secondary. With Adoree Jackson nursing an injury for 15 weeks, the team cycled through several cornerbacks while searching for a recipe for success. It rarely went well. Several cornerbacks disappointed. Firstly, Johnathan Joseph was no longer playing at an NFL level, but the Titans asked him to try. It was a nightmare.
Kristian Fulton, a second-round rookie, wasn’t ready to play. Blame it on injuries or the lack of a rookie mini-camp and preseason, but Fulton didn’t contribute like many expected him to. We also saw corners such as Tye Smith disappoint when given the spotlight. Chris Jackson, a seventh-round pick, was often asked to play more snaps than he was ready for. Breon Borders played some good football at times, but shouldn’t be relied on to be more than a depth piece going forward.
Robinson quickly noticed the need for more depth at cornerback. He brought some in by trading for Desmond King before the first half of the season was even in the books. King brought some stability, but the group still struggled overall. King is now set to hit free agency, and there’s no telling if he’ll be back or not.
Beyond King, there are other question marks here. Can the soon-to-be-31-year-old Malcolm Butler continue to play at a high level? He was very good in 2020. I don’t expect him to be a cap causality, but it’s not totally beyond the realm of imagination. What about the future of Adoree Jackson? He’s entering a contract year in 2021 after what was a lost season for him in 2020. Can he bounce back and prove that he’s worth a long-term investment? Is Fulton going to step up and look like the cover corner we saw at LSU?
As you can see, there are a lot of unknowns here. When you have this many question marks at the position, you probably need to address it in some way.
Every team should draft at lest one cornerback every year. The Titans will likely add at least one of them by the end of the Day 2 of the 2021 NFL Draft. With that in mind, here’s a mock draft looking at potential cornerback targets in every round.
Round 1 | Jaycee Horn | South Carolina
If the Titans decide to draft a cornerback in the first round, South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn has to be on the shortlist of potential picks. In fact, I am not convinced that he’ll even be available at No. 22 overall. The son of former NFL WR and Hall of Fame inductee Joe Horn, I expect him to be the third cornerback drafted after Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II and Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley, but it wouldn’t totally shock me if Horn went before one of those guys.
NFL teams love cornerbacks that are built to play on the outside, and that’s exactly what Horn is. Coming in around 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, Horn is a big, long corner and he plays like it. Press coverage is the name of today’s game and Horn is an expert. He loves to use his hands right off the snap in an attempt to suffocate wide receivers at the line of scrimmage. That’s not to say that he’s one-dimensional, because he isn’t. South Carolina ran plenty of zone coverage as well and Horn looked comfortable running everything that was asked of him.
Horn is the most physical corner in this class. In fact, he’s been criticized for being a little too physical at times, and some worry that his play style will lead to penalties in today’s flag-happy NFL.
I personally don’t worry about any of that. You can sign me up for a big, physical corner any day of the week, especially one that has the ability to turn and run with receivers. There’s a subtle hint of stiffness to Horn’s game, as there often is with corners of his stature, but it’s nothing that particularly concerns me when it comes to his ability at the next level.
Horn strikes me as a Jon Robinson cornerback.
Round 2 | Tyson Campbell | Georgia
Georgia had a pair of corners that should both get drafted somewhere in this range, one being Tyson Campbell, the selection I am making here. The other is Eric Stokes. Stokes was the better player on tape in my opinion, but I would guess that Campbell is the first one drafted. The NFL will be enamored with Campbell’s traits and it’s easy to understand why.
A big corner that is listed at 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, Campbell played on the outside. He’s a terrific athlete on film that is an easy mover. His combination of size, speed and length make him a very intriguing prospect who I could see becoming a better player at the next level. His quickness to match his man at the top of a route is very impressive.
Another thing I really appreciate about Campbell’s game is his willingness to tackle. He loves to come up to the line of scrimmage and stick his nose in the run game.
When it comes to areas of improvement, Campbell hasn’t done a good enough job getting his hands on the football. Despite playing in 31 career games at Georgia, Campbell only has one interception to his name. For a player with his length and closing speed, it’s a bit of a wonder why he hasn’t been able to create more turnovers.
All in all, this is an excellent athlete who’s best football should be in front of him.
Round 3 | Greg Newsome II | Northwestern
I have a confession to make. Northwestern’s Greg Newsome is one of my favorite players in the draft. He was certainly one of the players that I thoroughly enjoyed studying in recent months.
And since this is my article, Newsome is the pick I’m making here. Deal with it.
Newsome played in six games in 2020 and put some great things on tape. Measuring in around 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, he possesses terrific length and knows how to use it. Unlike the pick I made in the second round, Newsome has ball production to tout.
Despite only playing only 17 career games at Northwestern (more on this shortly), Newsome was credited with 20 pass break-ups. It’s worth noting that he only has one career interception, and you’d like to see some of those PBU’s turn into turnovers. But somebody that gets their hands on the football as often as Newsome does would insinuate that more turnovers are on the way.
The big question mark here comes in the form of health. Newsome’s collegiate career has been hampered by nagging injuries that forced him to miss stretches of every year at Northwestern. There’s been nothing overly serious, but he’s had an issue staying on the field.
This is a fun player who would be worth the gamble in this range.
Round 3 | Elijah Molden | Washington
Just like I’ve been doing in all of these position-focused mocks, I’m offering an alternative option here in the third round since the Titans currently own two picks in this round.
Prior to this pick, I’ve been focusing on bigger cornerbacks that are destined to play on the outside at the next level. I wanted to switch things up here and offer up an option that can play the nickel position, something the Titans could be looking for if Desmond King doesn’t return in 2021.
I would never make a pick just for the sake of making a pick though. I have way more respect for you than that. Elijah Molden is one of the most fun players in this draft regardless of position.
Molden has played some safety as well, but his best fit in the NFL will be in the slot. He’s undersized at 5-foot-10, 191 pounds, and you’re not going to play him on the boundary. It doesn’t matter. I don’t care because Molden is FUN. And GOOD.
An incredibly intelligent player, I recently had an opportunity to sit down and talk ball with Molden. His football IQ and overall understanding of the game blew me away. And he’s just getting started.
Washington has produced a TON of NFL DB’s in recent years for a good reason. They have one of the best coaching staffs in all of college football, and head coach Jimmy Lake deservingly climbed his way up the ladder after doing terrific work with their defensive backs before becoming their defensive coordinator on his way to their top job.
Molden is just another player that has benefitted from playing in Washington’s excellent culture. In their complex defense, the nickel corner is the on-field playcaller — this responsiblity fell on Molden and he handled it with ease.
Molden’s football IQ, overall smarts, click-and-close ability, his willingness to tackle, instincts and ball skills makes him such an easy, fun evaluation.
If you’re reading this, I welcome you to bring this article to my attention in two or three years. I will be SHOCKED if Molden isn’t a very good football player in the NFL. Bookmark it.
Round 4 | Benjamin St. Juste | Minnesota
A big-time recruit coming out of Canada (shout out to Canada), Benjamin St. Juste actually began his college career at Michigan. But injuries combined with a detoriating relationship with his coaches made St. Juste start to ponder playing elsewhere.
After getting his degree at Michigan, St. Juste decided to enter the transfer portal and wound up at Minnesota. It ended up being a great decision and the launching pad he was looking for.
St. Juste is a giant corner at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds. He also has an 80-inch wingspan and 32-inch arms. This is a big player with the length that NFL coaching staffs dream of. He has the traits that you simply can’t teach. St. Juste was at the Senior Bowl, and took some snaps at safety in addition to his regular role as a corner.
If you’re looking for a negative, St. Juste isn’t a smooth athlete. His size means that he needs an extra tick to adjust. He does not change direction well and that can get you in trouble at the next level.
St. Juste’s versatility, length and overall size will do his draft slot a favor.
Round 5 | Tre Brown | Oklahoma
Oklahoma’s Tre Brown is an experienced cornerback that played at a big-time program and it shows up on film. Brown is an incredibly aggressive player that loves to get his hands on his man at the line of scrimmage.
Brown is a good athlete with smooth hips and quick feet. He changes direction well. In coverage, he’s patient, smart, doesn’t take any false steps and never panics. He also plays with excellent effort, as seen by this highlight-worthy, touchdown-saving play:
Brown is an excellent tackler that plays the game with toughness and competitiveness. He should offer some inside-outside versatility, and projectsas a good special teams player at the next level. He should be available on Day 3.
Round 6 | Robert Rochell | Central Arkansas
Small school alert. Central Arkansas’ Robert Rochell has been on my radar for a while now. I interviewed him back in August of 2020. Fast forward to today and his draft process is off on the right foot. When an FCS player looks like he belongs at the Senior Bowl, you take notice. That’s exactly what Rochell did a few weeks ago.
Rochell was a big-time playmaker in Central Arkansas’ secondary. He leaves the Bears for the next level with 77 tackles, 10 interceptions and 25 pass break-ups.
In terms of why Rochell was so productive, he’s a long-armed corner that uses his length to get his hands on the football. A former wide receiver, Rochell understands how receivers are trying to beat him and he plays with excellent poise. This is a player that’s always in control.
It’ll be interesting to see how he handles a step up in competition, but it’s worth noting that Rochell was a fairly popular recruit before he tore his ACL during his senior year of high school. He was a gem that fell into Central Arkansas’ lap.
Round 7 | Bryan Mills | NC Central
As it stands now, the Titans don’t have a seventh round pick in April’s draft, but we’re looking at a cornerback in every round here, so let’s pretend pick 192 — the Titans’ second sixth-rounder and the final pick of the sixth round — comes one round later.
And here I go with another FCS player that was at the Senior Bowl and received an invite to this year’s combine. Like Rochell, I got to know Mills back in Sepmteber via this interview.
One of the top players at the HBCU level, Mills showcased his ability to take the football away in 2019 when he recorded an impressive five interceptions in 12 games, highlighted by a three-interception performance against Morgan State.
On tape, Mills is a no-nonsense, tough corner that loves to play press-man at the line of scrimmage.
He’s the type of player that can be a steal on Day 3.