You may have heard the news. The Titans need to add edge rushers this offseason. Plural. If you’re reading this, you likely know the Titans’ pass rush was woeful in 2020. Tennessee finished the season with just 19 sacks, which ranked third worst in the NFL.
They have a good player in Harold Landry and not much else. The rushers who finished the season opposite Landry, players such as Brooks Reed and Wyatt Ray, shouldn’t be back in 2021. Neither should Tuzar Skipper, who saw snaps down the stretch as well. Derick Roberson should be back, but as nothing more than a depth piece worth trying to develop.
That leaves the team with Landry and virtually nothing else. Landry’s sack total (5.5) was disappointing in 2020, but he’s closer to a 10-sack player and would benefit from playing alongside more talent. Landry was the only moderate threat this team had coming off the edge, and he was tasked with playing roughly 98% of the team’s defensive snaps on a weekly basis. That has to change going forward.
The Titans shouldn’t look to the draft exclusively to fix their problem. They need to add one, maybe two proven, veteran rushers via free agency as well. But even if they accomplish that, they will likely add at least one pass rusher by the end of the Day 2 of the 2021 NFL Draft.
For the sake of this article, we decided to identify an edge rusher they could conceivably take in every round.
Round 1 | Azeez Ojulari | Georgia
Azeez Ojulari should be on the Titans’ shortlist when it comes to the 22nd overall pick. Ojulari possesses the athletic profile to become an excellent sack artist at the next level. He is a bendy edge rusher who can turn and flatten the corner in the blink of an eye. A blur coming off the edge, Ojulari has an explosive first step and gets off the ball in a hurry. His ability to dip low to the ground while threatening the outside shoulder of his opponent is incredibly impressive.
After a decent 2019 season, Ojulari exploded in his final campaign with the Bulldogs, recording 9.5 sacks in 10 games. Ojulari wrapped up his collegiate career in dominant fashion by posting 3 sacks in his final outing, a bowl win over Cincinnati. To add appropriate context, Ojulari beat up on Cincinnati’s backup tackle after their starter James Hudson, a good prospect in his own right, was ejected for targeting.
While it’s Ojulari’s first-step explosiveness and bend ability that catches your eye, he’s not a one-trick pony. He has excellent hands and he’s always using them to fight to disengage when his first move doesn’t work. He’s played from both a two-point and three-point stance, adding versatility to his long list of appealing attributes.
Ojulari would be a great addition for the Titans heading into the 2021 season.
Round 2 | Jayson Oweh | Penn State
I may scare Titans fans with this one, but so be it. Can this team really gamble on a player that finished the 2020 season with 0 sacks to help fix their pass rush? Oweh is worth the wager. Despite failing to record a QB takedown in seven games this past season, I expect Oweh to be selected in the top-64 this April. Why, you ask? Traits, that’s why. Currently listed at 6-foot-5, 257 pounds, Oweh possesses one of the more exciting athletic profiles of all edge defenders in this class. He has terrific length and while he’s still learning how to use it, it’s going to serve him incredibly well at the next level.
It’s not all about length when it comes to Oweh. He’s also twitchy. On tape, Oweh often wins by threatening the corner with terrific speed. He is understandably raw, as he was forced to bide his time behind some good rushers at Penn State, but Oweh has all the tools to develop into one of the most feared QB hunters in the NFL.
Oweh reminds me a little of Danielle Hunter coming out. Hunter was also raw, and had little production to his name with just 4.5 career sacks in three years at LSU. Oweh enters the league with just seven collegiate sacks to his name. But the Vikings saw the potential and took Hunter with a top-100 pick. And boy, did it ever pay off for them. I don’t expect Oweh to last nearly as long as Hunter once did.
Had the NFL Scouting Combine not been canceled, I fully expected to Oweh to light the world on fire. There’s a reason he was on Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List. Oweh reportedly ran a 4.33 40 according to Penn State coaches. Some of his other testing numbers apparently include a 36-inch vertical jump. These are elite numbers.
There won’t be a proper combine this year, but the good news is Oweh will still have a Pro Day to show off his impressive athletic ability. I wouldn’t be surprised if he works his way into the first round conversation.
Round 3 | Patrick Jones | Pittsburgh
Several of the writers on this site are very high on Patrick Jones. I’m one of them. You may think I’m crazy for mocking him this low. But from the conversations I’ve had, it appears the NFL is less bullish on him than I am.
Jones was at The Senior Bowl, which is a great opportunity for players to solidify their draft position and prove to all 32 teams that they’re an ascending prospect. Jones didn’t have a great week. It started on the wrong foot with some of his measurables. Nobody is going to look at his 32-inch arms and call him particularly long. When it came to the popular one-on-one practice reps, Jones failed to shine there as well.
But enough of the negatives. I fell in love with Jones’ tape for a variety of reasons. He’s such a smart, disciplined player. As a pass rusher, he does a terrific job getting off the snap in a hurry and threatening the outside. His pass rush arsenal already features a plethora of moves that he used to win on Saturdays including an impressive club-rip and inside swim.
Jones didn’t have a great week of practice in Mobile, but he did record a beautiful sack in the game thanks to one of his patented inside moves.
Our first two picks here featured exciting pass rushers that are still developing their skills in the run game. Jones is a much more mature player when it comes to defending the run. He has a better understanding of run fits and maintaining gap control than most prospects do. His skill set paired with his football IQ allows him to set the edge on a consistent basis.
Jones is going to be a good player at the next level.
Round 3 | Joe Tryon | Washington
Wait, another third round pick? The Titans will have an extra third round selection in 2021 in the form of a compensatory pick thanks to the departure of Jack Conklin in free agency last year. We decided to use that pick as a reason to write about another potential pick in this range.
Few players surprised me more throughout my tape study than Joe Tryon did. I’ll admit that I went into my evaluation knowing very little about him. Us east coasters don’t always get great exposure to the Pac-12 throughout the year. Tryon comes in around 6-4, 251 pounds according to his school biography. The film study reveals that he’s a good athlete with great length.
While the measurables and athletic traits are intriguing, the on-field production has also been there. Tryon didn’t play in 2020, but he did record an impressive eight sacks in 2019. It’s worth noting that Washington also asked Tryon to drop back in the passing game on occasion, and he more than held his own in coverage. Versatility is always a good thing.
I’ve seen some top-32 love for Tryon, but I think that’s premature. Tryon is still developing his rush arsenal. He has plenty improving to do in the run game as well. His stock should ultimately land somewhere between the second and third rounds.
Round 4 | Elerson Smith | Northern Iowa
Small school alert. Northern Iowa’s Elerson Smith has been on my radar for a while now. Although it’s early, his draft process is off to a great start.
The Senior Bowl is such an important event all around, but it can be especially of note for small school prospects. The annual event gives players like Smith a chance to go up against Power Five competition and prove that they belong on the biggest stage. That’s exactly what Smith did throughout his week in Mobile.
Firstly, Smith passed the first test. His official measurables are excellent: 6-6, 262 pounds with an impressive 83-inch wingspan. It was then time for the more important aspect, for Smith to hit the field and prove he’s a legitimate prospect. That’s exactly what he did as Smith routinely impressed in practice. It was especially nice to see him look so sharp throughout the one-on-one reps considering he didn’t have a season in 2020.
Turn the clock back to his 2019 season, the last time Smith was on a college football field, and Smith showcased a good first step with the ability to bend and reach the edge. This is very much an ascending prospect.
Round 5 | Hamilcar Rashed Jr. | Oregon State
This is probably a name you’re familiar with and you may be surprised to see him drafted in the fifth round in this scenario. We’ll get to the reasons why. Oregon State’s Hamilcar Rashed exploded onto the scene during the 2019 season by recording an astounding 14 sacks in 11 games. His draft stock would have been at its highest then, and he probably should have considered entering last year’s draft.
Instead, Rashed went back to school for the 2020 season. Little did he know how the year would be impacted by COVID-19 when he made his decision, but his stock has cooled off since then. Rashed didn’t get to play a full season in 2020, but he failed to take full advantage of the games that he did get to play in. After totaling 14 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss in 11 games in 2019, Rashed posted 0 sacks and just two tackles for loss in seven games in 2020. Why his production dipped so significantly is one of the issues that teams will have to get to the bottom of throughout this process.
There are also some question marks surrounding his best position fit at the next level. While he was mainly utilized as an EDGE rusher in Oregon State’s even front, Rashed received some practice reps as an off-ball linebacker at the Senior Bowl and looked really comfortable in that role. A position change may be his chance for true success going forward, but his productive season as a pass rusher in 2019 will have some teams hesitant to take him away from the edge.
Round 6 | William Bradley-King | Baylor
Baylor’s William Bradley-King was one of the more surprising stories at The Senior Bowl. He didn’t enter the week with much hype but he surprised all in attendance.
Bradley-King has taken a unique journey to get where he is today. He continues to prove his doubters wrong. King’s recruitment process was a strange and quiet one, and he ultimately landed at Arizona State. It took years for Bradley-King to work his way up the depth chart, but his hard work finally paid off in 2019 when he earned a full-time role and finished the year with 8.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss.
Bradley-King then decided to take a step up for his final season. He entered the transfer portal and landed in a better conference with the Baylor Bears. Another impressive season in 2020 helped earn Bradley-King an invite to Mobile.
As he’s always done, William-King took advantage of his opportunity at the Senior Bowl and put a lot of good things on tape. His overall skill set is highlighted by his terrific length. He’s going to give a team excellent value on Day 3.
Round 7 | Wyatt Hubert | Kansas State
As it stands now, the Titans don’t have a seventh round pick in April’s draft, but we’re looking at an edge rusher 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.
Production came in bunches for Kansas State’s Wyatt Hubert, our eighth and final selection. Hubert enters the NFL draft after totaling an impressive 20 sacks in three years for the Wildcats. So why would Hubert last this long? His production is more the result of terrific effort than it is exciting traits.
Hubert’s physical limitations were unfortunately on display at the Senior Bowl where he measured in with a 77-inch wingspan and 30-inch arms. Both numbers are well below what you look for in a prototypical edge rusher at the next level. And that’s why Hubert will likely be available on Day 3. Being an effort player wins you brownie points and helps you round out the backend of an NFL roster, but it doesn’t get you drafted early.
Still, Hubert had the type of production that gets you drafted regardless of athletic profile. It’s tough to see how Hubert will give NFL offensive linemen a problem at the next level, but he has the type of pedigree that’s worth working with.