Passing On A First-Round Tackle: The Titans’ Forgetful, Narrow Path To Success

In just one week, the Tennessee Titans will likely have the rare opportunity to draft an incredible wide receiver prospect in the first round. And that would probably be a prisoner-of-the-moment mistake.

Though to be fair, that doesn’t apply just to wideouts. That goes for every position besides offensive tackle.

We’re going to dig into why that is in a moment, but first, let’s start with why I’m writing this article in the first place. As draft night has crested the horizon, the zeitgeist of Titans fans has grown increasingly split. I recently ran the most extensive survey (at least that I’m aware of) checking the pulse on people’s hopes for Tennessee in Round 1. Here are the results:

Addressing the tackle position is still the most popular choice, thanks to the (mostly) deserved popularity of Joe Alt. But as you can see, selecting Malik Nabers or Rome Odunze in the 1st are also very popular choices.

Do you want a stud tackle or a star receiver? If you have complicated feelings about these options, I’d argue that’s a good thing. For months I’ve advocated for the Titans looking to trade down in the 1st round, adding some sorely needed Day 2 capital and taking advantage of the astonishingly deep tackle class. But if they stick and pick at 7, Alt, Nabers, and Odunze are all extremely exciting options!

In a vacuum, it’s hard for them to go wrong here. But we don’t live in a vacuum.

As fans make up their mind about who they want, they begin campaigning on social media. And the significant segment who want a receiver makes some strong arguments. Here is the best example I’ve found:

While I ultimately disagree, I absolutely understand and respect the points being made. It’s a strong argument! But it’s not as strong as the argument fans made in unison just months ago that I’m here to remind you of.

This happens every. single. year.

Just three months ago Titans fans were emerging from the most painful, nauseating six months of watching the Titans tackle situation consistently ruin their offense. Every single week they watched in disgust as everything Will Levis and company tried to accomplish was hamstrung by pathetic offensive line play. Run plays with multiple defenders immediately in the backfield, hardly ever resetting the line of scrimmage. Passing concepts that never got the chance to develop because the passer was fighting for his life every time he dropped back.

Now free agency has come and gone, and Tennessee managed to upgrade at center. They didn’t find any tackle help that moves the needle though, in large part due to the constant shortage of tackle talent on the veteran market. So as they enter the 2024 draft, here is where they stand up front:

By this predictive metric, Tennessee has the 3rd worst pass-protecting unit in the league. Worse, their score is entirely buoyed by a strong guard-center-guard trio in the middle. Check out those tackle scores! Not great!

Watching this kind of tackle performance is a downright miserable experience for everyone involved. In the moment it’s painfully obvious what the desperate need is. Once the torture ends in January, everybody seems to agree.

“Never again!”

“We’re going to hit this problem hard in the offseason!”

“Time to find real cornerstones, no more shopping in the bargain bin!”

“It’s been YEARS of this nonsense and we’re sick of it!”

But this is the offensive line we’re talking about. For the majority of fans, it’s the most boring part of the roster. The offseason is all about adding the sexiest, fastest, biggest, strongest, most electric players who touch the ball! So it only takes being a couple of months removed from the in-season bludgeoning for us to forget how sharp that pain is, to forget how glaring that problem is.

I, for one, am tired of people forgetting how dire the situation is. I’m tired of this annual cycle of off-season fun, pre-season hope, in-season reminding, and off-season forgetting. Aren’t you tired of trying to patch this bullet hole with bandaids?

In response to this charge, most point to Tennessee’s new offensive line guru: Bill Callahan.

Generally speaking, there is no doubt he presents tremendous value (and perhaps an even bigger upgrade) to the Titans’ OL room. For decades he’s been getting the most out of what’s been given to him. He has earned his reputation for being able to draw blood from a stone.

But I think the faith in Callahan to make the most of lesser talent has gone just a smidge overboard. The man is fantastic at his job, but he’s not a miracle worker. At some point, the players have to matter. Here’s an outline of Bill’s history with truly elite linemen, in which you’ll notice a trend amongst the tackles:

Lastly, the biggest thing keeping me on the 1st round tackle train is the position Tennessee will be put in if they don’t address tackle first.

The reality of their options will become painfully real next Thursday night if they opt for another position early. The eye of the needle they’re trying to thread will get small in a hurry. Top draft analysts agree: we could see as many as seven or eight tackles come off the board before the 38th overall pick when the Titans get their second selection.

That presents two uncomfortable questions. First, are you confident Bill Callahan can turn a developmental Day 2 tackle into a bonafide starter? How quickly do you think he can make that happen? Most first-round tackles take a year or two to get up to speed, after all. While a Day 2 pick being a valuable starter in year one is possible, it’s not exactly likely.

Secondly, are you comfortable with erasing all of the progress Tennessee made in free agency to give themselves positional freedom in the draft? If they don’t go tackle in the 1st, one would think that’s where they’d have to go in the 2nd. And after adding key pieces early in the spring to allow them to draft for value over need, you could argue that will have been washed away in the case of their 2nd (and final) top-100 pick. That’s not a great place to be.

The bottom line is this: The Titans have too many holes to avoid facing some difficult decisions in this draft. The stellar group of receivers at the top of the draft sure is enticing. But selecting one would be forgetting what we’ve been painfully taught in recent seasons, and it would make the path the Titans have to walk in the rest of the draft a much narrower one than it needs to be.

Author: Easton Freezeis a Nashville native who loves covering the NFL. He is the host of The Hot Read Podcast, and when he isn't watching or covering sports, he's spending time with friends and family.

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