Drafting a quarterback in the first round is a strategy that’s as old as time.
This classic draft spin has always been an attractive one for the bottom dwellers of the league. It brings with it the idea of drafting your next face, your next superstar that can hopefully bring your organization to the mountaintops of professional football.
While also providing the building blocks for a brand that could boost the organization’s profits and notoriety.
However, this aggressive mindset hasn’t been relegated to teams with poor records and and a laughable on-field product.
Teams that feel like an upgrade at quarterback is the missing key piece for additional success. Franchises that aren’t satisfied with their current option, and want to usher in a new era at the most important position in the game.
This ruthless, modern, business-like practice that evolved from that line of thinking, have begun to insert themselves into the stratosphere of quarterback movement — for both draft prospects and veteran options on the trade market.
In the case of the Tennessee Titans, they’re potentially sitting in the latter portion of the spectrum.
After a heartbreaking playoff defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals — one that included two backbreaking turnovers by Ryan Tannehill — the Titans are being forced to examine their long term quarterback situation.
Not only because Tannehill is slowly approaching an age where NFL players begin to consider life after the sport. But because Tannehill’s limitations as a signal caller have started to harm the team more often than not.
For a team that’s put itself in a position to compete with the best of the best right now, negligible conduct from the leader under center can’t be accepted with such ease.
That’s why chatter has been brewing about the Titans potentially selecting their next quarterback of the future once the draft begins on April 28th.
However, as much as some want the team to theoretically signal the end of Tannehill’s tenure by way of a rookie selection, the idea of the Titans drafting a rookie quarterback remains iffy at best.
Questions are aplenty for this year’s crop of rookie quarterbacks, specifically regarding their long term impact and how much they’d be able to contribute if they ever pan out.
It’s exactly why you would have to examine the risk vs. reward in terms of drafting a quarterback early in this year’s draft. Is the long term reward worth the risk of an important draft asset? Or does the risk vastly outweigh the rewards you’d potentially receive if you go ahead and roll with a quarterback at 26?
When you draft a quarterback in the first round, varying levels of risk come along with the selection. The final tally usually depends on the prospect and/or the environment that prospect is stepping into.
The Titans have a solid foundation for the player development process. Mike Vrabel and the rest of his staff have proven they’re capable of crafting a specific player’s game, and molding it into an NFL ready product.
The organization also has a professional, welcoming environment that should appeal a great deal to amateurs that are beginning to dip their toes into the rambunctious waters of the NFL.
But despite those two positive points belonging to the Titans, they still lack one major detail that would make their situation favorable for quarterback development.
Since the beginning of the Vrabel/Jon Robinson partnership in 2018, Tennessee has never been in the position to help bring an early round quarterback prospect up to speed.
The only rookie quarterbacks that have received the opportunity to “develop” under Vrabel and Robinson are Luke Falk (2018) and Cole McDonald (2020). And both of those players were seen as long shots to not only make the roster, but make sizable contributions moving forward.
Combine that with the fact that the 26th pick could be used to address the team’s bland receiver depth, or even their lack of skill and youth at the tight end spot, and you end up realizing that spending an early pick on a quarterback could do more harm than good.
However, despite some legit red flags about this year’s quarterback class and how any potential pick from this year’s crop could flame out and leave teams scrambling for options, the reward for hitting on one of these quarterbacks still remains.
The obvious reward for selecting a quarterback in the first round is the reward you’d receive. Whether that’s an upgrade in quality under center, the ability to unlock more in terms of scheme, there’s a boatload of possibilities that exist if you’re able to settle on an option and develop it into a product you’re proud of.
For a team that has multiple pieces in place to win, the rewards could be even more delectable. Finally getting over the hump and establishing yourself as a legit contender, maybe even erasing any playoff demons that could be lurking on your shoulders.
Flipping the narrative like that by simply switching quarterbacks isn’t always a surefire solution. In fact, it has backfired at times in the past because teams have been so eager to move on from a current, plausible option, and hit big by replacing that option with a sexier name and game.
But the possibility still exists of you finding a younger, better option in the draft, so you have to entertain the scenario of it playing out in order to maximize the situation you have in front of you.
However, the danger of potentially missing out on adding talent at other spots on the roster exists as well.
Passing over a receiver could prove costly for the Titans.
Currently, only A.J. Brown and Robert Woods exist as the only two receivers that you’d feel comfortable with if week one began today.
Behind them are guys that lack consistency, experience, and top end talent to put it bluntly. Three things you don’t want your receivers to have little of when you’re trying to piece together an offense that’s ready to compete with the big boys of the conference.
Since this receiving class appears to be deep, you could solve some of those problems by drafting whatever first round receiving prospect that falls into your hands at 26. With that potentially going down, you’d fill an important spot offensively, while also avoiding the scenario of having to trade up for a playmaking receiver, or having to wait it out and hoping one will fall into your lap in the later rounds.
Going through a plan like that sounds good at face value, on paper, and when you analyze it to a tee.
But, selecting a quarterback has another set of rewards that could make the blow of missing out on a receiver, a little softer.
If you do indeed hit on a quarterback, think about the additional positives that could arise as a result.
Because rookie contracts take up a smidgen of cap space, you can be flexible with your cap situation and make any moves that are deemed necessary.
That includes any mid-season roster additions, trades, or on the Titans’ side of things, big money extensions for young talent that are deserving of massive raises (A.J. Brown and Jeffery Simmons are the obvious candidates currently).
But still, all the good looking plans that exist along with the additional roster flexibilities can’t be masked if the quarterback situation itself isn’t solved completely by finding your top guy.
If your quarterback selection doesn’t pan out, you’d only complicate your quarterback situation even further.
The Titans had to deal with multiple quarterback controversies over the past few seasons. Tannehill supplanting Mariota in 2018, and Tannehill’s own future coming into play after his playoff disaster in January.
Adding another one, this time by way of a rookie failing to deliver the goods, just isn’t ideal for the long term future of this organization. If a situation like that does indeed occur, you’d then have to jump into the quarterback market again, while also being shot with uncertainty pertaining to where you’d find your next signal caller.
That space isn’t somewhere you want to be. You’d immediately be thrusted into the shallow and perilous waters of quarterback uncertainty, place that’s haunted a number of NFL teams in recent seasons.
Simply ask the Denver Broncos, who, until they acquired the services of Russell Wilson, had been desperately trying to fill the void left by Peyton Manning after his retirement in 2016.
That isn’t to say every quarterback search will be as drastic and over the top as the Broncos’, but it’s an example of what it could be if you don’t handle the process with care, and ultimately land your prized golden egg.
There are obvious risks and rewards that’ll await the Titans if they decide to draft a quarterback in the first round.
Some risks outweigh the rewards, and the same could be said vice versa.
What’ll separate the two and eventually give the team their own personal conclusion is a number of questions that can only be answered by the Titans and the Titans alone.
Can they develop a quarterback in this year’s class to be able to start in 2023 if Tannehill’s contract is moved off the books? Can the team identify a prospect to give them more than what Tannehill has given him over the past two seasons?
These uncertainties, and plenty more, will hang over the team until they’re either realized or brushed to the side when the time comes.