Titans find instant contributors, future starters on Day Three of 2024 NFL Draft

After drafting offensive tackle JC Latham on day one and defensive tackle T’Vondre Sweat on day two, the Tennessee Titans made five selections on the third and final day of the 2024 NFL Draft. General manager Ran Carthon and head coach Brian Callahan entered the final stretch with leftover glaring holes at critical positions. Not every spot could be filled, but I believe Carthon and Callahan came away with some instant contributors and future starters.

Let’s break down each player pick by pick.

FOURTH ROUND (No. 106): Cedric Gray, LB, North Carolina

The Titans entered the draft with a sizable need at linebacker after losing Azeez Al-Shaair to the Houston Texans in free agency. Many expected the Titans to address the position at No. 38, but Carthon drafted Sweat instead. I personally never loved the idea of drafting a non-premium like inside linebacker at 38. It’s worth acknowledging the Titans passed on the consensus LB1 at that spot, Edgerrin Cooper, who was drafted 45th by the Green Bay Packers.

Carthon faced a long wait from 38 to 106, but landing Cedric Gray was an outstanding outcome. Gray was uber-productive at North Carolina. He departed the Tar Heels having made 369 career tackles, 36 for a loss. Gray triggers downhill violently with a sense of decisiveness, proven by his 90 total run stops since 2022, a metric he ranked first in among all Power Five linebackers according to Pro Football Focus.

Gray possesses outstanding athleticism with explosive sideline-to-sideline range and speed. His movement abilities were made evident by his 4.64 40-yard dash with excellent splits of 2.67 and 1.58. Gray is the best athlete the Titans drafted in my opinion, earning a 7.26 out of 10 according to Relative Athletic Score.

In coverage, Gray displays capabilities to cover one-on-one. His background as a high school wide receiver is evident with a high-level understanding of route concepts. Gray gets quality spot drops in zone coverage, and has been productive in the passing game with five career interceptions and eight pass breakups. That sort of resume led to him capturing Next Gen Stats’ highest production score (86) among all draft-eligible linebackers this year.

The Titans didn’t just need a linebacker. They needed one capable of calling the defense, making the checks and communications after Al-Shaair served in that role throughout 2022. Free agent signing Kenneth Murray Jr. never did it with the Los Angeles Chargers, and the likes of Jack Gibbens and Otis Reese IV are inexperienced.

Gray’s production and experience at North Carolina indicate he’s capable. The Charlotte native led the Tar Heels in tackles for three consecutive seasons, including three straight 100-plus tackle campaigns. In 2023, Gray recorded 121 tackles after a career-high 145 takedowns in 2022. Carthon called Gray qualified to wear the green dot as a three-year starter. In a conversation with me, Gray compared himself to Fred Warner. Carthon was with the San Francisco 49ers when Warner, who’s worn the green dot ever since, was drafted.

I imagine the Titans will hold a fairly open competition between Gray, Gibbens, and maybe Reese IV for the spot opposite Murray Jr. I foresee Gray winning that battle. The Titans may have drafted Week 1 starter in the fourth round.

FIFTH ROUND (No. 146): Jarvis Brownlee Jr., CB, Louisville

I had consistently reported throughout this process (especially if you listen/watch The Music City Audible) that the Titans particularly liked two cornerback prospects, Kris Abrams-Draine and Jarvis Brownlee Jr. When Abrams-Draine went one overall before the Titans’ scheduled fifth-round selection (No. 145), I messaged @TitansFilmRoom and said “Brownlee Jr., maybe?” Pardon me for patting myself on the back. And I believe the Titans would have drafted Brownlee Jr. over Abrams-Draine had both been available.

I LOVE this pick. I found Brownlee Jr. to be among the most competitive defensive backs throughout my extensive tape study of DBs in the 2024 NFL Draft. After transferring to Louisville from Florida State, Brownlee Jr. played on Saturday’s like the rent was due every Sunday morning. Speaking of, entering the portal was a difficult decision for Brownlee Jr. He described Florida State as his “dream school” in an extensive conversation with me. But after making the move, Brownlee Jr. totaled 96 tackles, 21 pass breakups, and three interceptions throughout two campaigns with the Cardinals.

Brownlee Jr. is incredibly feisty with a mean, nasty streak and sense of physicality. He reminds me of new Titans cornerback L’Jarius Sneed in that sense. Ironically, both Sneed and Brownlee Jr. were underappreciated throughout their pre-draft processes, having been drafted eight selections apart. Like Sneed, I’ll go out on a limb by saying I wouldn’t be surprised if Brownlee Jr. developed into one of the best players in the league at his position.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. There are some size limitations present. Brownlee Jr. features measurements in the 45th percentile or less in height, wingspan, arm length, and hand size, per MockDraftable. Brownlee Jr. features above average speed at 4.51, and he’s earned plenty of boundary reps with sticky-man coverage on tape, but the size deficiencies may permanently kick Brownlee Jr. to the nickel, a position he played more frequently in 2023 than any prior season.

Corner wasn’t a huge need with Sneed, Roger McCreary, and Chido Awuzie on the roster. New defensive coordinator Dennard Wilson will have the Titans defense in nickel on a majority basis. The chances of all three veteran cornerbacks making it through a 17-game schedule completely unscathed are nearly nonexistent. Brownlee Jr. should immediately take the CB4 role from Tre Avery and/or Eric Garror. Brownlee Jr. will make a contribution in 2024.

SIXTH ROUND (No. 182): Jha’Quan Jackson, WR, Tulane

I wasn’t onboard with the Twitter-wide outrage over this pick. I’ll admit I got to know Jha’Quan Jackson pretty well throughout this process through various conversations. I never allowed that to impact my player evaluation, even though I found Jackson to be a smart prospect with a high I.Q. and excellent attitude, overall approach, and work ethic.

Let’s start by admitting the obvious. Jackson is seriously undersized at 5-foot-9 and 188 pounds. Jackson struggles to play through contact, both at the line of scrimmage and at the catch point, and he’ll likely never be an expert press-man beater. The slender frame also creates cause for injury-related concern, especially when considering Jackson missed four contests throughout 2023. He was healthy throughout the two prior campaigns, having posted 886 all-purpose yards in 2022, and a career-high 1,003 in 2021, the majority of which arrived via kick returns (551).

On offense, Jackson projects as a slot-only receiver who’s capable of both running solid intermediate routes, or taking the top off the defense. He’s extremely elusive in the open field. I spoke with NFL scouts who compared Jackson to Zay Flowers throughout this process. That would obviously be a fantastic outcome for the Titans.

In the immediate, I expect Jackson to become the in-house favorite to win the kickoff and punt return jobs, especially under the new special teams rules, something Carthon essentially confirmed when discussing the pick with local media. Jackson played for special teams coach Greg McMahon at Tulane. Coach McMahon won a Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints, and a National Championship with LSU. Jackson has been well coached in that phase.

Barring the addition of a veteran receiver, Jackson should also contend for reps in the slot with Kyle Philips, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, and Treylon Burks, if the latter manages to work his way into that competition. At worst, new offensive coordinator Nick Holz should design some manufactured touches to take advantage of Jackson’s open-field elusiveness. Jackson will make big plays.

Here are some fun facts you probably already know about Jackson. Titans running back (and fellow former Tulane alum) Tyjae Spears is among Jackson’s best friends. They were former roommates at Tulane, and Spears attended Jackson’s draft party. Legendary Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed is also Jackson’s uncle.

SEVENTH ROUND (No. 242): James Williams, LB, Miami

Let’s get this out of the way immediately. James Williams predominantly played safety at Miami, but he’ll be transitioning to linebacker at the next level. Carthon even referenced “coach Bush” during the emotional draft-day phone call to Williams, insinuating he’ll primarily be working with linebackers coach Frank Bush.

Williams isn’t athletic enough to continue playing safety in the NFL ranks. Williams possesses 99th percentile height and weight measurements historically among safeties, but the testing numbers leave plenty to be desired. Williams ran the 40-yard dash in an 18th-percentile 4.65 seconds. His 30″ inch vertical was historically poor among safeties, placing in the second percentile. The size is difficult to ignore though. The right side of Williams’ spider chart, which consists of height, weight, wingspan, and arm length, is objectively hilarious.

The athletic testing numbers drastically improve when placed in the context of linebacker, as our pal Mike Herndon displayed on Twitter. All of a sudden, Williams’ 4.65 40 with splits of 2.71 and 1.61 are above average results. The vertical is still poor, but the 9-foot-9 broad qualifies as above average, too. These numbers are considerably more important to determining Williams’ athletic profile since linebacker is the position he’ll be playing for the Titans.

The Titans essentially doubled down at linebacker after selecting Gray by taking a flier on Williams. It’s no surprise considering what their linebacker depth chart looked like entering Saturday. If Williams’ full-time transition goes swimmingly, he projects as a sub-package defender for Wilson’s defense. At worst, I bet he makes for one helluva gunner on special teams.

SEVENTH ROUND (No. 252): Jaylen Harrell, EDGE, Michigan

The Titans closed out their 2024 NFL Draft by selecting Michigan edge defender Jaylen Harrell, who experienced a breakout campaign for the National Championship winning Wolverines in 2023. Harrell led Michigan in pressures (31), tackles for loss (10) and sacks (7.5) this past season. Harrell posted a career-best 19.9% pass-rush win rate in 2023 according to Pro Football Focus. He put those talents on display at the Senior Bowl, where he was unblockable at times throughout practice reps.

Carthon confirmed that Harrell will play outside linebacker for the Titans, specifically the “SAM” position. Carthon referred to Harrell as a three-down defender. In a conversation with me, Harrell called himself “explosive and relentless,” saying he models his game after Alex Highsmith of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Tampa, Florida native is former teammates with Nicholas Petit-Frere (high school) and Hassan Haskins (college).

Harrell is undersized at a 15th-percentile 250 pounds, but he possesses suddenness with a red-hot motor and quick first step to be an effective situational pass rusher. He doesn’t address the need the Titans still have to replace Denico Autry, especially as an early-down guy. The Titans should focus on finding that veteran type throughout the next wave of free agency, but Harrell should push guys like Rashad Weaver and Caleb Murphy for playing time and a roster spot this summer.

Author: Justin MeloSenior Writer, Interviewer and Podcaster for Broadway Sports covering the Tennessee Titans and NFL draft. For more than five years, Justin Melo has professionally covered all things NFL draft and Titans for The Draft Network, SB Nation and USA Today. Best known for his Interview Series with NFL draft prospects, Justin has interviewed more than 500 NFL players. Co-host of the Music City Audible podcast alongside Justin Graver (@titansfilmroom).

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