Last offseason, Jon Robinson took a wrecking ball to the condemned structure that was the 2020 Tennessee Titans defense. He replaced a whopping six defensive starters, brought in veteran defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz as a senior defensive assistant, and committed over $100-million in contracts to completely rebuild both the secondary and the pass rush. That renovation project proved to be a wild success as the defense jumped from 24th in the league in scoring defense in 2020 to 6th in 2021, culminating with a dominant playoff performance that featured an NFL playoff record 9 sacks of Joe Burrow.
However, an aging and injured offense — that had carried the Titans to playoff appearances in the previous two seasons — couldn’t hold up their end of the bargain. It was a cruel and stunning reversal of fortunes between the two sides of the ball that finally brought a long-simmering issue to the Titans doorstep: the age of the offense.
Heading into 2021, the Titans had 6 starters on offense that were 30 or older, including four-fifths of the offensive line: Rodger Saffold (33), Ryan Tannehill (33), Ben Jones (32), Julio Jones (32), David Quessenberry (31), and Taylor Lewan (30). That’s before you even mention 27-year-old Derrick Henry coming off back-to-back 400-plus touch seasons.
An offensive refresh was already long overdue, but of course, most assumed that any offensive roster reconstruction would be centered around 24-year-old star wide receiver A.J. Brown. That vision was shattered on Thursday night when the Titans pulled the trigger on a draft night trade to send Brown to Philadelphia.
The subsequent draft haul, including presumed A.J. Brown replacement, Treylon Burks, and the most talented quarterback in the class, Malik Willis, felt like a whiplash-inducing jerk of the wheel by Jon Robinson. Whether that sudden turn got them back on the road to an eventual Super Bowl or crashed them back into the ditch of offensive duldrums that this franchise has long trudged through remains to be seen, but I found this draft class interesting enough that I wanted to go pick by pick and give my thoughts on the player, the fit, and what the pick says — if anything — about the future of the franchise. But first, let’s hit on the shocking moment that kicked off the Titans 2022 draft.
The A.J. Brown Trade
The entirety of the Titans draft haul was ultimately overshadowed by their shocking trade that sent star wide receiver A.J. Brown to Philadelphia in exchange for pick number 18 in the first round and pick number 101 at the end of the third round. My assumption had always been that Brown was going to be the centerpiece of whatever the next iteration of the Titans offense was going to be, and suddenly he was gone.
I won’t get too far into the weeds on this topic — because frankly, I could write 10,000 words about my thoughts there — but I’ll say this… I don’t think this was about money as much as it was about A.J. ultimately wanting out. I think he felt like he would shine brighter on a bigger stage than the one offered to him in Nashville, Tennessee and I do believe that the chance to play with his long-time friend, Jalen Hurts, played a big factor.
As for the Titans, Jon Robinson ultimately made the best out of a bad situation. His football team is worse today than it was last week without a doubt, but the haul he got back isn’t that different than what Davante Adams fetched for the Packers (picks 1.22 and 2.53). Adams is older, but he’s also been healthier and is, without question, a better player than A.J. at this point in their careers.
And I’ll say that balking at paying Brown the reported $28-million per year with $80-million guaranteed that he was reportedly seeking from the Titans is completely understandable. That would have made him the second highest paid receiver in the NFL behind Tyreek Hill in AAV and would have smashed the record for total guarantees to a receiver. Brown is an outstanding talent, but he’s not a top-five receiver in this league and he carries a fair amount of injury risk for a guy who is just 24 years old. Remember the double knee surgery following the 2020 season?
The whole ordeal was heartbreaking, but we’ll see where the dust settles in a couple of years. How will Brown perform in Philly with the enormous expectations that come with both the trade compensation and his new $100-million contract? And more importantly for the Titans, how will A.J.’s replacement fill the big shoes that he’s stepping into?
1.18 WR Treylon Burks, Arkansas
The Titans selected Burks with the first of the two picks that they received back in exchange for Brown. He was the last on the board of what I considered to be the clear top-five receivers in this draft class after an early run saw Drake London, Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, and Jameson Williams all go between picks 8 and 12. Tennessee may have caught a break when Washington chose to go with Jahan Dotson over Burks with the 16th pick and I’d be fascinated to know whether the deal was contingent on Burks being available when the Eagles went on the clock.
Regardless, Jon Robinson ended up landing a player that many compared to A.J. Brown throughout the draft process in Burks. At 6-3, 225 pounds, he’s actually a bit bigger than Brown, but the similarities are clear. They’re both extremely physical receivers with special run after catch ability. I think Brown was a little better route runner with better stop-start acceleration coming out of Ole Miss in 2019, but Burks has the edge as a vertical threat and contested ball winner in addition to his size advantage.
Fortunately for the Titans, Burks’ biggest limitation — his route running refinement — can be masked early on. It doesn’t take Jerry Rice to run the glance routes, deep overs, and posts that Brown feasted on in 2019 and 2020. It’s easy to see him plugging into those types of opportunities right out of the gate and offering the same explosive playmaking ability that Brown brought to the table.
There is no such thing as a guarantee when it comes to college prospects, but this is a great fit of scheme, role, and talent that makes me bullish on Burks to be a day one producer in the Titans offense, and honestly, they desperately need him to be just that. With Robert Woods working his way back from ACL surgery and no other significant threats in the wide receiver room currently, Burks is going to be under enormous pressure to be the guy in this offense from day one. Luckily, he doesn’t seem like the type of guy who will be bothered by that kind of attention.
2.35 CB Roger McCreary, Auburn
After trading out of their pick at 26, the Titans selected McCreary as the 35th overall pick of the draft. I was a little shocked to see them go defense before addressing the offensive line, quarterback, or even double-dipping at wide receiver, but after seeing the rest of their draft and digesting for a few days, this pick does make some sense.
Why use another premium pick on a corner when you have a 2020 second rounder (Kristian Fulton), a 2021 first rounder (Caleb Farley), and a 2021 third rounder (Elijah Molden) already on the roster? Not to mention veteran Buster Skrine and 2020 seventh rounder Chris Jackson, who both started games for the Titans last year and played reasonably well in those appearances.
Well, first I think it’s fair to say that you can’t have too many good corners, just like you can’t have too many good edge rushers. It’s a premium position and teams today aren’t shy about rolling out 10 personnel (1 back, 4 wide receivers) — the Cardinals lead the league in this package, but the Bills and Jets both used 10 personnel on at least 7% of snaps in 2021 — or even 11 personnel (1 back, 1 tight end, 3 wide receivers) that functions like 10 because of the presence of a high quality pass catching tight end — think Kansas City with Travis Kelce or Las Vegas with Darren Waller. Being able to match those packages with personnel that can cover is more critical with every year that goes by.
On top of that, you can layer the question marks surrounding Caleb Farley’s healthy, both short term and long term. Farley is working his way back from a torn ACL suffered during the Titans win over the Bills last October. There is a pretty good chance that he’ll be able to return to the field at some point during training camp, but as we’ve seen with guys like Taylor Lewan and Bud Dupree over the last couple years, returning to the field from an ACL and being 100% are two very different things.
McCreary’s presence takes some of the pressure off Farley returning to play a full-time role early in the season. Sure, you ultimately want Farley — who still has elite shutdown corner upside — on the field as quickly as possible, but you’re not dropping off from a talent perspective as much with McCreary in the fold as you would be going to Skrine or Jackson.
I think this is also an acknowledgement of the risk associated with Farley’s health. He’s now had two ACL surgeries and two back surgeries in the past five years, causing him to miss more football than he’s played over that time frame. McCreary gives the Titans a bit more of a soft landing spot if their upside play with Farley from last year’s draft ends up failing.
McCreary as a prospect is pretty interesting. He has average size, short arms, and average testing numbers, but his tape is elite. The Auburn star is a feisty, physical corner who shows outstanding match and mirror skills in coverage and a willingness to come up and tackle. He also offers some outside-inside versatility. That versatility could give the Titans a chance to play some true dime this year (2 safeties, 4 corners) as opposed to the “big dime” that they ran on almost a quarter of all snaps in 2021 (3 safeties, 3 corners).
Adding a fourth high-talent corner to this defense really completes that unit in my eyes. The Titans were excellent on that side of the ball in 2021, especially down the stretch, but they’re even better on paper heading into 2022.
The pass rush will still have the foursome that really fueled their top-10 sack rate with Harold Landry, Jeffery Simmons, Denico Autry, and Bud Dupree. Dupree being over a year and a half removed from his ACL injury gives me much higher hopes for a better year from him in 2022 and the Titans also add 2021 fourth round pick Rashad Weaver — who flashed big time in preseason before suffering a season ending leg injury — to the rotation along with another year of development for young nose tackles Teair Tart and Naquon Jones.
The linebackers will have Zach Cunningham and David Long as starters from day one of OTAs. Given what those two were able to do together over the stretch run last year despite Cunningham arriving late in the season, it’s very exciting to think about what they can look like as a duo. Last year’s third round pick, Monty Rice, provides some solid depth here as well.
And the secondary — which was probably the weakness of this defense if you had to choose one a year ago — has a chance to be really special. Fulton enters his second season as a full time starter coming off a very strong sophomore season, while Molden and Farley attempt to make the same year two leap that Fulton did a year ago. Throwing McCreary into that mix provides depth and competition for a young, talented group playing in front of arguably the best safety tandem in the NFL in Kevin Byard and Amani Hooker.
I had high expectations for the Titans defense before the draft, but adding McCreary feels like the final piece of what should be a top-five unit in the NFL in 2022.
3.69 OT Nicholas Petit-Frare, Ohio State
This pick raised some interesting questions about the Titans perspective on their offensive line as a whole. Heading into the draft, I think the most commonly held view of the projected starters went something like this:
- LT Taylor Lewan
- LG Aaron Brewer OR Jamarco Jones
- C Ben Jones
- RG Nate Davis
- RT Dillon Radunz
The left guard spot and right tackle spots are clearly the question marks here, but most figured that Radunz would likely settle at right tackle for the 2022 season, leaving left guard as the whole that needed to be filled.
Petit-Frare’s selection throws that into some doubt. He played both right and left tackle at Ohio State, and when asked about his position versatility on Friday night, Jon Robinson keyed in on left versus right tackle versatility, not interior versus exterior versatility in his answer. Could the Titans take a peak at bumping him inside to guard to take a look at him there? Sure. But it sure seems like they view him as a tackle.
Does that hint that maybe Radunz is destined to compete with Brewer and Jones at left guard? Maybe, but I’d hesitate about assuming Petit-Frare gets thrown right into the starting lineup. Almost all the scouting reports I’ve read on him felt like he was a guy that needed some time to develop. The tools are all there — 6-5, 316 pound frame with long enough arms, huge hands, and good movement skills — but his anchor and technique could use some work.
My hunch is that we will see a veteran added to this mix between now and training camp. Whether that’s someone like Ereck Flowers, who has turned into a pretty good NFL guard after a terrible start to his career as a highly drafted tackle, or Daryl Williams who has guard-tackle versatility and a lot of NFL starts to his name, I think this group feels like it’s one player away from where it ends up.
Absent a veteran addition, my bet would be that Radunz does, in fact, take the starting right tackle job with the winner of the Brewer-Jones battle manning left guard. That would leave Petit-Frare with a year to develop while he serves as a valuable swing tackle behind Lewan and Radunz with an eye towards potentially moving on from Lewan after the 2022 season if he either fails to stay healthy or play up to expectations. Tennessee could save almost $15-million in 2023 cap space with zero dead cap left behind if they chose to move on from their long time starting left tackle after this season.
Obviously, a good season from Lewan could earn him the chance to finish his current contract in 2023, but the Titans have given themselves a potential off ramp by taking Radunz and Petit-Frare in back to back drafts. This will be a theme of this draft class moving forward.
3.86 QB Malik Willis, Liberty
Another topic that I could probably write 10,000 words about, but we’ll keep it shorter here for now. I thought quarterback was a distinct possibility for the Titans heading into this draft for a lot of reasons.
For one, Ryan Tannehill’s failure in the playoffs the last two years has to be weighing on the minds of the front office at this point. He’s won a lot of football games here — 30-13 record as a starter in the regular season — while ranking in the top-10 among NFL QBs in touchdown passes (9th), touchdown runs (3rd), completion percentage (9th), yards per attempt (6th), and passer rating (7th). However, at some point that success has to translate to the postseason for it to matter.
The other big reason is a financial one. Tannehill is heading into year three of his four-year, $118-million deal that he signed in 2020. However, it’s the final year that features a guaranteed salary, meaning that the Titans could release Tannehill after this season and save up to $27-million against the cap for the 2023 season.
I still think Tennessee’s front office and coaching staff believe that they can contend in 2022. A defense that should rank among the NFL’s best will keep them in most games and I would imagine they feel like the offense can bounce back despite the loss of A.J. Brown simply by being healthier. Sure, the 2021 offense was better on paper, but those guys were almost never actually in the lineup together.
However, the selection of Willis gives the Titans a really unique opportunity. They have one year to work with Willis, watch him practice, watch him study, maybe even watch how he reacts to some live NFL snaps in games from time to time before they have to make a decision on Tannehill. If Willis proves to be the star-in-the-making that many believe him to be, they can happily cut Tannehill after the season and spend the cap savings on giving Willis the best supporting cast that money can buy for 2023 and 2024.
If Willis isn’t ready just yet — or if he proves to be an outright bust — the Titans can just keep Tannehill for another year and remain competitive. Let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that Willis is a disaster once they get him in the building and it’s clear that this experiment just isn’t going to work out… the Titans could even turn around and pick another QB from the much-hyped 2023 class. Sure, it stings a little to burn a third round pick, but it’s certainly not a franchise killer.
I’m not trying to be a downer by pointing out the potential for Willis not working out. It’s just the reality of the situation. Here are the best third round pick quarterbacks drafted in the last 20 years:
- Russell Wilson
- Nick Foles
- Matt Schaub
There is only one guy that can truly be considered an elite franchise quarterback that was drafted in this range in the last two decades. Willis turning out to be the second would be the exception, not the norm. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but I think it’s only fair that we acknowledge that his future success is certainly not guaranteed.
But enough of the downside, let’s take a look at the upside for a minute, and my goodness is there a lot of upside here. Willis was widely considered the top quarterback in this draft class for a reason. His arm talent and athletic ability — the things you can’t really coach — are special. At 6-0 1/2 and 219 pounds, Willis is built like a tank. He uses that stature to shed tackles at an absolutely absurd rate for a quarterback.
The Willis-Lamar Jackson comp that is sometimes thrown out there is almost solely based on this trait. Willis is just as tough to tackle as Lamar, maybe even tougher, though he doesn’t have the same top end speed that the Ravens quarterback does.
As a passer, Willis’ arm strength is top tier. It’s not quite a Josh Allen Howitzer, but it’s not too far off either. That talent allows him to be a threat to all levels of the field any time the ball is in his hands, which combined with his running ability, is a combination that has turned Allen into one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the NFL.
However, Willis isn’t without flaws. He played in an offensive system that won’t translate much to Sunday football. Hugh Freeze wasn’t asking him to drop back and make full field reads or do any work under center. There will likely be a steep learning curve when it comes to all of the mental requirements placed on an NFL quarterback, which extend far beyond reading coverage. Willis seems like a sharp young man and I don’t think he’ll have any issues learning the playbook, but being able to process all the pre-and-post snap movement that NFL defense throw at you is something entirely different.
I think it’s also fair to say that he has some work to do with inconsistent mechanics. This isn’t a total mechanics rebuild like Cole McDonald, but it’s more emphasizing footwork and balance. There are also minor issues like drifting in the pocket during his drops that contributed to Willis being sacked an NCAA-leading 51 times in 2021.
Those things are fixable with a coaching staff that can be patient and a player who seems coachable and eager to put in the hard work like Willis. If things come together in his development, his ceiling is absolutely in the Patrick Mahomes-Josh Allen range out of outcomes. Which, it’s worth noting, are two players that took some time at the NFL level to develop before becoming the elite All-Pro passers that they are today.
I know some are already calling for Willis to start as a rookie, but those expectations should be tempered substantially. Barring a truly shocking rate of development, this is going to be Tannehill’s job in 2022. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Titans built some specific packages to take advantage of Willis’ elite rushing ability similar to how the Ravens used Lamar Jackson as a rookie for most of the 2018 season, but the reason he got passed on 85 times in the draft is due to the amount of work that needs to be done to hone those elite traits into an elite quarterback.
I won’t get into the ridiculousness of “mentorgate” here, but I will say that Ryan Tannehill’s future with this franchise is going to come down to how Willis performs on the practice field and in the meeting rooms in 2022 far more than it depends on how Tannehill performs inside Nissan Stadium on Sundays. Tannehill’s job is officially on notice and how he responds to that pressure will be interesting.
Willis proving himself to the coaching staff while working on the scout team — like Patrick Mahomes did during his “redshirt” year behind Alex Smith in 2017 — is going to be the subplot of the 2022 season. I’m interested to see how the Titans handle his development between quarterbacks coach Pat O’Hara, passing game coordinator Tim Kelly — both of whom worked with a similarly talented rookie in Deshaun Watson in Houston — and offensive coordinator Todd Downing (who was Derek Carr’s quarterback coach as a rookie). He is truly a lottery ticket for Jon Robinson and the Titans at pick 86.
4.131 RB Hassan Haskins, Michigan
Identity insurance. I don’t think most people had a running back on their radar heading into this pick, but it does make some sense. Derrick Henry is 28 years old and coming off the first major injury of his pro career after logging an extraordinarily heavy workload in 2019 and 2020.
Picking up Michigan’s 6-2, 228 pound wrecking ball of a running back gives the Titans not only a player who can provide some like-for-like insurance if Henry were to go down with another injury, but he can give them a credible rotational back to plug in for a series here and there to take some of the load off their star.
This thought won’t be terribly popular, but I’ll also note that Henry — like Lewan and Tannehill — won’t have any guaranteed money left on his contract next offseason. Should Henry show signs of slowing down in 2022, or if he picks up another substantial injury, the Titans could choose to move on. And even if he doesn’t, his current contract is set to expire after the 2023 season and I am pretty skeptical that Jon Robinson would give out another big deal to a back entering his 30s.
In the short term, Haskins will fit neatly into the Foreman role from last year as Henry’s primary backup with Hilliard mixing in for some third down work and offering a change of pace option out of the backfield. Haskins is a good enough pass blocker that he could see some third down work as well, but his pass catching opportunities were limited in Ann Arbor, so that part of his game is a bit of a question mark.
Another positive for Haskins is his work on special teams, which should help him find a spot among the 46 players active on gameday right out of the gates.
Overall, Haskins is a no-nonsense downhill runner who is a bear to tackle on the second level. He also had zero career fumbles on 476 career touches at Michigan and finished the 2021 season with just three runs for negative yardage out of 270 carries. Basically, every time Haskins touched the ball for the Wolverines, something good was happening.
His downsides are a lack of breakaway speed — he will get caught from behind on long runs unlike Henry — and his previously mentioned lack of experience as a pass catcher. He’s a true power back, which is fine, but considering him a Henry replica is clearly a reach.
However, if the long term plan is to move to an offense with Malik Willis behind center in 2023 or 2024, the Titans likely won’t need to rely on their running back to create as many explosive plays as they do currently with Henry.
4.143 TE Chigoziem Okonkwo, Maryland
There was a run on tight ends in the fourth round with Cade Otton (4.106), Daniel Bellinger (4.112), Charlie Kolar (4.128), Jake Ferguson (4.129), and Isaiah Likely (4.139) going off the board before the Titans took Okonkwo with the last pick of the round.
If Treylon Burks was A.J. Brown 2.0, then Okonkwo is Jonnu Smith 2.0. He’s undersized for a tight end at 6-2 1/2 and 238 pounds (Jonnu was 6-3, 248), but he’s an incredible athlete as evidenced by his blistering 4.52-second forty time (Jonnu ran 4.62). He’s also got a similar play style with elite run after catch ability and explosiveness.
Like Jonnu, Okonkwo is also a willing blocker, even if he lacks the size and play strength to be a true inline tight end. However, the Titans don’t need another 6-5, 255-pound inline player at this spot with Austin Hooper, Geoff Swaim, and even Tommy Hudson giving them credible options to use in that capacity. Okonkwo provides a much needed injection of playmaking ability to the tight end room.
Maryland did a good job of finding ways to get him the ball in space, often using him on slice routes out of the backfield for an easy toss to the flat. I think the Titans should be able to find a way to use him early on as well, similar to how Jonnu Smith was sprinkled in as a package player during his first season in the league.
My guess is that Okonkwo establishes himself quickly as a player who will contribute on special teams — where his athleticism and willingness to stick his nose into a block project well — and could see somewhere between 10-15 snaps per game as a move tight end/H-back type.
5.163 WR/PR Kyle Philips, UCLA
If Burks is A.J. 2.0 and Okonkwo is Jonnu 2.0, then Philips is Adam Humphries 2.0. At 5-11, 190 pounds, he’s almost identical in size to the former Titans slot receiver and when you turn on the tape its hard not to see a striking resemblance in their games.
Philips has outstanding footwork and uses that to craft nuanced and detailed routes to create separation in the middle of the field. His ability to throttle up and down at a moments notice gives him great pacing on his routes and also makes him a very tough tackle in the open field.
That open field elusiveness is reflected in his stellar numbers as a punt returner in college, where he averaged 19 yards per return with two touchdowns in just 26 attempts. With Chester Rogers currently remaining a free agent, Philips and Mason Kinsey seem to be the prime competitors for the punt return role on the current roster and I’d make Philips the heavy favorite to earn that job as of today.
This probably won’t surprise you for a Titans draft pick, but Philips is also a hell of a run blocker for a slot receiver. He’s fearless and effective in executing blocks. I know that quality will draw a lot of eye rolls from the folks who grew tired of hearing about how good Corey Davis was in that phase of the game, but having effective blockers at the wide receiver position is important for a team like Tennessee that features a strong rushing attack. Running the football well takes commitment and effort from all 11 players on offense and Philips will not be a weak link there.
The Titans current wide receiver group is interesting to consider.
- Robert Woods
- Treylon Burks
- Nick Westbrook-Ikhine
- Dez Fitzpatrick
- Kyle Philips
- Racey McMath
- Mason Kinsey
- Josh Malone
- Cody Hollister
Obviously, WR3 is something that many fans are still asking for the team to improve, and there are some good options out there — Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Will Fuller, Cole Beasley, and Keelan Cole to name a few — but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Titans stand pat with this group.
That would put a lot of pressure on Robert Woods being healthy and effective sooner rather than later, but we know they like NWI (who was very solid last year and finished as the team’s second-leading receiver) and the team has praised Fitzpatrick’s development after a rocky start to his pro career. McMath and Kinsey also flashed at times during 2021 and figure to be improved heading into this year.
With Philips being added to the mix as an option as a true slot receiver — and significant improvements at tight end — I think they have a pretty decent set of weapons as things stand today. It’s not as good on paper as last year’s group, but again, we almost never saw A.J. and Julio on the field together.
6.204 DB Theo Jackson, Tennessee
I’m going to struggle to be impartial when it comes to Jackson, who played his high school ball at my alma mater (John Overton in Nashville) and then played college football at the school that I grew up living and dying with (Tennessee). He was probably the biggest surprise pick relative to media draft boards as many didn’t even have Jackson as a draftable prospect.
However, the last time the Titans took a safety/corner hybrid player late in the draft that wasn’t on any media boards it was Chris Jackson, who has come in and turned in a very nice depth player/special teams contributor in his first two years in the league. If Theo has the same level of success that Chris has, I think the Titans will be very happy with this pick.
And the Theo Jackson-Chris Jackson similarities don’t stop there.
|Measurement||Chris Jackson||Theo Jackson|
|20 Yard Shuttle||4.32||4.25|
|3 Cone Drill||6.94||7.34|
Jackson was uber-productive for the Vols in his final year, posting 12 pass breakups (good for second in the SEC), 9 tackles for loss (best among SEC defensive backs), and 1.5 sacks while playing the star position. The downside is that Jackson wasn’t very productive in his previous seasons with the Vols, though if you follow that program closely, you might come to the conclusion that a certain Jeremy Pruitt might have had a lot to do with that.
Jackson has good enough size that he could play both nickel corner and as that tight end matchup player that Dane Cruikshank was for the Titans in 2021. I’m not sure if he’ll have the same success that Cruik did, at least not right away, but the potential to use him in that role is within his skill set.
Once you get this late in the draft, it’s really just about taking guys with traits that you think could be developed. Jackson certainly has those with his size/speed combo and ability to read/react in coverage. You don’t break up that many passes in a league like the SEC without having a good understanding of what offenses are trying to do and the ability to react quickly when you recognize patterns.
Where Jackson gets reps will be interesting to keep an eye on during OTAs and training camp. Will he be with the corners or safeties? And how quickly can he push guys like Chris Jackson and A.J. Moore for playing time in big dime or big nickel packages for the Titans?
6.219 LB Chance Campbell, Ole Miss
See, the national media knew the Titans would take a linebacker! It just happened 193 picks after many of them expected.
Like Jackson, Campbell is a bit of a one-year wonder from a productivity standpoint, but man was that one year a doozy. After transferring to Ole Miss from Maryland, Campbell broke out, amassing 109 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 6 pass break ups, and an interception in a box-score-stuffing 2021.
He also tested extremely well at the combine, posting a 4.57 forty time with a 40-inch vertical and a 127-inch broad jump, each ranking in the 86th percentile or better among linebackers in Mockdraftable’s database.
The Titans have a solid trio of inside linebackers with clear starters Zach Cunningham and David Long and 2021 third rounder Monty Rice set to serve as their top backup. Dylan Cole, who made a big special teams play in the Titans win over the Saints last year, also figures to be in the mix here, but Campbell should have a good shot at sticking on the 53 thanks to a strong special teams background and his athletic traits that make him an intriguing long term developmental prospect.
Jon Robinson has done really well with off-ball linebackers late in drafts with Jayon Brown and David Long becoming major hits for him during his tenure as GM. Campbell seems like a good bet to continue that trend to me.
Overall Thoughts on the Draft Class
- The Titans zeroed in on the SEC with four of their nine selections coming from the country’s best football conference.
- They also seemed to prefer mining big programs this year. Only Malik Willis was selected from a non-Power 5 conference school.
- After seeming to be obsessed with the Senior Bowl in 2021 (they used five of their eight selections on Senior Bowl participants in that class), they went heavy with an NFL-high four selections from the Shrine Bowl this year (Okonkwo, Philips, Jackson, and Campbell).
- It really does feel like the Titans are trying to recreate that 2019-2020 offense that worked so well for them by drafting two guys that feel an awful lot like Jonnu Smith and Adam Humphries. I wouldn’t say those two players were the driving force behind their offensive success by any means, but the team clearly missed the roles that they filled once they were gone.
- I’m interested to see how the Titans deal with the rest of the players from the 2019 draft class. Of course, I think Jeffery Simmons is going to be a guy they pay no matter what, but his big payday is probably coming next offseason. Will they get preseason extensions done with Nate Davis, Amani Hooker, or David Long? Those three have all turned into full-time starters and are heading into the final year of their rookie deals. I don’t think any of them are threatening to break the bank, but they’re all due a nice pay raise next season and it’ll be interesting to see if Jon Robinson tries to get one or two of those deals done before training camp (that’s usually when extensions have come during his term as GM). The Titans didn’t draft direct replacements for any of them (maybe you could argue Campbell could have a chance as an ILB, but a sixth round pick isn’t a guarantee to even make the roster in year one) so I have a feeling that we see either Davis or Hooker given a new deal in the next couple months.
- Along those lines, I’m still curious about what the Titans want their “offensive line of the future” to look like. Ideally, I think you’d see Dillon Radunz at left tackle, Nate Davis at right guard, and Nicholas Petit-Frere at right tackle, but they still don’t have an heir for Ben Jones at center lined up, and your guess is as good as mine at left guard. The remake of this unit still feels very incomplete to me.
- Malik Willis is going to make preseason football very interesting for the first time in a long time here.
- The Titans are currently sitting at just under $5-million worth of cap space, but will get another $9.5-million on June 1st once the Julio Jones release hits the books. That’s more than enough for them to sign their draft class (which will only take about $3-million) and to use as operating capital to sign players throughout the season, so could we see them dip into the free agent pool? I think we see them grab an offensive lineman in the next month or so.
- There are a lot of veterans that are on notice due to their contract status heading into 2022. Guys who can be cut for big savings and very little dead cap after this year include Ryan Tannehill ($17.8-million, but could be up to $27-million if designated as post-June 1st), Derrick Henry ($12.5-million), Taylor Lewan ($14.8-million), Robert Woods ($13.8-million), Bud Dupree ($9.4-million), Zach Cunningham ($9.3-million), and Denico Autry ($7.3-million). That’s almost all of the older vets on the roster currently. That gives Jon Robinson a lot of flexibility moving forward into 2023 and beyond.
- This team is going to be competitive in 2022, but this draft was definitely an eye to the future. If they found some gems, particularly with the day one and day two offensive players, this could be the foundational class for the next iteration of Titans football.