The Tennessee Titans are facing a bit of a dilemma.
We’ve all discussed the Titans’ remaining needs across the roster: Depth at wide receiver, more proven talent at corner after a flux of cap-saving cuts at the position, and even the need for another pass rusher to finally round out a unit that got the major face lift it so desperately needed.
But one particular spot on the roster that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention so far this off-season is right tackle, and particularly the lack of answers at that specific position on the offensive line.
Dennis Kelly started every single game at right tackle for Mike Vrabel’s team in 2020. And by all means, he had a rather solid year. But with his 2021 cap hit being what it was and the team needing cap space to address other needs, Jon Robinson pulled the plug on the Dennis Kelly experience at right tackle and created another roster hole that needs filling.
Vrabel told reporters over Zoom on Monday that he anticipates a competition at the position. Barring a new addition in the draft, that competition would presumably be between newly-signed veteran Kendall Lamm and last year’s primary swing tackle, Ty Sambrailo. “They can play either tackle,” Vrabel said, “and we’ve seen Ty play more than just the tackle position in the NFL. I would say two guys who can play both sides, as well as Ty can kick inside and play a guard spot.”
Tennessee has some options on the roster if they choose to go in-house in terms of a replacement. But with questions surrounding those options, drafting a rookie and adding some competition seems like a good bet once the draft rolls around at the end of the month.
Lets examine all of this…
Current In-House Replacements
We all know what we saw from Sambrailo when he initially stepped in to replace the injured Taylor Lewan.
We saw a bit of a slow, outmatched swing tackle that showed exactly why he doesn’t possess the quality of a good starter on a good offensive line. Yes, after he settled into his role things started to look a little bit easier for him, which is the case for a lot of players stepping into injury replacement roles so suddenly.
But that doesn’t excuse the fact that the tape is there. And the tape shows that you shouldn’t be running to plug Sambrailo in as the next full-time right tackle for the Tennessee Titans.
His versatility is best used for his original role before Lewan went down with a season ending knee injury. And he might lose that prime spot to the next player on this list…
Lamm is another swing tackle type of offensive lineman who is best reserved for a back up role. That might be the role the Titans envisioned for him when they signed him to a two-year deal worth up to $6.8M. But his strong qualities as a run blocker really puts him into the conversation as a potential starter. The Titans love any sort of offensive linemen that can truly maul opponents in the run game. Lamm fits their image as a football team and specifically as an offense, since their obvious run-first attack relies on a physical mindset to find success week in and week out.
But all of the talent in the world as a run blocker doesn’t matter when you’re lacking as a pass protector.
The Titans need more athleticism at right tackle. Plugging in a bit of a mauler with issues as a pass protector doesn’t fit the bill.
I wouldn’t have expected to ever jot down Quessenberry’s name as a candidate to start at right tackle.
But the way he played after he stepped in for the injured Ty Sambrailo last season made a recommendation for him too important to ignore.
I wouldn’t have an earth-shattering amount of concern if he started at right tackle. And his traits and the play he put out in 2020 are both big reasons why.
For starters, Quessenberry possesses something the majority of the other candidates don’t.
To put it simply, Quessenberry can move for a big guy. He can get out in space and pummel players out in the open field as a run blocker, as well as step back and use his above-average athleticism to hold his own a bit in pass protection.
In theory, he sounds like a perfect candidate to start at right tackle once the season begins.
So while he isn’t perfect, there are definitely some things to like about him.
Are These Options Good Enough?
Even after all the nice things I said about the presumed top three starting right tackle candidates, I’m still not 100% comfortable running out either of those guys as a starter for the 2021 season.
All three have strict limitations in their game when it comes to consistency and actual skill.
Lamm and Sambrailo are pure swing tackles and that’s about it. They’re not giving you anything crazy as starters. Could they maybe slide in and start a game or two for you?
But should they be outright sixteen game starters on an offensive line?
I don’t think so.
The only one you can feel somewhat comfortable with is Quessenberry. And that’s only because he stepped in and put in some quality work over at left tackle. Even then, he has a limited sample size in terms of snaps and the team never thought of him as nothing more than a deep depth piece before injuries became a common annoyance along the offensive line.
That’s why I think it’s very possible the team adds a rookie to bring some competition not just for this year, but for next season and beyond if things don’t work out.
There are a couple players projected to fall in the team’s preferred draft range who fit the mold of what Robinson wants out of his offensive tackles.
Possible Rookie Competition?
If the Titans were to draft a rookie tackle to bring in some competition, I don’t think you’d see that go down until later in day two, maybe even day three of the draft.
Wide receiver and corner are the top two roster needs right about now, so that’s where most of the focus should be in rounds one, two, and maybe even round three. Robinson has used a first-round pick to draft a right tackle twice in his five drafts since taking over in Tennessee, so that’s not out of the question, but it would make more sense to use the early draft capital on the positions of dire need.
With some extra picks to Robinson’s name, some wheeling and dealing is certainly a possibility once the two most important roster needs are addressed. Once they are, you could probably start the lookout for a potential tackle selection.
Spencer Brown out of Northern Iowa, Brenden James out of Nebraska, and James Hudson out of Cincinnati are just a few prospects that fall under the mid-round developmental tackle label and could stand to provide some competition in 2021, along with (hopefully) upside for the future. With the Titans in a serious contention window, development and patience with prospects probably isn’t a concept you want to hear right about now.
But with more important roster needs requiring attention in earlier rounds, along with the healthy number of passable bodies at tackle, as a Titans fan, you’re just going to have to live with it for now.