Did you know that dating back to 2003, out of the last 9 playoffs games Tennessee has played, 4 of them have been against Baltimore (2-2 record)? Did you also know that I was very wrong when I predicted that the Titans would come crashing back to Earth after a “fairytale” ride in 2019? The Titans were damn near unstoppable offensively in 2020, led by Derrick Henry and a play-action attack to AJ Brown, Corey Davis, and Jonnu Smith. The thing that actually held them back was their defense, Jadeveon Clowney was a massive bust, their secondary was swiss cheese, and they were bullied around up-front.
So, heading into the offseason, the Titans got really, really aggressive. They let Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith walk in free agency for bigger contracts, and then focused that money defensively. They brought in Denico Autry from Indianapolis and Bud Dupree from Pittsburgh to help strengthen a pass rush that was non-existent. Then, they moved on from Adoree Jackson and Malcolm Butler, making way for Janoris “Jackrabbit” Jenkins, who is vastly underrated. Offensively, they snagged slot man Josh Reynolds from the Rams and stole Julio Jones from the Falcons.
Obviously, out of all the additions and subtractions, the biggest headliner was Julio and what to make of him. He’s probably the best receiver of his generation, a perfect fit for Tennessee’s vertical power-run offense, and will see more one on one coverage than ever before. The down side is that he’s 32 and coming offer a nagging hamstring injury. If he can regain his 2019 form when he was just running around defensive backs, well, I don’t know how you defend this offense. However, he has a lot of tread on his tires and hamstring problems typically just don’t “go away”.
All that being said, entering the draft, Tennessee needed to continue to address the secondary and defensive line. Both were problem areas for the Titans in 2020. Sitting at the bottom of the 1st and 2nd rounds, Tennessee would be out of the running for more polished prospects and would have to take some chances. Let’s start with our Titans draft grade analysis.
Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley (Round 1, Pick 22)Embed from Getty Images
It was surprising that he fell here, everyone, including us, didn’t see him falling past the Cardinals at 16. So, there was a good mix of maximizing value and addressing a need here. Had he played in 2020, he might have not made it out of the top 10 and possibly would have been the top corner coming out this season. In 2019, he posted an 87 PFF score, nabbed 4 picks, and let up 18 catches on 50 targets (26 passer rating against). He has the physical traits to be an elite corner in this league as well, at 6’2 210 and posting an insane 4.38 40 at his Pro Day, he’s a blend of size and speed. I liken him to Antonio Cromartie.
The downside is that he’s green (came out as a sophomore), isn’t used to playing man to man (Vrabel lives in that world), and he played in the ACC. I’m not saying that any one of these things will sink his potential, I’m just saying that these are knocks against him. I will say that I like his swagger, the guy has a bite to him, which is what you want out of a corner. They need to be a bit cocky because the cards are stacked against them.
Did I like anyone else here? Not really, you could have sold me on Elijah Moore or Christian Barmore. Both of them would have filled specific roles, with Barmore checking off both the need and value box. However, selecting Farley now gives Tennessee what they were hoping they had with Butler and Jackson or Butler and Ryan or Ryan and Jackson, which is a dynamic duo that creates turnovers, but holds their own in coverage. It’s a positive for our Titans draft grade.
North Dakota State OT Dillon Radunz (Round 2, Pick 53)
Best pick available and provides a potential upgrade over Kendall Lamm, who is currently slated to be the starter. The strength of the Titans in 2019 was in their offensive line, they just straight up bullied people around. They lost some of that when Jack Conklin left for Cleveland in free agency, in order for Tennessee to get back on track, they needed to address this.
Radunz is a bit of a project though, he’s from a small school and he’s a bit undersized (299) for a power-run scheme. He didn’t exactly jump off the charts for the Bisons either, his career PFF score was around 75. This isn’t to say the potential isn’t there, he showed improvement in the three seasons he played and focus in the weight room will help him bulk up. I like this pick because there is really no one else available at this spot that offers that same upside. The next tackles off the board were Jaylen Mayfield and Spencer Brown, both of whom were 3rd rounders.
I will say this though, Tennessee might have done better to trade back, collect a couple of extra picks and take Ben Cleveland, who fits perfectly into their scheme. He also has the size (6’5, 345) and physicality that the Titans thought they were getting in 2020 flop Isiah Wilson. Or, with a couple of 3rd round picks, perhaps it would have been better to shoot up the board for a guy like Jackson Carman or Samuel Cosmi. Both of those guys are more pro-ready prospects than Radunz. Nevertheless, it’s back to back positive picks for our Titans draft grade.
Georgia LB Monty Rice (Round 3, Pick 92)
Okay, I really don’t understand why you wouldn’t take Ben Cleveland here. Yes, I get it, they did just take Dillon Radunz, but he’s at least a year away from being a starter. Cleveland, who is more polished, could step in at right tackle initially, then when Roger Saffold retires in the next year, he could slide back into the interior offensive line. This way, when 2022 rolls around, the Titans aren’t out there wasting resources on finding a replacement because they have one in house.
It’s not that Monty Rice is a bad prospect either, it’s just how valuable is a 3rd linebacker in a base 3-4 scheme that utilizes two off the ball backers at a time? Oh, and the Titans have a pretty good tandem with Rashaan Evans and Jayon Brown. He does have the size and speed combo that Mike Vrabel looks for and he has no glaring hole in his game either. He posted above 70 PFF scores in all three categories for a linebacker, pass rush, run stop, and coverage. The problem is that none of the resulted in any on-field production for the Bulldogs in his 4 year career. He only amassed 219 tackles, 10.5 for a loss, 2 sacks, and 3 forced turnovers.
Washington DB Elijah Molden (Round 3, Pick 100)
I absolutely love this pick for the Titans and this might end up being their best value pick in the entire draft. He reminds me of Logan Ryan, he does a little bit of everything, he can man the slot or play back as a safety. He has good fundamentals, tackles well, and rarely was beaten in the slot. Which is perfect because both Farley and Jenkins project as outside corners for Tennessee.
In 2019, where he played his most snaps (884), he posted a ridiculous 90 PFF score, he was a playmaker for the Huskies. Sure, he doesn’t come from a powerhouse organization, so you do have to take those numbers with a grain of salt. However, you can only play who you play and when he played those guys, he dominated them.
Let’s just say the Titans knew they had a weaker side of the football and targeted it. They completely overhauled their secondary , getting younger and cheaper at the positions. With the colossal failure of Isiah Wilson, they had to spend a valuable resource to re-address it, part of me wonders if they made two mistakes in a row. They maximized value picks with Farley and Molden, but I thought they lost out on a perfect fit with Ben Cleveland. Listen, it was a good draft overall for Tennessee, but I just thought they could have been a little more aggressive for a team that is contending for a Super Bowl right now. We see this as a solid Titans draft grade.