With one trade, the Tennessee Titans went from cellar-dwelling laughingstock into the NFL to a team with plenty of ammunition poised to be a playoff team in a couple years.
Rookie GM Jon Robinson was savvy from the jump this offseason, getting DeMarco Murray – who led the NFL in rushing in 2014 – for peanuts, and then signing receiver Rishard Matthews from the Dolphins on a 3-year deal. Matthews (43 catches, 662 yards) is another option for Marcus Mariota in a surprisingly deep group of WRs – Dorial Green-Beckham (17.2 ypc), Harry Douglas (71 targets), and Kendall Wright (94 catches, 1,079 yards in 2013). Could DGB be the No. 1 receiver? Mariota’s favorite target last year was tight end Delanie Walker (94 catches, by far the most on the team).
The defense, however, could use some work. Same with the offensive line, though Robinson did sign center Ben Jones, who started in Houston last year. Assuming they don’t trade back into the Top 10 to get Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame, here’s how their draft could shake out:
1 (15 via LA) – Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State. The Titans offensive line ranked 29th according to Pro Football Focus. The first goal is to protect Mariota. An ugly stat: Mariota attempted 370 passes, and was sacked 38 times. His sack rate: 9.3%, 2nd worst in the NFL (Kapernick was 1st, Teddy Bridgewater 3rd). Yes, Mariota was a rookie and scrambles plenty. Decker’s a plug-and-play rookie. A cut below Tunsil and Stanley.
2 (33) – Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame. Considered a Top 10 pick before his injury, Smith isn’t expected to play next year. Some teams are scared. Will he come back the same player? A scary thought is that Smith’s nerve damage was compared to Marcus Lattimore’s (though he tore knee ligaments the year prior). If you want to call Willis McGahee a better comparison, he had five very productive years in Buffalo, Baltimore and Denver (four 1,000 yard seasons).
2 (43, via Philadelphia) – Artie Burns, CB, Miami. Defensive back is a glaring need for the Titans, and it could be in play in the 1st round. The feeling here is the line is a higher priority, and the Titans did get CB Antwon Blake on a one-year deal (he spent the last three seasons in Pittsburgh), and he can play early if Burns isn’t ready. Burns is only 20, and a high school and college track star.
2 (45, via LA) – Robert Nkemdiche, DL, Mississippi. Many teams are too scared to touch the talented-but-toxic Nkemdiche. What if he wants to bring his brother to Nashville with him? The stories from Oxford are … not good. But given six picks in the first 76, you can redshirt Smith and take another risk on Nkemdiche.
3 (64) – Cody Whitehair, G, Kansas State. The 10th pick in 2013, guard Chance Warmack, has struggled. Whitehair played tackle for the Wildcats, but he’s undersized (6-foot-3, 300 pounds) and projects as an NFL guard. Had the fewest bench press reps of any lineman at the combine (16).
3 (76, via LA) – Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State. Three-time All-Big 10 selection went from 7.5 sacks as a sophomore to 8.5 sacks as a junior to 10.5 sacks as a senior. Had 44 tackles for loss in four seasons. At 6-foot-4, 251 pounds, is he too light to play end in the 3-4? There’s a need at NT, but I prefer Calhoun’s value here.
5 (140) – Jayron Kearse, S, Clemson. At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, he’s an athlete without a position. If you watch the Clemson/Alabama game, you’ll say there’s no way he’s a safety. Maybe he gives WR a crack? Could he add 15 pounds and be a rangy linebacker? A guy this physically talented, you get him in the building and worry about position later. Second team All-American in 2015.
6 (193, via Atlanta) – De’Runnya Wilson, WR, Mississippi. Boom-bust pick. A lot to love – 6-foot-5, basketball background, so he knows what to do in the end zone (10 TDs last year) – but he’s very new to football. Played sparingly as a senior in high school, and then was thrust into the lineup with the Bulldogs. Tanked at the Combine – 4.78 40-yard dash. Very raw. Won’t be ready to contribute as a rookie. But in a couple years, in the red zone, Wilson and DGB would give teams fits.
7 (222) – Fabian Moreau, CB, UCLA. Something of a mystery because he didn’t participate at the combine as he was recovering from a Lisfranc injury. [UPDATE: There’s some confusion if Moreau is in the draft or if he got a medical redshirt to play next year at UCLA.] The Titans gave up 7.9 ypa to QBs last year (29th in the NFL), and QBs had a rating of 101.3 against Tennessee (29th).