A Team on the Rise
It only seems like yesterday that NFL pundits were cackling into their microphones at the idea of Mike Mularkey’s Exotic Smashmouth offense. Then DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry got the two-back-beast rolling, Marcus Mariota showed that perhaps he should have been the first overall pick in the 2015 draft, and the Titans narrowly missed the playoffs.
If there was guarded optimism at the end of the 2016 season, then free agency has built on that. Logan Ryan and Jonathan Cyprien were good signings aiming to address a 2016 weakness, and Sylvester Williams gives the defense more beef up front.
Now, thanks to a smart trade last year, the Titans have both the number five and number 18 pick in the first round. With the fifth overall pick, the Titans have a chance to take a quality player who can help them reach the playoffs in 2017.
Five Players the Tennessee Titans could target at No.5
There are very few players that won’t be available at number five. Consensus seems to be that Myles Garrett and Solomon Thomas will both be gone, but beyond that there’s a chance any number of starting-quality players will be available.
Jonathan Allen, DT – Alabama
So let’s start with the player most likely not to be available. Some mock drafts have Allen going as high as number two overall, and he more than has talent to justify that. Charlie Campbell at Walter Football called him “the best player in college football” in 2016. Still, there’s a chance that the 6’3” 286lb interior defensive lineman will still be available at 5, and what a pick it would be. He would be perfectly suited to a defensive end in Dick LeBeau’s fabled 3-4 system. This is a player who totalled 9.5 sacks in his last college season. He would wreak havoc on the inside, whilst Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo brought the heat from the outside linebacker positions. If Allen is still available, the Titans need to follow the tried and tested ‘best player available’ approach, and snap him up quick.
Malik Hooker, S – Ohio State
If Allen isn’t there, then how about the rangiest safety in the draft to team alongside the newly signed Cyprien? Yes, Hooker is coming off major surgery, but all signs are he will be ready for the regular season. Jamal Adams from LSU is a great player, but more of a classic strong safety. They already have Cyprien, who is limited in coverage but excels at the physical side of the game. Adams is just too similar a player, whilst Hooker gives them a versatile, do-it-all free safety who would instantly make their secondary one of the best in the NFL.
Make no mistake, Hooker is a playmaker. In his final college season, he tallied seven interceptions with an incredible three pick-6s. Mike Mayock compared Hooker to Ed Reed and Earl Thomas during the Combine. That might sound slightly hyperbolic but the 6’1” 208lb Hooker is going to be a heck of a player. This would be a fantastic pick for the Titan’s defense.
Mike Williams, WR – Clemson
It’s noticeable that the free agency additions to the offense have been somewhat lower key. So, let’s be honest – the Titans are desperate for a wide receiver in the very worst way. Mariota is proving to be an exceptional player but Harry Douglas and Tajae Sharpe aren’t going to cut it as playoff calibre receivers. There are two or three wide receiver options in the draft, and with two picks in the first round, don’t be surprised if the Titans wait until number 18 to address this need. Having said that, if they choose to use the number five pick on a wide out, they should choose Mike Williams.
Williams doesn’t have the speed of Combine superstar John Ross, nor perhaps the polished running of Corey Davis. But he’s 6’4” and 218lbs, fast after-the-catch and a dangerous red-zone weapon. He would immediately give Mariota a huge target, who would equally give Williams more accurate passes to catch than college teammate Deshaun Watson managed at times. Even still, Williams topped 100 yards in a game 5 times last season, as well as scoring 10 touchdowns. And then against Ohio State he went for 96 yards from 6 receptions, before totally 94 yards and a touchdown from 8 receptions against Alabama as Clemson won the national title. Williams turns up in big games and that makes him the only WR in this draft worth the 5th overall pick.
Marshon Lattimore, CB – Ohio State
Lattimore might well not even be there when the Titans pick. You can always make an argument for drafting a corner high, and certainly the 49ers, Bears and Jaguars have needs there. Still, if he was available, he would immediately allow the Titans to move the ageing Jason McCourty out of the starting line-up. Having Lattimore and Logan Ryan as starting corners would certainly rate as a huge upgrade for the Titan’s defense.
Despite injury issues, Lattimore seems to be the consensus best corner in the draft. Whilst Sidney Jones and Teez Tabor are both names rising fast, Lattimore is the player that consistently tops scouting reports. At 6’1” he has ideal size for the modern NFL game. He also has the speed to go with it, running a 4.36 second 40 at the Combine. He looked a natural in his final season with Ohio State, credited with 14 passes defensed and 4 interceptions.
O.J. Howard, TE – Alabama
Is 5th overall too high for a tight end, even the best one in the draft? Truthfully, I would think so. But Howard could be gone by the 18th pick, so if the Titans want to be sure of snagging the best tight end in the draft, they might have to pull the trigger early. Getting weapons for Marcus Mariota has to be a priority for Mularkey and crew, and Howard would certainly be well received by the young quarterback.
He looked good in Alabama’s pro-style scheme as both blocker and receiver. He made 45 catches for 595 yards, and the belief is that he was under-utilised. Expect his role – and accompanying stats – to increase in any NFL offense. It’s the tantalising prospect of teaming this athleticism with his excellent run blocking that might tempt the Titans to make a move. The Titans will surely remain a run-first team no matter who else they draft, so perhaps Howard’s ability in the run game as a blocker makes him more valuable than a dedicated wide out at 5th overall.
Arguably the Titans biggest need is to provide more weapons for Mariota, but there’s no receiver or tight end who really leaps out as being worth the fifth overall pick. That would suggest defense would be a sensible selection here. However, the Titans haven’t drafted defense in the first round since 2010, when they picked Derrick Morgan. Whichever way they decide to go on day one, thanks to the extra draft pick they acquired in last year’s trade, they’ll have a great shot at getting a playmaker for both offense and defense.