The first wave of free agency is over, and NFL teams are on the hunt to fill most of the remaining holes on their roster through the draft, which will take place April 29-May 1.
The Tennessee Titans still have plenty of places on the roster that need upgrades both for starters and backups, and the evaluation process that is ongoing at college pro days all across the country is critical for general manager Jon Robinson, head coach Mike Vrabel, the Titans scouting department and assistant coaches, who are involved in assessing the talents of the 2021 draft class.
To begin with, thanks to COVID-19 restrictions, things are once again a riskier proposition than the draft already is. There was no NFL combine, where players got to get acquainted with prospects both in terms of personality, background and skill sets.
Now, the bulk of the face-to-face meetings with draft hopefuls – as well as 40 times, three-cone shuttles and all those type drills – are taking place at the pro days this year rather than in Indianapolis.
All of that certainly makes the gamble of whom to choose with each pick a trickier proposition. Robinson is certainly under the gun to not only offset the losses of offensive standouts like Jonnu Smith and Corey Davis, but also even in these more difficult circumstances to get more value and contributions from the 2021 draft class than they did from the 2020 class, which was largely a washout.
Though Robinson won’t use that as an excuse, the COVID-19 issues last year no doubt played a part in the evaluation process and the flaws that were revealed in some of the 2020 class.
First-round pick Isaiah Wilson is already gone – having been traded to the Miami Dolphins for a rusty blocking sled. He lasted less than a week in Miami before they too discovered he had zero interest in football.
Wilson’s baffling approach has Robinson and the Titans once again scouring the draft for a possible long-term solution at right tackle.
Beyond the Wilson fiasco, the remainder of the 2020 Titans’ draft class seemed snake bit in year one, as well. Second-round pick Kristian Fulton, who is counted upon as a starter in a remade secondary, missed much of the year with a knee injury.
Third-rounder Darrynton Evans, who showed promise as a change-of-pace back and return man, was shelved for most of the year with hamstring issues.
Even the draft picks who did stay healthy – defensive lineman Larrell Murchison and defensive back Chris Jackson – made only limited contributions. And Robinson quickly cut bait on project quarterback Cole McDonald, a seventh-round shot in the dark.
In fact, the case can be made that the Titans’ top three rookie contributors of 2020 were all undrafteds. Defensive tackle Teair Tart, who looks like a keeper, while guard Aaron Brewer and receiver Nick Westbrook both found roles on special teams and as backups on offense.
What that says as much as anything is that while the Titans did salvage a little bit from 2020 with the undrafteds, and there is still hope that Fulton, Evans and Murichson will claim regular roles, the Titans have to be better in 2021.
They have to hit on more picks if for no other reason than the fact that there are more holes on the current roster than there were a year ago.
The Titans need bodies at right tackle, tight end and wide receiver on offense. Defensively, they could use another pass rusher, a defensive lineman and help in the secondary.
The Titans believe their window of opportunity is wide open, but in order to keep it that way, they simply can’t have the draft strikeouts of a year ago, because eventually the effects of that come home to roost.
Terry McCormick is the founder and editor of titaninsider.com and has covered the Tennessee Titans since 1997. TitanInsider.com was founded in 2010 and is one of the leading media outlets covering the local NFL team with a presence online, on social media, radio and television. TitanInsider.com is published in partnership with Main Street Media of Middle Tennessee.