On April 28th, the NFL world will watch as the Tennessee Titans announce their decision with the top pick in the draft.
Most years the trajectory of the top pick is clear. Consider last season, for instance. NFL analysts expected the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to draft Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston out of Florida State, and indeed they did.
This year, though, the trajectory of the No. 1 overall pick is not as clear. The Titans don’t need a quarterback, as Marcus Mariota appears to be the franchise player awaited since Steve McNair’s departure in 2005.
In effect Tennessee has three foreseeable options with their top selection: trade the No. 1 pick for a slew of later picks, draft the best overall player, or draft a player who addresses their greatest positional need.
A trade is not very likely. This year’s draft class doesn’t boast a Cam Newton-or-Andrew Luck-like quarterback who might coax NFL teams into offering the Titans a king’s ransom for the top pick. Nonetheless, three possible trade scenarios involve the Cleveland Browns, the San Francisco 49ers, and the Los Angeles Rams per ESPN.
Who’s the best available player in the draft? Hard to say. One could make an argument for a number of players – DE Joey Bosa of Ohio State, OT Laremy Tunsil of Ole Miss, CB/S Jalen Ramsey of Florida State, OLB Myles Jack of UCLA, among others – but comparing players at different positions is difficult, if not unreasonable.
Then, which player addresses the Tennessee Titans’ greatest positional need? Herein lies the organization’s crossroad.
In 2015 the Titans scarified 54 sacks, a league-worst, and 14.9 points per game to opposing passing touchdowns, third worst in the league. While it’s clear that Tennessee needs to address both their offensive line and their secondary, it’s unclear whether the team should draft OT Laremy Tunsil or CB/S Jalen Ramsey, the top prospects at their respective positions.
Most analysts expect the Titans to select Tunsil since the offensive tackle would not only protect Mariota but also assist recent free agent acquisition DeMarco Murray. Nonetheless, Ramsey has not been ruled out as the Titans’ top pick. At the NFL owner’s meeting on March 22nd, Mike Mularkey said, “If [Ramsey’s] the best player we think is going to help our football team immediately and is best suited for what we want on and off the field, then he could be that guy,” per David Newton of ESPN.
At the moment Tennessee does not show preference for one player over the other. In fact, Titans’ personnel reportedly flooded to both Tunsil’s and Ramsey’s Pro Days. The crew included general manager Jon Robinson, head coach Mike Mularkey, defensive coordinator Dick Labeau, and offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie, among others.
This must be a difficult decision for the Titans. Tunsil and Ramsey have impressive resumes.
During his three year career at Ole Miss, Tunsil sacrificed just two sacks and was twice named a member of the All-SEC first team (2014, 2015). At 6’5’’ 310-pounds Tunsil has the build of a lineman but bends and moves his body with exceptional footwork. In fact, during position drills at the combine, scouts described Tunsil as “smooth” and “like a corvette” – descriptors often reserved for running backs and defensive ends, not 300-pound linemen.
At his Pro Day Tunsil benched 34 repetitions of 225-pounds, more than any offensive lineman at the 2016 combine. Matt Luke, Ole Miss offensive line coach and offensive coordinator, said of Tunsil: I’ve been around a few first-rounders, and he’s different than those guys – he’s on a different level. They don’t come around very often. He’s just so much better at certain things than you normally see from a guy that size. He’s just a special, special talent.”
Jalen Ramsey played three season at Florida State. During his NCCA tenure he was a consensus All-American (2015), a BCS National Champion (2014), and tallied 181 tackles, 15.5 tackles-for-a-loss, 5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, and 3 interceptions. The variety of Ramsey’s stat line results from his play all over the field. FSU placed Ramsey at cornerback, safety, nickel, and even outside linebacker.
At the scouting combine, Ramsey’s numbers were off the charts — 6’1’’, 210-pounds, 4.41 second 40-yard dash, 14 repetitions at the bench press, 41.5 inch vertical jump, and 135 inch broad jump — earning him the label of freakish athlete. Ramsey has the height to defend tight ends and lengthy NFL receivers (think: Julio Jones, Allen Robinson) but also the speed to cover smaller, shiftier wideouts.
This all goes to say that Tunsil and Ramsey are brilliant athletes. If the Titans indeed choose between the two with the top pick, they cannot go wrong in either selection. Admittedly, Tennessee may very forgo drafting either player. There are other candidates for the top pick, like Joey Bosa out of Ohio State. So for the moment, let’s indulge in pre-draft speculation. Only time will tell where the top pick falls on April 28th.