There is little doubt regarding the Titans’ biggest positional need in the upcoming NFL Draft. Cornerback.
In the 2016 regular season, the Titans ranked among the bottom of the league in most categories of pass defense.
The team was 18th in interceptions (12), 26th in passes of 20 or more yards allowed (56), 29th in passing first downs allowed (227), and 30th in yards per game allowed (269).
Some of these struggles can be attributed to personnel changes mid season.
After a string of poor performances against the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears in Weeks 11 and 12, veteran cornerback Perrish Cox was released from the organization.
Although Brice McCain, Valentino Blake and rookie LeShaun Sims rotated in Cox’s place for the remaining four games of the season, the results were minimal. The Titans continued to allow about 270 passing yards per games against a bevy of non-exceptional quarterbacks like Trevor Siemian, Blake Bortles and Brock Osweiler.
Where, then, might Tennessee address its secondary in the Draft?
According to executive vice president Jon Robinson, there are a number of options since the Titans have “draft currency.”
Tennessee currently has two selections in Round 1 (No. 5, 18), two selections in the Round 3 (No. 69, 82), and one selection in Rounds 4, 5 and 7 (No. 122, 163, 241).
If the Titans were to address cornerback in Round 1, some of the top prospects include Teez Tabor of Florida, Marlon Humphrey of Alabama, Marshon Lattimore of Ohio State, and Sidney Jones of Washington.
If the team were to address cornerback in Round 3, other prospects include Jourdan Lewis of Michigan, Rasul Douglas of West Virginia, Chidobe Awuzie of Colorado, and Kevin King of Washington.
There are, of course, other positional needs facing Tennessee.
The second most pressing need, behind cornerback, appears to be wide receiver.
Since becoming head coach in Jan. of 2016, Mike Mularkey has sought to develop a stronger receiving corps in Tennessee.
He released unproductive receivers with high ceilings (Dorial Green-Beckham, Justin Hunter) and kept receivers who demonstrated strong technical skills like catching and route running (Rishard Matthews, Tajae Sharpe).
As a result, the Titans’ passing attack improved from 2015 to 2016.
However, it appears that Mularkey is still dissatisfied with the performance of his wideouts. He fired wide receivers coach Bob Bratkowski on Jan. 4 and hired Frisman Jackson as the team’s replacement on Tuesday.
Jackson played three seasons as a receiver for the Cleveland Browns (2002-2005), and during the last nine years he has been coaching college receivers, most recently at Temple University, where he was passing game coordinator.
Considering Mularkey’s persistence to improve the Titans’ pass attack, it would not be unreasonable to see the team select a receiver with one or more of their high Draft picks.
If the Titans were to address receiver in Round 1, some of the top prospects include Mike Williams of Clemson, Corey Davis of Western Michigan, John Ross of Washington, and JuJu Smith-Schuster of USC.
If the team were to address receiver in Round 3, other prospects include Curtis Samuel of Ohio State, Amara Darboh of Michigan, Isaiah Ford of Virginia Tech, and Zay Jones of East Carolina.
Less-pressing positional needs that Tennessee might address in the Draft include offensive line, linebacker and tight end.
Certain readers may be surprised to see offensive line on the list, considering that the Titans have one of the best fronts in the league, among the likes of the Dallas Cowboys and the Oakland Raiders.
However, Robinson and Mularkey believe in building a football team from the inside-out. It would not be unreasonable if they selected an offensive lineman in the Draft, as a backup for their already-impressive front.
Plus, Byron Bell, Chance Warmack and Brian Schwenke are set to become free agents this offseason. The Titans could resign the veterans or save cash by drafting younger players.
As for linebacker and tight end, both positions face impending age concerns. Linebackers Wesley Woodyard and Brian Orakpo are 30-years old, while tight ends Delanie Walker and Anthony Fasano are 32-years old.
It would surely benefit the Titans to draft young players, who could practice with and learn from these veterans before they leave the organization.
Mularkey and Robinson will begin to address all of these concerns on April 27. That day, the Draft begins.