It has been nearly a decade since the Tennessee Titans witnessed a post-season berth, but after a strong first year from general manager Jon Robinson, there is reason to believe the playoff drought will soon come to an end for the city of Nashville.
Trading with the Philadelphia Eagles to acquire all-purpose running back DeMarco Murray loosened the snow, but combining him with Alabama’s Derrick Henry set off an avalanche that crushed opposing defenses. The Titans had a two-headed monster at running back that combined for 1,777 yards on the ground and 14 touchdowns.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota looked calmer and more efficient than ever before with more consistent talent in the backfield. He no longer had to be ‘Super Mario,’ simply being a good quarterback in a balanced offense was more than enough.
Robinson also struck gold last year by drafting safety Kevin Byard in the third round. He was one of the unsung heroes in the Titans secondary last season, and he figures to be an important piece going forward as the team reshapes and rebuilds its defensive backfield.
The Titans finished second in the AFC South last season with a 9-7 record. It’ll be interesting to see if the door to the playoffs opens for them next season. With Robinson’s exceptional personnel choices, they are definitely knocking. It all starts with the draft.
Here are five late-round fits for the Titans.
Kenny Golladay, WR, Northern Illinois
There is no doubt that the Titans are considering reloading a bit at wide receiver.
Rishard Matthews was arguably the most underrated signing in the offseason last year. He was a reliable target for Mariota all year long, catching 65 passes and nearly breaking 1,000 yards receiving.
Tajae Sharpe also showed promise. A fifth-round draft pick, Sharpe put together one of the best training camps seen by a Tennessee rookie receiver in a long time. However, his electric play in practice didn’t always translate in real games. That could change next season with a full year under his belt. Matthews and Sharpe, along with tight end Delanie Walker, should eat up most of Mariota’s targets, but the receiver depth chart is concerning, particularly in the No. 3 spot.
Kendall Wright is gone, and 32-year-old Harry Douglas’ value might be more special teams. The Titans might need to consider double-dipping at receiver. A good late option would be Northern Illinois’ Kenny Golladay.
The 6-foot-4, 218-pound receiver comes with good size and playmaking abilities. He could potentially provide Mariota with another red zone target. His size makes him a tough out for cornerbacks in jump-ball situations.
He’s a bit green in route-running, but with a little elbow grease, he could shine as a starter someday.
Tyrone Swoopes, TE, Texas
With Walker turning 33 years old before the start of the regular season, the Titans need to start searching for his eventual replacement. He turned in his lowest yardage total since his first year with the Titans in 2013.
There is no need to panic though because that generally had more to do the team’s focus shifting to a more balanced attack instead of Mariota airing it out to his favorite target. But there is no doubt that the wheels are bound to come off sooner or later.
Tyrone Swoopes just might be the most interesting prospect at the tight end position in this draft.
He did what Tim Tebow wouldn’t do. He’s a quarterback convert who has great size and incredible athletic ability.
It’s a bit of a gamble to use a draft pick on him because he is a huge project at this point. However, he has drawn interest from several teams already. So it might be an even greater risk leaving him there if he’s still available in the later rounds.
Deatrich Wise, DE, Arkansas
Teams can never have enough pass rushers.
The Titans had one of the more underrated defensive lines in football last season, but there is always room for improvement. Despite being ranked second in the NFL against the run, their pass defense was one of the worst in the NFL (30th). A big part of that was due to an unreliable secondary that should be much better this season.
It’s hard to get any worse than giving up an average of 269.2 passing yards a game. One way the defensive front can help is by getting more pressure on the quarterback. Deatrich Wise might be a good player to take a flier on late in the draft.
He had a disappointing senior year after a strong junior season with 31 tackles, 10.5 tackles for a loss and 8 sacks. There was hope that he would breakout in his last collegiate year, but those hopes floundered halfway into the season. He still boasts the skill set to turn things around on the NFL stage with the right coaching.
It’s hard to say no to a 6-foot-6, 271-pound defensive end. He could quickly develop into a nice rotational piece in Dick LeBeau’s defense.
Dwayne Thomas, CB, LSU
The Titans are clearly revamping a secondary unit that gave up the third-most passing yards on average last season. Longtime Titans cornerback Jason McCourty is out the door, and former New England Patriots corner Logan Ryan has been brought in as a much-needed replacement.
Using a first-round draft pick at cornerback makes all of the sense in the world for the Titans, but they should also look to add another piece later in the draft for depth purposes. LSU’s Dwayne Thomas is someone who might fly under the radar late in the draft.
He has shown the versatility to excel in the slot and on the outside. Last season, he wrapped up his senior year at LSU with an interception, 7 pass deflections, 42 tackles, 7 tackles for a loss and a sack.
While at New England, Ryan projected more to the slot, but he has also shown the ability to cover on the outside as well. It’ll be interesting to see the setup in the defensive backfield if the Titans go with a cornerback in the first round.
In that case, Thomas’ versatility might be his most alluring attribute for the Titans.
Avery Gennesy, OT, Texas A&M
The Titans are sitting pretty on the offensive line front. Pro Football Focus had the unit ranked first in the league last season in protection.
Move over Dallas Cowboys.
It never hurts to stockpile bodies toward the end of the draft. The main reason why the Titans were so successful on offense last season was mostly due to their strong running game. So it is imperative that the offensive line play stays consistent for Mariota, Murray and Henry to continue to move the chains.
Texas A&M’s Avery Gennesy might have some good value late in the draft. He has great footwork, a good base and strong hands when driving back defenders. He also wasn’t afraid to mix it up with some of the elite pass rushers in college football last season. It probably helped that he practiced against projected No. 1 overall draft pick Myles Garrett every day.
If a player went down, Gennesy has the potential to line up and contribute right away.