Wondering how the 2018 NFL Draft might play out for the Tennessee Titans? We’ve got you covered with some picks from draft experts.
The Tennessee Titans are still focused on preparing the 2017 rookie class for the regular season, but it is never too early to look to the future. Several writers, including a couple in the FanSided Network, have tried their hand at attempting to predict where the Titans and other teams will use their draft picks next year. Of course, there will be risers and fallers during the college football season, combines and pro days, as well as injuries, so it is almost impossible to entirely predict who will be in the first round conversation. But there is some value in highlighting a couple of names that are worth watching during the college football season for Titans fans.
Highlighted below are a couple of names that have been penciled in as potential draft picks for the Titans in 2018. These are some players to watch during the college football season as potential fits for the Titans. It can also be beneficial to examine why these players could be considered fits since this reasoning will apply to other prospects at the same position even if some of the players listed below fall out of first round consideration.
DT Vita Vea – University of Washington
Vita Vea has proven to be a very popular selection for the Titans in early mock drafts, as he is selected in three out of the six mock drafts that I examined in the creation of this article. He has been selected for the Titans by Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports, Erik Lambert of Fansided.com, and Thor Nystrom of Rotoworld.
Vea had the option of declaring for the 2017 NFL Draft, but he decided to return to school for his fourth year at the University of Washington. Vea likely could have gone in the first two days of the draft in 2017, but he now seeks to cement his first round draft stock in 2018.
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The 330 pound defensive tackle seems like a prototypical block-eating nose tackle at first glance, but he has displayed surprising quickness and nimbleness for his size, which resulted in 5.0 sacks and 6.5 TFL last season. Vea, who, as Adam Jude of the Seattle Times alleged, can run a 4.8 second 40 yard dash and spent time at wildcat quarterback and running back in high school, is a freak athlete at the DT position in the vein of former 1st round pick Dontari Poe.
It’s easy to see why experts consider Vea a good pick for the Tennessee Titans in 2018. Aside from Jurrell Casey, the Titans lack a true standout along the defensive line. As FanSided’s Erik Lambert put it:
"Sylvester Williams and DaQuan Jones should be serviceable players next to Jurrell Casey, but neither is a world beater. This team needs another body up front who can eat up blocks. Vita Vea did plenty of that at Washington, helping his team to reach the CFB playoffs."
The Titans would probably like to see what they get out of 2016 2nd rounder Austin Johnson before they commit another high draft pick to a defensive lineman. However, one can’t argue with the fact that the Tennessee Titans could stand to get more out of their defensive linemen as most of the pressure in the Titans defense is generated by the steady edge presence of Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan, as well as Kevin Dodd if he get healthy during training camp.
OG Quenton Nelson – Notre Dame
Quenton Nelson finds himself selected by the Tennessee Titans in Erik Lambert’s 2018 mock draft. Nelson is described by Lambert as having been “the best guard prospect in the 2017 class but he chose to return to school for another year.” He excelled in pass blocking for the Irish last season en route to being named third-team All-American by allowing one hit and no sacks on 2017 2nd rounder Deshone Kizer.
If the Titans select a guard this high in the draft, it will surely leave a bad taste in Titans fans’ mouths after former top pick Chance Warmack flamed out with the team. Last season, Josh Kline and Quinton Spain paved the way for one of the league’s top rushing attacks after both of them beat out and replaced Warmack. Lambert claims that “neither of the guard positions can be considered solved” so long as Kline and Spain are the starters, but the old adage certainly applies here that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
However there may be some merit to drafting a guard next year. Both Kline and Spain are scheduled to become free agents next year and the Titans likely can’t afford to keep both of them if they continue to perform at a high level. Large, looming contracts for Taylor Lewan, Marcus Mariota, Derrick Morgan, and Brian Orakpo in the next two years may force them to let one of their starting guards go. High caliber players at the guard position such as TJ Lang and Gabe Jackson have proved that the OG position can command high paychecks in this day and age.
Regardless, even if the Titans opt to select a guard in the 2018 draft, they will probably try to find value in the middle of the draft, as they have proven successful at finding diamonds in the rough in Spain and Kline, and have also drafted guards in back to back years since Jon Robinson joined the staff.
LB Jerome Baker – Ohio State University
Jerome Baker is the latest top-tier defensive talent to roll off of the assembly line that is the Ohio State football program. In Baker’s first year as a starter, he racked up 83 tackles with 9.5 TFL and 3.5 sacks. With Raekwon McMillan headed to Miami to play for the Dolphins, the onus is on Baker to be even more of a focal point for the Ohio State defense next season.
Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller notes Baker’s “excellent speed and agility playing off the ball” which translates to a sideline-to-sideline style of play that the Tennessee Titans lack in their linebacking corps. Baker would prove an instant upgrade over Jayon Brown and Wesley Woodyard due to his coverage abilities and speed, while Avery Williamson continues to rack up tackles and shut down the run.
The Titans struggled to cover opposing tight ends last year with a slower linebacking corps that is better suited to stopping the run. This explains the selection of Jayon Brown in the 5th round this year. However, Brown will likely only be a rotational player that is brought in on third down as a coverage linebacker, whereas Baker has the potential to be a true three-down linebacker in the mold of NaVarro Bowman or former Ohio State linebackers Raekwon McMillan and Darron Lee.
WR Courtland Sutton – Southern Methodist University
Courtland Sutton was stellar for SMU this past season with 1246 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. Had he declared for the 2017 NFL draft, he would have been in the first round conversation, especially considering the early run on receivers at the top of the draft, but he instead opted to stay in school for another year and cement his first round status. Jared Dubin of CBS Sports selected Sutton for the Titans in his 2018 mock draft.
Fansided’s own Jon Dove had the following to say of Sutton in November of 2016:
"Courtland Sutton is a big-bodied wide receiver prospect who features both good length and bulk. He’s built a lot like Terrell Owens. In fact, there’s a lot of Sutton’s game that mimics the former All-Pro’s playing style.Outside of the size similarities, Sutton relies on route deception to gain separation. He lacks the elite speed needed to outpace defenders and get behind the defense. Instead, Sutton will uses (sic) his size to box out the defender and a stutter step to disguise his route."
A pop quiz for my Titans fans in the crowd: Whose scouting report does this remind you of? If you said 2017 No. 5 overall pick Corey Davis, you are correct. Everything from the Terrell Owens comp to the impressive size and length to the exceptional route running to the smaller college program reads exactly like many scouting profiles of Corey Davis leading up to the 2017 NFL Draft. Therein lies the problem with drafting Sutton in the first round in 2018: The Titans are already invested in another receiver with the same skillset.
Furthermore, the Titans already have an embarrassment of riches at the wide receiver position with young receivers Rishard Matthews, Corey Davis, Eric Decker, Tajae Sharpe, and Taywan Taylor already competing for snaps. Due to the logjam of young receiver talent in Nashville, selecting Sutton in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft would be a waste of resources that could be better spent elsewhere.
In conclusion, it’s too early to tell if the players listed above will be available for the Titans or if they will fall out of the first round altogether. However, there is merit in projecting the positions and types of players that the Titans may select, as team need will largely remain the same. Let me know in the comments what you think of the above selections in the comments below!