Tennessee Titans HC Mike Vrabel will have influence on draft picks

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 31: Safety Kevin Byard
NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 31: Safety Kevin Byard /

GM Jon Robinson has two draft classes under his belt in which he worked with an offensive-minded head coach. How much influence will HC Mike Vrabel have on the 2018 Tennessee Titans draft class?

Last season, Tennessee Titans GM Jon Robinson chose to address defensive and special team needs via free agency. Nine of the Titans’ free agent acquisitions (either newly signed or re-signed) were on the defensive side of the ball.

Robinson drafted six offensive players in 2017, compared to just three defensive players. In 2016, Robinson used six of his 10 draft picks on defensive players. It’s fair to say Robinson has been balanced–at least the numbers suggest so–in drafting both offensive and defensive players.

New head coach Mike Vrabel will work closely with Robinson when choosing the first draft class under his tenure as the leader of the Titans. Will Vrabel persuade Robinson to think defensively in April?

He could. And he should.

Building an Elite Defense

It’s no secret: The AFC South has slowly evolved from being the laughingstock of the league to one of the best divisions in football. The Titans would be wise to solidify the depth on defense and upgrade some key positions that can help this team produce back-to-back postseason appearances.

With Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson aiming to prove he’s not a flash in the pan and the presumable return of Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck, having an elite defense will have major implications on who comes out on top of the division. Last season, Jacksonville proved how a top-tier defense can mask some offensive deficiencies and create possibilities for January football.

The Titans defense really hit their stride midway through the season. The defense helped Tennessee earn some grueling wins when the offense couldn’t get going. Although the defense played lights out for the latter half of the season, there is still room for improvement. That’s how good teams become great.

Offensively, the addition of OC Matt LaFleur and his ability to develop an offense tailored to QB Marcus Mariota’s strengths should help on both sides of the ball. If his offense can generate drives and touchdowns, the defense will naturally play better due to having more rest and fresher legs.

If LaFleur feels comfortable with the weapons already on the roster, it could tip the scales to a more defense-heavy draft.

That is not a bad thing.

Robinson’s Draftees

As mentioned above, Robinson has been balanced in choosing offense and defense in his first two draft classes.  Let’s look at who he picked.

"OffenseOT Jack Conklin (1st), RB Derrick Henry (2nd), WR Tajae Sharpe (5th), OG Sebastian Tretola (6th), WR Corey Davis (1st), WR Taywan Taylor (3rd), TE Jonnu Smith (3rd), OG Corey Levin (6th), OT Brad Seaton (7th) and RB Khalfani Muhammad (7th).DefenseDE-turned-OLB Kevin Dodd (1st), DT Austin Johnson (2nd), S Kevin Byard (3rd), CB LeShaun SIms (5th), OLB Aaron Wallace (7th), DB Kalan Reed (7th), CB Adoree’ Jackson (1st), ILB Jayon Brown (5th) and OLB Josh Carraway (7th)."

Of the 19 picks, two have been named All-Pros and Byard made his first appearance in the Pro Bowl after being initially snubbed. Two picks aren’t on the roster and a handful are on the practice squad.

The selections of Conklin and Byard were home runs. Dodd appears to be Robinson’s biggest blunder due to being the 33rd overall pick. Outside of that, Robinson’s picks have helped the Titans become a better football team. But the Titans need more.

The Vrabel Effect

It’s easy to envision the type of players Vrabel will seek out in the 2018 draft. He wants versatility, accountability and a gritty, hard-nosed attitude. Vrabel also wants guys who can make an immediate impact and may not be focused on the developmental projects, which is a good thing.

Vrabel and Robinson will sift through the roster all the way until April while keeping tabs on potential draft targets. Vrabel will be given the opportunity to select guys that fit what he wants to do defensively, but will make sure to select guys that mesh well with the existing defensive talent.

Vrabel could be of the mindset that adding a guy like NT Vita Vea in the middle could drastically impact the play of DT Jurrell Casey and others on the defensive front.

He could also believe that picking a guy like ILB Malik Jefferson would be the perfect addition to the linebacker corps, as he has the football acumen and instincts to be a field general.

Vrabel could also be influenced by Defensive Backs Coach Kerry Coombs and select a corner Coombs believes can be molded into a shutdown cornerstone.

It remains a mystery as to what exactly Vrabel’s first draft class will look like. But it’s hard to imagine it won’t be defense-oriented.