With the combine just around the corner, we take a stab at how the 2018 NFL Draft will work out for the Tennessee Titans.
Since taking on the role of GM, Jon Robinson has been on fire with the majority of his draft picks. Yes, there are players like Kevin Dodd who have shown little promise, but selections like All-Pro players RT Jack Conklin and FS Kevin Byard make the good outweigh the bad. If Robinson is able to keep the trend going of drafting productive players, there’s no telling what the Tennessee Titans could accomplish come 2018.
That may be easier said than done when considering where the Titans sit in the draft order this year. Pick 25 is a lot later in the draft compared to the team’s recent draft slots. Instead of dictating the draft with a top five pick, the team sits at the back end of the round, barring any trades.
The team will need to fill a couple of voids in order to put this new coaching staff in position to win right away. Pass rusher heads the list of needs, especially after Tom Brady had all day to pick apart the defense in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. After that, the team could look to add playmakers on offense, as well as linebackers and offensive linemen to check off the rest of those needs.
Keep in mind that free agency is before the draft, and Robinson may decide to fill a need or two from players on the open market and use the draft picks to fill other voids. So this mock is based off of the team’s needs as we sit here today.
Round 1, Pick 25: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
Nobody knows what’s in the cards regarding Avery Williamson and his future with the organization. Williamson has been a productive linebacker, but is often an obvious weakness in the pass game. The team could decide to allow him to walk and bring in his replacement.
Rashaan Evans isn’t being talked about enough by Titans fans. Why not add an instinctive linebacker who knives through traffic to find the ball carrier, is stout at the point of attack, and is a great sideline to sideline linebacker in all phases of playing defense? He has even shown the ability to have a quick get-off on the edge. It’s hard to imagine new HC Mike Vrabel not rallying for the selection of a player of Evans’ caliber.
Round 2, Pick 57: Maurice Hurst, DL, Michigan
At 6’2″, 280 pounds, Maurice Hurst isn’t the prototypical defensive lineman, but he is still an extremely disruptive player and gets constant penetration with his quick get-off and ability to win with pad level. He’s an athletic defensive lineman who can get skinny between blocks to get into the backfield. Watching him on tape, he reminds me a lot of none other than current Titans star defensive lineman, Jurrell Casey.
While these first two picks may not be the edge rusher most fans are salivating for, you can’t deny that these picks have the potential to raise this Titans defense to a whole new level. If Vrabel is serious about having a multiple front defense, Hurst is the perfect player to plug in and play next to Casey.
If Hurst can go to the right team, he has the ability to be a Pro Bowl player over the next couple of years. Hopefully, Tennessee can be that fit.
Round 3, Pick 89: DaeSean Hamilton, WR, Penn State
If you watched the same Titans offense that I did this year, it was obvious that some juice was lacking from the outside playmakers. Penn State product DaeSaen Hamilton could very well be the answer to those problems. Being listed at 6’1″, 200 pounds makes Hamilton almost the perfect combination of size and quick-twitch athleticism for a slot receiver, which the team is lacking.
Hamilton is quick with his route breaks, but is able to maintain the precision of his routes without losing a step. On top of that, he is physical and can catch the ball through contact, which helped him become the staple of the Penn State offense on third down and goal-to-go situations. He is a player Marcus Mariota can rely on in key situations throughout a game.
I still have faith in Taywan Taylor eventually developing into a solid complementary receiver, but if Robinson is serious about bringing in the best players to have the highest level of competition in the building, he won’t shy away from adding another slot receiver to compete with Taylor.
Round 4, Pick 125: John Kelly, RB, Tennessee
With DeMarco Murray presumably not in the future plans for the Titans, that opens up a void for the backup running back spot. Luckily for the Titans, this draft class seems to be loaded at the position. That could mean the team could find their guy at this spot or even later, but if John Kelly is there at pick 125, I believe it would be naive to pass on him.
Kelly fits the mantra of what Vrabel wants his football team to be: tough and physical. Rarely does the first tackler get him down. Paired with that physical running style, Kelly still has the burst to turn a moderate gain into a game-changing play.
Kelly may not be the exact kind of back most fans had in mind when they envision what the team will do at the position, but there’s little doubt that Titans fans wouldn’t be on board with the addition of Kelly considering his productivity this past season with the Vols. The last time Robinson spent a mid-round pick on a local product was Kevin Byard out of MTSU, and that worked out pretty well.
Round 5, Pick 162: Bradley Bozeman, C, Alabama
Bozeman (6’5″, 315 pounds) was literally and figuratively a huge part of the Alabama Crimson Tide’s offensive line. Bozeman demonstrated his ability to lock down anybody who lined up over him and rarely needed help from his guards, allowing them to focus on their man or help out the tackle. He may not have the lightest feet for a center, but there’s this physicality he displays week in and week out that could have offensive line coaches salivating.
Ben Jones’ play is slowly declining, and with no real feel for what Corey Levin will develop into it, Bozeman can be firmly on the board at this stage of the draft. While Jones has earned the trust of his unit and Mariota, a replacement will be needed sooner rather then later. If Levin is that then great, but if not, this portion of the draft could be the best place to find his successor.
Round 6, Pick 199: Nic Shimonek, QB, Texas Tech
Filling in for Patrick Mahomes, Nic Shimonek had himself a solid year for the Red Raiders. He was able to complete 67% of his passes for just under 4,000 yards. He showed the ability to throw from the pocket, dissect (weaker) defenses, and deliver the ball on the move.
He isn’t nearly the signal caller Mariota is, but watching Shimonek reminds me of Mariota in a limited way. If you’re going to develop an entire offense around Mariota’s skill set, why not have a backup who can produce in a similar fashion? While Shimonek found himself on the bench a couple of times this year for the offense’s struggles, he still has the upside to at least get a look and earn his keep as a backup quaterback.