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2018 Titans NFL Draft Primer: Picks, Needs, and pre-draft visits

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Everything Titans fans need to know from team needs to tracking visits heading in to the 2018 NFL Draft.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Tennessee Titans Photo by Shaban Athuman/Getty Images

With free agency (mostly) behind us and the 2018 NFL Draft quickly approaching, it’s time to take a fresh look at the Titans roster and zero in on where we think they are likely to spend their draft capital when the event kicks off on April 26th. The Titans currently have 6 picks in the draft:

25th Overall (1st Round)

57th Overall (2nd Round)

89th Overall (3rd Round)

125th Overall (4th Round)

162nd Overall (5th Round)

199th Overall (6th Round)

Their 7th round pick went to the Chiefs as part of the trade that brought them defensive lineman David King just before the start of the 2017 season.

TITANS POSITIONAL NEEDS

Free agency has helped the team address several of the biggest holes on the roster with the additions of Malcolm Butler, Dion Lewis, Blaine Gabbert, Kevin Pamphile, Xavier Su’a-Filo, Will Compton, Bennie Logan, and Michael Campanaro adding to the existing roster. The team also retained the services of Josh Kline, Quinton Spain, DaQuan Jones, and Ryan Succop.

The offense will bring back 10 of 11 starters with the only departure being DeMarco Murray, but I would argue that Dion Lewis is a major upgrade over Murray at this point in their careers. The team also chose not to bring back Eric Decker and have yet to replace him (Campanaro is more of a Eric Weems replacement than a Decker fill-in). The defense, similarly will return 9 of 11 starters, losing only Avery Williamson and Sylvester Williams. They backfilled those two positions — at least theoretically — with Will Compton and Bennie Logan. That means inside linebacker is truly the only position where you can argue that the 2018 Titans are in worse shape than the 2017 Titans, at least when it comes to starters.

As we stand today I believe the Titans five biggest needs to be as follows:

  1. EDGE RUSHER - This is no secret as we have been banging this drum since the end of last season, but the Titans need to get younger and more athletic here. Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan will be 32 and 29, respectively, when the 2018 season kicks off and both are headed in to the final year of their current contracts. Furthermore, the Titans struggled to generate pressure with just four rushers consistently last season, forcing them to blitz far too often. A new defensive scheme may help some of those issues, but Orakpo and Morgan aren’t getting any younger and the team has a ton of question marks behind them in Kevin Dodd, Aaron Wallace, and Josh Carraway. They cannot afford to ignore this position any longer and it’s almost impossible to find impact starters in free agency or late rounds of the draft.
  2. INSIDE LINEBACKER - As mentioned above, this is the only spot where you can say the Titans starters got worse this offseason. I wasn’t the biggest Avery Williamson fan — I always felt like his struggles in coverage held back the defense — but he was an elite run stopper and Will Compton is little more than a replacement level starter to this point. I believe Jayon Brown should really be considered the favorite to win the starting job opposite Wesley Woodyard as things stand right now, but I think it’s safe to say the Titans still need to improve here even if you fully believe in Brown’s talent. Woodyard will be 32 to kick off the 2018 season and finding his long term replacement as a 3-down linebacker is a true need.
  3. WIDE RECEIVER - If you had asked me for a needs list even just a couple weeks ago, this spot probably would have been guard/center, but I think you can argue that the wide receiver group has far more question marks. We all have extremely high expectations for Corey Davis and feel pretty comfortable with Rishard Matthews as a number 2. However, beyond those two you have Taywan Taylor — talented but inexperienced and unproven — and Tajae Sharpe — coming off a pretty significant foot injury. I like both those players as prospects, but that’s all they truly are right now. Michael Campanaro is more of a special teams factor who could contribute in the slot if pressed, but you certainly don’t want him there full time. Darius Jennings and Zach Pascal are complete unknowns. Additionally, Rishard Matthews is heading in to the final year of his contract and may need to be replaced in the starting lineup as soon as 2019.
  4. SAFETY - This is the other position that I have moved up my list recently. The Titans elected to release Da’Norris Searcy to save cap space and let Curtis Riley sign elsewhere in free agency which leaves them very thin behind starters Kevin Byard and Johnathan Cyprien. Brynden Trawick made the Pro Bowl in 2017 as a special teamer, but he saw just 4 snaps on defense last year despite Cyprien missing significant time with a hamstring injury. 2017 UDFA Denzel Johnson is the only other safety currently on the roster. The team could decide to try a backup cornerback here with Kalan Reed and Demontre Hurst both getting reps there in last year’s training camp, but that certainly doesn’t seem like something they should be relying on. The safety market in free agency has been extremely slow to develop so I think there is still a chance that the Titans add a player here. Eric Reid, Kenny Vaccaro, Tre Boston, and Mike Mitchell are all still looking for work along with one of my favorite fits, Eddie Pleasant. However, even if the Titans do add a veteran safety to the mix, I think there is a good chance they spend a draft pick here.
  5. GUARD/CENTER - The Titans have lots of bodies here with Josh Kline, Ben Jones, Quinton Spain, Kevin Pamphile, Xavier Su’a-Filo, Corey Levin, Tyler Marz, and Cody Wichmann all on the roster, but they could certainly afford to upgrade the top end of this group. All three of the primary competitors for the starting left guard spot — Spain, Pamphile, and Su’a-Filo — are on one year contracts so finding a long term solution at this position should still be considered a priority for the team. They also have Ben Jones heading in to year 3 of a 4-year deal and coming off an up-and-down season. There are several good interior linemen in this draft and I still think there is a pretty good chance the Titans take one at some point.

THE IMPORTANCE OF PRE-DRAFT VISITS AND WORKOUTS

Teams can bring in up to 30 draft-eligible players for private visits in addition to unlimited visits for players that either grew up in the area or went to local colleges. The NFL considers the metropolitan city and its suburbs as local so Vanderbilt, MTSU, and TSU all count as local for the Titans. Teams are also free to travel to visit as many prospects as they would like so that 30 cap is really just for players traveling in to Nashville from out of town.

These visits can be a very important part of the evaluation process as Matt Bowen explains in this behind-the-scenes article detailing the types of things teams are looking to gain from these visits. This passage, in particular, sounds a lot like some of the things that Jon Robinson has said are very important to him.

...it’s where decision-makers can determine whether the prospect will “feel good” on the team. Does he have quality football character? Will he mesh with teammates? Can he fit with the team?

Intentionally drafting and signing players with high “football character” has allowed the Titans to create the culture change we have seen over the past two years. It’s a reason why the team is seen as a franchise that likes a “complete process” evaluation.

Kevin Byard’s pre-draft visit with the Titans is one of the most telling examples of the importance these meetings can have. Both Mike Mularkey and Dick LeBeau talked about Byard setting himself apart from other players during that workout with his football IQ when the team put him “on the board” and asked him to run through the Titans defensive calls as Jim Wyatt noted in this article.

“We are pretty extensive in our defensive calls with coach LeBeau, and when we did work out with Kevin and sit down with him, he was easily the best on the board in being able to retain (information) and shoot it back at us and it is evident out here is very comfortable doing that”

The team clearly liked him before that meeting, but its possible they go in another direction without getting to see him shine in that setting. These kinds of private visits are important to Jon Robinson’s Titans.

How important? I went back and collected some information from the past two years with some significant help from Ty Wurth (@WurthDraft on Twitter) to collect all the reported pre-draft visits prior to the 2016 and 2017 drafts and see how well that correlated to the Titans actual picks. It turns out there is an extremely high correlation between “Top 30 Visits” and the Titans taking a player high in the draft.

There is an even higher correlation between the Titans having a private workout of some kind with a player and taking them in the draft. The only two players that I could find from the last two years that did not reportedly work out with the Titans at some point were Derrick Henry — who they met with extensively at the combine — and Kalan Reed.

The problem is that not all of these workouts were reported during the pre-draft process. For example, the only link I could find connecting Austin Johnson to a visit with the Titans was a post-draft piece where he talks about visiting the team.

The reporting of these visits is hit or miss, in part, because Jon Robinson wants it to be that way.

“We track all that stuff with all those other teams, sometimes it points you in the right direction, sometimes it doesn’t,” he said. “We try to keep our cards as close to the vest as possible.”

Here is all the information I found about Titans draft picks and their pre-draft workouts with the team. The ones that were not reported prior to the draft are noted.

2016 Draft

Jack Conklin - Top 30 Visit

Kevin Dodd - Private Workout (not reported pre-draft)

Austin Johnson - Top 30 Visit (not reported pre-draft)

Derrick Henry - Combine Meeting per Walter Football

Kevin Byard - Private Workout

Tajae Sharpe - Private Workout (not reported pre-draft)

LeShaun Sims - Private Workout (not reported pre-draft)

Sebastian Tretola - Top 30 Visit (not reported pre-draft)

Aaron Wallace - Top 30 Visit (not reported pre-draft)

Kalan Reed - None

2017 Draft

Corey Davis - Top 30 Visit

Adoree Jackson - Top 30 Visit

Taywan Taylor - Top 30 Visit

Jonnu Smith - Top 30 Visit

Jayon Brown - Private Workout (not reported pre-draft)

Corey Levin - Private Workout

Josh Carraway - Private Workout (not reported pre-draft)

Brad Seaton - Private Workout

Khalfani Muhammad - Private Workout (not reported pre-draft)

As you can see, the Titans almost exclusively select guys that they work out privately at some point during the pre-draft process. Furthermore, you can see some of the positions the team was targeting in each draft just by looking at the other prospects they were reported to have interest in. Here is the full list of players that I found that were reported to be connected to the Titans before the draft in 2016 and 2017.

2016 & 2017 Reported Titans Pre-Draft Visits

Position Player Position Player
Position Player Position Player
CB MacKensie Alexander QB Josh Dobbs
CB Kendall Fuller QB C.J. Beathard
CB Xavien Howard TE O.J. Howard
CB Jalen Ramsey TE Jonnu Smith
CB Tavon Young TE David Njoku
CB Eli Apple TE Adam Shaheen
DL Vernon Butler WR Kendrick Bourne
DL DeForest Buckner WR B.J. Bunn
DL Jonathan Bullard WR Noel Thomas
DL Kenny Clark WR DeAngelo Yancey
DL Joel Heath WR Mike Williams
DL D.J. Reader WR John Ross
DL Lawrence Thomas WR Chris Godwin
DL Adolphus Washington WR Demore'ea Stringfellow
DL Jonathan Woodard WR Corey Davis
EDGE Joey Bosa WR Zay Jones
EDGE Kamalei Correa OG Jordan Morgan
EDGE Shaq Lawson OT Brad Seaton
EDGE Yannick Ngakoue C Chase Roullier
EDGE Emmanuel Ogbah LB Haason Reddick
LB Jatavis Brown LB Reuben Foster
LB Deion Jones LB Duke Riley
LB Darron Lee LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin
LB Antonio Morrison LB Jordan Evans
OG Joe Dahl EDGE Derek Barnett
OT Caleb Benenoch EDGE Steven Rhodes
OT Shon Coleman EDGE Charles Harris
OT Jack Conklin CB Marshon Lattimore
OT Clay DeBord CB Jamal Agnew
OT Taylor Decker CB Gareon Conley
OT Germain Ifedi CB Adoree Jackson
OT Alex Lewis CB Chidobe Awuzie
OT Jason Spriggs CB Corn Elder
OT Ronnie Stanley CB Jeremy Cutrer
OT Zach Sterup CB Cam Sutton
OT Laremy Tunsil CB Randall Goforth
QB Kevin Hogan CB Brian Allen
RB Kenneth Dixon S Obi Melifonwu
RB Keenan Reynolds S Leon McQuay
S Vonn Bell S Josh Jones
S Kevin Byard S Jamal Adams
S Jayron Kearse DL Jonathan Allen
S Miles Killebrew DL Adam Butler
S Keanu Neal DL Rod Henderson
S Tyvis Powell DL Keionta Davis
TE Stephen Anderson DL Davion Belk
TE Austin Hooper RB Marlon Mack
TE Nick Vannett RB Kareem Hunt
WR Leonte Carroo WR Taywan Taylor
WR Jared Dangerfield OG Corey Levin
WR Braxton Miller
WR Michael Thomas

In 2016, the Titans drafted tackle, edge, defensive line, running back, safety, wide receiver, cornerback, guard, edge, and cornerback in that order. The five positions that they had the most reported private meetings with pre-draft were tackle, defensive line, cornerback, safety, and edge. Four of those five positions were addressed within the first three rounds with only running back being a “surprise” pick.

In 2017, the Titans drafted wide receiver, cornerback, wide receiver, tight end, linebacker, guard, edge, tackle, running back in that order. The five positions that they had the most reported private meetings with pre-draft were wide receiver, cornerback, linebacker, defensive line, and tight end. All four of the Titans picks in the first three rounds were spent on those positions and all four were players that were reported to have met with the Titans during the pre-draft process.

Based on the patterns laid out above, I think it is safe to say that pre-draft visits can tell us a lot about where the Titans will spend their draft capital.

2018 TITANS PRE-DRAFT VISIT TRACKER

Knowing that these reported visits can be an important clue, we are going to track reported visits here. If you see reports of a visit that we don’t have included, please reach out and let us know so we can keep this as up to date as possible. Some of these reports fly under the radar, especially with later round prospects, so any help collecting this data is appreciated. We are not going to include pro day interest or combine interviews here so we are strictly looking for visits and private workouts as those have appeared to be the most important piece for the Titans.

Here are the players the Titans have been reported to have private visits or workouts with so far (you can click on the link for the source). I also included the projected draft round from NFL.com so you can get a feel for where these guys might be targeted.

Disclaimer: The round projections are NFL.com’s and theirs alone. In many cases other draft experts and scouts have sometimes drastically different opinions. I certainly disagree with several of them myself, but these are really just intended to provide a general feel for the guy’s neighborhood.

QB Kyle Allen (7th Round - UDFA)

QB Nick Stevens (7th Round - UDFA)

QB Mike White (3rd-4th Round)

QB Mason Rudolph (2nd Round)

QB Lamar Jackson (1st-2nd Round)

RB Nyheim Hines (3rd-4th Round)

RB Ito Smith (7th Round - UDFA)

RB Akrum Wadley (5th-6th Round)

WR Steven Dunbar (7th Round - UDFA)

WR Keke Coutee (4th-5th Round)

WR Braxton Berrios (6th-7th Round)

WR D.J. Moore (1st-2nd Round)

WR Michael Gallup (2nd-3rd Round)

WR Andre Levrone (7th Round - UDFA)

WR Jared Beard (7th Round - UDFA)

WR Dante Pettis (2nd-3rd Round)

WR Richie James (5th-6th Round)

TE Ian Thomas (2nd-3rd Round)

TE Deon Yelder (7th Round - UDFA)

OL Austin Corbett (2nd Round)

OL Tyrell Crosby (2nd-3rd Round)

C/G James Daniels (1st-2nd Round)

DL Andrew Brown (4th-5th Round)

DL Julian Taylor (6th-7th Round)

DL John Franklin-Myers (5th-6th Round)

DL Abdullah Anderson (6th-7th Round)

EDGE Josh Sweat (3rd-4th Round)

EDGE Arden Key (3rd-4th Round)

EDGE Sam Hubbard (2nd Round)

EDGE Ade Aruna (4th-5th Round)

EDGE Dorance Armstrong (5th Round)

EDGE Uchenna Nwosu (3rd-4th Round)

LB Chris Worley (7th Round - UDFA)

LB Malik Jefferson (3rd Round)

LB Dorian O’Daniel (6th Round)

LB Matt Adams (7th Round - UDFA)

LB Darius Leonard (2nd-3rd Round)

LB Oren Burks (6th-7th Round)

CB D.J. Reed (4th-5th Round)

CB Josh Jackson (1st-2nd Round)

CB Rashard Fant (7th Round - UDFA)

CB Jaire Alexander (1st-2nd Round)

S Sean Chandler (7th Round - UDFA)

S Justin Reid (1st-2nd Round)

S Armani Watts (2nd-3rd Round)

S Jessie Bates (2nd-3rd Round)

S Dane Cruikshank (4th-5th Round)

S Ronnie Harrison (2nd Round)

K/P Ryan Santoso (7th Round - UDFA)

Leighton Vander Esch had a visit scheduled, but the Titans reportedly cancelled the visit because they no longer believe he will be available when they draft at 25.

That’s an interesting reason to cancel a visit. Most boards I see have LVE going in the 15-24 range which means it wouldn’t be crazy to think that he might slide a few picks. It also seems to indicate the they either aren’t considering trading up at all or that they just wouldn’t consider trading up for Vander Esch. Either way, this seems odd.

The reported visits tell us a few things in my opinion. First, the Titans are going to draft a wide receiver. They’ve already had reported private workouts with 7 receivers including several of the top prospects in the draft. They also met with Courtland Sutton “at length” following his pro day work out at SMU.

Edge rusher and linebacker are definitely on the Titans radar as we would expect. Although the targets at inside linebacker appear to hint at them addressing that position in the 2nd round or later. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see the Titans add an edge rusher, linebacker, and wide receiver to the roster before the end of Day 2 of the draft.

I think we may be overrating their interest in guards and centers right now unless they are intentionally trying to keep workouts at that position quiet. Austin Corbett and Tyrell Crosby are the only offensive linemen they have been reported to have private visits with and those are both Day 2 or later type prospects. They also reportedly met with Braden Smith at the combine, but the reports don’t seem to be pointing to guard/center like they are at other positions. The depth they added in Pamphile and Su’a-Filo means that this position is certainly more of an opportunity to upgrade than a true need.

We will continue to track these visits and workouts on this page with your help as we continue towards the draft so you can check back here for more information. The Titans drafting later in rounds gives this draft a little different dynamic — one that I hope we can get used to moving forward. I am looking forward to seeing the direction they go with their picks.