Wednesday was the cut off for official pre-draft visits between prospects and teams which means we likely now have all the visit information that we are going to get before the 2018 NFL Draft kicks off on April 26th. There could still be some after-the-fact reports that trickle out, but for the most part the known visitor list is complete.
That list has proven to be important in years past as I laid out last week in our Draft Primer. The too-long-didn’t-read version is that over the past two years — since Jon Robinson has been in charge — the Titans have almost exclusively drafted players that they either had in for a visit or traveled to have a private workout with. That’s particularly true for the first round picks. Jack Conklin, Corey Davis, and Adoree Jackson were all known to be players who visited with the Titans prior to the draft.
We obviously don’t hear about every single visit and/or workout. In fact, Jon Robinson has admitted that he likes to keep visits “close to the vest” so there are almost certainly a couple players on their radar that we haven’t heard them connected to. However, that’s easier to do with lower profile players. First round guys are far more likely to have their visits reported so let’s connect those dots.
Here are the seven possible first round picks that the Titans have brought in for pre-draft visits:
Josh Sweat, EDGE, Florida State
Arden Key, EDGE, LSU
Sam Hubbard, EDGE, Ohio State
Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
Justin Reid, S, Stanford
Jessie Bates, S, Wake Forest
History says one of those seven guys will likely be the target for Jon Robinson in Round 1 (or at the top of Round 2 if the Titans end up trading down). You can find a pretty wide range of opinions on some of these guys depending on which draft guru you prefer — welcome to the wonderful world of drafting at the back of Round 1 — but I’ve seen each of them mocked in the first round at least a few times by credible sources.
There are a couple other potential first round guys like Maryland wide receiver D.J. Moore — the only first round level offensive player they’ve been connected to — and Alabama safety Ronnie Harrison that the Titans have been reported to have private workouts with, but those weren’t labeled as official visits so I’m leaving them out for now.
Two things strike me about that list.
First, the Titans have not been linked to any of the top four inside linebackers (Roquan Smith, Tremaine Edmunds, Leighton Vander Esch, Rashaan Evans) in any meaningful capacity. They were at the Alabama pro day and reportedly met with Evans at the combine, but no private visit and/or workout with Evans has been reported and we know about the cancelled visit with Vander Esch. The highest ranked linebacker that the Titans have brought in for a visit is Texas’ Malik Jefferson who currently is projected to be more of a second round prospect. All signs are pointing towards inside linebacker being a position the team addresses later in the draft.
Second, the interest in defensive backs appears to be real. Terry had a good piece earlier this week about the possible reasoning behind the Titans looking at first round corners and I think safety deserves far more attention as well. The team has clearly been sniffing around the position in a pretty significant way. In addition to Reid, Bates, and Harrison, they’ve also been linked to mid-round guys in Texas A&M safety Armani Watts and Arizona safety Dane Cruikshank in recent weeks.
Finding a long term partner for Kevin Byard on the back end seems to be a priority based on the Titans pre-draft activities and it makes a lot of sense. Johnathan Cyprien was just OK for most of last year — though his play did come on strong late in the season — and the depth behind the two starters is virtually non-existent. Brynden Trawick is a special teams ace, but he picked up just four snaps on defense last year and Denzel Johnson was an undrafted free agent pick up last season.
The Titans played three safeties quite a bit the last couple seasons, and while it remains to be seen if that stays a part of the defense under Dean Pees, they at least need some quality depth here. I had expected they might bring in a veteran after releasing Da’Norris Searcy — and they still could given the slow developing safety market in free agency — but it’s now beginning to appear more likely that this position could be filled via the draft.
At this point I would be shocked if the first player drafted by the Titans next week isn’t an edge rusher or a defensive back.