The Senior Bowl is my favorite pre-draft event every year. While the combine is interesting and gives you a chance to compare hard data across several generations of NFL hopefuls, nothing gives you a better read on a player — in my opinion at least — than watching them compete against other top prospects under the guidance of professional coaches.
This year’s version featured a really strong group of prospects, including four of the top eight QB prospects in the draft and several other players that are widely expected to go during the first two days in Vegas. Here are a few that stood out to me during the week as potential fits for the Titans both at 29 and later on in the draft.
1. Bradlee Anae, EDGE, Utah
Few players helped their stock in Mobile more than the former Utes pass rusher. He graded out as PFF’s highest rated defender during practices leading up to the game and then appeared borderline unblockable when the action went live on Saturday.
He was ultimately credited with three sacks and five pressures on just 16 pass rush snaps during the game. It was truly a dominant performance.
Anae weighed in with outstanding size at 6’-3 3/8” and 257 pounds, though his short arms (31 7/8-inch) will be a negative for some teams. I don’t suspect that he’s going to be a “break the combine” type of guy athletically, but his production — 29.5 sacks and 40 tackles for loss in college, including a 13-sack, 14-TFL senior season — and tape should make him a top-50 selection in the draft.
This isn’t a great edge rushing class in general behind Chase Young and A.J. Epenesa — both of whom will surely go well before pick 29 — but Anae is starting to push himself into the discussion for the end of the first round or beginning of the second and that should put him firmly on the radar of Titans fans.
2. Josh Jones, OT, Houston
If the Titans decide to move on from Jack Conklin — which I am on record as saying would be a bad idea — Jones is near the top of my list of potential replacements. This is a pretty strong tackle class with Tristan Wirfs, Mekhi Becton, Jedrick Wills, and Andrew Thomas all widely projected as first round picks, and a few others like Austin Jackson and Prince Tega Wanogho as likely day two prospects, but Jones has started to make a move into that group.
He was pretty clearly the best offensive tackle on the field in Mobile (though it should be noted that none of the other six names listed above participated), regularly dominating his one on one matchups throughout the week.
josh jones is on another level— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) January 23, 2020
He is particularly intriguing to me as a fit for the Titans because of his athleticism and ability to block at the second level of defenses. It’s not hard to look at reps like this and envision him in Tennessee’s outside zone heavy run scheme.
Josh Jones is burying linebackers 15 yards downfield pic.twitter.com/1vVidQJRzY— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) January 23, 2020
Jones has now started to pop up in the first round of some mock drafts and it’s possible that he ends up being a pretty good value somewhere around the Titans first pick at 29. Again, I’d prefer to keep the 25-year old tackle that we know is a good NFL player in house if possible, but if the Brinks truck backs up to Conklin’s house on March 18th with some other team’s money, Jones should be in the conversation as a potential long term replacement.
3. Lloyd Cushenberry III, OC, LSU
Sticking with the OL — exciting, right?! — a couple LSU interior offensive linemen really shined during Senior Bowl week. Cushenberry checked in with some good measurements at 6’-3 1/4” and 312 pounds with giant 34 5/8” long arms and 10 1/2” hands.
The highly decorated center started 27 consecutive games for the national champion Tigers and became the first offensive lineman in school history to be awarded jersey number 18 as recognition of his leadership both on and off the field (he couldn’t actually wear 18 due to NCAA rules so he just wore a patch on his jersey to signify the honor).
During Senior Bowl week he continued to prove why many view him as the top center in the 2020 draft class. This rep against Javon Kinlaw — who was widely regarded as the best non-QB on the field in Mobile — shows off his power and technique against a future top 15 draft pick.
LSU center Lloyd Cushenberry had a really good practice yesterday. His hands are always in tight. One of the few wins for anyone vs Javon Kinlaw. pic.twitter.com/uPnPEhex2Y— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) January 22, 2020
The Titans don’t have an immediate need on the interior of the offensive line — Rodger Saffold, Ben Jones, and Nate Davis certainly finished the 2019 season strong enough to want to see that group back intact next year — but Cushenberry could be a nice successor to Jones at the pivot for the 2021 season and beyond and a solid upgrade in depth along the offensive interior in the meantime.
Investing in offensive linemen before you need them is critical in my opinion. Not only is depth important at this position, but rookie linemen are often terrible when asked to start right away. Just look at Nate Davis’ 2019 season. He was arguably the worst guard in football through the first half of the year before things started to click. From Week 14 on he was a different player (one that Titans fans can be excited about for 2020).
If you thought relying on a rookie guard was bad... relying on a rookie center would be even worse. Depending on the needs of the Titans after free agency, Cushenberry could end up being a target somewhere between pick 29 and pick 61.
4. Van Jefferson, WR, Florida
The Titans don’t have a huge need at wide receiver for the first time in... ever? But that doesn’t mean that they won’t end up drafting one from a class that is chock full of talented pass catchers.
If they are going to add to the wide receiver room, speed would seemingly be at the top of the priority list, but the true burners of the draft — Henry Ruggs, Jalen Reagor, and K.J. Hamler — would likely require the Titans top pick (and Ruggs is almost certainly not even going to be an option there) to land in two tone blue. Instead, Jon Robinson might look later in the draft to add some depth to his group that will led by A.J. Brown, Corey Davis, and Adam Humphries in 2020.
I believe Tajae Sharpe is likely to find a bigger role and more opportunity for playing time elsewhere in free agency so it wouldn’t surprise me if the Titans feel the need to address this position to replace his role as a rotational option in the passing game. Van Jefferson would be one of the best fits for that role. The son of former Titans receivers coach Shawn Jefferson, Van put on a great performance at the Senior Bowl while showing off his expert route running skills.
The word that jumps to my mind when watching Jefferson’s routes is “urgent”. He’s extremely intentional and direct in all of his movements and wastes very little time getting into and out of his breaks. Add good size at 6’-1 1/2” and 197 pounds and good hands and you’ve got a pretty high floor receiver prospect. The former Ravenwood High School star actually reminds me a bit of a slightly more dynamic version of Sharpe.
5. Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor
Jefferson created some buzz in Mobile — as did Ohio State’s K.J. Hill — but the best receiver at the Senior Bowl was pretty clearly Mims. He dominated defensive backs with a physicality that shows up frequently in his college tape as well.
At 6’-2 3/4” and 206 pounds, he has prototypical size for an outside receiver and his ability to high point the ball and win in contested catch situations was quite evident during the week.
Mims is a contested catch highlight reel pic.twitter.com/Yop2FtEgdi— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) January 23, 2020
Like A.J. Brown, Mims just seems to have that innate feel for how to play the position. He tracks the ball with ease and has no problems with making late adjustments through contact to make a play.
Currently, Mims is viewed as a day two prospect. While I certainly think the Titans have other, more pressing needs at other positions, I also believe that there is a good chance that Mims would be the best player available if he’s still on the board into the third round. A possible value pick for Jon Robinson if he can take care of some other needs in free agency.
6. Troy Pride Jr., CB, Notre Dame
If the performance of the Titans defense over the course of the 2019 season taught us anything, it should be the importance of cornerbacks. Tennessee had their top three corners — Logan Ryan, Malcolm Butler, and Adoree’ Jackson — available for the first eight games of the season. During that stretch, the defense allowed just 16.9 points per game, fifth fewest in the NFL. After losing Butler (and being without Jackson for a big chunk of the second half of the year), the Titans allowed 24.5 points per game.
Those stats are certainly not 100% attributable to cornerbacks being out — the Titans also played a tougher set of offenses late in the year — but it was also clear that Jackson’s return from injury provided a big boost to the Tennessee defense in the playoffs. PFF has been studying the importance of pass rush versus coverage when it comes to overall defensive performance for the last couple years and their conclusions generally point towards coverage being the more important side of that equation (though also the most unpredictable).
Regardless of your view on that argument, I think it’s fair to say that cornerback is a spot that the Titans likely need to invest in during this draft. Malcolm Butler will be 30 next season and Logan Ryan will be 29. They might not see a precipitous drop in level of play this year, but the cliff is coming soon and the Titans should be preparing accordingly, especially with veteran backups like LeShaun Sims and Tye Smith entering free agency.
Ohio State’s Jeffrey Okudah is the clear top corner in this class and a near lock to go in the top ten picks, but who gets picked next is up for debate. Florida’s C.J. Henderson, LSU’s Khristian Fulton, Clemson’s A.J. Terrell, Utah’s Jaylon Johnson, and Alabama’s Trevon Diggs are some of the other candidates to go on day one.
Pride had largely been viewed as a late day two pick, but his performance at the Senior Bowl will likely push him up some boards. He flashed some ability to play some press man coverage, a trait that is highly sought after among NFL teams. Pride actually looks kind of like a prime Malcolm Butler here, falling into the trail technique and perfectly undercutting the out route.
Notre Dame CB Troy Pride was on a lot of day-one standout lists. Here he shows the ability to mirror, get into phase, and run the route for the receiver. Miami plays a lot of trail just like this. pic.twitter.com/zWfkS6rz41— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) January 22, 2020
Unlike some other names on this list, Pride is expected to wow at the combine. He was laser-timed at 4.38 in the forty last spring and some think he could end up running faster at the combine.
Pride is a guy that I’d love to see added to the roster at some point on day two. The Titans will need to continue to add speed in the secondary if they’re going to keep up with the new Kings of the AFC in Kansas City.