We interrupt your regularly scheduled Tom Brady programming to take a look at some of the first testing results coming in from the 2020 NFL Combine. Quarterbacks, tight ends, and wide receivers got the league’s first primetime version of the combine kicked off last night, and while the Titans don’t have pressing needs at any of those spots, they are certainly in a position where they could consider taking one at some point if the value is right.
We can be reasonably sure that Tennessee will have an expensive veteran starter under contract at quarterback within the next month and regardless of whether that’s Ryan Tannehill or Tom Brady, a cheap young passer with upside would be the ideal backup and the best place to find that is the draft. If Brady is the choice at starter, the urgency to find his replacement in this draft becomes a top priority, possibly even dictating a trade up in the first round if there is a QB that Jon Robinson and Mike Vrabel like in this class.
Wide receiver is relatively set with A.J. Brown, Corey Davis, and Adam Humphries virtually chiseled in stone as the team’s starters at wide receiver for the upcoming season. That’s an excellent top unit, but the depth behind them is questionable. Kalif Raymond was a quality backup in 2019 and Cameron Batson showed some ability in 2018, but with Tajae Sharpe set to potentially find more opportunity elsewhere in free agency, the Titans might need to make an addition to this group from a draft class that is being touted as one of the deepest of all time for receivers.
At tight end, the Titans have a rising talent in Jonnu Smith, an aging veteran in Delanie Walker, and a young role player in Anthony Firkser currently under contract for next season. Walker, however, is a prime cut candidate due to his cap hit of over $8 million with a low dead cap number representing a net savings opportunity of $6.5 million. MyCole Pruitt is a free agent that the team might consider bringing back to continue in his role as a blocking tight end. If neither Walker or Pruitt comes back, tight end becomes a higher priority in the draft.
So who helped themselves at those positions last night that could end up being targets for the Titans in April?
Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma
Testing numbers aren’t terribly important for quarterbacks in general, but the QB who helped his stock the most in Indy so far seems to be Hurts. He checked in with adequate size at 6’-1” and 222 pounds and then ran the fastest 40 of any quarterback at 4.59.
He also looked good throwing during drills which, combined with the interviews, are truly the most important parts of the combine for passers.
Hurts put up crazy numbers in Lincoln Riley’s offense like first overall picks Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray did before him, though the passing volume of the Sooner attack did continue to taper off this season.
- 2017 Mayfield: 285 of 404 (70.5%) for 4,627 yards (11.5 YPA), 43 TDs, 6 INTs with 97 carries for 311 yards (3.2 YPC) and 5 TDs on the ground
- 2018 Murray: 260 of 377 (69.0%) for 4,361 yards (11.6 YPA), 42 TDs, 7 INTs with 140 carries for 1,001 yards (7.2 YPC) and 12 TDs on the ground
- 2019 Hurts: 237 of 340 (69.7%) for 3,851 yards (11.3 YPA), 32 TDs, 8 INTs with 233 carries for 1,298 yards (5.6 YPC) and 20 TDs on the ground
There are questions as to whether he has the arm talent of his predecessors, but Thursday night was a good showing for him. In a group that featured Justin Herbert, Jacob Eason, Anthony Gordon, and Jake Fromm in addition to Hurts, you could certainly argue that Hurts was the second most impressive passer on the field behind Herbert during the throwing session. Add that to his running ability and outstanding football character/leadership skills and you have an interesting potential backup option for the Titans.
Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor
Mims is absolutely crushing the pre-draft process right now. After a great showing at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, he arrived in Indy and measured at 6’-3”, 207 pounds with long arms at 33 7/8-inch and ran 4.38 in the 40. Even more impressively, he clocked a blistering 6.66-second three cone time. His total workout wasn’t quite Julio Jones freaky, but it was in the neighborhood and I’m not sure that’s something that most people were expecting from the Baylor star heading into this weekend.
Was looking at 3-cone drill times at WR over the years. Saw this:— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) February 28, 2020
Vert: 38 1/2
Broad Jump: 135"
20 yard shuttle: 4.25
BP: 17 reps
Vert: 38 1/2
Broad Jump: 131"
20 yard shuttle: 4.43
BP: 16 reps
Mims boasts elite ball skills as well. It’s hard to see him dropping too far this point, but with so many high end wide receivers in the draft class, Mims could still provide tremendous value for some team on day two.
Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR, Michigan
A five-star recruit coming out of high school, DPJ never really produced like he was expected to in Ann Arbor. Whether you see that as a red flag or a byproduct of being yoked to Shea Patterson for most of his college career is up for interpretation, but his stock is certainly on the rise coming out of his combine workout. Measuring at 6’-2” and 212 pounds with long arms (33 1/2-inches) and huge hands (10 1/8-inches) and then running 4.48 with a 44.5-inch vertical that was nearly a combine record will do that for you.
Production concerns will keep him from cracking the top two rounds most likely, but the upside is enormous with DPJ, particularly as a vertical threat and red zone specialist. Those are roles the Titans could certainly use some help in.
Antonio Gibson, RB/WR, Memphis
Gibson worked out with the wide receivers, but there are many who believe he will ultimately settle in as a running back at the NFL level. He played both at times for Memphis, compiling 735 yards receiving with 8 touchdowns through the air and adding 369 yards (at a ridiculous 11.2 YPC rate) and 4 touchdowns on the ground in 2019.
Gibson was a big play machine for the Tigers and his testing numbers gave a glimpse of why he was so explosive in college. At 6’-0” and 228 pounds, he’s extremely A.J. Brown-esque when it comes to size, though he lacks Brown’s long arms and big mitts. He makes up for it in speed though, checking in at 4.39 in the 40 Thursday night.
Assuming the Titans find a way to retain Derrick Henry’s services for 2020 — which seems likely at this point — they could really use a pass catching weapon like Gibson who can give them some third down snaps, line up as receiver from time to time, and even provide value on special teams as a kick returner. He’s a tremendous fit that might be available in the middle rounds of the draft.
Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU
Few players helped themselves more than Jefferson at the combine so far, especially when combined with his outstanding production over the last two seasons. Always considered a good route runner with feel for the position, the question marks with Jefferson were whether he was athletic enough to create separation at the NFL level.
His 4.43-second 40 time answers that to some degree. That’s more than adequate speed when you bring the technical chops that Jefferson has always had with it.
Again, this receiver class is so loaded that some of these guys are going to fall far deeper in the draft than they have any business falling. If Jefferson is one of those guys, the Titans might be wise to snap him up.
Chase Claypool, WR/TE, Notre Dame
The second of two hybrid guys making this list, Claypool worked out with the wide receivers despite checking in at a hulking 6’-4” and 238 pounds. Some teams reportedly view the former Notre Dame pass catcher as a tight end, but his 4.42 time in the 40 makes the idea of keeping him outside at receiver much more palatable on paper and puts him in rare company for players of his size.
Only two wideouts to measure 6’4” & 235 pounds or bigger have run a sub-4.45 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine since 2003:— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) February 28, 2020
One is known as “Megatron” (Calvin Johnson). The other?
Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool at the 2020 Combine.@NDFootball @ChaseClaypool pic.twitter.com/iHByYLhnp1
The 4.42 doesn’t necessarily mean that he couldn’t be moved to tight end — the idea of a tight end with 4.42 speed stretching the seams at his height with a 40.5-inch vertical is quite appealing — but the urgency for a position move decreases with a big time combine performance.
Guys like this challenge the notion of what a position label really means anyway. Whether you want to call him a big receiver or a small tight end, Claypool is a walking matchup nightmare, especially given his skill and eagerness as a blocker.