There is little doubt that the Titans biggest need position is cornerback. That’s probably even true if they end up re-signing Logan Ryan between now and the start of the draft.
The only “true” corners on the roster with any sort of experience right now are Malcolm Butler and Adoree’ Jackson. Jackson is an above average starter, and at just 24 years old, he’s still an ascending talent who is likely to have his fifth year option — likely worth around $10 million — exercised later this summer to keep him in Tennessee through the 2021 season. Butler is still a quality starter, but at age 30 and with an expensive contract, he’s a player that the team will likely be looking to replace after this season.
Chris Milton and Kareem Orr played a combined 49 snaps for the Titans defense in 2019 and should not be considered candidates for playing time until they prove otherwise. Amani Hooker, Dane Cruikshank, and Joshua Kalu all have some experience playing corner at the college level — and Kalu is even technically listed as a corner on the Titans official roster — but none of them have lined up there consistently at the NFL level in their young careers.
Even if you do bring back Logan Ryan, he’s a 29 year old corner who gave up the most yards in coverage of any defender in the league last year. That’s not to say he doesn’t have value — he does — but he’s not an elite cover corner and his skill set certainly doesn’t help you handle the extremely speedy Texans or Chiefs, arguably the two teams that the Titans should have most squarely in their sights heading into 2020.
So if the Titans are looking to get younger and faster in the secondary — as they should be — who are the potential targets that could help them do that in the upcoming NFL Draft? To be clear, I’m not ranking these players in a vacuum. I’m ranking them based on what I believe Jon Robinson and the Titans specifically will be looking for.
The Titans have pretty consistently ranked near the top half of the league in man coverage rates over the past few years, though Mike Vrabel and Dean Pees have leaned on zone slightly more than Dick LeBeau did in 2016 and 2017. If you look at the success of the Patriots defense last year — the most frequent user of man coverage in the league — and the way a few teams have managed to slow Patrick Mahomes, I think building a secondary that can matchup in man is absolutely critical if the Titans are going to break through into the elite tier of NFL defenses.
“They played man coverage, they rushed with four people and they found ways to get pressure and to cover long enough,” Mahomes said in his postgame press conference following the Chiefs’ 19-13 loss to Indy last Sunday night. “For us, Detroit did it last week, (and) New England did it in the playoffs. We’re going to have to beat man coverage at the end of the day.”
For that reason, I think placing a premium on the ability to match and mirror is a fair starting point for any evaluation of a cornerback. We also know that Jon Robinson loves production in general and puts an emphasis on “disruptors” when it comes to defensive backs, as he noted himself when talking about his analysis of Logan Ryan prior to recommending that the Patriots draft him back in 2013:
“I liked him as a player, skill-set wise, I thought he would be a contributor/part-time starter. I did a breakdown of him and four-five of the other defensive backs that were in that second-third-fourth-round projected area and he was the top ‘disruptor’ on the ball — caused fumbles, pass breakups, interceptions. I did an Excel document and a heat [map], with numbers and kind of did a ranking, with weighted values. It really just kind of crystallized my opinion of the player.”
The Titans haven’t shown a ton of interest in size as a priority at cornerback. Adoree’ Jackson measured 5’-10” and 186 pounds before the 2017 draft, Logan Ryan checks in at 5’-11” and 191 pounds, Malcolm Butler at 5’-11” and 190 pounds, LeShaun Sims at 6’-0” and 203 pounds... none of those guys would qualify as “long” corners in the mold of a Richard Sherman, but none of them are really undersized either.
Speed is all over the map too with Jackson being a college track star and Logan Ryan running a 4.56.
Based on history it seems that Jon Robinson is looking for production and disruption first and foremost. I’ll throw in some man coverage chops as another high priority simply because I believe the Titans — and most NFL teams for that matter — would love to play more man if they have the players to do it effectively.
Positionally, I think the Titans could probably place a slightly higher priority on a slot corner versus a more traditional boundary defender, but given Butler’s age, I would expect them to pick the best corner available and figure out who plays in the slot later.
So with all that background out of the way, let’s get into my top ten corners in the upcoming class ranked specifically for the Titans needs.
1. Jeffrey Okudah, Ohio State
There is very little doubt that Okudah will come off the board long before the Titans make a draft pick. He’s the consensus top corner and a virtual lock to go in the top ten picks overall. Okudah has everything you want in a corner prospect.
Cover skills? Check.
He’s a complete corner with very few nits available to pick from an evaluation standpoint. Hope he ends up in the NFC.
2. C.J. Henderson, Florida
Henderson is the consensus number two cornerback in the class and is reportedly a potential top ten pick himself.
Making scout calls this morning and I am very glad I didn't move off CJ Henderson. He'll go top 16 but I've heard from teams that have him higher than Jeff Okudah. Consensus Top 10 player.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 13, 2020
It’s not hard to understand why Henderson is getting a lot of buzz either. He’s got ideal size at 6’-1” and 204 pounds and great athleticism as evidenced by a 4.39 at the combine. His ability to stick in man coverage rivals Okudah as the best in the class.
However unlike Okudah, there are some very real drawbacks with Henderson. For one, his tackling is very poor. That’s something that can be coached, but it’s a very real concern in a league where wide receivers — like the Titans own A.J. Brown for example — can make you pay if you don’t have sound tacklers on the outside.
There is also some question about Henderson’s focus in 2019. He was much better in 2018, but looked disinterested at times last season. To be fair, he was dealing with an ankle injury early in the year that may have lingered and caused some of his struggles, but it’s something that at least raises some eyebrows.
When he’s locked in, Henderson is an elite press man cover corner though and that’s going keep him out of range of the Titans at 29. The Falcons are a team that has been connected to him throughout the pre-draft process.
3. Kristian Fulton, LSU
This is where the cornerback class gets interesting. Reports have indicated that Okudah and Henderson are one-two on most team boards right now, but the order from three on is wildly different from team to team.
Most teams agree on top 4 WR’s and top 2 CB’s (the names, not the order) but then it gets wild. One team’s 5th WR might be another team’s 12th WR. One teams 3rd CB is another teams 8th CB. Can’t remember a year like this one. Impossible to predict anything after top 15-20 picks.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) April 11, 2020
I’ve waffled back and forth between two guys for this spot throughout the pre-draft process, but I’m going with Kristian Fulton just barely over Jeff Gladney for the CB3 spot.
Fulton is being underrated in my opinion based on the fact that he doesn’t truly have an elite trait. He’s got slightly above average size at 6’-0” and 197 pounds and ran a respectable 4.46 at the combine with mediocre results in the vertical (35.5 inches), broad jump (123 inches), three cone (6.94 seconds), and short shuttle (4.36 seconds).
There isn’t a whole lot that truly jumps off the page about Fulton, but his calling card is disruption (one of Jon Robinson’s favorite traits). He tied for top honors in the country in forced incompletions based on PFF charting, getting his hands on the ball a whopping 20 times on just 69 total targets. Fulton allowed a completion percentage of just 44.9% and a yards per target of 6.57 in 2019 while facing some of the best receivers in a great receiver class in the SEC.
He also played an extremely high number of snaps in press man coverage at LSU so he’s comfortable playing the type of coverage that is most valuable at the NFL level. You could play Fulton in the slot if needed thanks to his ability to match and mirror against shifty slot receivers, but he’s not necessarily a slot specialist like some others on this list.
The Titans have met with Fulton at both the combine and via FaceTime so it seems that there is some real interest there.
Some have Fulton going in the top 15 along with the other two listed above so there is a chance that he doesn’t fall anywhere near the Titans pick, but if he does slide down I think he’s a great option at 29.
4. Jeff Gladney, TCU
Consider Gladney my 3B. He’s one of my favorite players in the draft overall and has been a popular mock pick for the Titans at 29 throughout the pre-draft process.
At 5’-10” and 191 pounds, Gladney is slightly undersized, but no more so than Adoree’ Jackson was coming out. Like Jackson, he’s also got elite speed. Gladney ran just 4.48 at the combine, but his game speed on tape is fantastic. He also may have been slowed by a meniscus issue that he played with last season and tested with at the combine.
#TCU CB Jeff Gladney, a future guest on the RapSheet + Friends podcast, tells me in our interview that he’ll undergo a meniscus trim tomorrow and then be ready in 4-5 weeks. He played with it the entire season and did everything at the Combine. “I got used to the pain."— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 11, 2020
Besides his speed, Gladney’s competitiveness is his elite trait. He’s a feisty, scrappy corner who plays with aggressiveness all over the field. It’s not hard to figure out which corners like to tackle and which corners are praying that the linebacker makes the tackle every time a back comes near them when you watch them on tape. Gladney is absolutely in the group that loves to hit despite his relatively diminutive stature. That just sounds like a Jon Robinson/Mike Vrabel player, does it not?
Gladney is the rare four year starter so he’s played a ton of football already. He’s a guy that is likely to be ready to step in and play quickly given his level of experience playing for defensive guru Gary Patterson in Fort Worth. However, his age can also be used against him when it comes to evaluating him as a prospect. He’s almost two years older than Fulton and several of the other corners in this class. In fact, he’s closer in age to Adoree’ Jackson — who is about to enter his 4th season in the NFL — than he is to any of the players listed above.
Like Fulton, Gladney was a good disruptor last season for the Horned Frogs, allowing a completion rate of just 46.6% and a yards per target rate of 6.28 in 2019 per PFF charting. He forced 13 incompletions on his 58 targets. He recorded 5 career interceptions, notching 2 in both 2017 and 2018 before adding 1 in 2019.
Gladney is a fun prospect to watch and it’s not hard to imagine him slotting into the Titans starting lineup right away. He could line up either in the slot or out wide, though he mostly played wide for TCU.
The Titans have shown interest here as well, meeting virtually with Gladney along with a host of other teams.
Opinions are pretty varied on him. Some have him as high as CB2 ahead of Henderson while others view him as no more than a second round pick so his range of draft slots is pretty wide (as is the case for pretty much every corner from this point forward).
5. Amik Robertson, Louisiana Tech
Yeah, yeah, I know... CB5 is super high for Amik Robertson. He’s largely pegged as a day two prospect by most draft analysts, but I just can’t help but love his game and his fit for the Titans specifically.
I talked about production as a trademark Jon Robinson trait above. Well, Robertson has production in bunches. A three year starter at Louisiana Tech, he picked off 14 passes during his college career and got his hands on another 34. Both of those numbers are easily the best of this draft class.
His 19 forced incompletions check in just one off the top mark based on PFF charting. His 53.2% completion percentage allowed is not quite as strong as some of the others in this class, but a solid 6.45 yards per target allowed is solid. Those relatively unimpressive numbers are offset by the 5 interceptions he picked up make up for that and factor into his outstanding 55.0 passer rating allowed.
Robertson is instinctive, tough, and sticky in coverage. He’s also an excellent tackler and a plus player in run support. If he wasn’t 5’-8” and 187 pounds, he’d almost certainly be considered among the top players at this position. However, playing against receivers with size was certainly not an issue on tape for the fearless Robertson.
From a fit perspective, it’s hard to get much better than Robertson for the Titans. He’s ideally a slot corner at the NFL level, though he lined up outside for the most part in college, and he could step in and be Tennessee’s starter at that spot from day one. Robertson is an ultra-aggressive alpha personality whose hard work and permanent chip on his shoulder are exactly what Robinson and Vrabel talk about wanting in a player.
The Titans met with Robertson at the combine and again via FaceTime in the pre-draft process so there is obviously some level of interest there.
Robertson has been projected as a potential pick in the late third round, but I really don’t think he lasts that long. My guess is that the Titans will have to take him with the 61st overall pick (or in that range) if they want to get him. This is a dude that I would want on my football team.
6. Jaylon Johnson, Utah
Like Fulton and Gladney, opinions are all over the board with regards to Johnson. He’s been linked to the Raiders at 19 and I’ve also seen him falling into the late second on some mock drafts.
I think he fits Jon Robinson’s profile pretty well. He’s got average size at 6’-0” and 193 pounds and he tested decently at the combine, running a 4.5 in the forty and falling around the 50th percentile of cornerbacks in most of the other metrics. However, his ball production fits the “disruptor” model well. He picked off 7 passes over three seasons at Utah.
Johnson also forced 12 incompletions on 65 targets on his way to a 44.6% completion percentage allowed and an excellent 4.91 yards per target average per PFF charting. A physical corner with great instincts and feel for the position, Johnson’s unwavering confidence makes him dangerous for opposing quarterbacks.
The Titans have not been connected to Johnson publicly, but given his profile and the need at the position, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if this was a guy that they talked to but have managed to keep quiet in the media.
7. A.J. Terrell, Clemson
Terrell looks the part of a modern NFL corner. He’s 6’-1” and 195 pounds and was timed at 4.42 at the combine. A former five-star prospect out of the Atlanta area, he was a two year starter at Clemson after playing in a rotational capacity as a true freshman.
He’s a smooth athlete with good size and fits the mold as a prototypical outside press man corner. However, his ball skills are suspect and he got absolutely roasted by LSU star Ja’Marr Chase in the National Championship in his final game in college. Chase is an unbelievable talent so there isn’t shame in getting beat by him and expected first overall pick Joe Burrow, but that is the lasting impression that Terrell left on fans so that colors some of the opinions surrounding him.
Terrell wasn’t challenged very much during the regular season though — generally a sign that a corner is locking up his side of the field — seeing just 44 total targets over the course of the season per PFF charting. However, the production he allowed when he was targeted was among the worst in the class. Opposing QBs completed 52.3% of their passes into his coverage for a 8.91 yards per target average and Terrell forced just 6 incompletions.
He’s a solid tackler and a physical, athletic corner in coverage, but his poor ball skills can make him a very frustrating player to watch. I don’t know that he’s a great fit for the Titans and the team has not been connected to him via reports to this point so it’s possible that Jon Robinson agrees.
I view Terrell as more of a day two player than the first round prospect that others see him as. My guess is that he goes far higher than CB7, but I’d prefer to go elsewhere if I’m the Titans anyway.
8. Damon Arnette, Ohio State
Rounding out my top ten is another Buckeye in Damon Arnette. The Robin to Okudah’s Batman in the Ohio State secondary, Arnette is intriguing for a number of reasons.
First, he has experience lining up in the slot and given how much high level football he’s played as a three year starter at one of the best programs in the country, it’s pretty likely that he could step in and play right away for Mike Vrabel’s defense. Like Gladney and Robertson, he’s also a tone setter who plays aggressive, physical brand of football that the Titans pride themselves on representing.
Arnette is a fun watch on tape. He’s aggressive and tenacious both in coverage and in run support (a big plus if you are looking for a slot corner in today’s NFL) and his ability to matchup in man coverage is elite both inside and outside.
Overall, Arnette allowed a 44.6% completion percentage and 5.46 yards per target in coverage last year per PFF charting, both excellent numbers. Oh, and he did all that while playing with a broken wrist for much of the season.
The drawbacks to him are mostly related to his age and his speed. Already 23 years old, Arnette is among the older prospects in this class and his breakout season didn’t come until his redshirt senior year. Late career breakouts can be questionable since that performance could just be a result of being more experienced and developed than his counterparts, not a higher talent level.
His 4.56-second forty time at 6’-0” and 195 pounds was also not ideal for his draft stock. That’s a 24th percentile time for a cornerback and a lack of foot speed can be a killer for even the most technically sound players at the NFL level.
So he’s an older prospect with a bad forty time and short arms... that’s enough to take him off the board for some teams altogether. However, the 2019 tape is so good that he has to be considered somewhere pretty early on day two.
The Titans have shown interest in Arnette, bringing him in for a top-30 visit in Nashville prior to the visit shutdown for COVID-19.
#Titans are hosting Ohio St DB Damon Arnette according to a source. He arrived in Nashville this evening.— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) March 10, 2020
Top-30 visits are generally reserved for A) players you’re really interested in or B) medical re-checks. Maybe the Titans just wanted to make sure that his wrist had fully healed, but I think it’s more likely that they have real interest in Arnette.
9. Cameron Dantzler, Mississippi State
Dantzler is one of the most interesting prospects in this draft class thanks to his peculiar combination of traits and production. At 6’-2” and 188 pounds, he’s a string bean of a corner, but he lacks the arm length — measured at 30-5/8-inches at the combine — to go with his otherwise lanky frame.
On the field, Dantzler was an elite press man corner for Mississippi State, showing excellent match and mirror ability for a player his height and good athleticism. Last season he allowed a completion rate of just 48.3% and a yards per target of 7.66 on just 29 targets as teams generally stayed away from him. Possibly his biggest claim to fame is his performance against LSU, when he shadowed Ja’Marr Chase for most of the game and allowed just one catch for 6 yards in coverage.
How Mississippi State CB Cameron Dantzler prepared for LSU WR Ja'Marr Chase— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) March 1, 2020
Dantzler gave up just 1 catch for 6 yards to Chase this seasonpic.twitter.com/lyyEqTxWKs
He finished his career with five interceptions over his three years in Starkville and has a ridiculous track record as a red zone defender, allowing just one catch on 15 targets inside the 20 during his career.
Dantzler’s stock might be higher if he hadn’t run a 4.64 at the combine. That slow time could have been due to the skinny corner trying to bulk up for weigh ins. His biggest knock heading into Indianapolis was reports that he played around 175 pounds at Mississippi State last year. His 188 pound measurement helped him, but the slow forty time probably hurt him more than a light weigh in would have.
I don’t put a ton of stock in pro day times, especially this year with fewer scouts in attendance to verify times, but Dantzler supposedly ran 4.38 at his pro day last week.
Mississippi’s 6-foot-2, 188-pound CB Cam Dantzler ran his 40 at Wednesday’s Baton Rouge Pro Day in 4.38 seconds. pic.twitter.com/O2VInZyTXX— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 9, 2020
To his credit, he plays faster than 4.64 on tape so it’s entirely possible that his “real” speed is somewhere between those two numbers. The question is whether he can add some much needed strength to his slight frame at the NFL level without dipping into the 4.6-range.
The Titans have met with Dantzler virtually per our own Justin Melo so there is likely some interest there.
Mississippi State CB Cameron Dantzler has met virtually with 16 NFL teams.— Justin M (@JustinM_NFL) April 10, 2020
Full list: #Patriots, #Lions, #Titans, #Jets, #Vikings, #Chiefs, #Browns, #Bears, #Seahawks, #Eagles, #Broncos, #Ravens, #Buccaneers, #Jaguars, #Chargers, #49ers.
No in-person visits due to COVID-19.
I have enough questions about the speed/strength aspect of his game to make him a second round player, but the Titans could do far worse at pick 61.
10. Trevon Diggs, Alabama
The younger brother of Bills star Stefon Diggs, Trevon has tremendous size for the position at 6’-1” and 205 pounds with almost 33-inch long arms and he uses it well. He’s a physical press man corner who can be a nightmare for opposing receivers on the outside.
His production in 2019 was outstanding, allowing just 42.3% completion rate and 5.94 yards per target on throws into his coverage per PFF charting. Diggs forced 11 incompletions and added 3 interceptions during his final season at Alabama.
A converted wide receiver, Diggs showed clear improvement year over year during his college career. However, his top end speed and movement skills are suspect and that could prove to limit his considerable upside, especially against teams like the Texans and Chiefs with a collection of speed at the receiver position.
Diggs seems best suited to fit in a Seattle style Cover 3 that will allow him to take advantage of his length and press coverage abilities while hiding some of his limited athleticism. That’s not to say that he couldn’t fit with the Titans scheme, but my guess is that other teams will be higher on him than Tennessee.
The Titans have not been connected to Diggs publicly to this point.
Darnay Holmes, UCLA
Noah Igbinoghene, Auburn
Troy Pride Jr., Notre Dame
Bryce Hall, Virginia
Reggie Robinson II, Tulsa