Offensive line play isn’t sexy. The biggest players on a football field are, ironically, almost always the most overlooked.
They don’t accumulate yardage or touchdowns (well... that’s not entirely true here in Tennessee) and you can’t draft them to your fantasy team. The only stat that is usually attached to their name is how many sacks they’ve given up, and believe it or not, it’s more exciting to talk about the running back who scored two touchdowns last week than the tackle who didn’t allow a sack.
However, there is little doubt among those that study the game closely that a strong offensive line can a “force multiplier” — to borrow a phrase that our old friend Super Horn likes to use — for the skill position players that soak up all the glory. A poor offensive line... well that can spell disaster, even for a team filled with star running backs and receivers.
Take the 2019 Cleveland Browns for example. Nobody is doubting the skill sets of Nick Chubb, Jarvis Landry, or Odell Beckham Jr. However, the “preseason champs” never figured it out on offense last year, in part, because they couldn’t block anybody. Say what you will about Baker Mayfield, but there was no doubt he was running for his life most of last season. The Browns OL even made a 37-year old Cam Wake look 27 again back in Week 1.
As Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network likes to say, “it’s hard to be a bad team with a good offensive line and it’s hard to be a good team with a bad offensive line”. Good blocking makes your quarterback and receivers look better, and obviously, it makes your running back look better too.
After four years of observing Jon Robinson, I think it’s safe to say that he agrees with Jeremiah’s thought process. During his time as GM he has:
- Drafted a right tackle 8th overall.
- Given out the biggest offensive line contract in NFL history (at the time).
- Traded a former 2nd round pick wide receiver in his rookie contract for a backup tackle.
- Paid top 10 money at left guard.
- Drafted a guard in the 3rd round last year.
- Drafted another right tackle at 29th overall.
That’s a lot of investment over the years and heading into 2020, the Titans offensive line appears to be one of the team’s biggest strengths (both literally and figuratively). That’s a great thing in the modern NFL where teams are desperate for good offensive linemen in general, and specifically, good tackles.
Wilson will be the long term replacement for Jack Conklin and he’ll give the Titans the makings of a good offensive line for years to come.
So let’s address some of the most common questions I’ve seen about the Wilson pick.
Why didn’t the Titans trade out and take him later?
In my mock draft yesterday, I had the Titans doing just that... moving down from 29 to 34 and picking up an extra 4th round pick before taking Wilson at the top of the 2nd round.
That would have been an ideal scenario, but I also had them benefiting from Jordan Love falling down the board and giving them a piece that teams might want to trade up to get. The Packers leapfrogging up from 30 to 26 and grabbing the Utah State quarterback ruined that idea.
Jon Robinson was reportedly calling around about potentially moving down before the first round started and was asked about it after making his pick. His response?
Robinson said the #Titans had a little bit of action at #29 but it fizzled out. Said they'll 'take another crack at it tomorrow.'— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) April 24, 2020
If Love had been on the board at 29, I’m pretty certain the Titans would have actually traded down. They also might have been able to find a trade back partner if the Seahawks hadn’t nabbed Patrick Queen at pick 28.
However, as the board stood at 29, it sounds like there simply wasn’t a talent that was in high enough demand to generate interest from other teams. Tough break for the Titans, but that’s the nature of the draft.
Why didn’t they take a corner?
That’s the position that most fans seemed to be zeroed in on as the Titans pick approached. Corner — pretty clearly the biggest true need spot on the roster — had seen a few guys picked with Jeff Okudah, C.J. Henderson, A.J. Terrell, and Damon Arnette going off the board before pick 20, but Jeff Gladney, Jaylon Johnson, and Kristian Fulton were all still available.
Ultimately, I think the reason that we saw the Titans go tackle here is two-fold. For one, they clearly love the player (we’ll get to that in a moment), but they also likely feel that the difference between Wilson and the tackles they would have to choose from at 61 or 93 was far greater than the difference between their highest graded corner and those who could be around at the end of the 2nd.
Including Wilson, six tackles were taken in the first round last night. The top four of Andrew Thomas, Jedrick Wills, Mekhi Becton, and Tristan Wirfs went early as expected and they were joined by Austin Jackson — a relatively surprising pick at No. 18 — and Wilson at pick 29.
Obviously nobody knows how the Titans have their board set, but here are the tackles and corners remaining that I would be comfortable taking on day two.
- Tackles: Josh Jones, Ezra Cleveland, Lucas Niang
- Corners: Kristian Fulton, Jaylon Johnson, Amik Robertson, Trevon Diggs, Cameron Dantzler, Bryce Hall, Darnay Holmes, Troy Pride Jr., Reggie Robinson
One list is quite a bit longer than the other (even with Jeff Gladney and Noah Igbinoghene going just a couple picks after 29), and even if the Titans don’t see these players the exact same way I do, the consensus from draft insiders has always been that the gap between CB3 and CB8 was virtually non-existent and really came down to preference and playing style.
The odds of Wilson being on the board at 61 were slim to none given the way the NFL values that position and the lack of high quality options available later in the draft. If the team viewed tackle as a need — and they clearly did — they needed to get one early.
That being said, I’ll be absolutely floored if the Titans don’t leave day two with one of the cornerbacks listed above.
But what about Dennis Kelly?
First, let’s take a look at Kelly’s contract. It’s three years, $17.25 million according to Spotrac, but there is very little guaranteed money past 2020. So if the Titans wanted to cut Kelly after this season, they’d incur just a $3.2 million dead cap charge (a very manageable number). His annual average salary of $5.75 million is really high level backup/borderline starter type money, which is appropriate for what he is as a player.
The Titans were never going to enter the draft without Kelly on the roster. He offers an acceptable floor at the right tackle spot and the ability to back up multiple positions along the line. That’s a good player to have on the team at $5.75 million per year.
However, we also knew that he wasn’t the long term solution at right tackle. For all the valuable snaps he’s given them over the past four seasons in spot duty behind Lewan and Conklin, he’s still a 30 year old player who has never been a full-time starter at the NFL level. Kelly serving as the Titans starting right tackle in 2022 would have been a massive upset.
So the Titans took the opportunity to dip into possibly the best crop of top end tackles in the last decade to grab Wilson and continue to be proactive about addressing their offensive line. Instead of needing to force him into the lineup from day one, the Titans can be patient with their new right tackle, especially in an offseason unlike any we’ve seen before. No rookie minicamps and no OTAs is going to make things harder than ever on players in this class to make an instant impact. Kelly alleviates those worries.
And no, the Titans aren’t going to move Kelly to another starting spot on the offensive line. I’ve already seen this whole “Kelly to guard” idea thrown out there in a couple places so let’s just talk about it quickly. Nate Davis was drafted to come in and play right guard. After early struggles, he settled in and played really well down the stretch last year. He’s going to be the starting right guard when the 2020 season opens, and he should be.
Long story short... Kelly is going to be exactly what he should be and exactly what he’s paid to be: a high end backup tackle.
What are the Titans getting in Isaiah Wilson?
I’ll have a longer, more detailed tape breakdown of Wilson later on, but let’s hit the short version here.
The first thing about Wilson is obviously... he’s huge. And not just in the way that all football players and offensive linemen are big. Wilson is a giant even compared to a league full of giants.
At 6’-6”, 350 pounds, he hits the 97th percentile for weight among all offensive tackles measured at the combine. His 35.5-inch arms rank in the 93rd percentile and his 10.25-inch hands are also well above average.
His wingspan checks in at over 7 feet which is a big part of the attraction here.
Wilson isn’t a “fat” 350 pounds either. He’s reportedly somewhere around 18-20% body fat which is absolutely absurd for a guy of his size. When you look at him, it checks out too.
There is no big Chance Warmack belly here. Wilson is thick from toes to top with massive and muscular limbs.
Beyond the size — and the elite play strength that goes with it — Wilson is also an incredible sharp young man. He posted a 28 in the Wonderlic, and even if you don’t love that test as a metric for intelligence/pattern recognition, it doesn’t take long listening to him speak to understand that he “gets it”.
Wilson says that if he wasn’t a football player he would have stayed in school to become a psychologist and he lights up when asked about opportunities to learn from his new Titans teammates. In the clip above, he discusses watching guys like Trent Brown, Joe Thomas, and Orlando Brown among others to pick up new tricks to add to his game.
The question marks with him are his change of direction measures from the combine. While he registered excellent numbers in explosive tests — the vertical jump and broad jump — at the combine, he was among the slowest tested in the short shuttle (5.07 seconds) and three cone (8.26 seconds). Last night, he became the first player in combine history to be drafted in the first round after posting times above 5 seconds and 8 seconds, respectively, in those drills.
However, the tape shows a guy who moves much better than that. Wilson allowed just two sacks during his two full seasons as a starter at right tackle in the SEC and he was shockingly efficient when reaching landmarks in Georgia’s zone heavy offense. Part of that is due to the explosive movement skills that Wilson uses to get off the ball with urgency.
Jon Robinson also talked about Wilson’s length making him a guy who “changes the path” of defenders even when he doesn’t get his hands on guys. When he does get latched on, the play is over for that defender.
He does have issues with over-setting against speed in the pass rush which can sometimes leave him exposed to getting beat on inside counter moves. In the run game, he will occasionally duck his head and go for the kill shot and leave himself off balance. There are also some technique details that could be cleaned up in his overall game.
However, it’s not hard to understand why Wilson was so popular with the Titans. Just read the final line of Greg Cosell’s scouting report and tell me that it doesn’t read like it was written with Tennessee in mind.
Here is @gregcosell’s draft evaluation for new @Titans OT Isaiah Wilson.— Jonathan Hutton (@Hutton1045) April 24, 2020
Greg will join us at 10:30a today on @Midday180. pic.twitter.com/1UXZaV9WAx
Cosell said on Midday 180 today that he thought Wilson was a better athlete than Conklin on tape and that he had the potential to be a better player overall if he can get some of the technique issues buttoned up.
Wilson clearly checks a lot of boxes for the Titans and the team seems like an ideal fit for him as well.
- He’s a nasty finisher in the run game, frequently seen “looking for work” late in the play after his primary responsibility was done.
- He played in a blocking scheme that’s relatively similar to what the Titans already do and he excelled in it. Georgia’s running backs averaged 7.6 yards per carry when running behind him over the last two years.
- He’s smart, tough, and wants to be great. I got a great feeling about A.J. Brown last year after hearing him talk and hearing others talk about his work ethic behind the scenes at Ole Miss. I get a similar vibe from Wilson, who completely remade his body during his short time in Athens.
- The Titans scheme will mask his weaknesses naturally thanks to the heavy emphasis on the run game and play action. He will be asked to make pure drop back pass sets less than just about any right tackle in the league.
That just sounds like a Jon Robinson-Mike Vrabel Titan, doesn’t it?
The idea of Derrick Henry running behind a line consisting of Taylor Lewan, Rodger Saffold, Ben Jones, Nate Davis, and Isaiah Wilson is pretty appealing. And thanks to Twitter, we already know how Wilson feels about Henry.
Derrick Henry is a grown man... Thats all there is to it.... The man is a "gamebreaker"— Isaiah “Panda” Wilson (@_LayZay_) January 12, 2016
I’d guess that the feelings will soon be mutual.
Where do the Titans go on day two?
I think the obvious spot is corner, where many probably preferred the Titans to go in round one. The good news is that there are still some really good players available at that spot heading into the second round. I have them ranked:
- Kristian Fulton, LSU
- Amik Robertson, Louisiana Tech
- Jaylon Johnson, Utah
- Cameron Dantzler, Mississippi State
- Bryce Hall, Virginia
- Trevon Diggs, Alabama
- Darnay Holmes, UCLA
- Troy Pride Jr., Notre Dame
- Reggie Robinson, Tulsa
My guess is that at least five of those guys are available at pick 61. Fulton, Johnson, and Diggs are probably the most likely to be off the board, but the draft is extremely unpredictable so we will see. My ideal pick here is Amik Robertson.
The other pick could go a lot of different ways. The Titans could grab a defensive lineman or pass rusher. Maybe a backup quarterback prospect. They could even double dip at corner. However, I think the two most likely spots are running back and wide receiver.
As things stand right now, just one running back is off the board: Clyde Edwards-Helaire. That leaves D’Andre Swift — widely viewed as the RB1 before the draft — along with J.K. Dobbins, Jonathan Taylor, Cam Akers, Antonio Gibson, and Zack Moss as potential second or third round options. There is a good chance that at least one of those guys is available at 93.
The much-ballyhooed wide receiver class is still strong too. Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, Jalen Reagor, Justin Jefferson, and Brandon Aiyuk went off the board on day one. Most of those were expected, though Reagor and Aiyuk were mild surprises.
The remaining options are strong with Denzel Mims, Michael Pittman Jr., Tee Higgins, Laviska Shenault, Bryan Edwards, K.J. Hamler, Chase Claypool, Van Jefferson, Lynn Bowden, Tyler Johnson, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and Devin Duvernay all potential targets. The order of these players will be interesting, but I’d imagine that the Titans would have their choice of few even at 93.
What does this mean for #ClowneyWatch, if anything?
The Titans had Yetur Gross-Matos and A.J. Epenesa sitting on the board at 29 and chose to pass on pass rushers. Before the draft, Jon Robinson commented that “where we are, depending on who we pick, could potentially impact that, but I would say it doesn’t close the door on it completely either”.
If you believe that the Titans will likely go corner at 61 — which I do — the question becomes whether they would be able to get a pass rusher at 93 that would “impact” Clowney. I can’t imagine that being the case.
Sure, there are some good players on the board still — Gross-Matos, Epenesa, Josh Uche, Terrell Lewis, Julian Okwara, Curtis Weaver, Darrell Taylor, Alex Highsmith, and Bradlee Anae are all players that have some traits that I like — but none of them is going to make the instant impact that Clowney would.
I don’t think that the Titans going tackle at 29 means that Clowney is a “lock” by any means, but I do think it continues to inch them towards the “more likely” end of the spectrum.
As we’ve talked about on here before, the Titans waiting until April 27th at 3:01 PM CT to turn a potential Clowney deal into the league makes sense. That’s the deadline for the compensatory pick formula for the 2021 NFL Draft. Signing Clowney after that deadline virtually assures the Titans of a 3rd round compensatory pick in next year’s draft thanks to Jack Conklin signing in Cleveland.
I wouldn’t expect any news on Clowney before that date.