The Titans completed their 2020 draft class yesterday by selecting North Carolina State defensive lineman Larrell Murchison with the 174th overall pick, Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald with the 224th overall pick, and Marshall defensive back Chris Jackson with the 243rd overall pick. They also traded the 237th overall pick — AKA the Jurrell Casey pick — to the Chiefs for their 2021 6th round pick. They’re also in the process of adding undrafted rookies, which we are tracking here.
Before we evaluate the players, let’s talk quickly about the trade. The Titans moving out of that pick tells us that they didn’t have anyone on their board that they felt like was an exceptional value at that pick.
I kind of like this move from another angle though. Jon Robinson has frequently made use of his 6th and 7th round picks to grab (mostly) useful veterans — like David King, Kamalei Correa, and Reggie Gilbert — off the bubble of other rosters just before roster cut downs.
King was mostly a bust and it’s likely that Gilbert is heading that way too, but they were each at least able to give the Titans competent snaps, which is more than you can say for most picks in this range. Correa was a hit, coming on strong late last season and earning a one year contract extension this offseason. With two 6th round picks and one 7th, Robinson has a little extra ammo to plug a hole or two after training camp.
Looking ahead to next year, the Titans are very likely to receive a 3rd round compensatory pick from Jack Conklin’s departure for Cleveland. That’s true even if they sign Jadeveon Clowney early next week thanks to the closing of the compensatory pick window coming on Monday at 3:00 PM CT.
So the Titans should end up with all of their “natural” picks plus a 3rd round comp pick and the Chiefs 6th rounded to start the 2021 NFL Draft with, barring any trades between now and then of course. That’s a pretty big war chest of draft capital for a team that’s expected to be a contender this year.
Now let’s get into the picks...
Larrell Murchison | DL | NC State
The Titans entered the day with a few needs that they could address here and they decided to add to the defensive line with Larrell Murchison out of North Carolina State.
Murchison started his career at tiny Louisburg Junior College in North Carolina after primarily playing fullback in high school. He showed enough promise in his transition to defensive line over two years to Louisburg that he drew offers from Georgia, Texas, and Ole Miss before eventually choosing to stick closer to home — and his twin brother Farrell, who played running back at Louisburg — in North Carolina.
When Murchison arrived in Raleigh, he was so raw that he ended up taking a redshirt season. NC State defensive line coach Kevin Patrick recalled him struggling to even get lined up in a proper stance during his first weeks on campus.
The redshirt year paid off for both parties, as a better trained Murchison emerged as a productive starter in 2018 and then took his game to another level last year, registering 48 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and 7 sacks. That’s excellent production for an interior defensive lineman and his TFL and sack numbers both check in ahead of players like Ross Blacklock, Raekwon Davis, Justin Madubuike, and Jordan Elliott who were all drafted on Day 2.
Murchison measured as below average for the most part at the combine, though his bench press and broad jump — two of the more important metrics for defensive linemen — were very good.
At 6’-2” and 297 pounds, Murchison is slightly undersized, but his play strength makes that less of a concern. As a pass rusher, he’s got excellent hands and a vicious inside spin move that he loves to use as demonstrated here during Senior Bowl practice.
Matt Hennessy vs Larrell Murchison, NC State.— Matt Valdovinos (@MVScouting) January 22, 2020
Great move by Murchison. Benefits of a 1v1. pic.twitter.com/t0ENIQ5uyi
His strengths are his quick hands, balance, awareness, and non-stop motor. Murchison plays like his hair is on fire at all times.
I sat down for a Film Session with @PackFootball DT Larrell Murchison (@Murchboy92). We talked about the importance of having a plan as a pass rusher, what counters he likes to use, and the key to beating a zone run team:https://t.co/quikYifzU6— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) April 17, 2020
The drawbacks are short arms, lack of elite athleticism or size, and his age. Having turned 23 two days ago, Murchison is one of the older prospects in this class and it makes you wonder if his late career breakout wasn’t more of a function of being older and more developed than his competition. However, it should be noted that Murchison was only at NC State for three years and had very little experience even playing the position, much less receiving good coaching before he arrived.
Murchison’s versatility is attractive for a Titans team that seems to insist on that quality, especially on defense. He can play all across the defensive line from nose tackle — he holds up against double teams better than you’d think for a 297 pound player — to 5-technique outside the tackles. My expectation is that he makes the roster and competes with the newly signed Jack Crawford for the third “starting” defensive line spot in base defense and then rotates in behind Jeffery Simmons and DaQuan Jones in the more common fronts featuring just two defensive linemen.
I liked Murchison a lot as a Day 3 option. His ability to rush the passer and create disruption gives him a floor as a situational pass rusher in the mold of a Karl Klug type. From a size, athleticism, and production standpoint, he honestly reminds me of Jurrell Casey when he came out of USC.
Casey recorded 22 tackles for loss and 9 sacks over three years with the Trojans while Murchison totaled 20 tackles for loss and 11 sacks in two years.
Hear me when I say that I AM NOT calling Larrell Murchison “the next Jurrell Casey” or saying that he can immediately replace the production of the four time Pro Bowler. I am simply pointing out that you don’t have to look too far to find an example of a guy with a similar profile working out at the NFL level.
Like Isaiah Wilson, Murchison has displayed an eagerness to learn new techniques and schemes from his new coaches and continue to take his game to the next level. I’d imagine that Mike Vrabel and Terrell Williams will be excited to get their hands on him.
Cole McDonald | QB | Hawaii
First of all... let’s all take a brief moment of silence for McDonald’s blonde dreads that he sported during his playing career in Hawaii. The quarterback chopped them off in favor of a more conventional look after the season. Gone, but not forgotten.
Beyond the hair, there is actually a really interesting quarterback prospect here. At 6’-3” and 215 pounds, McDonald is close to prototypical size for an NFL passer, though he could stand to add more bulk to his frame under Titans strength coach Frank Piraino.
In addition to sharing a connection to a certain island state, McDonald also possesses close to Marcus Mariota-esque athleticism.
Statistically, McDonald was very productive in Hawaii’s run and shoot offense. During his two years as a starter, he posted the following numbers.
2018: 285 of 484 (58.9%) for 3,875 yards (8.0 YPA), 36 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions
2019: 326 of 511 (63.8%), 4,135 yards (8.1 YPA), 33 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions
He also added over 700 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground over the two years combined and saved his best game for last, racking up 493 yards, 4 passing TDs, 1 rushing TD, and no interceptions in Hawaii’s 38-34 bowl win over BYU.
As far as developmental backup quarterback prospects go, McDonald is a polar opposite from the Titans last (failed) late round flyer, Luke Falk. Where Falk was a non-athlete with a pop gun arm and a conservative nature, McDonald plays with a fearless — reckless at times — style that makes him one of the more fun college quarterbacks I’ve watched over the last couple years. He boasts a live arm that can deliver with touch and accuracy to all levels of the field. Oh, and he’s an electric athlete who does a great job of making plays outside structure.
On top of all that, McDonald shows hints of advanced quarterback play in his game already. Check out the first play in this package and watch carefully as he looks off the safety before dropping a dime down the right sideline.
Mark Schofield did an excellent breakdown of McDonald showing an ability to learn and adapt as a game went on that is encouraging. He also regularly throws with rhythm and timing underneath and demonstrated an understanding of leverage and ball placement.
So what’s wrong with him?
Well, for starters he came in with a wonky throwing motion that included a huge loop. That improved slightly from 2018 to 2019, but it’s still a work in progress. In fact, Jon Robinson said today that McDonald had already been sending the Titans videos of him working to tighten up his release while training with Joe Burrow during the pre-draft process.
Robinson says that QB Cole McDonald sent the #Titans videos of the work he’s been doing to make his throwing motion more efficient— Buck Reising (@BuckReising) April 26, 2020
The elongated motion caused both some occasional scattershot throws and telegraphed passes at times, leading to the high turnover rate. Correcting a throwing motion can be difficult at the professional level. Players have so many reps under their belt already that it’s hard to fight the natural tendency to revert back to what’s comfortable when the bullets start flying.
The turnovers weren’t all related to the awkward throwing motion though. McDonald makes some truly baffling decisions at times. Those decisions are usually borne out of over-aggressiveness, but occasionally he looks to get a little lackadaisical with routine throws and that gets him in trouble.
From an intangibles standpoint, McDonald has what you want. Vrabel cited his “leadership and energy” as two things that jumped out to him during the pre-draft process. He’s also proven his toughness beyond a shadow of a doubt when he spent the 2018 season playing through an injury from a hit that caused internal bleeding in... uhh... a very sensitive area.
Look, there are some big “ifs” with McDonald getting that throwing motion fixed and there is at least a decent chance that it can’t be done at this point. However, there is a better chance of fixing his mechanics than there ever was of making Luke Falk have an NFL arm. If nothing else, McDonald gives the Titans a young passer who can compete with Logan Woodside for the backup spot and will make the 4th quarter of preseason games must see TV.
There is also the chance for some potential special play type packages with McDonald. He’s not nearly the size of Taysom Hill, but he’s a good athlete and if you wanted to dial up some creative trick plays to take advantage of his athleticism, you could.
Chris Jackson | DB | Marshall
Jackson was the one surprise pick in this entire draft to me and he’s the guy I know the least about as a result. However, what I do know is that he was a hybrid safety/corner for the Thundering Herd who put up some strong athletic testing numbers at his pro day (mandatory pro day grain of salt disclaimer applies of course), running a 4.44 forty at 6’-0” and 186 pounds along with a 36-inch vertical.
Jackson finished his career as Marshall’s all time leader in passes broken up with 45 and added 7 interceptions, the kind of ball production we’ve come to expect from Jon Robinson defensive backs.
A few key stats for 7th round section Chris Jackson:— PFF TEN Titans (@PFF_Titans) April 26, 2020
Has never allowed a pass longer than 54 yards
Has forced 38 incompletions in his career (4 year starter, T-12th among CBs min 1,000 snaps
Never allowed a completion rate over 56.0% in a single season #Titanup pic.twitter.com/eK8jO8zeDg
Jackson played a little bit of corner and safety at Marshall as well as being a major contributor on special teams. Like several of the other players in this draft class, he emerged as a leader on his team early on during his freshman year. He’s known to be a physical, feisty player in the secondary.
Jackson’s outgoing, upbeat personality will likely fit into the Titans DB room well and should be a hit with fans if he makes the roster. He’ll have a chance to stick here, especially if he can show that he can be a plus special teams player. The Titans have seven defensive backs that are locks to make the roster: Kevin Byard, Kenny Vaccaro, Adoree’ Jackson, Malcolm Butler, Kristian Fulton, Amani Hooker, and Dane Cruikshank. Everyone else — Tye Smith, Chris Milton, Kareem Orr, Joshua Kalu — could be overtaken if Jackson can make a big impression.