- The biggest need, the hidden need and what else the Titans should be looking for in the 2019 draft.
Two weeks ahead of the NFL draft, Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling are breaking down draft needs for all 32 teams. You can also see every team in a single post here.
Biggest Need: Tight End
Delanie Walker is 34 and coming off a serious leg injury. This isn’t to say he can’t continue being an excellent intermediate flex receiver in 2019, but barring a Pro Bowl-caliber performance, it’s unlikely the Titans will eschew a $6.7 million cap savings to keep him in 2020. And besides, with surprisingly few needs for a team that’s gone a good-but-not-great 9-7 three straight years, the Titans have the luxury of seeking depth and versatility at tight end. That’s a big position in their Rams-style scheme, which features condensed formations and misdirection plays out of zone-blocking looks. (The Rams play with one TE, three WR, but most of their designs stem from two-TE concepts.) The more options and athleticism at tight end, the more dangerous these tactics become. And playing with multiple tight ends is optimal with Marcus Mariota, as it makes defenses more passive and predictable.
Hidden Need: Running Back
This might seem absurd given that Derrick Henry rushed for 585 yards over the final quarter of last season, but nothing about Henry’s profile has changed. He’s still a buildup-speed downhill runner who must be afforded time and space early in the run. In Weeks 14-17, he got that and capitalized. But slow-developing buildup runners like Henry are heavily dependent on the blocking in front of them. If the Titans feel their O-line and tight ends can deliver, especially on outside runs, where Henry’s downhill momentum is most striking, fine. But re-upping Henry’s expiring contract after this season will be several times more expensive than drafting his replacement. And almost any replacement Tennessee examines will be at least a solid runner behind good blocking (because any NFL runner would be). It could be hard to justify paying Henry, especially considering that, unlike his running mate Dion Lewis, he brings nothing to the passing game.
Also Looking For: Safety
Kevin Byard is the NFL’s best all-around safety and Kenny Vaccaro, who can play anywhere including the slot, is more than serviceable, but there’s no proven entity behind them. That’s unsettling given that Vaccaro missed five games in 2016, four games in 2017 and three games in 2018. (But hey, at least the pattern suggests he’ll only miss two games in 2019.) The Titans are deep and diverse at inside linebacker, so in passing situations they can play nickel instead of dime. Still, even if they’re not employing a third safety on passing downs, a utility safety would insure all of their defensive packages.
Who They Can Get
Assuming Iowa TE T.J. Hockenson is off the board, the Titans could be facing a fascinating choice between Noah Fant, Hockenson’s ultra-athletic former Iowa teammate, and Alabama’s Irv Smith Jr.. The Iowa coaching staff seemed lukewarm-at-best on Fant, and Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz is well-respected by the NFL. Fant might have higher upside in the passing game than Smith, but Smith is a quality all-around prospect who could easily develop into a weapon in the Delanie Walker mold.
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