Given the months and months of build-up to the annual NFL draft, the rush to summarize a team’s rookie draft class in a few sentences and stamp a letter grade on it has never quite made much sense to me.
In the past, I’ve compared this process to patrons at a restaurant complimenting (or complaining to) the chef based on the menu, rather than waiting to actually taste the food.
In much this same way, it obviously takes time to properly evaluate a draft. Given all of the complexities of the 2020 NFL draft, specifically, this is especially true.
So, while we cannot skip years ahead to know for certain which players will ultimately exceed or fail to live up to expectations in the NFL, we can provide a much deeper dive into each team’s rookie class.
Therefore, in a 32-part series, NFLDraftScout.com will be providing a detailed breakdown of each of the NFL teams’ rookie hauls, following the original draft order. Each team will be evaluated on the quality, quantity and relative safety of their draft classes (including undrafted free agents), with specific players recognized as Best Player, Best Value and Best Project, culminating in one “final” grade.
Today’s team: Tennessee Titans
Head Coach: Mike Vrabel
General Manager: Jon Robinson
Players selected in 2020:
Round 1, Pick 29 overall: OT Isaiah Wilson, Georgia
Round 2, Pick 61 overall: CB Kristian Fulton, LSU
Round 3, Pick 93 overall: RB Darrynton Evans, Appalachian State
Round 5, Pick 174 overall: DT Larrell Murchison, North Carolina State
Round 7, Pick 224 overall: QB Cole McDonald, Hawaii
Round 7, Pick 243 overall: CB Chris Jackson, Marshall
Key Undrafted Free Agents:
RB Cameron Scarlett, Stanford
WR Kyle Williams, Arizona State
WR Nick Westbrook, Indiana
TE Tommy Hudson, Arizona State
K Tucker McCann, Missouri
Overview of the Titans’ 2020 draft:
General manager Jon Robinson and the Tennessee Titans had limited options in the 2020 NFL draft, entering it with just six draft picks. Fortunately, the club had few obvious holes outside of right tackle and cornerback, where standout play from free agents Jack Conklin and Logan Ryan made each, unfortunately, cost prohibitive for Tennessee with the team inking new star quarterback Ryan Tannehill to a long-term deal and negotiating with reigning NFL rushing king, Derrick Henry. With their starting backfield assured, the Titans were able to fill their biggest remaining needs with their first two selections, predictably nabbing massive right tackle Isaiah Wilson at the end of the first round and finding terrific value a frame later in LSU cornerback Kristian Fulton. Given Henry’s re-signing (with a long-term deal reportedly brewing), it may have surprised some when the Titans opted for Appalachian State running back Darrynton Evans with their only other pick inside the top 173 selections but the 5-10, 203 pound jitterbug is an ideal complement to the bruising 6-3, 238 pound Henry. Though he is not as explosive off the ball as his predecessor, the Titans nabbed a potential steal in the fifth round in North Carolina State’s Larrell Murchison, who plays with a similar tenacity as former Titans’ star Jurrell Casey, who was shipped to Denver in a surprise move prior to the draft. Murchison is the kind of blue collar, tough guy that should fit in well with head coach Mike Vrabel and the rest of an underrated Titans’ defense, which already has a blooming star in 2019 first round pick Jeffery Simmons to lead Tennessee’s front. Murchison isn’t flashy but he’s steady and should be able to contribute relatively early in his NFL career. That may not be the case for Tennessee’s pair of seventh round selections, Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald and Marshall defensive back Chris Jackson, despite eye-popping statistics and workouts for both certainly warranting the Titans’ investments. Critics will point out that Tennessee’s 2020 NFL draft wasn’t flashy. That isn’t giving Robinson and the Titans enough credit for the 4 round pick traded prior to last season to help nab Tannehill and the same steady approach which helped the Titans “quietly” march to the AFC Championship game last season.
Best Player of the Titans’ 2020 Draft: OT Isaiah Wilson
For all of the scheming and strategy that can make football more chess than checkers, at its most basic level, football remains a big man’s game. And they simply do not come much bigger than the 6-7, 350 pound, 21-year-old man-child Wilson, who gave up his final two years of athletic eligibility to enter the 2020 NFL draft, a rare decision for a blocker. If his size didn’t already indicate it, Wilson is different than most prospects. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Wilson showed uncommon confidence in leaving the big city for a chance to compete at the highest level, choosing SEC-powerhouse Georgia over offers from virtually every program in the country despite the fact that they already boasted one of the nation’s top offensive lines, including future first round picks in projected starting tackles Isaiah Wynn and Andrew Thomas. After redshirting his first season on campus (mostly to acclimate to the weather change), Wilson took over for Thomas at right tackle in 2018 (who slid to the left side), giving the Bulldogs one of the elite tackle tandems in the country. The duo helped Jake Fromm and the Bulldogs’ passing attack (which Tannehill and the Titans will certainly appreciate), but where Wilson stands out is in the running game, simply obliterating opponents with his raw size and strength. Projecting any rookie to seamlessly take over for a Pro Bowler like Conklin is perhaps a bit naïve but Wilson’s upside in this run-heavy attack is undeniable. Just as Conklin did, Wilson is going to prove a franchise cornerstone and he’ll do it relatively cheaply.
Best Value of the Titans’ 2020 Draft: CB Kristian Fulton
If size and strength are the most critical traits at the line of scrimmage, fluidity and speed top the list for cornerbacks, areas where Fulton has excelled since he was earning scholarship offers as a freshman in high school. Fulton’s pure cover-corner skills allowed him to stand out even at “DBU,” helping him limit opponents to just a 40% competition rate over the past two seasons with the Tigers. That type of success is critical to developing the confidence needed to continue being successful with the Titans, which will be asking Fulton to take over for Ryan opposite another uber-athletic corner in Adoree Jackson. Like Fulton, Jackson entered the NFL with some questioning whether he was tough enough to handle full-time defensive back duties after playing multiple roles on offense and special teams, as well as corner, at Southern California. Since, Jackson has matured into a full-service defensive back. Fulton will need to make a similar adjustment, showing more tenacity in run support and improved ball-skills after turning just two of his career 25 passes defensed into interceptions. Fulton’s agility is undeniable, however, and the Titans have less of a need for another ballhawk in the secondary than most clubs given the receiver-like hands from Jackson and All-Pro safety Kevin Byard, who has 17 interceptions in four NFL seasons.
Best Project of the Titans’ 2020 Draft: QB Cole McDonald
One could make the argument that small school running back Darryton Evans deserves this space, especially given Tennessee’s run-heavy attack. Evans projects as Henry’s primary backup, though, as mentioned previously, in terms of size and style, he is more complement than clone. Further, while obviously making a huge jump in terms of level of competition, Evans is surprisingly sound already, with his instincts, ball security and pass protection ranking among his greatest strengths, earning a spot on my annual Diamonds in the Rough sleeper squad. McDonald, on the other hand, joins former practice squader Logan Woodside as the only quarterbacks on the Titans’ roster behind Tannehill and with obvious technical flaws that Tennessee’s coaching staff can attempt to correct, such as a slow and loopy throwing motion. The Air-Raid offense which McDonald starred in for Hawaii could not be much different than the run-heavy attack Tennessee prefers but he possesses the size, arm strength and football intelligence to handle this transition and he proved his athleticism at the Combine, leading all quarterbacks with a 4.58-second 40-yard dash (and 36” vertical) at a solid 6-3, 215 pounds.
Overall Grade for the Titans’ 2020 Draft: C+
Previous 2020 NFL Draft Report Cards: Cincinnati Bengals |Washington Redskins | Detroit Lions | New York Giants | Miami Dolphins | Los Angeles Chargers | Carolina Panthers | Arizona Cardinals | Jacksonville Jaguars | Cleveland Browns | New York Jets | Las Vegas Raiders | Indianapolis Colts | Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Denver Broncos | Atlanta Falcons | Dallas Cowboys | Pittsburgh Steelers | Chicago Bears | Los Angeles Rams | Philadelphia Eagles | Buffalo Bills | New England Patriots | New Orleans Saints | Houston Texans | Minnesota Vikings | Seattle Seahawks | Baltimore Ravens | Green Bay Packers | Tennessee Titans | San Francisco 49ers | Kansas City Chiefs