While the defensive unit and a handful of offensive players seeking larger roles have been tabbed as winners in wake of the 2021 NFL Draft, other members of the Tennessee Titans face bigger obstacles than they did a little more than a week ago.
Because the Tennessee Titans exhausted much of their resources toward improving what was one of the league’s worst defenses last season, their offense suffered significant losses. Two of their most productive offensive players from the last few seasons, wide receiver Corey Davis and tight end Jonnu Smith, signed with other teams in free agency. The Titans did draft a pair of wide receivers on day three of the NFL Draft in Dez Fitzpatrick (fourth round, Louisville) and Racey McMath (sixth round, LSU), but they did not add a tight end.
All Titans looks at the Titans’ biggest losers as a result of the Titans’ 2021 draft class:
Jon Robinson, general manager: The Isaiah Wilson circus ended more than a month ago, but it didn’t take long for another one to start.
Two days had passed, and bad news surfaced about one of the Titans’ draft picks. Fourth-round pick Rashad Weaver was charged with simple assault a day before his selection. The Pittsburgh defensive end allegedly punched a woman outside of a bar in the early morning hours of April 18.
The Titans will wait for the dust to settle before making any decision. But this type of situation was the last thing they needed after massively missing on Wilson, their 2020 first-round pick who made several poor off-field choices and clearly had little desire to succeed as a football player.
Todd Downing, offensive coordinator: The Titans promoted Downing to offensive coordinator shortly after Arthur Smith, who oversaw a record-setting offense last season, became Atlanta Falcons head coach. Downing will not have the same amount of talent and familiar faces to work with as Smith did. He has an experienced quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, arguably the league’s best running back in Derrick Henry and one of the league’s top offensive lines. But outside of Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Brown, there are many question marks when it comes to pass catchers after the Titans made just a handful of additions at wide receiver and none at tight end (other than re-signing Anthony Firkser and Geoff Swaim).
If the offense takes a step back under Downing, who enters his second career stint as offensive coordinator, it will be easy to blame him. But right now, it appears as if that unit is less talented than it was a year ago.
Ryan Tannehill, quarterback: He’s in the same position as Downing. With the departures of Davis and Smith, the Titans lost 1,432 of the team’s 3,826 receiving yards from last year. Of the wide receivers and tight ends expected to be on the roster, Tannehill has significant experience with only two of them, Brown and Firkser. Free-agent addition Josh Reynolds is a veteran, and that should help. But Fitzpatrick and McMath are rookies, and it’s uncertain if/when they will be able to work out with Tannehill ahead of training camp.
Jayon Brown and Rashaan Evans, inside linebackers: A full-time starter for the last two seasons, Brown was the only one of the Titans’ big-name free agents to return to the team, signing a one-year deal in March. Entering his fourth season, the Titans recently declined Evans’ fifth-year option.
Both are scheduled to be free agents in 2022, and replacements already look to be in place. David Long Jr. had an impressive end to the 2020 season after Brown sustained a season-ending elbow injury. Then the Titans selected Georgia linebacker Monty Rice, who expressed confidence in his ability to be a three-down linebacker. While it’s unclear what his role will be this season, it’s hard to imagine a third-round pick sitting behind veterans for too long if he shows the coaching staff that he is capable of having a larger role.
Kevin Johnson, cornerback: The Titans signed the veteran cornerback at the end of March with the idea that he would be a starter or a regular contributor to the defense. But he will now have to compete with Elijah Molden, who many believe was a steal for the Titans in the third round. Molden is a versatile defensive back with experience playing nickel cornerback and some safety. That alone may make him more valuable than Johnson.
Another factor could be Johnson’s health. Overall, he has missed half as many games (32) as he has played (64). Only twice has Johnson managed to make it on to the field for all 16 games of a regular season (2015, 2019), and with Molden on the roster he cannot afford to get hurt this year.