The grades are in. Most experts believe the Tennessee Titans fared well in the 2021 NFL Draft. Likewise, general manager Jon Robinson and coach Mike Vrabel believe their football team has improved in wake of the three days of picks.
The Titans drafted eight players and, as in free agency, primarily focused on what held them back most in 2020, their defense. Each draft pick had an impact -- great or small -- on players already on the roster and members of the coaching staff.
All Titans looks at the Titans’ biggest winners as a result of the Titans’ 2021 draft class:
Shane Bowen, defensive coordinator: What Robinson did for Bowen this offseason is reminiscent of what a team does for a young quarterback: surrounds him with playmakers. Bowen effectively ran the Titans’ defense last season despite not having the coordinator title. His unit struggled, in part, due to personnel. The Titans bolstered a pass rush that struggled in 2020 by singing linebacker Bud Dupree and lineman Denico Autry, players with a history of getting to the quarterback. Then in the draft, Robinson and company spent five picks on players on defense. They came away with arguably the best cornerback in the draft in Caleb Farley (Virginia Tech), who fell to them in the first round due to injury concerns. Many experts als believe they got a steal at pick 100 (third round) in defensive back Elijah Molden, a versatile defensive back who can play nickel corner and safety. Bowen now has a much better chance for success in his first season asa coordinator.
Anthony Firkser, tight end: Tight end seemed like one of the Titans’ most obvious needs ahead of the draft because they lost Jonnu Smith to free agency. That need went unaddressed. After the draft, Robinson said the roster-building process is never over, and that the Titans would evaluate available options. But he also expressed a good deal of confidence in the tight ends already on the roster. That’s where Anthony Firkser, who re-signed with the team in March, wins.
The 26-year-old figures to be the starter in place of Smith this season. Undrafted out of Harvard in 2017, he has had his moments with the Titans over the last three seasons, including two postseason touchdown receptions in 2019. He set career-highs in receptions (39) and receiving yards last season (387). What he does with a larger role will be among the biggest Titans storylines this season.
Josh Reynolds, wide receiver: After signing with the Titans in March, Reynolds stressed that he felt ready to take on a bigger role after four seasons with the Los Angeles Rams. It looks like he will have more than an opportunity to prove himself.
Almost every mock draft projected the Titans to select a wide receiver early, maybe even in the first round. But they didn’t address that position until Day Three of the draft, trading up to pick Louisville’s Dez Fitzpatrick in the fourth round, and taking LSU’s Racey McMath in the sixth round.
Reynolds effectively replaces 2017 No. 5 overall pick Corey Davis and has no one who looks like competition for him in that regard.
Janoris Jenkins, cornerback: In his introductory press conference after he signed with Tennessee in March, Jenkins talked about how much he relishes mentoring younger defensive backs. Entering his 11th NFL season, the 32-year-old will have no shortage of such players to share his wide range of knowledge with.
The trio of 22-year-olds, Farley, Molden and Kristian Fulton, a second-round pick in 2020, should benefit greatly from the Pro Bowler’s presence on and off the field.
“I've never met any of those guys personally, but I've been a fanboy from a distance,” Farley said of Jenkins. “I'm (a) fan (of) all their games, and I'm extremely excited to get in the locker room and bond and get to meet new guys and be a great teammate to them.”
Rodger Saffold, offensive guard: Saffold turns 33 in June, and his current contract expires after the 2022 season. Given those factors, it would have made sense for the Titans to select a guard at some point in the draft. At least for the time being, the 11-year veteran seems to be set with his starting post safely. Next year, an eventual replacement may be higher on the Titans’ list of priorities.