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Ranking the Draft Picks by Potential Impact

First-round pick Treylon Burks is certain to play a big role; third-round choice is likely to have to bide his time.

NASHVILLE – The second of the Tennessee Titans’ third-round picks stole the spotlight during the NFL Draft.

That’s going to happen anytime a team selects a quarterback on Day One or Two, especially when that team has question marks at the position in the not-so-distant future.

But drafting Liberty University quarterback Malik Willis – with all his promising skills and potential – certainly doesn’t mean Willis will be the rookie most likely to make an impact on the Titans this season.

In fact, it’s very possible he’ll have little effect in 2022.

So just which rookies should the Titans expect to make things happen right away?

Here’s a very early “rookie impact ranking” for the nine players the team selected last month:

1. WR Treylon Burks (First round, 18th overall): It’s not Burks’ fault, but he’s walking straight into plenty of expectations this season. When the Titans traded Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Brown to Philadelphia and drafted Burks in the next moment, the former Arkansas standout immediately became Brown’s replacement. Not only did Burks fill an immediate gaping hole at receiver, but his playing style had also been compared to that of Brown’s by many draft analysts. Will the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Burks, who struggled with breathing/conditioning issues on the first day or rookie minicamp, be able to contribute as a rookie like Brown – who had 52 catches for 1,051 yards (20.2-yard average) and eight touchdowns in his first season? That remains to be seen. But the Titans do need Burks to make a significant impact, especially considering the health and experience question marks elsewhere at the receiver position.

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2. CB Roger McCreary (Second round, 35th overall): It wasn’t necessarily a surprise to see the Titans select a cornerback this draft. But the fact the team chose one this high would seem to be an indication the Titans will find plenty of use for McCreary as a rookie. We know Kristian Fulton has one starting cornerback spot nailed down, but what about the other one? Caleb Farley, the team’s 2021 first-round pick, certainly factors into the picture. But let’s remember a couple things: First, we don’t know how well Farley will bounce back from the second torn ACL of his football career. Second, Farley has played a total of 60 football snaps over the past two years – because of injury and because he sat out his final season of college due to COVID concerns. During those same two seasons, McCreary was starting 22 games for Auburn, totaling five interceptions and 20 passes defensed.

3. WR Kyle Philips (Fifth round, 163rd overall): It’s entirely possible I’m making this estimate based too much what on I saw over the weekend, which was just rookies competing against rookies. Nonetheless, Philips stood out – especially Friday – because he managed to get open, and because he made some very impressive catches. Philips’ ceiling is somewhat limited as a slot receiver, but he could turn out to be very valuable as a chain-mover – the kind of guy quarterbacks love because they know how to gain seven, eight or nine yards when it’s absolutely necessary. It can’t hurt that Philips caught 10 touchdown passes in his final year at UCLA, averaging one every 5.9 catches. In addition, Philips will likely get every opportunity to win the team’s punt-returner role – after he returned 26 punts at UCLA for 501 yards (19.3-yard average) and two touchdowns.

4. T Nicholas Petit-Frere (Third round, 69th overall): I go back and forth on this guesstimate of Petit-Frere’s impact. One school of thought has him as a plug-and-play starter at right tackle, and if that’s the case, Petit-Frere would be a huge difference maker in his rookie season. But the Titans haven’t had a Week 1 rookie starter on the offensive line since 2016, when Jack Conklin – the eighth overall pick that year – stepped in right away at right tackle. Petit-Frere doesn’t appear to be as much of a known quantity as Conklin, as just about every scouting report indicates there is a fair amount of work needed in Petit-Frere’s game before he reaches his full potential. Maybe it ends up in a situation similar to that of guard Nate Davis, who didn’t play at all in his first three games as a 2018 rookie, saw some action in Week 4, and then became the starter in Week 5. But just to throw one more question out there, if Petit-Frere isn’t the Week 1 starter at right tackle, who is? Do the Titans have faith Dillon Radunz is that guy?

5. TE Chig Okonkwo (Fourth round, 143rd overall): Here’s the one word that will likely determine how much Okonkwo plays as a rookie: blocking. It’s not considered a strength for a lighter, faster guy like the 6-3, 238-pound Okonkwo at this point. But he’s got to at least show he can hold his own when called upon – or Okonkwo is not going to see as much of the playing field as he’d like. Assuming Okonkwo displays the ability to block – and to contribute on special teams – the Titans should be able to find ways to use him in the passing game. He presents a match-up challenge because of his speed, and Okonkwo’s final season at Maryland was sooo much better than his first two that it might be an indication he’s just now starting to realize his full potential.

6. RB Hassan Haskins (Fourth round, 131st overall): We know Haskins is likely to be an early contributor on special teams, but just how much of a role he gets on offense in the early going will be largely dependent on Derrick Henry’s status. If Henry returns to monster-back status in 2022, then Haskins’ role will be limited to giving Henry an occasional series of rest. But is it realistic to believe the 28 year-old Henry – who averaged 341 carries in 2019 and 2020 – will get that same kind of workload in 2022, especially coming off the first significant injury of his career? If the Titans decide to throttle down the use of Henry this year, Haskins may prove an effective hammer – one who would fit comfortably into Tennessee’s blocking schemes.

7. QB Malik Willis (Third round, 86th overall): Maybe this projection changes after we see what Willis can do in training camp. But from the moment the Titans drafted Willis, the prevailing school of thought was that Ryan Tannehill would still be the Titans’ starting quarterback in 2022 – and Tannehill has proven very durable. Willis is considered a bit of a project, with a great arm, great mobility and a lot of upside. Is it possible the Titans would find a way to work Willis into some different offensive packages as a rookie, utilizing his explosiveness and play-making ability? It would seem like a real missed opportunity not to do so. But would the Titans be willing to dress three quarterbacks on game days – something they’ve rarely done in recent years? That might be the only way Willis sees the field as a rookie, based on what Titans’ senior writer/editor Jim Wyatt wrote in a mailbag answer earlier this week: “Sitting here typing this in mid-May I suspect Logan Woodside will be the No.2, with Malik being the third QB and potentially inactive on game days. Can Malik do enough in the next 3-4 months to convince his bosses he can be trusted, and is ready, to be the 2 as a rookie? Well, we'll see.”

8. DB Theo Jackson (Sixth round, 204th overall): When it comes to later-round picks, the possibility they might not make the initial 53-man roster has to be considered. That said, Jackson appears to have a similar toolset as former Titans safety Dane Cruikshank, who eventually carved out an important role for himself – playing 414 defensive snaps and 234 special-team snaps last season. Jackson has the kind of size needed to cover tight ends; showed an ability at the University of Tennessee last season to make big plays at or behind the line of scrimmage; and appeared to catch on quickly to the Titans’ schemes at rookie minicamp.

9. ILB Chance Campbell (Sixth round, 219th overall): Campbell’s chance to make the 53-man roster will hinge largely on how well he performs on special teams, as is customarily the case for a reserve linebacker. But Campbell has to also show he’d be able to step into a bigger defensive role, if anything was to happen to the likes of Zach Cunningham, David Long or Monty Rice. Two things to like about Campbell: He showed a good ability to get off blocks and impact plays last season at Ole Miss, and he also appears to be the kind of player who makes sure his fellow front-seven defenders are in the right places before the ball is snapped.