It is clear now that the Tennessee Titans could have made a better choice in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft than tackle Isaiah Wilson.
After a disastrous rookie year, Wilson has made it known that he is not interested in a second year with Tennessee. Franchise officials seem willing to accommodate his wishes and reportedly are trying to trade him.
Given all that has transpired to this point, pretty much anyone would have been a better selection. Here, for example, are five players who were still available with the 29th overall pick, when the Titans elected to go with Wilson:
• Jeff Gladney, cornerback (first round, 31st overall, Minnesota): Cornerback was an obvious priority for the Titans as evidenced by the second-round selection of Kristian Fulton, who was the last of nine cornerbacks off the board in the first two rounds. Gladney was the sixth overall choice at that position and – as part of an overhaul of the Vikings’ secondary – he started 15 of the 16 games he played. He finished with 81 tackles, three passes defensed and a forced fumble. Gladney was a popular option for the Titans among mock drafts, and – as is the plan Fulton – he could have started as a slot cornerback and grown into a different role in the coming seasons.
• Tee Higgins, wide receiver (second round, 33rd overall, Cincinnati): Given that Corey Davis was in a contract year after the team declined his fifth-year option, it would have made sense to think about the future at the position. Higgins, who is 6-foot-4, 216 pounds, would have made a formidable and physical long-term pairing with A.J. Brown (6-1, 226). Plus, Higgins (pictured) is from Oak Ridge, Tenn., which is 160 miles east of Nashville and would have provided some local appeal. Higgins caught 67 passes for 908 yards and six touchdowns, as a rookie while Davis had his best season yet with 65 receptions for 984 yards and five touchdowns.
• D’Andre Swift, running back (second round, 35th overall, Detroit): Tennessee was determined to come out of the draft with a change-of-pace and pass-catching option for Derrick Henry and ended up with Darrynton Evans in the third round. Had franchise officials moved sooner in that regard, Swift (5-foot-8, 212 pounds) could have been that guy as evidenced by his 46 receptions for 357 yards and two touchdowns (he also rushed for 521 yards). Unlike Evans, he also could have been a long-term option as a starter in the event that Henry gets hurt or sees a dip in production in the near future. For those who say it would have been foolish to draft a running back so early given Henry’s presence, recall that many said the Titans did not need Henry in 2016 because they had DeMarco Murray.
• Yetur Gross-Matos, edge rusher (second round, 38th overall, Carolina): At the time of the draft, the Titans had added Vic Beasley but were months away from signing Jadeveon Clowney. There was still an obvious need for another pass rusher at that time as there was at season’s end following the startling absence of production from Beasley and Clowney. Gross-Matos grew into a starter for the Panthers over the final seven games. He finished the year with 24 tackles, two and a half sacks, six quarterback hits and two tackles for loss – modest numbers but ones that would have helped Tennessee’s defense.
• Laviska Shenault Jr., wide receiver (second round, 42nd overall, Jacksonville): Playing for the worst team in the league, Shenault caught 58 passes for 600 yards and five touchdowns. Plus, he ran it 18 times for 91 yards. Imagine what former Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith could have done with a guy who is that versatile against defenses focused on stopping Henry. Like Higgins, Shenault has good size (6-1, 227) and has the ability to contribute as a blocker in the run game as evidenced by the fact that Jaguars’ undrafted rookie James Robinson was a 1,000-yard rusher in 2020 and would have provided some long-term security at a position that currently needs some serious attention.