In the National Football League, flexibility is a valuable component of the draft process that not everyone can say they have. It’s hard for a team that possesses limited draft picks to deviate from their needs to go the BPA (best player available) because doing such will result in them having a glaring hole that cannot be properly filled with left-over free agents or late round draft projects. It leaves teams in a dilemma at times, but most teams are still vocal about their belief in the BPA system. That sounds good in theory, but it’s hard to determine how willing teams are to stick to that philosophy when it’s gut-check time.
The Tennessee Titans have positioned themselves nicely heading into the 2016 draft. While they do have a lot of holes to fill, both offensively and defensively, the trade they made yesterday with the St. Louis Rams puts them in a position to take some chances. It allows them to be flexible. There are a lot of different ways that the Titans could use this new found flexibility, and it’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out on draft day. I’m about to take a look at some of the different things they can do in order to improve the overall talent of the team.
First off, I want to review the trade that was made yesterday between the Titans and the Rams for those that haven’t been able to take a look to see what all picks were involved. The main focus of the trade was the Rams trading up to #1 overall while the Titans moved down 14 spots to #15 overall. The total recap of the trade is as follows:
Titans receive: 16’ 1st Round Pick (#15), 16’ 2nd Round Pick (#43), 16’ 2nd Round Pick (#45), 16’ 3rd Round Pick (#76), 17’ 1st Round Pick (TBD), & 17’ 3rd Round Pick (TBD)
Rams receive: 16’ 1st Round Pick (#1), 16’ 4th Round Pick (#113), & 16’ 6th Round Pick (#177)
The Titans have put themselves in a position to make 6 total selections within the top 76 picks of the 2016 draft. Having this kind of flexibility is rare in the NFL, so it opens the door for some potential draft day surprises.
What This Means:
With this newly acquired ammunition, the Titans can do a lot of different things to help improve their football team. They can trade back up into the top 10 if there is a player that they feel like they have to have, they can continue trading down and acquire even more ammunition, or they can stay put and implement their strategy for picking at #15. Let’s take a look at some of their options.
- Trade a second round pick to the New York Jets for Muhammad Wilkerson
The Titans have a stud in defensive tackle Jurrell Casey. He has consistently been one of the premier players at his position while continuing to maintain his status as the Titans’ best defensive player (if not best overall player). On top of that, DaQuan Jones did an excellent job in his first year as a starter at defensive end in the Titans 3-4 defense. He is a young, ascending player who should continue to contribute in a variety of ways. While he proved to be a capable run stopping 5-technique, I believe he could also thrive as a 3-4 nose tackle in Dick LeBeau’s defense. He has the size at 6’4 322, and it would open up a spot for a potential impact player like Wilkerson. The Jets are in a tough spot due to their lack of cap space. They have reportedly been open to the idea of trading Wilkerson, but their asking price has been a 1st round pick. If Wilkerson wasn’t coming off an injury (broken leg), then I would say he was worth that. Still, he is one of the premier players at his position, and he is still only 26 years old. The Titans need to add some difference makers on defense, and there is no doubt in my mind that Wilkerson would give them just that. If I were the Titans, I would even be willing to part with pick #33 in order to get the deal done.
- Use a second round pick to draft Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith
When Jaylon Smith tore his ACL this past season, it destroyed any chance of him landing in the top 10 like he had been projected all season. Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller even had him listed as his #1 overall prospect. The talent is undeniable, but teams are still going to be scared off by that ACL injury. If the medical recheck went well yesterday, there is a good chance that Smith could still be an early day 2 prospect. Before the trade, the possibility of the Titans taking Smith in the first or second round was very slim. They need impact players now, and they wouldn’t have been able to wait on Smith to redshirt this year while trying to get ready for the 2017 season. Now that the Titans have those 6 selections in the top 76 picks, taking a chance on a player like Smith makes a lot more sense. If he can return to his pre-injury form in 2017, the Titans got an absolute steal in the second round. Smith is the type of player that can become the face of the defense and become a force similar to what Patrick Willis was for San Francisco for all those years. The Titans are in a prime spot to take some chances, and Smith is a chance that I hope the Titans are willing to take.
- Take flier on Robert Nkemdiche in the second round
It has been reported that the Titans have a real interest in the defensive tackle out of Ole Miss, Robert Nkemdiche. Much like the situation surrounding the Wilkerson idea, the Titans could use more impact players on their defensive line which is why taking a risk on a player like Nkemdiche makes sense. The biggest problem teams have with Nkemdiche is the off the field incidents. One of those incidents involved him falling four stories from a hotel window after reportedly smoking synthetic marijuana. He seems to be immature and has surrounded himself with the wrong people in the past. While that has been the biggest red flag, there is also the fact the Nkemdiche’s tape has been underwhelming for the most part. He has shown glimpses of absolute dominance, but whether it be a lack of effort, a lack of technique, or both, Nkemdiche hasn’t been able to put it all together thus far in his football career. However, the sky is the limit for him and that’s why teams have still shown strong interest in him. While there is the small possibility that he still goes in the first round, I believe he falls to the second which makes him an excellent candidate for the Titans. They are in a better position to take a risk on his character concerns in order to see if they can max out his potential.
Even though the Titans probably missed out on Laremy Tunsil by trading down to #15, I still believe protecting Marcus Mariota should be their top priority heading into the draft. Mariota is the key to any potential success the Titans may have over the course of the next several years, and they cannot afford to let him take the kind of hits he did in 2015. This is why I believe the Titans will still target an offensive lineman in the first round. If that does happen, the Titans are going to need to focus in on improving the defense for the remainder of the draft. That is why the three potential situations above should be heavily evaluated by the Titans front office, and why they should probably do at least one of them.