The Tennessee Titans enter the 2022 NFL Draft with the 26th overall selection at their disposal. The AFC’s one-seed in the 2021 postseason, the Titans earned the pick after disappointingly being eliminated by the Super Bowl-bound Cincinnati Bengals in the divisional round. General Manager Jon Robinson and Head Coach Mike Vrabel entered a premature offseason with a ton of notable decisions to make while effectively attempting to become compliant against the salary cap. The cash-strapped Titans were forced to release several aging veterans, including wide receiver Julio Jones, left guard Rodger Saffold and cornerback Janoris “Jackrabbit” Jenkins.
Despite their less-than-ideal financial situation, Robinson found a way to retain his two most important in-house free agents in edge rusher Harold Landry and center Ben Jones, while also adding several outside contributors and immediate starters. The signing of Austin Hooper immediately gives the Titans the dual-threat starting tight end their offense desperately lacked a year ago. Robinson also made a splash to replace Jones by acquiring Rams receiver Robert Woods, laughably in exchange for a 2023 sixth-round selection. Pairing Woods with A.J. Brown should give the Titans a more effective one-two punch going forward.
The additions of Hooper and Woods qualify as big-time gets for a Titans offense that was riddled with injury a year ago, while failing to meet pre-season expectations. But the Titans should still use their first-round selection on the offensive side of the ball, either at the wide receiver, offensive guard or offensive tackle position, specifically.
Firstly, the Titans should feel a responsibility to keep up with the rest of the AFC. The conference is loaded with star playmakers, defensive studs and quarterbacks as a result of the wildest and most unpredictable offseason in NFL history. The division-rival Indianapolis Colts improved by swapping Carson Wentz for Matt Ryan at quarterback. The Denver Broncos became instant contenders when they acquired quarterback Russell Wilson from the Seattle Seahawks. The Los Angeles Chargers signaled their aggressive intentions for improvement by retaining Mike Williams, while also adding J.C. Jackson and Khalil Mack on the defensive side of the ball. The Las Vegas Raiders, who qualified for the postseason in 2021, got better by acquiring Davante Adams and Chandler Jones. The Cleveland Browns should be a playoff team after replacing Baker Mayfield with Deshaun Watson. The Miami Dolphins made several splashes, including trading for Tyreek Hill and signing elite left tackle Terron Armstead. The Kansas City Chiefs may have lost Hill, but they’re still the Patrick Mahomes-led Chiefs. The perennial contending Buffalo Bills improved their offensive line by adding Saffold, who the Titans released, and also landed a big-time pass rusher in Von Miller. The Bengals improved their offensive line (a.k.a. their Achilles heel) and should win a bunch of games in 2022. We can go on and on. It’s going to take some offensive improvement for the Titans to consider themselves worthy of contending in a new-look, improved conference.
Secondly, Tennessee must improve after middling offensive performances in 2021. The Titans offense finished 17th in total yards per contest (342.5), 24th in passing yards per game (201.1) and 15th in points scored per contest (24.6). Those aren’t Super Bowl-worthy numbers in today’s offensive-driven league. Their offensive outputs were well below an impressive 2020 campaign that saw Tennessee average 30.7 points per contest. Their offseason plan of attack likely had a lot to do with their regression (more on that shortly) but it’s worth noting the Titans suffered through a historic amount of injuries in 2021, and a return to health should be simple enough to move the needle somewhat forward. Catastrophic injuries to superstar running back Derrick Henry and Brown hampered Tennessee’s offensive outputs, especially throughout a poor stretch from Week 11 through Week 16 where they averaged just 15.6 points per game. A forced change at offensive coordinator that saw Todd Downing replace the Atlanta-bound Arthur Smith didn’t help, but there were other factors at play.
Robinson spent last offseason pouring the majority of his resources into the defensive side of the ball, and understandably so. The 2020 iteration of the Titans were abysmal defensively, allowing opposing offenses to rack up nearly 400 yards of offense per game and 27.4 points per contest while fielding one of the worst third-down defenses in recent history. As a result, he made a trio of notable defensive signings in edge defender Bud Dupree, defensive tackle Denico Autry and the aforementioned Jenkins. Robinson also used his first-round selection on cornerback Caleb Farley. It paid immediate dividends, as Tennessee went from one of the worst defenses in 2020 to one of the league’s best in 2021.
But while Robinson was hellbent on fixing the defense, the offense suffered. Starting tight end Jonnu Smith departed in free agency, as did No. 2 receiver Corey Davis. Right tackle Dennis Kelly was released and inadequately replaced by an underwhelming in-house candidate in David Quessenberry. His decision to acquire the Canton-bound receiver in Jones from the Atlanta Falcons was a bold move that unfortunately backfired due to recurring hamstring injuries. Jones’ failure to make the desired impact, when paired with bad injury luck elsewhere and the neglect of the right tackle and tight end position, is what led to Tennessee’s disappointing offensive showings.
The additions of Woods and Hooper prove that Tennessee’s brass is following a similar line of thinking and Robinson’s strategy throughout the 2022 NFL Draft should follow suit. The defense remains well stocked and appears set to return 10 of 11 starters, with former first-round selection Farley filling in at cornerback for the released Jenkins. Expect Robinson to address an aging offensive line via the first three rounds of the draft. Ben Jones and starting left tackle Taylor Lewan won’t be around forever. JaMarco Jones was signed in free agency, but should represent versatile depth as opposed to being a guaranteed starter. Sophomore second-round selection Dillon Radunz is expected to factor in either at left guard or right tackle after spending time practicing both positions a year ago but where the Titans ultimately see Radunz filling in will determine how they attack the process of upgrading the other positions.
The receiver position also undeniably needs more attention. The addition of Woods is sizable, especially when factoring in that he’s an excellent fit for their scheme and culture, but Robinson should be hesitant and weary of repeating last offseason’s mistakes. Much like they did last year, the Titans currently lack the desired depth behind Brown and Woods. Nick Westbrook is a coaching staff favorite that lacks the dynamic abilities to serve as a true game-changer at the position, and shouldn’t be penciled into the No. 3 role. The Titans believed in the power of their one-two punch last year (with Henry in the backfield), but injuries to Brown and Jones revealed how thin they were at the position. With Woods returning from a season-ending ACL injury suffered in 2021, the Titans should better protect themselves this time around.
Robinson has attended six Pro Days thus far, and they include Iowa, Northern Iowa, Texas A&M, Ohio State, Penn State and Boston College. A plethora of offensive talents such as Trevor Penning, Kenyon Green, Nicholas Petit-Frere, Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Zion Johnson, Jahan Dotson and Tyler Linderbaum, to name a few, were among those Robinson has closely observed across his continuing tour of the Pro Day circuit. Hint hint.
The 2022 NFL Draft looms large for a Titans franchise that may be entering the final year of their Super Bowl window. Better surrounding starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill with the desired environment, both across the offensive line and at the pass-catching positions is of the utmost importance. Let’s hope Robinson remembers that when the Titans take the podium to announce their 26th overall selection. All signs insinuate he will.
- Sep 25, 2023
- Sep 25, 2023