Tennessee has to feel pretty good about its current situation.
Sitting atop the AFC South with an 8-2 record, the Titans have the easiest remaining schedule in the league – their final seven opponents are a combined 22-42-1, a 0.346 winning percentage. And Tennessee just keeps winning despite the loss of its All-Pro running back and future Hall of Fame wide receiver. Even better news? Both RB Derrick Henry and WR Julio Jones should return late this season.
And what was once considered a weakness – the defense – has shown improvement, as Tennessee has allowed the 10th-fewest rushing yards, the team’s 27 sacks ties them for second in the league, and the Titans’ 9 interceptions are tied for the sixth-most.
But, regardless of how Tennessee fares the rest of the way, the Titans have decisions to make at the end of the season.
Start with the offensive line, where beloved starting center Ben Powers is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, along with right tackle David Quessenberry. Tight end Geoff Swaim, whose 19 receptions are fourth on the team, will also be an UFA at the end of the season.
And don’t forget about Edge Harold Landry, who should be rewarded for his breakout season.
Of the 19 players expected to be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season, six of them are starters. You can probably add in starting CB Janoris Jenkins, who is a prime candidate to be cut at the end of the season when his team-friendly $5 million contract can more than double.
You also have to figure Tennessee will eventually look to replace quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who has won games at a high clip for the Titans but is having his worst season since leaving Miami. The problem with that is the way the 2022 draft is playing out thus far, as there’s no consensus top quarterback in what’s considered a weak class at the position. So taking a QB with a Day 2 grade in the first round – only to have him sit behind Tannehill for at least a season, doesn’t make sense, and the team is unlikely to find anything other than a developmental signal-caller beyond that. In other words, the team probably won’t find its new franchise QB in the upcoming draft.
But the team can find some replacements for potential free-agent defections, even though the Titans have just six picks in the 2022 draft.
Need a few offensive linemen who could potentially start? Need a Plan B in case Landry signs elsewhere? And how about a TE of the future?
We’ve got you covered.
Former 2020 undrafted rookie free agent Teair Tart has been a nice story this season for Tennessee, and his backup at NT, Naquan Jones, who made the team as an undrafted rookie free agent this season, has filled in admirably when called upon.
But neither is as talented as the 6-foot-6, 340-pound Davis.
Tennessee has done well this season generating pressure on the QB, ranking second in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. But the team ranks 24th with a 31.3 pressure rate. That, in turn, puts pressure on the secondary. As PFF points out, teams are throwing on the Titans more this season because they’re often playing behind the Titans. And, for the most part, the results have been solid, as Tennessee has the second-highest team coverage grade at 84.2, according to PFF. But the team has also allowed the second-most passing yards (2,679).
Having a stronger presence in the middle would help fix all of that. It would help alleviate some of the pressure on star-in-the-making DL Jeffery Simmons, whose 7.5 sacks are second on the team. It would strengthen the run defense. And, in theory, it would help the secondary (and Landry), as opposing QBs would have less time to throw.
Davis’ stats might hold him back – the senior has 23 tackles, 3.5 TFLs and 2 sacks this season, giving him a line of 81-10-7 (and counting) for his career. But his impact goes far beyond the stat sheet – to the point that Davis is now a dark-horse candidate to win the Heisman Trophy.
As a former center, have to admit…
This Jordan Davis rep is just not fair. pic.twitter.com/yzhEZOPGDR
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) October 19, 2021
Entering the season, the 6-foot-6, 260-pound senior was considered the top TE by many publications. While he’s still in the mix to be the first tight end drafted, it’s a relatively deep draft at the position – and none are expected to go until Day 2 of the draft.
Kolar has had yet another solid season with 41 receptions for 506 yards and 4 TDs, giving him a four-season line of 147-1,931-21.
Pro Football Network’s Tony Pauline graded Kolar as a second-round prospect before the start of the season. From Pauline: “… He’s a terrific pass catcher with consistent hands. Kolar is smart, dependable, and always comes away with the reception. He has outstanding size, and though not a true burner, he possesses enough speed to get to the third level as a receiver.”
Charlie Kolar: Preseason All-American TE1 💪
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) June 28, 2021
Diesch was a four-star recruit in high school but wound up getting lost in the mix at Texas A&M, where he served as a backup and played special teams. It wasn’t until the 6-foot-6, 300-pound senior transferred to Arizona when he earned his first collegiate start. Diesch then had a breakout season in 2020, as he allowed just four QB pressures all season, fourth-lowest in the Power Five. He was also the 18th-highest graded OT among Power 5 schools, according to PFF, and second in the Pac-12.
Diesch has followed that up with another solid season, as the graduate student was rated as the fifth-best OT back in mid-October by PFF, which puts him ahead of names like Central Michigan’s Bernhard Raimann, Washington’s Jaxson Kirkland, Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning, Miami’s Zion Nelson and Minnesota’s Daniel Faalele – all ranked ahead of Diesch in the latest Jake Rigdon-Fanspeak big board.
With that said, taking Diesch at this point in the draft is a bit of a reach. However, the dropoff after him is significant.
An early favorite among NFL west coast scouts is @ASUFootball LT Kellen Diesch (@_kell89). Former Texas A&M transfer is smooth & balanced in his pass sets and has good mobility & rarely on ground in run game. @seniorbowl expects him to ascend this fall. #TheDraftStartsInMOBILE™️ pic.twitter.com/M5MFqQ2q3W
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) September 3, 2021
It would be a bit of a surprise if the 6-foot-3, 235-pound junior is still available this late in the fourth round, but the draft is expected to be deep at defensive end and outside linebacker – which means some pass rushers like Smith are going to wind up going lower than expected.
Smith’s size will likely limit him to an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, which is good news for Tennessee. And his statistics are good-but-not-great, likely a product of a defense loaded with future NFL talent. From Walter Football’s Week 9 stock report: “Team sources say Smith needs to get bigger for the NFL, but they love how hard Smith plays and the relentless motor he shows. If Smith returns for his senior year and gets bigger, he could end up being a first- or second-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.”
For reference, Landry was 6-foot-2, 252-pounds at the 2018 Combine.
Nolan Smith is also going to be a problem…
…someone tell Florida that the gap isn’t closingpic.twitter.com/lV6l1RocCs
— UGA Spike Squad (@UGASPIKESQUAD) September 9, 2019
Drafting just one Sun Devil would be unusual for Tennessee, as the team has only drafted three from Arizona State and none since 1973, when the team was still called the Houston Oilers. Drafting two in one year? It could happen in 2022.
Arizona State is led by former NFL head coach Herm Edwards. His OL coach, Mike Cavanaugh, joined the team this season and has developed a slew of NFL linemen in his 35 years of coaching.
In other words, Diesch and West should be well-prepared for the next level.
West is a bit of a polarizing prospect, as he’s only ranked as the No. 194 overall prospect in the Rigdon big board, while other publications rank the 6-foot-4, 300-pound junior as high as a second-rounder. DraftTek, for example, ranks him as the sixth-best center and its No. 151 overall player.
What West lacks in size, he more than makes up for in versatility, as he can play all three interior positions. PFF lists West as the seventh-best interior linemen in the October report.
FanSided, meanwhile, says West has Pro Bowl potential and is the top guard and second-best center in his draft class. From FanSided: “Likely the most versatile interior offensive lineman available in the 2022 NFL Draft, West complements his excellent movement skills and flexibility with above-average power. He has a finishing mentality in the run game and regularly puts defenders on the ground. West is also a consistent pass blocker whose technique is constantly improving.”
Private security 🛡
— Sun Devil Football (@ASUFootball) November 15, 2021
Even though Tennessee drafted Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley in the first round this year, the rookie barely played before tearing his ACL in early October, causing him to miss the rest of the season. Prior to that, Farley had racked up 60 snaps, which is just under 9 percent of the team’s defensive plays.
While it’s too early to label Farley as a bust, the team likely will look to add to the position in the offseason, especially if Tennessee cuts Jenkins at the end of the season.
With DeBerry, the Titans get yet another player who has fallen a bit under the radar and could outperform his draft standing relatively quickly. From a mid-October stock report from PFN: “DeBerry has long been labeled an under-the-radar cornerback, but he’s delivering on that with his best season yet. He already has 2 interceptions and 2 pass deflections. In the words of PFN Draft Analyst and resident Boston College fanatic Oliver Hodgkinson, DeBerry is ‘a ball hawk who’s tough, instinctive, and a decent athlete.’”
The 5-foot-11, 176-pound DeBerry has 53 tackles (and counting), 7 TFLs, 1 sack, 2 INTs and 3 PDs this season, giving him a three-year total of 108-9.5-1-3-11.
— Robert Cardona (@CARDONAFAM29) November 17, 2021