Reviewing the Titans 'rolling the dice' draft: Gained athleticism, pinned hopes on Will Levis

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Titans needed to come out of the draft with three players who could push for full-time starting roles, a big ask made necessary by their thin roster.

They come out of it assured of only 17 starts if they are healthy, games that will come from technically sound first-round offensive lineman Peter Skoronski at left tackle or left guard.

Colton Dowell
Colton Dowell/ Courtesy UT Martin Athletics

Fifth-rounder Josh Whyle could earn some starts as an athletic tight end, as the roster shape suggests the team will go back to more two-tight and he can be an in-line guy who starts plays as a blocker. 

But second-rounder Will Levis is likely to sit behind Ryan Tannehill barring injury or a terrible turn and third-rounder Tyjae Sparks will have to work for snaps on third down and behind Derrick Henry.

Rookie impact doesn’t look like it will be at a premium, and it’s fair to be disappointed by that.

With Skoronski and Duncan following the free-agent addition of Andre Dillard, the Titans have fortified tackle with a trio of athletic big men. A situation like the inferior Dennis Daley replacing an injured Taylor Lewan to start 15 games shouldn't happen again. 

Mike Vrabel has emphasized player development, but the Titans ignored receiver until the seventh round. Colton Dowell from UT Martin was the 30th player selected at the position, and while anything is possible and the players between him and the No. 2 spot for the Titans don’t amount to great competition, it’s a big ask.

That means the Titans will look to a familiar cast, much of which should have been replaced.

Nick Westbrook-Ikhine didn’t get a restricted free-agent tender and initially turned down the Titans' offer to test the market. It took him a day to realize he’d be smarter to take a one-year, $1.01 million deal with a whopping $150,000 guarantee.

That made him eminently cuttable, but that would have required the Titans to upgrade the position with numbers. The only addition they made before Dowell was Houston free-agent Chris Moore, who got $1.165 million with $847,500 guaranteed.

The rest of the group behind Treylon Burks: slot man Kyle Philips who was mostly hurt as a fifth-round rookie, Racey McMath, Reggie Roberson, Mason Kinsey and undrafted rookies who will be sold on big opportunities.

They need more, and Mike Vrabel says they will get more. But to be searching now -- with veteran free agency and the draft over, seems to be poorly timed. Why not seek them when they are most available instead of when it's a real treasure hunt?

The success or failure of the draft will ultimately fall on Will Levis. If he becomes a quality starting quarterback, the Titans will have a pillar. If he does not, they will be searching again in three or four years no matter how good or bad they are around him.

Third-rounder Tyjae Spears appears to be a quality runner, and while he should start out as a third-down supplement to Henry, Ran Carthon said he views the former Tulane player as a three-down back.

He ran well for the Green Wave after repair, but there has to be risk considering the torn ACL he suffered in 2020 that produced reports that it’s left him with a severe issue that makes you wonder about his shelf life. He said he’s reached out to Frank Gore for advice. 

Kuharsky megaphoneWhyle should pair nicely with last year’s quality addition, Chig Okonkwo, and give a team that’s traditionally worked well with two-tight ends the option of two targets from the position once again. That’s a good thing given their limitations at receiver, where NWI and Moore rank as top four in their mix, and Carthon and Vrabel seemed to take some sort of perverse pride in not addressing the need for so long.

Come the sixth round, teams are dealing with traits and Maryland tackle Jaelyn Duncan brings a 9.44 relative athletic score out of 10 and a 6-foot-6 and 306-pound frame. He committed 20 penalties in the last two years, so discipline will be one focus.

The Titans wanted to get faster, but fast offensive linemen don’t show up in big ways.

Dowell said he ran a 4.40, and that can certainly help if he's a rare seventh-rounder who sticks and transactions from small-school play.

The franchise did get more athletic for sure. 

"We're always looking for guys that are athletic, and have athletic skills and traits to develop," Carthon said. "It gives you guys that still have growth in their bodies. And as you guys know in this league, it's growing rapidly. These positions are getting more and more athletic, bigger stronger, faster, longer so we want to be able to bring those players in here to compete."

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