With the 2021 NFL Draft just two weekends away, the Tennessee Titans are among just a handful of teams looking to maintain success and return to the playoffs.
Missing out on a top-20 selection means you’ve either traded for a superstar, or had a good enough prior season to not earn it. But it can also mean a franchise needs to find skill in the back end of each round.
The Titans, if they keep them, have nine selections in the 2021 draft—the most they’ve had since 2017—including the no. 22 overall pick in the first round. It’s a place they took LB Rashaan Evans in 2018, RB Lorenzo White in 1988, OT Bobby Crenshaw in 1964 and RB Jerry Cook in 1963.
Who should be their fifth-ever No. 22 overall pick in franchise history? Here are their three options:
1. Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue
Rondale Moore recorded a 42.5-inch vertical jump and a 4.29 40-yard dash at his Pro Day 👀
Don’t forget the 5’7” WR squatted 600 pounds as a FRESHMAN 😳
— Overtime (@overtime) March 23, 2021
The last time the Titans drafted a receiver in the opening round, it was Corey Davis out of Western Michigan with the fifth-overall pick in 2017.
While Davis didn’t create top-five numbers over his four-year career in Nashville, the now New York Jets wideout did nothing but improve during his time in Titan blue—going for a career-best in yards (984), catches (65), yards per catch (15.1) and touchdowns (five) in 2020.
So without the pressure of needing to hit a home run in a top-five selection, should the Titans retread ’17 waters and select another offensive threat in the opening round? Absolutely.
They can do so by taking Purdue redshirt sophomore WR Rondale Moore.
Expected to go anywhere from No. 20-60 due to his limited tape and recent injury questions, the 5-foot-7, 180-pound slot speedster would be a dream come true for the Titans’ offense and special teams.
Tennessee, unless it trades up, won’t be able to take LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase, Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle or Devonta Smith, Florida’s Kadarius Toney or Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman. By the time the Titans make it back around the clock, a guy like Moore will, without question, be gone.
The New Albany, Indiana native and former Trinity High School (Louisville, Kentucky) star finished his three-year career for the Boilermakers with 1,915 yards and 14 receiving touchdowns on 178 catches (10.5 yards per catch). He also notched 248 yards rushing and three rushing touchdowns on 30 touches out of jet sweeps, “Wildcat” calls and backfield carries. During his 2018 freshman campaign, he was an elite returner—taking back 33 kicks for 662 yards, and 12 punts for 82 yards.
Yahoo! Sports analyst Eric Edholm made the rare comparison of Moore to former Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens star Steve Smith, who was selected out of Utah in the third round of the 2001 draft. Moore has already put up some silly Pro Day numbers, logging a 4.31 40-yard dash, a 42.5-inch vertical and a 1.58 10-yard dash in his workouts.
Moore also didn’t lose a fumble his entire college career.
Sure, there are some other needs in Nashville, but this is an offensive-driven league, and the Titans had the third-best in 2020 behind Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills, with neither team getting worse in the department this offseason. The only way to outrace two other AFC championship contenders is to provide more octane, and there’s no better way to do so right out of the gate than with Moore in the fold.
2. Jayson Oweh, DE, Penn State
Penn State DE Jayson Oweh is FREAKY athletic.
He clocked a 4.36u 40 at Pro Day 😳 @JaysonOweh
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) March 25, 2021
“Defense wins championships.” Yada, yada, yada. Boring, boring, boring!
But as “boring” as defense can be, the fact remains: it does win championships. Just ask the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who paired their prolific offense behind the timeless Tom Brady with the skill and moxie of a relentless pass rush that pushed its way past Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Patrick Mahomes for a Super Bowl in 2020.
The Titans were simply bad defensively last year: 28th in defensive ypg (398.3), 29th in passing yards allowed (4,439) and 19th in rushing yards allowed (1,933). They did lead the league in turnover differential (+11) and scripted 15 interceptions in the secondary (T-2nd).
Feast or famine, however, isn’t going to cut it in 2021. Not when QB Ryan Tannehill, RB Derrick Henry and WR A.J. Brown—collectively playing some elite football—are seeing playoff windows shrink with each passing season.
Enter Penn State’s Jayson Oweh (pronounced oh-way).
The Nittany Lions defensive end, listed at 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds, made First-Team All-Conference in the Big Ten during the 2020 season after logging 38 tackles and 6.5 for a loss. Originally focused on basketball in high school, he developed into a Top 100 talent from his junior year in high school onward. As a redshirt freshman in 2019, he notched five sacks and two forced fumbles—starting only once.
The mileage remaining in Oweh’s legs is unlimited, and the Titans can certainly unleash it on the weakside blitz. His 4.37 40-yard dash is among the best of the 2021’s graded edge rushers, and NFL.com compares him to former University of Kentucky and Pittsburgh Steelers star Bud Dupree, which fancily enough signed with the Titans this past offseason.
What better way to unlock Dupree’s mentoring skills and improve Tennessee’s blitzing capabilities than to draft a younger version of him?
3. Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
"He looks like a future, long-time starting NFL tackle."
— NFL (@NFL) April 10, 2021
The Titans know full-well their mistake of the 2020 NFL Draft, as former Georgia OL Isaiah Wilson has gone from first-round selection, to traded to the Miami Dolphins for a seventh-rounder, to borderline out of the league in a span of 18 months.
It’s as impressive as it is difficult to comprehend, and in a recent episode of his podcast “Bussin’ with the Boys” alongside Will Compton, Titans OL Taylor Lewan noted Wilson “needs help.”
Unfortunately, so does the Titans’ offensive line, which will be working on new identity following the mid-March release of five-year Titan Dennis Kelly, who was acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles in the Dorial Green-Beckham trade.
Tennessee might have to move up just a bit to snag Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw, as he’s projected to go in the latter part of the first 20 picks, but it’d be worth it. The 6-foot-5, 322-pound former Hokies offensive lineman earned All-ACC First-Team honors this past season after helping Virginia Tech rush for 240.1 ypg—10th best in the FBS.
VT’s offense is mostly a zone-oriented rushing attack, and while the Titans certainly deploy passes frequently and with aplomb, it’s no secret coach Mike Vrabel is going to continue to use elements of playaction and outside zone in order to get his best playmakers in Henry and Brown a positive point of attack.
Pass protection improved for the Titans last season, but it still needs work, and Darrisaw (who made all 35 of his collegiate starts at left tackle) brings the needed punch on their roster.