No big holes to fill as Titans look for depth in draft
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Titans find themselves in a position unseen by this franchise in a long time.
Thanks to an unexpected run to their first AFC championship game in 17 years, the Titans hold the No. 29 overall pick in the upcoming NFL draft. It’s the latest they’ve selected since 2008 when they last won the AFC South title.
The Titans already have signed quarterback Ryan Tannehill to a new four-year deal. NFL rushing leader Derrick Henry also signed his franchise tag for 2020, meaning Tennessee returns nine offensive starters from its 35-24 loss to Kansas City.
So general manager Jon Robinson, hired in January 2016 to rebuild a team that won five games combined the previous two seasons, finds himself needing to retool the roster for coach Mike Vrabel.
“We have to add pieces to the team,” Robinson said. “We have a lot of good football players on this football team that have bought into the philosophy of how we want to play the game, to the culture that we have here in Nashville, and we’ve got to continue to add pieces to this core.”
While Henry helped run the Titans to the AFC title game, it wasn’t a complete fluke. The Titans have four straight 9-7 seasons during Robinson’s tenure behind only the Patriots (19), Seattle Seahawks (eight) and now Super Bowl champion Chiefs (seven) for the NFL’s longest active streaks of winning seasons.
That only increases the pressure to use the seven draft picks to help the Titans host their first playoff game since January 2009. The Titans have three selections in the top 93 and added their seventh overall by trading five-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jurrell Casey to Denver last month for a seventh-round pick.
NO NEED FOR QB, AT LEAST NOT EARLY
For the first time in years, quarterback is not an issue. Tannehill earned a four-year, $118 million deal after going 9-4 as a starter coming off the bench, including 7-3 in the final 10 games of the regular season to turn around a 2-4 start. Depth still is needed behind the man who led the NFL with a franchise-best 117.5 passer rating.
Logan Woodside, who played eight games in the AAF for San Antonio, is the only other quarterback on the roster. He spent last season on Tennessee’s practice squad with an injury.
BACKING UP HENRY
The Titans waived veteran Dion Lewis just before the start of free agency, so they need someone to back up the man who led the NFL with 1,540 yards rushing. Someone with good hands would help because Henry had his best year catching the ball in 2019 but still had only 18 catches. That makes a dual-threat running back an attractive option.
MORE PASS RUSH
The Titans signed Vic Beasley Jr. from Atlanta in free agency, taking a chance the linebacker will look more like the man who led the NFL with 15 1/2 sacks in 2016 working with Vrabel and outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen. His eight sacks last year would have ranked second only to Harold Landry Jr. in Tennessee.
They also brought back outside linebacker Kamalei Correa who tied for second with five sacks last season. D’Andre Walker spent his rookie season on injured reserve after being a fifth-round pick out of Georgia. But the AFC championship game exposed the Titans’ need for more speed on the outside.
The Titans signed veteran Dennis Kelly to a three-year deal to replace right tackle Jack Conklin, who left for Cleveland. Wide receiver Tajae Sharpe was the other starter from the AFC championship game lost when he signed with Minnesota. The Titans need depth on the offensive line and made Nate Davis, a third-round pick out of Charlotte a year ago, the starter at right guard midway through the season.
A.J. Brown led all rookies with 1,051 yards receiving, and Tennessee also has Corey Davis and veteran Adam Humphries. Kalif Raymond is back after a big TD catch in a divisional win at Baltimore, but Tennessee could use more speed.
The Titans already have Jeffery Simmons, the 19th pick overall a year ago, to fill the gap left by trading Casey. Logan Ryan is a free agent and not expected back after the cornerback started every game he played the past three seasons. Malcolm Butler is back after finishing the season on injured reserve, and Adoree Jackson is going into his fourth season.
Three starting cornerbacks, not two, is a must these days.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at https://twitter.com/TeresaMWalker
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL