NASHVILLE, Tenn. — No, the Tennessee Titans didn’t get a high-quality wide receiver in the 2021 NFL Draft. Yes, the Titans’ current crop of wide receivers is pretty underwhelming.
But to act as though the Titans’ effort in the 2021 draft was some kind of failure because they failed to get a good wide receiver on the first two days would be to ignore the fact that the team added several quality pieces to its defense, rounding out an offseason of substantial improvement on that side of the ball.
Titans general manager Jon Robinson’s defensive selections—CB Caleb Farley, LB Monty Rice, CB Elijah Molden and OLB Rashad Weaver—will provide the Titans’ defense with a blend of day-one starters, eventual starters, key role players and depth pieces.
“I feel like we got a good mix of all of that on the defensive side,” Robinson said.
THE NEED FOR AN OVERHAUL
Farley on the idea that he won’t be ready for Training Camp: “I rebuke that in the name of Jesus.” #Titans
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) April 30, 2021
After a horrendous 2020 season in which the Titans’ defense was one of the NFL’s worst at getting after the quarterback and stopping offenses on third down, it was clear that the unit needed an overhaul.
That’s exactly what Robinson has accomplished during the offseason.
Robinson’s overhaul of the Titans’ defense began in free agency when the team signed big-time pass rusher Bud Dupree to an $82.5 million deal. Tennessee also added productive veterans DL Denico Autry and former All-Pro CB Janoris Jenkins on more modest contracts.
All three of those players, barring an injury, will be starters for the Titans in 2021.
CB Caleb Farley, the Titans’ first-round pick, will also start for the team as a rookie, in all likelihood, if he’s healthy.
In total, the Titans will likely have a whopping seven new defensive starters in 2021. They also have a handful of new backups and role players.
That volume of turnover is great news for a defense that finished near the bottom of the NFL in both points and yards allowed in 2020.
VRABEL AND BOWEN’S NEW OPTIONS
The #Titans have totally overhauled their horrific defense. Every green dot is a new starter in 2021. Impressive work by Robinson.
He hated what he saw in 2020, and he did something about it. pic.twitter.com/BQwNMFVxO5
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) May 1, 2021
The Titans’ defensive additions, both in the draft and free agency, will give head coach Mike Vrabel and defensive coordinator Shane Bowen something they completely lacked in 2020: flexibility.
Whereas the Titans’ defensive roster in 2020 was largely untalented and lacked depth, the 2021 Titans’ defense will likely be defined by its versatility and depth.
On the defensive front, the Titans now have a handful of capable pass rushers and run stoppers.
OLB Rashad Weaver, one of the team’s 2021 fourth-round picks, will give Vrabel and Bowen a third quality pass rusher to work with in addition to Dupree and Harold Landry.
“He’s a high motor player, he’s a fun player to watch,” Robinson said. “He’s a disruptive player in both the run game and the passing game.”
Weaver recorded 7.5 sacks in just 9 games for the University of Pittsburgh in 2020, and his presence will allow the Titans to give Dupree and Landry chances to rest without suffering a dramatic plummet of talent on the field.
In the secondary, the Vrabel and Bowen now have several dynamic players at their disposal who they can deploy in each game based on the types of receivers the Titans are facing.
They have some cornerbacks best suited in the slot, some who are more skilled on the perimeter, and Farley is so talented that he can probably play anywhere.
“We would like them to know all the positions,” Vrabel said of his cornerbacks.
“Those are conversations we have, I think, as we get closer to the season and we start to say, ‘”OK, maybe there’s a bigger slot or there’s a quicker slot that maybe you would match up differently.'”
That was a luxury the Titans didn’t have in 2020 when they were trotting out players like 36-year-old Johnathan Joseph and undrafted journeyman Breon Borders at cornerback.
But with Farley, Jenkins, 2021 third-rounder Elijah Molden and 2020 second-rounder Kristian Fulton now all in the fold, Vrabel and Bowen will have that unique strategic advantage.
The Titans even managed to get more dynamic at inside linebacker during the 2021 draft, adding Georgia’s Monty Rice in the fourth round. A hard hitter with impressive speed, he will provide competition for Rashaan Evans and depth behind Jayon Brown, who’s firmly entrenched as a starter.
“He’ll come in and compete at the inside linebacker position and on special teams,” Robinson said of Rice.
IMPROVEMENT MOVING FORWARD
While Vrabel’s defensive scheming ability remains questionable and Bowen’s returns in his first year as defensive play-caller in 2020 were lackluster, there’s simply no way that the Titans’ defense won’t drastically improve in 2021.
The days of the unit being starved for talent are over. Some positions, particularly cornerback, look to be loaded, now.
The days of the Titans having to rely on practice-squad-level players to fill significant roles also appear to be over.
The defensive roster is certainly at a level, now, where Vrabel and Bowen will have no available excuses if the unit underperforms again in 2021.
There may not be a shiny new, top-flight receiver walking through the doors of Saint Thomas Sports Park when the Titans first welcome their rookies into the facility, but they will be welcoming a significantly improved corps of defensive talent.
No fan should be complaining about that after having to endure the team’s torturous 2020 defense.
- Vrabel image: Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean
- Molden image: Joe Nicholson / USA Today
- Farley image: Brett Davis / USA Today