AFC South reporter
The Titans have taken a close look at the top quarterbacks in this year’s draft.
Coach Mike Vrabel and new general manager Ran Carthon attended pro days at Ohio State (CJ Stroud) and Kentucky (Will Levis) last week. Carthon also went to Alabama Pro Day (Bryce Young), and plans to attend Florida (Anthony Richardson) on Thursday.
Of course, these schools have plenty of other players likely to be drafted, including those who could go high in the draft. But with long-term quarterback uncertainty and the franchise’s highest pick in six years, Tennessee can’t rule out taking a quarterback in the first round.
“Because of the nature of the position, I think you go into every year making sure you know this class from top to bottom,” Carthon said at the NFL Combine.
So how should the Titans proceed at the most important position in football, one that can make — or break — a franchise for years?
Complicating Tennessee’s efforts to land one of the top quarterbacks in this draft is its ranking at No. 11 (there’s a good chance the top four will be gone by then) and limited draft capital to trade. The Titans currently have just six picks: Nos. 11 (first round), 41 (second round), 72 (third round), 147 (fifth round), 186 (sixth round) and 228 (seventh round).
Moving up is certainly possible — the Titans could use future picks in a deal — but it would compromise the team’s ability to add talent around that quarterback and to an offense that already needs help everywhere. Tennessee needs more weapons at receiver and depth at tight end, while the offensive line is under construction. There will be at least three new starters up front, with right guard Nate Davis walking in free agency and left tackle Taylor Lewan and center Ben Jones cut as casualties.
The Titans have not publicly ruled out Lamar Jackson, but a pursuit of the Ravens’ star quarterback seems unlikely. With limited capital and the state of Tennessee’s roster, with the futures of several core veterans up in the air, giving up two first-round picks to deal with Jackson and a massive contract close, if not fully guaranteed, can be bad business
Based on need and draft positioning, Tennessee Volunteers QB Hendon Hooker could be a great prospect for the Titans. Carthon has said he’s open to business with the 11th pick, and that the first-round trade would not only give Tennessee more capital to better maximize draft talent, but also put the team in a more reasonable place to take hooker
The former Vols star was a Heisman candidate before tearing his ACL in November, ending his college career and sending his draft stock plummeting. He completed 69.2 percent of his passes for 3,135 yards and 27 touchdowns with just two interceptions last season, adding 104 carries for 403 yards and five scores.
But Hooker’s ACL injury, plus his age (he turned 25 in January), could shut down the Titans. Failed bets on players with injury histories were one of former general manager Jon Robinson’s downfalls and a reason Tennessee was unable to take advantage of what was believed to be a Super Bowl window. Outside linebacker Bud Dupree, signed to a monstrous five-year, $82.5 million contract in March 2021 despite a torn ACL, lasted just two seasons at Tennessee. Receivers Julio Jones (hamstring) and Robert Woods (ACL) both lasted one season. Former first-round cornerback Caleb Farley, who has battled back, knee and shoulder injuries since his days at Virginia Tech, has been a two-year bust.
While Carthon said Wednesday that the team intends to hang on to star running back Derrick Henry, the future of QB Ryan Tannehill remains under the microscope. Heading into the final year of his contract, Tannehill appears to be the Titans’ best option at quarterback through 2023. An extension would even make sense — taking down his 2023 cap hit of $36.6 million, the second highest in the NFL behind Patrick. Muhammad, according to SpoTrac.
Tannehill, who is 36-19 as Tennessee’s starter, gives the Titans a reliable signal for what appears to be a step back in the 2023 season. After building the roster over the next year, the Titans can pursue strike a long-term quarterback next offseason for 2024 and beyond.
At this week’s NFL owners meetings, Vrabel said Tannehill is “bouncing back” after missing five games last season with an ankle injury. But the coach wouldn’t predict who will be under center for the Titans come September.
“I think I went through that last year,” Vrabel said. “I’m not committing to anyone being on our roster come September. I’ve seen it change too quickly.
“Of course we want Ryan to be our quarterback and everybody else that helped us win,” he added. “This is what we want.”
Another year with Tannehill would give the Titans more time to see what they have in Malik Willis, their third-round pick last year who has dual-threat upside but struggled in three starts when Tannehill was let go aside In eight total appearances, the former Liberty star completed just 50.8 percent of his throws for 276 yards and zero touchdowns with three interceptions, failing to top 100 yards in any game. He also rushed 27 times for 123 yards and a score.
“He’s been communicating with us about where he’s been and working with different coaches with a group in Jacksonville and he’s been letting us know,” Vrabel said of Willis’ offseason. “He understands what it’s like to be a starting quarterback or to be a quarterback in this league. You’ve got to be on when you walk into the building. It’s a certain presence you’ve got to have.”
The Titans are still looking for a quarterback who can provide that long-term presence.
Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) before moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.
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