Titans' new GM uses all NFL draft picks to fix bad offense
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Improving one of the NFL's worst offenses wound up the focus of Tennessee general manager Ran Carthon 's first NFL draft.
So much so that he used all of his picks on offense, a first for this franchise since the NFL switched to a seven-round draft in 1994.
Not that Carthon went into this draft planning to go all offense.
“It honestly just dawned on me about 30 minutes ago that it was all offense,” Carthon said Saturday night. “We were just playing the board. ... But it wasn't a designed plan or anything.”
The Titans missed the playoffs for the first time since coach Mike Vrabel’s debut season in 2018, and Carthon had only six draft selections and little salary cap space. Fixing the Titans' aging, overpriced offensive line has been a big focus since he was hired in January.
The Titans gave up 49 sacks last season with only Chicago, the Rams, Colts and Denver allowing more. Carthon released three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan and center Ben Jones to clear salary cap space in March, then let right guard Nate Davis leave in free agency.
The Titans drafted a pair of offensive linemen starting with Northwestern tackle Peter Skoronski at No. 11 overall on Thursday night. They added tackle Jaelyn Duncan at No. 186 in the sixth round after signing Andre Dillard and Daniel Brunskill in free agency.
Tennessee made the biggest splash to kick off the second round Friday night, trading up to select Kentucky quarterback Will Levis at No. 33 overall with Ryan Tannehill in the final year of his contract.
The Titans scored just 298 points last season. Only four NFL teams averaged fewer points than the Titans, who managed 17.5 points a game despite Derrick Henry finishing as the league’s second-best rusher with 1,538 yards.
The Titans had little salary cap space even after cutting top receiver Robert Woods and letting veteran tight end Austin Hooper leave. They took Cincinnati tight end Josh Whyle at 147th overall in the fifth round and waited until the final pick at No. 228 to select a wide receiver in UT Martin's Colton Dowell.
Vrabel said the roster building will continue.
“You guys are going to trust us," Vrabel said. "We’re going to put players in here that are going to help us win.”
LONE WIDE RECEIVER
Dowell was the 30th receiver taken. He grew up a Titans' fan in nearby Lebanon, then set the UT Martin record for career yards receiving. The 6-foot-3 Dowell also gives them the speed Vrabel has wanted since finishing last season with seven straight losses.
The receiver says he ran a 4.4-second 40-yard dash. The Titans liked what they saw out of him at their pro day for local players.
“He was amongst the other Power Five guys that we brought in here locally," Carthon said. "He stood out and looked like a Power Five guy to us. It just so happened he was at UT Martin.”
Dowell had 67 catches for 1,036 yards last season. He averaged 15.5 yards per catch and had seven receptions for 112 yards in an Oct. 22 loss at then-No. 3 Tennessee.
PASS CATCHING HELP
With several tight ends taken through the first three rounds, the Titans didn't add a pass catcher until the fifth round with Cincinnati tight end Josh Whyle at No. 147 overall. He's 6-6 and 248 pounds with 32 catches for 326 yards and three touchdowns in 10 starts last season.
Whyle said he's naturally a pass catcher who grew up as a wide receiver before his high school coaches encouraged him to switch to tight end believing he could be one of the best in the country.
“And you know here we are,” Whyle said.
Running back Tyjae Spears, the 81st pick overall, tore an ACL in high school and again in 2020 at Tulane. Spears said Saturday he reached out to Frank Gore so he can ask for pointers on how to stay healthy in the NFL.
“I do a good job of it because I take pride in everything that I do, that I do greatness-wise,” Spears said. “Off-the-field stuff is going to keep me on the field.”
Spears was the American Athletic Conference's offensive player of the year last season. as he ran for 1,581 yards and 19 TDs. He also was the MVP of the Cotton Bowl helping Tulane rally to beat Southern California.
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Teresa M. Walker, The Associated Press