With The Number Five Pick In The Draft, The Tennessee Titans Must Select OJ Howard.
The "Kings Ransom" trade from 2016 began a period of rejuvenation for this franchise. The improved quality of the roster across the board led to acclimation for GM Jon Robinson across the NFL. The defense is largely in place, leaving few holes in this young ascending team. With that in mind, it is crucial to draft offensive talent that can allow this team to take the next step to become AFC South Champions.
The “Exotic Smashmouth” offensive philosophy of Mike Mularkey established a clear team identity. This is not a Five-Wide spread system. The Titans aim to crush the morale of a defense through the oldest methodology – establishing the run. This repeatedly opened up downfield passing options and intermediate routes. While it has been written extensively that a true X receiver is our top offensive need, I disagree and believe that because of his versatility and how he fits this system, OJ Howard is a must at 5th overall.
This is a deep Tight End class, but through his sterling character, blocking, receiving ability, athleticism and willingness to compete in the Senior Bowl (only a few weeks after the National Championship) and Combine – Howard set himself clearly apart. His Combine performance outshone any of the Wide Receiving or Tight End talent in Mobile and included participation in every single drill. Top draft talents tend to shield themselves away from the chance at being exposed in all-star games or complete key drills/events only at Pro Day's, which all the more indicates Howard's work ethic, competitiveness, and love of football. His incredible athletic numbers at 6 foot 6 are comparable or surpass established “big” Wide Receivers, and reportedly sterling interviews mean that his projection is rocketing, with Todd McShay giving him to the Jaguars at 4 in his 3.0 Mock Draft. I doubt the Jaguars select him, due to the quality defensive (safety in particular) prospects that fit their team.
Schematically, though, this is where Howards' case is strongest. Paired with Delainie Walker in 12 personnel (one RB and two TE, a favorite of Mularkey), the Titans can play practically any formation with an equal threat. First and 10 could start with two in-line TE's, to shifting either/both Howard and Walker in the slot (4 WR look), or putting Howard into the backfield to create a blocking fullback look for the power running game. No other TE in the class prevents “keying off” defenses to then favor run or pass. Only Howard can excel playing the “Move” or “in-line” role, pull blocking to open lanes across the formation, stretching a defense vertically and catching short passes and create RAC (Run After Catch) Yards. Also, the improvement to our play-action game is self-evident.
Finally, he represents an immediate and substantial addition to this team. Selecting Adams / Hooker as part of the 3 safety look, Lattimore to boost coverage, Allen to solidify the D-Line or Thomas to bring heat from the edge are all valid options. But none of these players are instantly significant upgrades over the existing roster – nor are the current starters 30 or older. Furthermore, due to his intriguing skill set fitting all teams, questions over Corey Davis (no measurables/competition) & Mike Williams (athleticism) and the need for offensive talent for the teams before #18 - the trade back option becomes quite risky.
No doubt it will take courage to select a Tight End with the 5th Overall Pick, eclipsing Vernon Davis in recent draft history as the highest for his position. However, if anyone knows the value of two dominant TE's it is Jon Robinson with his Patriot roots and the former Tight End himself, Mike Mularkey. Couple him with the best available X receiver at #18 plus quality defensive backs in the 3rd and you complete a group that can continue to gel over the next few seasons.
Then they can (hopefully) challenge for a Superbowl.