In his Monday Morning Quarterback, Peter King of Sports Illustrated posited that the Titans are "50-50" on trading away the first pick of the draft, which would probably sink Laremy Tunsil's chances of going No. 1. Whoever puts up the king's ransom to trade into that spot would almost certainly be gunning for a quarterback, and the Johnny-less Browns will surely follow suit at No. 2. Best case, that pushes Tunsil down to the Chargers at No. 3.
Trading down to stockpile more picks isn't a bad idea for Tennessee, which has a lot of holes to fill on its roster. New Titans GM Jon Robinson, who spent nine years as a scout under Bill Belichick in Foxborough, certainly understands the value of a draft-day trade.
More on Tunsil
More on Tunsil
The trouble will be finding someone willing to trade up. There's a reason the top pick has been traded just twice in the last 19 years—it's too damn expensive. Per Chase Stuart's draft value chart, the Titans would need to get two first-round picks in the top 15 (or a whole slew of lower picks) to get a fair exchange. It'd be one thing if a sure-fire franchise QB prospect like Andrew Luck was available, but the top two passers in this class—Carson Wentz of North Dakota State and Cal's Jared Goff—aren't nearly as enticing. Adam Stites at the SB Nation mothership puts the odds of a Titans trade at a whopping 10 percent.
Assuming, then, that the Titans stay put...
It's probably Tunsil or FSU's Ramsey.
Peter King isn't finished raining on Tunsil's parade. He reports that even if Tennessee does hold steady at No. 1, they're seriously considering Florida State cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who could help a Titans defense that finished in the bottom four in passing touchdowns, passer rating and completion percentage.
A defensive back has been picked first overall only one time in the history of the NFL, in 1956. But understand these reasons why times are changing in the NFL. Last season the NFL saw new records set for touchdown passes allowed (842), completion rate for quarterbacks (.630) and passer rating (90.2). Ramsey became an interesting X factor for those reasons, and because the Titans are so desperate for help at both tackle and corner.
Sure, the league is becoming more and more pass happy. But that same argument can be used to support drafting Tunsil, doubling down on the commitment to the passing game the Titans made last year with Marcus Mariota.
Looking at mock drafts across the internet, most experts agree with that logic. Via SB Nation:
Tunsil can foster the growth of Mariota.
Tunsil's selection can't be viewed in a vacuum—you have to think of it as insuring the $24 million investment the Titans made with the second overall pick of 2015. Mariota had a fine rookie season considering the team around him (his total QBR ranked 16th among 33 qualifying quarterbacks), but he spent way too much time on his back. Tennessee's O-line surrendered both the most sacks and the highest adjusted sack rate in the league last season, resulting in Mariota missing four games because of injuries to both knees. Go ask RGIII how quickly knee injuries can derail a promising young quarterback's career.
An improved rushing attack should help take pressure off of Mariota as well. Tennessee ranked 25th in total rushing yards last season, but they were actually 17th in yards per carry. That average should climb higher with Tunsil on the line. Though Peter King knocks Tunsil's run blocking skills by saying he "isn't a classic downhill left tackle, which the Titans want," Pro Football Focus, which studied every one of Tunsil's snaps from the last two seasons, suggests he might be even better run blocking than pass blocking. The trade for DeMarco Murray underscores new head coach Mike Mularkey's desire to run the dang ball, something the Titans did on just 38 percent of their snaps last season (fewer than 21 other teams). Ground increases in both volume and efficiency should mean a safer backfield for the franchise QB.
There's no such thing as too many O-linemen.
Another potential deterrent for the Titans drafting Tunsil is presented by former Grantlander and current ESPN staff writer Bill Barnwell, who suggests Tennessee has over-invested in offensive lineman in recent years. Indeed, the Titans have spent a total of five picks—two of them first rounders—on O-lineman in the last three drafts, not to mention the massive (and fruitless) free agents contracts given to Andy Levitre and a guy named Michael Oher.
If Robinson uses the top pick on Tunsil, the Titans would be in the exceedingly rare position of having three first-round picks on rookie contracts playing along the same offensive line... That's a lot of draft capital. The Titans maxed out their budget in Mint on offensive linemen, to an extent the league hasn't seen in decades.
Now Barnwell's obviously not saying the Titans are putting too much talent on their line; his gripe is that those previous draft picks haven't really paid off. But Barnwell's logic is flawed here. The failures of previous players in no way suggests that Tunsil will also be a failure. At best you could make it an argument of political pressure—that team management runs the risk of upsetting the fan base by what could be seen as committing past mistakes—but the Titans just hired a new GM, so he'll be able to start with a clean slate.
One of those previous first-rounders, by the way, was Taylor Lewan, the No. 11th pick in 2014. He's had a rocky start in Nashville, bouncing around between left and right tackle, but started putting things together last season. His eight sacks allowed is an ugly number, but he actually had the ninth best pass blocking efficiency among NFL tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. One school of thought says that since the Titans already have a promising young player at the position, they should look elsewhere with the top pick. But you need two starting tackles, and despite Barnwell's over-investment theory, you can never have too much protection for a franchise passer. The common thought is that Lewan would slide back to right tackle when Tunsil showed up, giving Tennessee a pair of bookend protectors. That has to be an extremely enticing notion for a team trying to develop a young quarterback.