If the Tennessee Titans want to avoid another first-round playoff exit in 2021, General Manager Jon Robinson needs to address the team’s lack of a pass rush this offseason.
Working against Tennessee is the salary cap for 2021, which is projected to be between $180 million-$181 million. That would currently put the Titans $3 million over, making it increasingly difficult for Robinson to sign any of the premiere free agent pass rushers without having to make a few moves first.
All of the top available pass rushers on the market — Von Miller ($19 million), Matt Judon ($16.8 million), Melvin Ingram ($16 million), Shaq Barrett ($16 million), Leonard Williams ($16 million), Bud Dupree ($15 million) and Yannick Ngakoue ($12 million) — carry high price tags. But that doesn’t rule out the Titans completely.
Luckily, the 2021 draft class is deep at edge rusher, and the Titans should be able to find a solid, affordable player to pair opposite Harold Landry next year.
The 2021 outside linebackers are headlined by Micah Parsons (Penn State), Zaven Collins (Tulsa), Joseph Ossai (Texas), Azeez Ojulari (Georgia) and Jeremiah Owusu-Loramoah (Notre Dame). All have a first-round grade.
The defensive ends are just as deep with first- and second-round grades on Gregory Rousseau (Miami), Kwity Paye (Michigan), Quincy Roche (Miami), Patrick Jones (Pittsburgh), Jaelen Phillips (Miami) and Carlos Basham (Wake Forest).
While Parsons, Rousseau and possibly Collins will likely be gone by the time the Titans pick at No. 22, Ojulari, Ossai and Paye are all popular picks in mock drafts among draft analysts to go at Tennessee’s draft slot.
If Collins is available, many experts feel Tennessee should absolutely pounce on him. Some even advocate trading up a few slots to grab him. Winner of the Bronko Nagurski and Chuck Bednarik Award as the top defensive player in college football, Collins was a force for the Tulsa defense in 2020, racking up 55 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, four interceptions (returning two for touchdowns) and two forced fumbles.
Standing at 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, Collins looks more like a defensive end than an outside linebacker. He has impressive elusiveness and agility, with excellent ability to stop and start. And he typically beats offensive lineman by being light on his feet and using his angular quickness when coming around the edge.
Ojulari is perhaps the most intriguing prospect with the highest upside for Tennessee. He has drawn comparisons to Ngakoue, and several analysts, such as NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks and Pro Football Focus’ Ben Linsey, like Ojulari’s fit with the Titans, stating his speed and athleticism could provide Tennessee with the kind of boost that Jadeveon Clowney was supposed to have in 2020.
Ojulari made a substantial jump from his freshman to sophomore season, accounting for 31 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. He forced three strip sack fumbles and generated pressure on 24.3 percent of his pass-rush snaps, ranking top five in the FBS among outside linebackers.
Paye is intriguing as he has been slotted anywhere from the middle of the first round to the end of the second. Although he played in only four games in 2020, he proved his worth as a pass rusher during his junior year in 2019, recording 50 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.
Paye has the speed needed to excel as an edge rusher — he was clocked at running a 4.54 time in the 40-yard dash — and has immense lower body strength that helps him drive offensive lineman back. He is considered a raw talent, but the skillset is there to blossom into a high-level edge rusher opposite Landry.
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_