Your goal is to blend philosophy and war, wisdom and battle, into an unbeatable blend. – 33 Strategies of War
The Tennessee Titans hired a new general manager, assistant general manager, and assistant general manager of strategy. This article does not intend to undermine the brass by any means. It’s only a practice of accountability for an evaluator who is constantly finding ways to get better. Much like it’s the job of the coach to make the most out of a roster, I look at roster engineering the same way. You’re constantly figuring out ways to prudently operate within an acquisition phase and maximize the pool of talent.
Most, if not all of the issues that the Titans went through, I had them covered. That may be hard to digest, but may I recommend taking Pepto-Bismal if that’s the case. Paired with my historical context and recollection of decades of football, I worked extremely hard to produce this result. Is it perfect? No. But it’s the most ideal framework that would’ve maxed out the potential of this club this season, and it isn’t my first time doing it. Or after 60+ years of this franchise’ existence, do you have a better plan? I’d listen to anyone with a level-headed and idea at that point.
The Annual Game Plan
All of these projections were created prior to free agency starting. I’ve been doing evaluations that include free agency for 6 years and evaluating talent as a whole for 15 years. I’ve been an analytically acclaimed Super Bowl winner based on my projections in 2021 and 2023. So this is the furthest thing from an armchair GM as you can get without actually being on a team. The skillset separation from the common fan is very intentional. Especially when you add on my tens of thousands of different iterations and documentation throughout the years that have come to pass. The average fan would have to start today, and by 2038, they’d possibly have gained the sweat equity, proof and resolve that I’ve obtained for a decade and a half.
I’m a former college recruiter, department assistant and scouting and general manager course graduate. For a whole quarter of the year, I learned from the likes of former GM Mark Dominik, Scout Russ Lande, and the Godfather of the NFL John Wooten.
I also am a Licensed Financial Professional which ironically has prepared me in ways even recruiting hasn’t because it requires self development and leadership. Also understanding money helps. I’m only sharing this because people ask and some think it reinforces credibility. Honestly, I’m a product of autodidactic diligence and passion.
Free Agency has Recruiting Elements
When it comes to free agency, of course, the player has to want to come here. So take this presentation as a framework and thought process vs. believing that all of these players would sign here. But understand there were several contingencies in place. The draft is a more pure form of player acquisition. It is nothing more than selecting a player with your allotted draft pick, therefore making the accountability and process, able to be better tracked.
Lord willing I’ll be doing another comprehensive game plan this upcoming 2024 off-season and no I’m not mailing it to Amy Adams Strunk like I did in 2019 before free agency or share my free agency thoughts early like in 2021 (Denico Autry, Cam Sutton, Nicholas Morrow, Nick Folk and Josh Reynolds.) I’m sure people would love to see the whole process and detailed approach but I’d much rather save that for the team that’s open to collaborating and joining forces.
Quarterback: The key to this season was the contracts of the remaining Big 3 for the Titans. And in the spring of 2023, the Big 3 was Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry, and Kevin Byard. I chose to find a way to relieve Ryan Tannehill from his duties to free up cap space to not only build a competitive team for 2023 but also to bring in more leaders for the locker room. Via trade, you’d have access to the cap space later, and a straight-up release would’ve given you enough money during the first wave of free agency to make moves. The undisputable top 2 QBs I targeted to replace Tannehill were Jacoby Brissett or Baker Mayfield. They both signed 1 year deals worth roughly $8M. The Titans did not have any movement during the free agency period at the position of quarterback. They did possibly find their franchise quarterback though. It’s important to keep in mind the process of finding a guy that can win ball games through leadership, tight window throws, toughness and good decision-making can be had through free agency and the draft. For instance there’s a strong free agency and upcoming draft. You’d probably get one of those quarterbacks without overpaying or offering substantial draft capital to do so.
What gets accomplished here? Closing a chapter of Titans football at the appropriate time to do so and signaling a CLEAR direction in which this football team is going. Brissett or Mayfield gives you a competent bridge QB at a fraction of the cost.
Running back: In free agency I targeted Jerrick McKinnon. There’s an obvious relationship estbalished with Ran Carthon and would be just what the Titans needed as a 3rd down RB. The Titans collectively brought in Jacques Patrick and Jonathan Ward.
What gets accomplished? Titans get a change of pace RB with 3rd down pass catching ability.
Fullback: I personally think that between how this team likes to run the ball and the available fullbacks out there it leaves the Titans in a good spot to get top tier players at the position. Their reliance on Derrick Henry merits that they have a traditional fullback. With full backs you also get excellent special teamers.
What gets accomplished? An investment is made to sustain the most valuable part of your offense, the run game. With many teams considering it to be a close to extinct position, Titans would have favorable pickings. Jakob Johnson was a target.
Tight End: A lot was said about the money given to now Vikings tight end Josh Oliver but he’s been worth it. He ranks as the best run blocking tight in football and Top 3 graded in the league. The Titans signed Trevon Wesco who is the 68th ranked tight end in the league. He’s graded as the 47th best run blocking tight end. In an offense so reliant on the run game a lot of times the difference between a 7 yard run and a 57 yarder is one block. Josh Oliver was my first priority at tight end this off-season.
What gets accomplished? You add one of the best blocking tight ends in the business to pave the way for a style of play your offense is built on.
Offensive Line: The main priority was to fix the offensive line. Period. A significant amount of capital, whether it be monetary or players, should have been allocated to those positions. The sarcastic jeers amongst most who didn’t do the work was “how can you fix the offensive line in one off-season?” All while showing a graphic of higher paid guys not panning out. Well linear thinking would lead you to believe you should go for the well-known guys but systems thinking will have you finding underrated value plays. I targeted Center Evan Brown and Offensive Tackles Jermaine Eluemunor and Cameron Fleming. The Titans signed Daniel Brunskill (solid when healthy) and Andre Dillard. Eluemunor ranks 40th overall. Dillard ranks 67th overall. Eluemunor is 24th in run blocking. Dillard is 51st in run blocking. Jermaine Eluemunor’s contract 1 yr. $3M. Andre Dillard’s 3 yr. $29M.
What gets accomplished? You properly assort through a position of need during free agency. You don’t just go by big name talent but look everywhere and find bargain buys. Not only were you frugal but you also found quality starters and depth pieces. Once again linear thinking can make you shortsighted to the grand scheme.
Wide Receiver: As veteran depth pieces I targeted Richie James, Mack Hollins and Demarcus Robinson. All players who have had production in this league and offer mult-usage reps on special teams. The draft was where I was going to get the primary playmakers. The Titans signed DeAndre Hopkins and he’s been solid. It’s also possible he could have been a target had I made my gameplan at a later date but his production has been a bright spot for, a lack of better words, an abysmal position group.
What gets accomplished? You improve the wide receiver room by adding competition. You add experience and much needed depth to a corps that has been much maligned since the departure of A.J. Brown and Corey Davis.
Defensive Line: I targeted Calais Campbell and Matt Ioannidis. Campbell has always effected his position group in a dominant way everywhere he’s been. Titans have played musical chairs with iDL all year, ranging from Jaleel Johnson to Ross Blacklock. Campbell’s asking price was more than expected but if the money was still there how could you not atleast inquire?
What gets accomplished? You spend up for a significant upgrade and unique skillset. If you don’t want to pay up you add depth with a player like Matt Ioannidis.
OLB/Edge: I targeted Leonard Floyd, Markus Golden and Jordan Willis for edge depth. Titans signed Arden Key with the hopes that the former rotational edge player could take on a full-time role. Leonard Floyd is top 10 in both QB hits and sacks. Both Floyd and Key are Top 10 in Pass Rush Win Rate with Key at 22% and Floyd at 21%. Actual number of wins: Floyd 32. Key 30. As of the conclusion of 2023 Week 12.
What gets accomplished? You add a player in Floyd who’s being hired for the same production his resume suggests. If the price tag is too much then you target high energy veterans with above average production.
Linebacker: I targeted Cole Holcomb and Denzel Perryman as veteran linebacker adds. The Titans signed Azeez Al-Shaair and promoted Jack Gibbens to starter. The position has regressed but Al-Shaair can tackle for the most part. He has volume in that statistical category and adds leadership. The efficiency in how it gets done could improve. Holcomb and Perryman have both missed time but have played well when healthy and available.
What gets accomplished? It’s essentially about preference here. But the additional add here would be Denzel Perryman who is a known thumper. Titans have desperately needed an enforcer at any position this year and Perryman would atleast add that.
Cornerback: Tavierre Thomas and Isaiah Oliver were absolute bargain buys in free agency. Thomas is the 16th ranked cornerback and Oliver ranks 71st. Titans signed Sean Murphy-Bunting and he ranks 29th. When available SMB has played well although he’s penalized too often and has been injured.
What gets accomplished? You find two quality starters. They aren’t big names or clever swing and miss types. They are ascending talents in this league that have played well recently and I projected the continual climb.
Safety: DeShon Elliott and Duron Harmon. Elliott is the 12th ranked safety in the league. The Titans traded away the 31st ranked safety to the Eagles and don’t have a Top 50 ranked safety on their roster. They have Amani Hooker, Terrell Edmunds and K’Von Wallace who rank 53rd, 64th and 68th respectively.
What gets accomplished? You find another secondary player that has been ascending in this league. And even a veteran like Harmon or Houston-Carson who add essential veteran presence and quality play. You even have a worthwhile placeholder if you had trading KB in mind the whole time.
Kicker: Matt Prater adds an element that the majority of kickers can’t tout and that’s a monster leg that can consistently be accurate. Nick Folk was a good get. A “get” that I evaluated as a key signing a couple of years ago when he was a free agent. It’s good to see him being productive.
What gets accomplished? Matt Prater was a free agency find that would’ve mitigated most issues at the position but the Nick Folk trade is one of the higher end moves of the preseason. Folk has been excellent for several years and Titans are fortunate he was available.
The NFL Draft
The Titans approached the draft differently than I would have, and that’s okay from a freedom of thought perspective. Drafts can have ripple effects, and they usually are most felt in the immediate season, then start to become waves as the years go by. The Titans drafting Peter Skoronski, Will Levis, Tyjae Spears, Josh Whyle, Jaelyn Duncan, and Colton Dowell is certainly not the worst you can do. All have produced this year, albeit because of circumstances that most teams with great depth wouldn’t have. Nonetheless these guys have a fantastic opportunity to show why this team took them and that’s all that matters at the current state of affairs for them.
My alternate universe draft, the Barnes-Verse if you will, presents an opportunity where the Titans would have foundational pieces at each level that coincidentally, are present day issues. WR, OL, DB. As I stated earlier, this draft paired with some free agency pieces was analytically simulated (thousands of variations) and was good enough to win a Super Bowl. The projected roster would have a +4 adjusted win rate out of multiple aggregate simulations. The best part of this practice as a whole, isn’t to observe the success rate from a percentage perspective but from a tangible talent accumulation point of view.
The First Round
In the first round I went with WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba. The need for talent at that position was evident. Titans are struggling to create separation present day. Smith-Njigba is currently in an offense that features heavy TE/2 WR looks. D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett currently have seniority. With more opportunities I have no doubts that he could match or even surpass what DeAndre Hopkins has provided. Despite speed deficiencies that were overly talked about this past draft cycle, you’re constantly finding him get a vertical and horizontal edge on defenders guarding him. He finds holes in zones like a veteran, catches the ball smoothly and gets upfield in a hurry. He possesses both vertical threat and strictly slot receiver attributes although he’s best between the numbers.
The Titans taking Peter Skoronski was a great pick as well. I have articles and other publications agreeing. He is as close to a safe pick you can have. He’s an agile and intelligent player that is more often than not in the position to spur a big play or protect a teammate. My real time draft order was Jason-Smith-Njigba, Jamyr Gibbs, Zay Flowers and Peter Skoronski.
The Second Round
In the second round, I doubled up and took Jonathan Mingo. A riser in the 2023 draft. I think his lack of “astounding” production thus far is more of a situation issue than it is him being a bust. Now, does he look like the second coming of A.J. Brown like most thought? No. But settling for the second coming of a bigger Pierre Garcon or Mohamed Sanu might do.
There are lots of talk about his ability to separate and some viral moments of him trying to make plays. No year has taught me more about situation than this year and that’s why Mingo doesn’t have big numbers. If you put on the tape and watch, he’s blocking for teammates downfield, on targets that use his horizontal speed and on most well blocked screens, he shows why he’s a 2nd round pick.
The Titans took their QB of the future in Will Levis. I was enamored with the prospects of Levis being a sleeper when I watched him in 2021. Flashes of Brett Favre and possibly stashing the next big armed stud was on my mind. But he didn’t declare for the 2022 draft. Which I stated I would’ve taken him at pick 18. But during the 2022 season his play style regressed. We now know he was dealing with a coordinator change and injuries but I was still flabbergasted by how frenetic and disheveled he played at times. The talent is there but it’s up to him controling his temperament and the Titans to do right by him and his potential. My guys in real-time order was Mingo, Sam LaPorta, O’Cyrus Torrence, Will Levis and Quan Martin.
The Third Round
In the third round, I went with De’Von Achane. He is probably the most efficient running back in the league. And pound for pound the most explosive. He’s been dinged up and the Dolphins are being cautious with him, as they should. The injury is not tied to his size and when available he’s shown that he is one of, if not the best, rookie running back in the league. Of course, you prefer the size of other RBs, but you can’t discredit his homerun ability.
The Titans went with Tyjae Spears. The electric RB from Tulane. He was an internet sensation leading up to the draft and showed that during the on-field interview process. My concerns were ball security and injury history. Titans said they did their due diligence on his iniury history and so far he’s holding up. I like the skillset of the player. This is one position where although we took different players the position was in lockstep. My order in real-time: De’Von Achane, Tyjae Spears, Clark Phillips III, Trent Simpson, Roschon Johnson and Tank Bigsby.
The Fifth Round
In the fifth round, I went with Jordan McFadden. He played left tackle for Clemson but moved inside and didn’t miss a beat. Players like he and Braeden Daniels are players that you wanted to target if you didn’t get Peter Skoronski because of their dual abilities on the inside and outside. In the preseason, McFadden was one of five offensive guards to have atleast a 99 rating or above in pass blocking. I’m certain that if given the opportunity, McFadden would play extremely well at any spot on the OL. His ideal role would be at interior offensive linemen. He currently has a role as a 6th offensive linemen in certain formations for the Chargers.
The Titans drafted tight end Josh Whyle. On tape, he had no issues catching the ball. He possesses an ideal size for the position. You can definitely see a theme here in Day 3 of the draft for the Titans. They wanted to bet on the athletic traits of these late round guys. My real-time order: Jordan McFadden, Ivan Pace Jr., and Daniel Scott.
The Sixth Round
In the sixth round, I took Luke Wypler. Wypler can play center and guard. He’s a tough and smart player that, along with McFadden, played excellent during the preseason. They 100% would’ve started for this Titans team at some point this season. Both are reserves at the moment and have plenty of people wanting them to get a chance at starting but their teams have depth at the position.
The Titans took Jaelyn Duncan. Duncan started his first game recently and looked on par with his pre draft eval. As big as he is, he has issues anchoring and dealing with power. Other than that he moved well overall. He’s developmental but like I said earlier the Titans betted on traits amd these guys look humongous when they put the pads on. Let’s see if they can develop the talent from their baseline strengths and weaknesses. I was thinking real-time: Luke Wypler, Trey Palmer, Antoine Green, A.T. Perry and Carrington Vallentine
The Seventh Round
With the last selection, I took Trey Dean III. He’s a special teams ace that can provide above average box safety play. He fits perfectly in a Dan Quinn type of defense. That defense plays single high 68% of the time while the Titans are play 1 high and 2 high at even proportion 50/50. But much like the Titans I have an ideology when it comes to late round prospects and I agree with height weight speed gambles but I also try to find unique role players. He’s currently on the Jets’ practice squad.
The 6’2″ 200 pound safety has tried to make it’s mark in the NFL and only a few make it at that position but plenty get an opportunity at dimebacker or a full-fledged linebacker of some sort. It’s a freak hybrid role because offenses can’t match the speed of these guys covering their running backs and tight ends. In real-time I was thinking, Trey Dean III, Carrington Vallentine, Mojo Ojomo, Gervarrius Owens, and Brayden Willis.
The Titans selected Ohio Valley Conference standout wide receiver Colton Dowell. Dowell apparently wowed the Titans at a local pro day. He ran a 4.44 forty yard dash and showed enough dexterity to be a draft pick. He’s played primarily on special teams so far and will probably get a look on offense before the season ends.
Going Through The Process (To The Best of Your Ability) Sets You Apart From 99% of Evaluators
Going through this process gives you insight into how detailed and tumultuous this process can be. When you implement live drafts and hold yourself accountable, you can’t play the hindsight 20/20 game. All of my evaluations can be measured while others are not held to any real-time or future standard. Essentially they are wordsmiths hoping people believe their present day performance.
You can view the gameplan here in the link below. Which includes a mock draft from March but remember the live draft talked about previously was held live during the 2023 NFL Draft right before the Titans picked.