For Tennessee Titans, this NFL Draft is becoming a matter of what might have been | Estes

Gentry Estes
Nashville Tennessean

After not drafting a pass-catcher in the first three rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft, Jon Robinson was asked about one anyway Friday night.

Has he spoken to the Atlanta Falcons about trading for Julio Jones?

The Tennessee Titans general manager wasn’t biting. Robinson refused to “comment about any talks that we might have had with other teams regarding players.”

I mean, that wasn't a no.

So maybe there is hope yet. Perhaps the Titans really are operating on their own secret blueprint, which would ultimately explain a draft strategy on the first two days that ignored their glaring needs at wide receiver and tight end while selecting two cornerbacks, a tackle and an inside linebacker?

Remember the Titans not drafting a needed edge rusher in 2020 and then months later signing Jadeveon Clowney?

Jones might be wishful thinking, but it’s something to latch onto. Enticing tea leaves are more appealing than the reality of a so-so draft that so far simply hasn’t moved the needle all that much for the Titans.

It hasn’t been terrible. They’ve added four quality players.

It’s just none of those players are certain to be in the starting lineup come Week 1. First-round cornerback Caleb Farley’s health is in question. Second-round selection Dillon Radunz has to beat out veterans on the O-Line. It’s even more doubtful that third-round inside linebacker Monty Rice would work his way ahead of Rashaan Evans or Jayon Brown, and third-round cornerback Elijah Molden – while, personally, my favorite Titans pick Friday – isn’t a lock to start, either.

Friday’s picks boosted depth more than they promised instant impact. How much of a difference will they make in 2021 for a franchise that needs that extra push to go from playoff team to championship contender?

DAY 3 DRAFT TARGETS:10 players who make sense for Titans on final day of draft

DRAFT GRADES:What experts think of Titans' Day 2 picks in NFL Draft

The whole night, really, played out as a frustrating and unsatisfying experience for the Titans. Friday's aftertaste: What might have been? The Titans were close to being able to add some serious punch, only to have players seemingly snatched out from under them just before their turn arrived.

Anyone who plays fantasy sports knows that awful feeling of having a coveted pick queued up only to see him drafted away just beforehand.

Take a look at the players at need positions who were swiped by other teams within four picks of the Titans’ first two selections Friday: Receiver Rondale Moore, pass rusher Azeez Ojulari, linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and tight ends Hunter Long and Tommy Tremble.

Six of the second-round picks ahead of the Titans at No. 53 were made by teams that traded up. That included the Cleveland Browns, who jumped ahead of the Titans to take Owusu-Koramoah – rated by as this year’s eighth-best overall prospect – at No. 52. It’ll go down as the best value pick of this draft, and the Browns seized it.

Robinson, as Titans GM, has earned a reputation for aggressive draft dealing, often to successful results. But he didn’t budge Friday. He never traded up, though he said he did try.

“We tried moving up and couldn't get up quite high enough a couple times,” Robinson said, “and that's just kind of the way the players fell at the end.”

Moving up just a few picks in either round could have made a huge difference. The biggest mistake might have been failing to trade up a few spots in the third round once Long was taken at No. 81. Given how badly the Titans need a tight end and how perfect a fit Notre Dame’s Tremble has seemed for months, seeing him go to the Carolina Panthers at No. 83, only two picks before the Titans at No. 85, was a cruel twist.

The Titans then traded down and ended up with Rice – a productive SEC player, but an inside linebacker.

MEET DILLON RADUNZ:Titans' 2nd-rounder wants to be 'thrown in that starting five'

MEET MONTE RICE:Titans counting on Georgia LB's skill matching his confidence

We’ll see what happens Saturday. The Titans have a lot of picks to burn. For now, it's difficult to rate this draft class as a win for the Titans without any wide receivers or tight ends in the top three rounds.

You’re starting to envision a 2021 offense with Josh Reynolds and Anthony Firkser playing greater roles than they ever have before.

Unless, of course, Arthur Smith is willing to still help his old offense.

And if Julio Jones does end up being sent to Nashville, he won't have trouble finding an open locker.

Reach Gentry Estes at and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.