Updated: Apr 30, 2022
During the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, the Titans traded Wide Receiver A.J. Brown to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Titans received the 18th overall pick as well as a 3rd round selection for the 24 year old receiver.
With the 18th overall selection, Tennessee chose Arkansas receiver Treylon Burks. Burks is a big and physical receiver who, funny enough, was compared to A.J. Brown by ESPN on draft night.
This is a very surprising development given Brown’s value to Tennessee. In his 3 seasons with the Titans, Brown racked up 26 total touchdowns and 2,995 receiving yards including back to back 1,000 yard seasons in his first two years in the league.
The stats do not show Brown’s full importance to the Titans, though.
Since Ryan Tannehill took over at Quarterback midway through the 2019-20 season, Brown has been his most consistent and most targeted receiver. He was a security blanket and made huge plays. His uncanny ability to get incredible yards after the catch and to make unexpected contested catches is what made him such an integral part of the team.
It is likely that the trade came because of Brown’s ongoing contract situation.
Upon being traded to the Eagles, Brown was signed to a 4 year, $100 million dollar deal with $57 million guaranteed. This deal averaged $25m per year but Brown said that if the Titans had increased their offer to $22m per year, he would have been willing to stay.
According to ESPN’s Turron Davenport, the Titans offer to Brown was $20m per year but Brown’s camp came back with a proposal north of $25m. Brown said the extension with Tennessee not happening was “not [his] fault.”
Coach Vrabel said that he “went to the extreme to try and keep Brown.” I really do believe Vrabel because throughout the speculation of a Brown trade, Vrabel was unmoved in his views on Brown's importance to the Titans. He also encompasses what I see as a Vrabel football player: big, physical, coachable, and tough.
I have no doubt that Brown was an emerging superstar which makes this trade so painful. It felt like every week that Tannehill connected to Brown on an incredible 40+ yard touchdown in a clutch part of the game.
Brown is among the best receivers in Titans history and with room to grow, thus making the fact that Jon Robinson and the Titans front office did not make some sort of sacrifice to sign Brown a bit surprising.
I’m sure there was action behind the scenes maybe related to Brown’s absence from OTAs or reported despondency toward the Titans front office.
If the deal was really never going to happen, it is better to trade him a year early then lose him to free agency next season and gain nothing.
The Titans aim to replace Brown with 6’3, 225lb receiver Treylon Burks out of Arkansas. Burks totaled 2,399 yards and 19 touchdowns in 3 seasons with Arkansas including 1,104 yards in his final season. I love this selection as he can replace the physical presence of A.J. Brown and provides great upside.
Like Brown, he can provide a good deep threat and take the top off the defense as well as turn upfield and make defenders miss after short completions.
While Brown was clearly more established in Tennessee, I am very optimistic about Burks given his skillset.
In the third round, the Titans traded up to the 86th spot to make their 4th selection of the daft. They chose QB Malik Willis from Liberty, a player I have been excited about for months. It seemed like a longshot for the Titans to select a Quarterback given Jon Robinson’s allegiance to Ryan Tannehill but he made the selection and said that Willis was "the best player on the board."
Willis, an incredibly athletic FBS Quarterback, can run the ball like a running back but still has an incredible arm. He has the most total Touchdowns in FBS since 2020 with 47 passing and 27 rushing touchdowns.
He led the FBS in broken tackles with an incredible 90--- Kenneth Walker who was among the country’s best running backs in 2021-22 had 89 on 176 more carries.
In his post-draft interview with Titans play by play announcer Mike Keith, Willis said that what puts him apart from other Quarterbacks is his “will to win.” His interviews have come across very well and he seems very reasonable.
Needless to say, I am extremely excited by this selection. His pro day in March grabbed my attention after he showcased his incredible arm which could quite possibly be the best in the draft.
The 2022 draft didn't exactly appear to be a gold mine of Quarterbacks but I believe Willis has the highest potential of any in the draft. He would probably benefit from some time behind Tannehill to learn the offense and more about NFL football given that much of his FBS experience may not translate as well to the NFL.
Tannehill is a mobile quarterback but Willis takes that to the next level. They share some similarities like a strong arm and leadership qualities but still seem different enough that I did not expect Jon Robinson to pull the trigger.
I am predicting that by Week 9, Willis will be playing in some capacity for the Titans. I believe that if Ryan Tannehill has some issues, Willis can provide a great spark and change of pace.
At the least, I expect to see Willis in some sort of packages similar to Marcus Mariota with the Raiders last season.
It is apparent that after Ryan Tannehill’s meltdown in 2021, capped off by his 3 interception performance against the Bengals, his job is no sure thing going forward. It would not surprise me if given the pressure of a capable backup that Tannehill bounces back, though.
I am, however, very confident that there will be endless calling by the fans to play Willis over Tannehill after every imperfect performance.
Still, the selection of Willis makes me extremely optimistic beyond just this season and I see it as a low risk, high reward selection.