One trade Tennessee Titans can make to nail the 2021 NFL draft | Estes
For a league with so many brilliant people, the NFL can collectively get stupid around draft time. No other explanation, really, if college football’s best player in 2020 ends up falling into the middle of the first round. It’s starting to look like that could happen to Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith , and if it does, one team stands to benefit the most. You can probably guess which one. These Tennessee Titans , who so badly need a No. 2 receiver and will be looking to perhaps draft one . While Smith probably won’t fall to the Titans at pick No. 22, he might fall far enough that trading up at a reasonable cost would make sense. The NFL, by nature, is overly risk-averse. Teams look for reasons not to draft players, and they too often value measurables and potential instead of proven production. Just look in the Titans’ backfield. Derrick Henry fell to them in the second round — after also winning a Heisman Trophy at Alabama — because NFL teams thought he was too big, couldn’t catch and had been overused his final season in Tuscaloosa. This year, Smith could become the best example of physical characteristics — he’s viewed as too small — scaring teams off from a special, can’t-miss player. For this reason, there isn’t a consensus about Smith among draft experts. Projections have been all over the place, from ESPN’s Mel Kiper slotting him in February as the third overall pick to this week’s latest mock draft from Bucky Brooks of NFL.com , who had Smith all the way down at No. 19. 19! Others in the industry might be better-known, but I’ve learned to value Brooks’ opinion as much as anyone this time of year. When I see him with Smith at No. 19 and Alabama position-mate Jaylen Waddle at No. 7, I believe there’s a reason. Smith’s stock appears to be sliding in NFL circles, and it’s obvious why. Size has been the knock on him since he was in high school. He even mentioned it during his short speech after winning the Heisman: “To all the young kids out there that's not the biggest, not the strongest, just keep pushing. Because I'm not the biggest. I've been doubted a lot just because of my size.” His height is listed as 6-foot-1, but when asked by media during Alabama’s pro day interviews what he weighed, Smith curtly replied, "Same thing I've been weighing.” Pressed further for a number, he grudgingly offered that he was at 170 pounds. It's clear, though, that the topic remains a sore spot for him. And rightfully so. I mean, what else can the guy do? Did you watch him for Alabama last season? Smith was unstoppable, even after Waddle was injured midseason, allowing defenses to focus on him. He intimidated cornerbacks assigned to him. On Monday, Smith said part of his approach was “seeing if they’re really comfortable with being in front of me.” “You can look at some guys and tell if it's something that they really want to do or it's something that they really don't want to do,” he said. That’s just wonderful. Seriously, how many college receivers can say that and it’s entirely believable? As for the Titans, with Bud Dupree in Nashville , it looks like the Titans’ biggest needs entering this draft will be receiver and cornerback, with edge rusher and tight end not far behind. A strong case could still be made for the Titans to grab an edge rusher in the first round. Pick No. 22 sets up well for that. The crop of edge rushers in this draft isn’t top-heavy, but it’s deep in prospects who figure to fall into that late-first, early second-round range. Cornerback and wide receiver aren’t going to be so accommodating. Top guys aren’t many, and as such, they aren’t expected to last that long. That means the Titans – if they are dead set on waiting and going that direction -- would probably end up reaching rather than drafting the best available prospect. But what if one of those top receivers slips just far enough? If NFL groupthink is dumb enough to let Smith get past the top dozen spots, the Titans should not hesitate. Trade up into the teens, take him quickly and be ecstatic to do it. Smith wouldn’t just be an adequate replacement for Corey Davis . He’d be an upgrade – and that's not a knock on Davis. Smith would be one of the very few remaining options in free agency or the draft where you could say that. No concerns about his toughness or work ethic or desire. What Smith might lack in run-blocking strength, he’d more than make up in effort, game-breaking potential and rare smoothness to embarrass single coverage. As Kiper wrote of Smith , “He is one of the best route-runners I’ve scouted, and he beats any corner put in front of him.” The WR2 spot for the Titans is a gold mine for a player like that. Imagine defensive coordinators having to scheme to stop Henry, A.J. Brown and Smith on the other side. And here’s the thing: It isn't so far-fetched.