Examining Tennessee Titans

Examining Tennessee Titans

It’s never the wrong time for an NFL team to consider their options at quarterback.

Ryan Tannehill is the Tennessee Titans‘ quarterback. General manager Ran Carthon made that clear Tuesday. But the Titans have the No. 11 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, their highest selection since 2017, and that puts them in striking distance to trade up for or draft one of the four quarterbacks expected to go in the top half of the first round.

Opportunities like this are hard to come by, and drafts front-loaded with quarterback talent are equally rare. So as Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Kentucky’s Will Levis and Florida’s Anthony Richardson prepare for their NFL Scouting Combine interviews and workouts this week, let’s take a look at how each passer fits with the Titans and which candidates could be worthy heirs to (or replacements for) Tannehill.

FIXING IT:How can the Tennessee Titans get better? Mike Vrabel and Ran Carthon outline the first steps

THE OFFENSE:Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Tim Kelly explains what will, won’t change in 2023

Alabama QB Bryce Young

The Titans won’t be able to draft Young, the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner, without trading up for the first or second pick. But Young might be worth the hefty investment.

In two years as Alabama’s starter, Young threw 79 touchdowns with 12 interceptions, averaging 8.8 yards per attempt and completing 66% of his passes. He was a whiz on play action passes − the lifeblood of the Titans’ passing offense during Tannehill’s best years − throwing 25 touchdowns with four interceptions.

His poise in the pocket might be his best trait (he threw 38 touchdowns versus five interceptions when blitzed) and that makes him uniquely qualified to thrive despite the Titans’ questions at offensive line. Young also excels in the intermediate passing game, grading as Pro Football Focus’ best quarterback in 2022 on passes thrown between 10 and 20 yards from the line of scrimmage, another integral aspect of the Titans’ passing attack.

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud

Stroud is another prospect the Titans won’t be able to draft without trading up. He completed 69% of his passes, averaged 9.8 yards per attempt and threw 85 touchdowns with 12 interceptions in two years as the Buckeyes’ starter.

Stroud is a master of the downfield attack; no FBS passer had a better completion percentage on balls thrown more than 20 yards downfield last season and only two averaged more yards per attempt on deep throws. Stroud can play quick and also improvise. He led college football in average time to throw on plays where he scrambled (6.34 seconds), demonstrating an ability to keep his eyes downfield, but he also had the FBS’ fourth-best passer rating when getting rid of the ball in 2.5 seconds or less.

Kentucky quarterback Will Levis

Levis was one of college football’s best quarterbacks in 2021 but regressed slightly in 2022 because of injuries and a change at offensive coordinator. At his best, Levis has the kind of coveted physical gifts that have made Josh Allen and Justin Herbert stars in the NFL, but his inconsistency could lead to him falling out of the top five into a range the Titans might be more easily able to trade into.

One of Levis’ main assets is how translatable his best performances are to the pros. He spent 2021 playing for offensive coordinator Liam Coen, a Sean McVay disciple who allowed Levis to thrive in a modern offense. But Levis is also a big, strong runner who can absorb contact and has a rocket arm that’ll wow offensive coaches looking for clay to mold. He isn’t as polished as Young or Stroud, but his ceiling might be as high.

Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson

Richardson has the most room to grow, both as a quarterback prospect and in the NFL Draft conversation. With a strong showing in Indianapolis, Richardson might be able to climb into the top five thanks to his receiver-like speed, linebacker-esque build and prodigious arm strength.

Richardson’s performance on the field leaves a little to be desired. Richardson barely completed 50% of his passes against SEC opponents, took longer to throw on average than any college quarterback and only completed 38% of his passes when under pressure. But his rushing prowess draws comparisons to Cam Newton and Justin Fields, he arguably has the liveliest arm in the class and he’s shown flashes of being the kind of quarterback a good coach can turn into a superstar.

How should the Titans prioritize them?

Young is the best quarterback in the class and the best fit for the Titans. No mystery there.

It’s tough to imagine Stroud thriving in the Titans’ offense as currently constructed, but with a few downfield threats and an improved offensive line, he should be able to reach high heights.

Levis isn’t a great fit for the Titans’ offense, and his injury history should give the Titans some pause, but at his best he has the talents to spark a team the way Matt Stafford was able to with the Los Angeles Rams.

Richardson probably won’t be ready to start Day 1 and is reminiscent of Titans backup Malik Willis in good ways and bad, but if given the time to develop within a system he can be a truly dangerous dual-threat player.

Given the current state of the Titans’ roster, Tannehill’s status and what the Titans will have to give up to get each passer, Young is the best option despite the cost. Richardson and Stroud are close for second and third, but Richardson seems a little more in line with the type of player the Titans are usually drawn to. Levis is a good prospect but makes the least sense for the Titans right now.

Nick Suss is the Titans beat writer for The Tennessean. Contact Nick at nsuss@gannett.com. Follow Nick on Twitter @nicksuss.