NASHVILLE – The Titans picked six players in the 2023 NFL Draft, and so far, most of the reaction has centered on the second pick (Kentucky quarterback Will Levis), instead of the first (Northwestern offensive lineman Peter Skoronski).
On Monday, I chatted with ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. about Tennessee's six-man draft class, from Skoronski to Levis to the team's seventh-round pick, Tennessee-Martin receiver Colton Dowell.
Kiper thinks the Titans got a steal in Levis, and overall, he thinks the Titans got great value, and potential across the board.
"I like his toughness," Kiper said of Levis. "I like his arm. I like his makeup. I like the way he is so smart – he was a straight-A student in high school. He's 24 years of age (in June), so he is mature. He can move, he is mobile – he had nine rushing touchdowns in 2021 when he was healthy, so he can stress a defense with his legs. He played in NFL systems back-to-back years at Kentucky. Last year, he lost his offensive line, he lost his top receiver, and he was beat up from head to toe. And the toe injury was significant – he couldn't move. He had no mobility. So, he was no threat as a runner, and obviously that affected his passing. Now he did, on the negative side, turn the ball over a lot. But when you're at Kentucky, you have to try and make plays to compete – you don't have 4- and 5-star recruits all over the place. He got a little reckless with the football and didn't take good care of the football at times, but the ultra-competitiveness of a guy like Josh Allen, a guy like Will Levis, leads to that until they learn to dial that back just a bit. … Will just needs to strike that balance between being so competitive … and understanding the situation he is in and understanding the risk-reward.
"I don't have a crystal ball, but I would bet on Will Levis. He is in a great situation there in Tennessee."
Kiper said Levis can learn behind veteran Ryan Tannehill in 2023, but he didn't rule out the possibility of him playing sooner.
And Kiper thinks the Titans got great value in Levis in the second round, at pick 33.
Kiper had Alabama's Bryce Young as his highest-graded QB, with Levis, Ohio State's C.J. Stroud and Florida's Anthony Richardson next. Young went 1st overall to the Panthers, while Stroud went 2nd to the Texans and Richardson 4th to the Colts.
Kiper said Levis slid into the second round because he fell into no-man's land on the back half of the first round, with teams that didn't need a QB. And because of that, the Titans got a steal, Kiper said.
"Now all of a sudden they don't have to pay that much money to an early second-round pick, and if he doesn't pan out, they could cut the cord pretty quickly if Will is not up to the challenge," Kiper said of the Titans. "It is kind of a win-win. Tannehill is there now and can play, and then Will – it is kind of like Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City, although Will Levis obviously didn't carry the same grade as Patrick Mahomes did.
"Again, I don't have a crystal ball on this, but I like a lot of things that Will Levis brings to the table," Kiper said continued. "And I said all along I would have thrown out this past year because he was hurt. To grade him based off of (2022) is unfair, in my opinion, because he couldn't move and a part of his game is movement, rolling and running, and stressing the defense."
Here's what Kiper said about the rest of Tennessee's draft class:
1st round, guard Peter Skoronski: "To get him where they did, I liked it. He can play left tackle. I thought he was more of a guard, but he can play center, too. He can play any of the five positions, but it's a matter of what he'll be the best at. Where will he maximize his ability? I think it is more guard than left tackle, but we'll see. But he is a heck of a player. As a guard, I think he can be a Pro Bowl guard. But can he play tackle? Maybe he can. But he has short arms, and he is only 6-3 ½."
3rd round, running back Tyjae Spears: "He had a great year. Tyjae Spears is a heck of a running back. The only question on him is the medical, with the knee. He had the ACL a few years ago, and that is the concern – the durability, and the longevity of Tyjae Spears in the NFL."
5th round, tight end Josh Whyle: "That's the Mike Vrabel-Luke Fickell connection. (Whyle) played for Fickell, and Fickell and Vrabel of course played at Ohio State. Josh Whyle is a big target, he catches the ball, has some ability after the catch – he's an H-back. He is a move tight end."
6th round, lineman Jaelyn Duncan: "He has talent – I watched him throughout his career at Maryland, and Duncan has a lot of ability. Some thought at some point he could be a first or second rounder, he was just too inconsistent. He was inconsistent with his focus at times, and inconsistent with his technique. He needs an offensive line coach who can keep him on course. He has a ton of talent. Talent is not lacking with Jaelyn Duncan. The consistency was lacking and that's why he dropped. But he has a chance to be a starting tackle in this league."
7th round, receiver Colton Dowell: "I had an undrafted free agent grade on him, but in this draft, there was no difference between player 140 and player 340. I was trying to grade those guys up to 350, and I was down there at 150 and I was looking at the guys at 250, and there was hardly any difference (in value). So there was very little difference between a fifth-rounder and an undrafted free agent this year. (Colton) has a chance to make the team."
Kiper said the team's draft class will be remembered for what happens with Levis.
"I think every one of these guys has a chance to be a factor moving forward," Kiper said. "But when we look back on this draft, it's going to be based on Will Levis. Will Levis is their future, and if he's not, then we are going to look back on this draft and say: 'Boy, that's not a good draft.' If this turns out to be a good draft, no matter what Skoronski and all these other guys do, it's all about Will. If he is the heir apparent to Ryan Tannehill, then he has to be a quality quarterback, especially in this division where you are going against Richardson and Stroud and Trevor Lawrence. They are all young. … And the AFC is loaded with quarterbacks."