By STEVE MEGARGEE, AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Titans’ draft strategy underscores how close they believe they are to competing for a Super Bowl berth.
Convinced of their depth elsewhere, the Titans traded up to select defensive players they had long targeted and largely ignored their offense .
They ended up with just four draft picks — the fewest of any NFL team this year and the least in franchise history.
“Some of these names we drafted are guys we talked about in February,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said.
Vrabel was hired in January to improve a team that went 9-7 and lost to New England in the AFC divisional round after earning its first playoff victory since January 2004 .
“I think we are a more talented roster now, and it’s our job,” general manager Jon Robinson said . “That’s our job, to try to get as many good football players on the team as possible and let them compete for spots.”
They didn’t take a single offensive player until drafting Pac-12 career passing leader Luke Falk of Washington State in the sixth round with the 199th overall pick.
The Titans’ defensive picks included Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans in the first round, Boston College outside linebacker Harold Landry in the second round and Arizona defensive back Dane Cruikshank in the fifth. The Titans traded up and gave up draft picks to get each of those three players.
That represents a huge change for a team that had taken an offensive player with its first pick every year from 2011-17.
Tennessee already had addressed its major offensive concerns in free agency with the additions of running back Dion Lewis , guard/tackle Kevin Pamphile and guard Xavier Su’a-Filo .
Evans and Landry boost the front seven, the Titans’ top draft priority with Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo entering the final years of their contracts and Avery Williamson having already left for the New York Jets as a free agent.
Cruikshank adds depth to the secondary for a defense that ranked 25th against the pass last season. The Titans already released veteran safety Da’Norris Searcy in March, leaving their depth thin behind All-Pro safety Kevin Byard fellow starter Johnathan Cyprien.
Tennessee did sign cornerback Malcolm Butler away from New England in March.
Other things to know about the Titans’ draft:
Falk expected to get taken much earlier. The former walk-on set Pac-12 records in yards passing, total offense, touchdown passes, pass completions and pass attempts.
“I think just the word that came to mind would just be ‘shocked,'” Falk said. “It wasn’t exactly how I thought it would play out, but I’m very grateful. I’m grateful that a team in Tennessee took a chance on me and is giving me an opportunity to compete and go in there and help the football team.”
Falk’s two sisters are aspiring country singers who live in Nashville. Falk gives the Titans someone to groom as a possible backup to Marcus Mariota after signing veteran Blaine Gabbert in March.
The 6-foot-4 Falk went to the Titans with the 199th overall pick. That’s the same pick New England used on Tom Brady back in 2000. Falk considers himself a big Brady fan.
“I just think that we kind of have the same similarities and style of play,” Falk said. “We are not the most mobile guys. We do stuff in the pocket, creating throws in a small space. We are accurate. He’s the best to do it and somebody I look up to and just try to model my game after. It’s a huge coincidence that it is pick 199 and Tennessee took a shot on me.”
Although he spent much of his college career at cornerback, Cruikshank says he could play anywhere in the secondary and that NFL teams were primarily viewing him as a safety. The Titans are listing him merely as a defensive back for now and praised Cruikshank’s versatility .
“Whatever they need me to play, I’m willing to play,” Cruikshank said. “I feel like I can do it all.”
PICKING FROM THE BEST
Cruikshank, who is 6-1 and 209 pounds, picked off three passes for Arizona last season. Two of his interceptions came against first-round draft picks Sam Darnold of Southern California and Josh Rosen of UCLA .
WHAT ABOUT RECEIVER?
The Titans didn’t draft a single wideout and will lean heavily on a batch of young receivers to complement Rishard Matthews, who is entering his seventh NFL season. Tennessee didn’t bring back Eric Decker and signed Michael Campanaro, who’s more of a special teams player with 31 combined receptions in four seasons.
That leaves Corey Davis, the fifth pick overall a year ago, along with Tajae Sharpe and Taywan Taylor. Sharpe spent last year on injured reserve, and Taylor is entering his second NFL season.
AP Pro Football Writer Teresa M. Walker contributed to this report.
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