Titans eye wide receiver or offensive line ahead of draft

Booger, Kiper make their picks for best WR in the 2024 draft (1:33)

Booger McFarland and Mel Kiper Jr. debate whether Malik Nabers or Marvin Harrison Jr. is the best WR in the NFL draft. (1:33)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Brian Callahan finds himself in a similar situation as he approaches his first draft as the head coach of the Tennessee Titans.

Offensive line and wide receiver are two of the biggest draft needs for the Titans, and there's a good chance that top options at both positions will be available when the Titans are on the clock with the No. 7 pick.

Callahan was a part of the Cincinnati Bengals' staff that had a similar decision on its hands heading into the 2021 draft. The Bengals had the No. 5 pick and had to choose between receiver in Ja'Marr Chase or offensive tackle in Penei Sewell.

Now Callahan is faced with a similar dilemma.

Do the Titans invest to protect their young quarterback by trying to upgrade an offensive line that desperately needs help, or do they add a playmaker to throw to? Tennessee could have an agonizing decision depending how the draft board plays out.

In the prospect rankings by ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., he has Ohio State's Marvin Harrison Jr. No. 3, LSU's Malik Nabers No. 4 and Washington's Rome Odunze No. 5 as far as receivers go, and Notre Dame's Joe Alt No. 8, Alabama's JC Latham No. 11 and Penn State's Olumuyiwa Fashanu No. 15 in terms of the top tackles.

At No. 7, the Titans are in a good position to have their choice of most of these prospects with so many quarterback-needy teams selecting before them or trying to trade up to get one.

In Cincinnati, Callahan and the staff went the receiver route.

"I landed on the Ja'Marr Chase side because I saw what he could do for our offense," Callahan said in an interview for 102.5 The Game. "I tend to lean to the guys that can score touchdowns."

The Bengals selected Chase and it paid off as he was named the Offensive Rookie of the Year while playing an integral role in Cincinnati's unlikely run to the Super Bowl, where the team lost to the Los Angeles Rams.

Callahan's comments could give the impression that Tennessee will likely go the receiver route, but this situation is different from the last time he had to weigh the two positions against each other.

The Bengals had Joe Burrow as their quarterback after selecting him No. 1 the previous year. Burrow and Chase had worked wonders together at LSU, so Cincinnati knew what the tandem could do. Chase's 1,780 receiving yards set an SEC single-season record.

Meanwhile, in Oregon, Sewell won the Outland Trophy, which recognized him as the best interior lineman in the country. Sewell was picked seventh overall and has been a key part of the Detroit Lions' franchise turnaround.

The Bengals had to find ways to better protect Burrow, who as a rookie was sacked 32 times before suffering a torn ACL after getting hit while in the pocket in Week 11.

Tennessee allowed 64 sacks last season with rookie Will Levis on the receiving end of 28 of them in nine games before a Week 17 ankle injury ended his season.

As with Cincinnati in 2021, it's imperative for the Titans to find ways to protect their second-year quarterback. That's why Alt has been linked to them often by ESPN draft experts and why he is regarded as the consensus No. 1 tackle.

In 1,105 pass-blocking snaps through three college football seasons, Alt allowed just 24 pressures and four sacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and 11 of the pressures and three of the sacks occurred when he was a freshman.

The Titans brought in Alt for a visit, where he got to meet with offensive line coach Bill Callahan (the father of Brian).

"The detail, that's what I love," Alt told ESPN. "I walked out of there realizing the way he coaches is so black and white, there's no gray area. It's really easy to grow and get better faster when you know what a coach wants and you're able to assess the film and move forward."

Pairing an extremely talented prospect such as Alt with Bill Callahan -- who's regarded as one of the league's top position coaches -- could give the Titans a long-term answer at left tackle.

But the Titans have also showed significant interest in Nabers, and for good reason. The Titans' passing offense ranked 29th last season, averaging only 180.4 yards per game. Nabers would add an instant jolt to the passing attack. His electrifying playmaking ability was on full display this past season as he finished with 89 receptions for 1,569 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Tennessee had a formal meeting with Nabers at the combine. Titans general manager Ran Carthon was at LSU's pro day to watch him work out, as well, and they also hosted him for a visit.

The option of adding another top-100 pick could entice the Titans to trade back to try to add to a roster with remaining questions despite a splashy free agency haul -- especially considering that they lack a third-round pick. Whether it's offensive line or wide receiver, analysts are predicting record-breaking numbers for each position in the first round, so there's depth.

"It's about the value, right," Carthon said at the combine. "So if you're sitting there and there's a receiver, knowing that there's a deep O-line class, it's like, 'Where can we supplement this position later?' So it's about playing those two parts off of each other, whether that's in free agency, as well as in the draft."

Tennessee has invested in the receiver position through free agency since Carthon took over as GM last year. DeAndre Hopkins is entering the final season of the two-year, $54 million deal he signed in 2023. The team also signed the top free agent receiver, Calvin Ridley, to a four-year, $92 million deal last month.

Treylon Burks was a first-round pick in 2022 but hasn't lived up to being A.J. Brown's replacement like the Titans hoped when they traded the star away on draft day that year. Given the uncertainty surrounding Burks' development and Hopkins' return after the upcoming season, the Titans have to think about the future as well as the present.

Whether they take one in the first round is the question they are left with, but regardless of what they do with the No. 7 pick, Callahan has been here before.