Rexrode: Titans’ next quarterback is near and his identity becomes clear

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Titans general manager Ran Carthon confirmed a report from Monday (yes, the team asked Kevin Byard to take a pay cut) and refuted another (no, Byard did not ask be moved because of it). It’s always refreshing this time of year to see someone put their name and some truthfulness to things.

Carthon, at a press conference presenting his first draft as GM, had more to say – more than most of these things say – although the revelations were limited to contracted players. It basically killed the idea that Derrick Henry could be moved. And he said Ryan Tannehill “knows where he is” with the Titans: in the pocket, throwing passes at them, for one more season. The less than robust market for these two players and their 2023 salaries have always ensured their returns are secure.

Dane Brugler’s The Beast, the complete guide to the 2023 NFL Draft, is out now.

One of them, I believe, will prepare a successor for his future duties. It’s time for the Titans to get a quarterback. And while Carthon was careful to avoid hinting at this or much else in terms of draft strategy, the Titans’ actions suggest they’re ready to strike. The state of their roster and the AFC suggests they should.

Tannehill, Henry, a very good defense, a very questionable reception room and a revamped offensive line with largely unproven players probably won’t do much damage in this conference, despite the draft additions. This group also won’t lose enough in 2023 to be in a prime position for a 2024 quarterback crop of higher esteem.

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Starting with the No. 11 pick, the Titans can maneuver — or maybe even stick — and give a franchise quarterback their final shot. The last successful cut landed in 1995 when the late great Floyd Reese picked the late great Steve McNair with Alcorn State’s No. 3 pick. Three first-round high failures ensued: Vince Young at No. 3 in 2006, Jake Locker at No. 8 in 2011 and Marcus Mariota at No. 2 in 2015.

Five quarters project as possibilities Thursday. I think we can understand the choice of the Titans through the process of elimination. We don’t have the Titans internal ratings on these players. We do, however, have relevant information.

It won’t be Bryce Young from Alabama. The Carolina Panthers should take him No. 1. They should, because he’s the best player in the draft, and I think they will.

It won’t be CJ Stroud from Ohio State. He’s been the downfall guy lately, with reports suggesting the Houston Texans have soured on him and won’t take him to No. 2, and other reports suggesting why. One was foolishness not to attend Manning Passing Academy. Another had to do with his S2 Cognition test score.

For those who haven’t been paying attention, the S2 test has become a central part of the draft conversation. This was predicted in a 2020 story in Athleticism, and it came to fruition. The Nashville-based company, launched in 2016 by former Vanderbilt neuroscientists Brandon Ally and Scott Wylie, administers a battery of tests to recruit prospects (and athletes of all ages in a variety of sports) that assess cognitive processing. These tests are particularly relevant in football for quarterbacks and safeties, positions that require a quick diagnosis of a lot of information to function effectively.

Young, reported and confirmed by Athleticism, scored in the 98th percentile on the S2 test. It matches the way he played in Alabama. But Stroud’s score reported by Bob McGinn in a story for — citing an unnamed league executive — doesn’t match the way he played at Ohio State. That reported score was 18, because Stroud ranks in the 18th percentile among those who took the tests.

I don’t believe that’s his real score on the test (it’s actually nine different cognitive tests to arrive at a score). That doesn’t match his performance on the pitch at all.

I spoke to Ally on Monday, shortly after he said this about recent S2 score reports on “The Pat McAfee Show”: “What I will say is the list of scores I I’ve seen, two of these scores aren’t accurate; they’re not accurate at all. Some of the reasoning might be for narrative purposes. The other reasons are that they don’t have context. So, someone one could have gotten a list of the first scores.

These scores are the property of the NFL teams that contracted with S2, which is why you haven’t heard anything from Stroud or his agent about reporting an 18 on the test. They don’t have access to his results. Ally made it clear he wouldn’t discuss an individual athlete’s score, but most of them take the test multiple times, and I think Stroud has a much better score to his name. I know the 15 teams that have access to S2 scores know the whole story.

One of those teams is Indianapolis, and the Colts pick No. 4. If Stroud goes down on them, I don’t see him going down any more. So rule it out, because I also don’t see the Titans doing whatever it takes to go from No. 11 to No. 3 (a pick owned by the Arizona Cardinals and new general manager Monti Ossenfort, who recently worked for the Titans) and jumps past the Colts.

It makes sense to eliminate the two guys who didn’t come to Nashville for the Titans’ top 30 visits, the top two quarterbacks in the draft by consensus. The other three candidates – Anthony Richardson of Florida, Will Levis of Kentucky and Hendon Hooker of Tennessee – did.

I think Richardson is also going to come off the board a little higher than the Titans can afford to move. He’s the highest-ceilinged quarterback in this draft, and he’s awfully high.

Hooker, a second-round pick projected by Athleticism Draft analyst Dane Brugler is a strong candidate to be picked up late in the first round by a team that wants that fifth-year option. Maybe the Titans can drop No. 11 and put him in a position that makes sense.

The biggest question with Hooker, aside from his recovery from a torn ACL, is how his play in Josh Heupel’s high-paced, spreading offense will translate to the NFL. This offense, engineered by Art Briles, has yet to produce an effective NFL quarterback. That doesn’t mean it won’t.

But listening to Carthon talk Monday about conversations with quarterbacks about their college concepts and seeing what translates helps illuminate the answer here. Levis is the guy.

He played at Kentucky in the same offense the Titans run, the modern West Coast and he thrived in 2021 under OC Liam Coen, who came from the Los Angeles Rams and then returned to the Rams last season to be offensive coordinator. Levis’ performance suffered, presumably in part due to the loss of Coen, a poor offensive line in front of him and multiple injuries.

He has the physical traits. It has the score S2, 93, confirmed by Athleticism’s Joe Nobody. He asked Carthon to say very little about him when asked on Monday. The things that are both said and unsaid can be intriguing during draft week.

Additionally, Levis might be available in an area the Titans might prefer to visit. Brugler said he heard multiple teams say the Titans called for a move to the No. 2-6 range. Detroit chooses No. 6 and Lions general manager Brad Holmes worked with Carthon in the Rams organization .

It all makes too much sense. If the Titans like Levis, if they’re ready to move into the next era at the most important position on the court, if they can position themselves from No. 11 – or if they get lucky and let it fall on them. It’s the right time, it makes the most sense in terms of cost and fit, and Titans fans are ready for a jolt of excitement after watching their team decline in 2022.

All that to say, get ready for (the offensive lineman to be named later) with this No. 11 pick.

(Photo by Ran Carthon: Trevor Ruszkowski/USA Today)

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