Finding the Fits: Titans give QB Falk chance to surprise

Luke Falk is making the transition from Mike Leach's Air Raid attack at Washington State.James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

By Rob Rang,

This is part of a series -- Finding the Fits -- in which will review the more intriguing picks made during the 2018 NFL Draft. The goal is to identify one relatively unheralded player per team who appears to be a good schematic fit and, therefore, more likely to be a surprise contributor early in his pro career.

Tennessee Titans' best fit: Luke Falk, QB, Washington State, selected No. 199 overall (sixth round)

As you know, the transition from a spread offense in college to a pro-style scheme in the NFL is difficult for quarterbacks.

Few quarterbacks at the college level are being asked to do things that are commonplace in the NFL, like memorizing and calling plays in the huddle. After being allowed to survey the field from the comfort of the shotgun, many are making half-field reads prior to the snap based on one or two defenders.

Spoon-feeding young passers with relatively simple matchup offenses has led to an explosion of points being scored and records being broken throughout college football but there is a cost. Far too many young quarterbacks are then overwhelmed by the mental responsibilities required at the NFL level, contributing to the position's high bust rate.

That is why savvy teams are doing a better job of adjusting their scheme to aid young quarterbacks rather than requiring players to do all of the work.

This includes the Titans, whose general manager Jon Robinson and new head coach Mike Vrabel convinced up-and-coming play-caller Sean LaFleur to leave the NFL's top-rated offense with the Los Angeles Rams to join Tennessee's staff.

The Titans feature three former spread quarterbacks in starter Marcus Mariota, primary backup Blaine Gabbert and 2018 sixth round pick Luke Falk, each of whom is likely excited to work with LaFleur, given that 2017 No. 1 overall pick (and former Air-Raid quarterback) Jared Goff improved as much as any passer in the league last season under his tutelage.

As the unquestioned starter since joining the team as the No. 2 overall pick of the 2015 draft, Mariota, of course, will have the greatest opportunity to show whatever improvements he's made working with LaFleur and the Titans' improved receiver corps. Frankly, Mariota needs it after throwing a career-low 13 touchdowns during last year's regular season along with 15 interceptions, the most of his three-year career.

Rather than have Mariota enter the 2018 season in the final year of his contract, the Titans have already announced they are picking up the fifth year of his rookie deal. That said, with Mariota coming off a career-worst season (and with all three campaigns cut short due to injury), it is easy to understand why Robinson has created a "backup" plan.

Gabbert, now on his fourth NFL team in eight seasons, is clearly Tennessee's top option behind Mariota. Gabbert's two-year, $4 million deal indicates that is likely all he is in the eyes of the Titans' staff, however.

While possessing a more prototypical frame and arm than his rookie competitor, Gabbert has not shown the consistent accuracy and toughness in the NFL that Falk -- the only QB drafted by Tennessee during Robinson's tenure -- demonstrated throughout his career at Washington State.

Falk currently lacks the velocity on sideline throws to be successful in every NFL offense but the plays the similarly-built Goff excelled in last year under LaFleur suggests that the former could do well in this scheme.

Falk is a savvy passer used to distributing the ball quickly. While lacking eye-popping arm strength, Falk does possess legitimate NFL-caliber accuracy, including terrific touch on deep balls. Further, he showed great toughness at Washington State and at the Senior Bowl, inspiring teammates with his selflessness and ability to overcome pain.

The fact that the Titans boast one of the league's better offensive lines and a talented young running back in Derrick Henry only makes the job of the quarterback -- whomever he may be -- that much easier in Tennessee.

To be clear, barring a complete disaster, Falk's only playing time this season is likely to come late in preseason games and that may even be the case a year from now. His unique skill-set matches Tennessee's new offense, however, and he does possess the intangibles teams look for in a quality back-up option.

Perhaps most importantly of all, Falk likely will receive the time to acclimate to the NFL game that his predecessors did not, which could help him someday prove a much better fit than his late draft selection would indicate.

It certainly did for Falk's childhood hero, New England Patriots star and future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, who was drafted with the exact same pick (199th overall) 18 years ago, benefitting from a year on the sideline with few expectations before ultimately taking over for former No. 1 overall pick and Falk's predecessor at Washington State, Drew Bledsoe.

Other thoughts on the Titans' 2018 draft class:

With all due respect to Falk, an underrated fit, in terms of immediate impact ability, it is clear why Robinson and Vrabel made securing Rashaan Evans the club's top draft-day priority, as he is an ascending star drafted at a position of need. The Titans moved up three spots to guarantee they'd get Evans, the latest star linebacker out of Alabama.

In part because of the talent ahead of him on the depth chart in Tuscaloosa, Evans did not become a full-time starter until his senior season. Once he did so, however, Evans' combination of closing speed and physicality stood out. Expect more of the same in Tennessee, with Evans' lack of starting experience resulting in occasional missteps early on but with him ultimately developing into a top defender and intimidator for the Titans.

Second- and fifth-round picks Harold Landry and Dane Cruikshank are talented prospects drafted into tough position groups, likely limiting the production of the former as a rookie and erasing that of the latter, who, as projected, is making the transition to safety from cornerback.

The presence of established edge rushers Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo as well as Jurrell Casey on the inside should leave Landry one-on-one opportunities when he's on the field but with Kevin Dodd (the No. 33 overall pick of the 2016 draft) among those also competing for time, it remains to be seen how often that comes for Landry in his rookie season.

Like Evans, Landry is capable of excelling once given an opportunity. He is slithery off the edge, beating tackles off the ball with a very quick first step and counters and he is proven turnover hound, forcing 10 fumbles over his career, including an NCAA-leading seven in 2016.

A nagging ankle injury contributed to disappointing production for Landry last year, which caused some to question his ability to hold up and produce over the course of an NFL season. At just over 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, Landry is undersized and needs to stronger at the point of attack, too often getting washed out in the running game.

Tennessee's 2018 draft class:

1st Round, No. 22 overall: Rashaan Evans, ILB, Alabama

2nd Round, No. 41 overall: Harold Landry, OLB/DE, Boston College

5th Round, No. 152 overall: Dane Cruikshank, DB, Arizona

6th Round, No. 199 overall: Luke Falk, QB, Washington State

Key Undrafted Free Agents Signed:

Deontay Burnett, WR, Southern California

Nick DeLuca, ILB, North Dakota State

Akrum Wadley, RB, Iowa



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