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NFL Football

Titans take Northwestern O-lineman Skoronski at No. 11

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NASHVILLE (AP) — Only four NFL teams allowed more sacks last season than the Tennessee Titans.

That made protecting the quarterback better a top priority with Northwestern offensive tackle Peter Skoronski the easy choice Thursday night for the Titans at No. 11 overall in the NFL draft.

It's not the quarterback or trade that many expected from new general manager Ran Carthon in his first draft. Ryan Tannehill turns 35 in July and has one year left on his contract with a salary cap hit of $36.6 million.

Carthon made clear he expects his first draft pick to play immediately somewhere as a rookie after the Titans targeted Skoronski from the beginning, not sure if the lineman would be there when they picked.

"We had other contingency plans just in case, and we got lucky and he was there," Carthon said. "And so it made the pick real easy for us to pull off at 11."

The Titans gave up 49 sacks last season behind a patchwork offensive line hit hard by injuries. Only Chicago, the Rams, Colts and Denver gave up more sacks than Tennessee, which tied with the Giants in that category.

That's why they cut three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan and veteran center Ben Jones to create salary cap space and start rebuilding the offensive line. They also let right guard Nate Davis leave in free agency for Chicago.

The Titans' offense came in as the biggest need after scoring just 298 points last season. Only four NFL teams averaged fewer points than the Titans, who managed 17.5 points a game despite Derrick Henry finishing as the league's second-best rusher with 1,538 yards.

The 6-foot-4, 313-pound Skoronski, the third offensive tackle off the board Thursday night, has 10-inch hands but 32 1/4-inch arms that might cause the Titans to use him inside at guard. He was all-Big Ten three straight years at Northwestern and was selected as the league's top lineman last season.

The NFL runs deep in his family tree. His grandfather, Bob, was offensive captain of Vince Lombardi's five NFL championship teams.

Coach Mike Vrabel said Skoronski is a physical, violent lineman with versatility — all qualities they covet. The Titans visited with Skoronski at the NFL combine and also sent new offensive line coach Jason Houghtaling to Northwestern's pro day.

"When he grabs people most of the time, they stop moving," Vrabel said. "So that's really a good thing for an offensive lineman."

The Titans needed more offensive line help to make up for the draft misses of former general manager Jon Robinson, who was fired on Dec. 6. He used the 29th pick overall in 2020 on Isaiah Wilson of Georgia, who placed on a reserve list in December of his rookie season before being traded weeks later.

Dillon Radunz was the 53rd overall pick in 2021 out of North Dakota State on the FCS level. He couldn't beat out rookie Nicholas Petit-Frere, a third-round pick last year out of Ohio State, for the right tackle job and wound up a reserve in his second season.

Carthon already signed Andre Dillard and Daniel Brunskill in free agency to bolster the offensive line.

Their biggest needs remain wide receiver and tight end despite adding receiver Treylon Burks at 18 overall last year as part of the trade that sent Pro Bowler A.J. Brown to Philadelphia during the opening night of the 2022 draft.

The Titans came into this draft with only six selections with nothing in the fourth round to fulfill a June 2021 trade for Pro Bowl receiver Julio Jones. He was released after one season.

Burks missed six games as a rookie and had 33 catches for 444 yards and had only one touchdown reception. Veteran Robert Woods, a trade acquisition last March from the Rams, was a salary cap casualty this March after a team-high 53 receptions for 527 yards and two TDs.

The Titans also did not bring back tight end Austin Hooper who was second with 41 catches and tied Burks with 444 yards receiving and two TDs.

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