Why Tennessee's Harold Landry could become steal of draft

Prospect Profile: Harold Landry (0:45)

Todd McShay says Boston College DE Harold Landry's impressive athleticism will make him an effective pass-rusher in the NFL. (0:45)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Every young pass-rusher that comes to the Tennessee Titans is chasing the standard set by the Freak.

Jevon "the Freak" Kearse is the best Titans-era pass-rusher, and still holds the Titans record with 14.5 sacks as a rookie in 1999. He won defensive rookie of the year and made the Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams in 1999.

The Freak's record might not be broken for a long time, but rookies will still try. Harold Landry is up to bat. This weekend, Landry hits the field for rookie minicamp. He has the ability and potential to be a great pass-rusher in the NFL, but there's plenty to prove and achieve.

The path is clear for Landry. The Titans have two veteran pass-rushers -- Brian Orakpo (who will be 32 in July) and Derrick Morgan (29) -- nearing the back end of their careers and entering the final year of their contracts. There's not much depth behind them. Outside linebacker was a huge need, and the Titans were ecstatic and pleasantly surprised they were able to trade up to the 41st overall pick to land Landry, whom they had a first-round grade on at a premium position.

Titans coach Mike Vrabel was adamant Landry isn't here to be the "understudy" for Orakpo or Morgan: He was drafted to take somebody's job. If Landry reaches his potential, he could be the steal of the draft and the Titans' top pass-rusher within a year.

"I can make an immediate impact," said Landry, who had a Boston College-record 16.5 sacks in 2016, the most by an ACC player since 1996. "It's a perfect fit for me. ... I have the chance to help this team out as much as possible my rookie year. Definitely coming into camp with a chip on my shoulder."

Landry's ideal rookie role should be as the Titans' situational sack specialist behind Orakpo and Morgan, a role in which he might not start any games but where he'll have a big opportunity to make quarterbacks fear him. First-round picks Bruce Irvin (Seahawks in 2012) and Takkarist McKinley (Falcons in 2017) played similar roles as rookies, responding with 8.0 and 6.0 sacks, respectively.

Eight sacks seems like a realistic and solid rookie season for Landry. Orakpo, Morgan and Landry could be a frustrating trio rushing outside with Jurrell Casey causing havoc inside. Linebacker Rashaan Evans, the Titans' first-round pick, should also be involved in blitz packages.

Playing primarily on third down would give Landry the chance to excel in his best role, as a pass-rusher, while growing into some of his other positional responsibilities like setting the edge, stopping the run and dropping into coverage.

But let's be real here: Landry's job is to get sacks, sacks and more sacks. He might have dropped in the draft because of his injury-plagued senior season or worries that he couldn't stop the run. The Titans didn't have any issues with his medicals. Landry says he's "100 percent" healthy, too. A NFL weight program should increase his strength. And if Landry puts up 10-plus sacks a season, Tennessee won't care if he ever becomes a strong run defender.

"He still has the fastball and can dip and bend. He can change direction and can turn the corner and get to the quarterback on the edge. He has good length," Titans general manager Jon Robinson said. "He's not a really tall, tall player, but he has long arms and he has some snap with his hands. I thought he drew a lot more attention this year obviously; coming off a really good season, you are going to get more guys trying to block you. We are really excited about him and can't be more ecstatic."

Added Vrabel: "He has an explosive get-off. It's something that jumps off the screen at you. There's the fastball that Jon mentioned and the workout was really good. ... He took to the coaching, and when guys pick things up really quick in a 30- or 45-minute workout, it makes you pretty excited that during the course of an offseason or through the OTAs that he is going to be able to progress quickly and develop to where we need him to be."

Orakpo and Morgan are more complete, proven and respected players, but Landry's first step, bend and raw ability are what make him unique in Tennessee's pass-rush crew.

Turn on Landry's 2016 film, and he looks like one of the top 10 players in the 2018 draft class. The "rip-and-dip," where he used his ability to bend the edge and (4.64 40-yard dash) speed to get underneath a backpedaling offensive tackle, was his go-to move and landed him a bunch of sacks. He also flashed an effective long-arm move.

Landry's college coaches raved about his development and increased maturity in his time at Boston College. He got special teaching in technique and fundamentals from his former defensive line coach, Paul Pasqualoni, who helped Landry develop more than just his go-to speed rush. Pasqualoni compared Landry to another one of his former pupils, Hall of Famer Jason Taylor, when talking to reporters last summer. Landry also has an 11-month-old son and a fiancée, both of whom he credits for helping him grow up.

In Tennessee, Landry will have the luxury of playing in a versatile, aggressive, blitz-friendly Vrabel/Dean Pees defense, which should allow him plenty of one-on-one matchups where he can win with his speed or moves. He will likely be featured on four- and five-man substitute defensive-line packages, too.

One AFC front-office executive told ESPN that Landry's game reminded him of the Falcons' Vic Beasley Jr., and the exec believed Landry could have a similar sort of early career. Beasley had four sacks as a rookie with Atlanta in 2015 before becoming a Pro Bowler and the NFL's sack leader with 15.5 in 2016. He had five sacks last season.

NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks said Landry reminds him of Broncos All-Pro OLB Von Miller when he was coming out of Texas A&M. Interestingly, Landry said he tries to shape his game to follow Miller, a six-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl 50 MVP who has six double-digit sack seasons since entering the league in 2011.

All three players -- Beasley, Miller and Landry -- share a unique athleticism, explosive burst and a natural ability to get low, bending the edge to beat their man.

But all of this is about potential. Landry has plenty of it, but also a long way to go to earn a spot among the names he's been mentioned with.

Over the past decade, the Titans have three individual performances of 10-plus sacks in a season (Orakpo, 10.5, 2016; Casey, 10.5, 2013; and Jason Babin, 12.5, 2010). Kearse and Kyle Vanden Bosch are the only players in the Titans era to have multiple seasons with 10-plus sacks.

Evans and Landry could redefine the Titans' front seven for years to come. But first, they've got to earn the respect of their veterans in Year 1.