Could Florida’s Jachai Polite be the next Jevon Kearse for Titans?

Erik Bacharach
The Tennessean

INDIANAPOLIS — Back in 1999, the Titans selected an edge rusher from Florida in the first round of the NFL draft, an instant-impact presence who helped lift the team from good to great. Twenty years later, they’re in position to do something similar.

But Jachai Polite hasn’t really looked up to Jevon Kearse, despite the similar background.

“Jevon Kearse? Nah,” Polite said Saturday at the 2019 NFL scouting combine. “It was really Dante Fowler.”

Fowler, the No. 3 pick in 2015 and a current free agent, makes sense as a football role model for someone near in age like Polite. But regarding Kearse — the 1999 AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year whom the Titans drafted with the 16th overall pick — forgive Polite. He’s only 20. Kearse was a bit before his time.

Still, Polite in Nashville — which hosts the 2019 NFL draft in April — adds up. He’s projecting to go in the middle of the first round, and several mock drafts have the Titans taking him at No. 19. The Titans' biggest need is arguably improving on the edge and getting to the quarterback, and Polite, with his speed and ability to bend around the corner, satisfies that need to a T.

And for whatever it’s worth, the Titans have already won some points with Polite.

He said he’s had 19 formal meetings with teams this week, most of which were part of the “bashing crew” — as in teams that were quick to criticize flaws in his game, specifically his technique stopping the run.

"That’s probably it. That’s probably the only flaw of my game,” Polite said. “They know you have good plays. That’s why we’re here. So everybody’s going to pull up your bad plays. ...That’s their job. They’re trying to get my character out. They’re trying to make me feel uncomfortable. See the way I react. So them bashing me, that’s their job. They’re about to invest millions probably — I hope. So I have to take it.”

The questions had a similar theme.

“Like, ‘Why?’” Polite recalled. “Why didn’t I do this on this play? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?”

Oct 7, 2017; Gainesville, FL, USA;Florida Gators defensive lineman Jachai Polite (99) gets the fans pumped up against the LSU Tigers  during the first half at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

But not the Titans.

"Nah, not really," said Polite, who mentioned the Los Angeles Rams were the team whose interview he most enjoyed. "They didn’t. I remember all the teams. But like they didn’t at all.

"They weren’t really asking, ‘Why? Why? Why?’ They were just trying to see who I was because they really didn’t do background checks on me, they said. So I was like, ‘OK, cool.' They’re getting to actually just know who I am. Not ask 'why' questions and stuff. That’s how I thought it was going to be in all the meetings."

It wasn't the first time this week where Polite's expectations didn't align with reality. One example? His roommate, Ohio State's Nick Bosa, who is the projected No. 1 overall pick.

"He’s so cool," Polite said. "Probably going No. 1. That’s crazy. I never imagined I’d be in the same room as him, literally. It’s just crazy. I’m very blessed to be a part of this draft class."

And perhaps he's the next Jevon Kearse for the Titans. Even if he's a few inches shorter, the potential seems to be there for Polite, who had 11 sacks and six forced fumbles this past season for the Gators.

"I stay humble, but I got to talk myself up," Polite said with a smile. "I’ve got to believe in myself first. I feel like I am the most athletic guy in this class."

Reach Erik Bacharach at and on Twitter @ErikBacharach.

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