With the release of Chris Johnson last week the Tennessee Titans free agency period is drawing to a conclusion. Well, at least the initial stage of it since there will be another wave of free agency after training camps conclude and teams adjust their roster. The Titans just restructured linebacker/defensive end Kam Wimbley’s deal so there free agency is likely done unless a release frees up a player.
Regardless, it’s now a lot easier to take a look at the Titans draft picture and project what they might do come May. The Titans only have 6 draft picks this year having traded the 3rd rounder to move up and draft wide receiver Justin Hunter last year. They were not awarded any compensatory picks.
Some positions loom larger than others but the Titans free agency moves allow them to be far more flexible in the draft. So what areas might be of particular interest to the Titans? Let’s take a look.
Johnson’s release was expected but it also makes this position a bit of a premium for the Titans. Much has been written about the devaluation of the position and taking a running back in the first round may be a thing of the past. It is unlikely the Titans will select one in round one given they are picking at #11. Also, the Titans have made it clear Dexter McCluster will be given more opportunities to run the ball. Shonn Greene is also in the mix and Jackie Battle could make the team as well.
The Titans have been linked to names such as Auburn’s Tre Mason (who came in for a pre-draft visit), Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde, and West Virginia’s Charles Sims. Other names I like who could be in the mix are Washington’s Bishop Sankey and Towson’s Terrance West.
The Titans let Alterraun Verner walk in free agency and he signed a 4 year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They have a #1 corner in Jason McCourty and promising young prospects in Coty Sensabaugh and Blidi Wreh-Wilson. There are no guarantees Tommie Campbell makes the roster but this could be a prime time for him to regain form and impress a new coaching staff. Campbell was given an opportunity to displace Verner during training camp and pre-season last year. Also, Khalid Wooten could be an interesting player to watch in training camp.
The Titans signed strong safety Bernard Pollard to a 2 year $6.3 million dollar contract before he hit free agency and barring unforeseen circumstances he is likely their starting strong safety through 2015. Free safety Michael Griffin is signed through 2017 with base salaries as follows: 2014 $6.2 million, 2015 $6.3 million and 2016 $6.5 million. Veteran George Wilson is signed through 2014 with a base salary of $2 million dollars. The Titans also have second year man Daimion Stafford on the roster.
Defensive back is one area I can certainly see the Titans targeting at some point. This is a great draft for defensive backs with such good corners as Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard, Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller and Ohio State’s Bradley Roby among others. Later round prospects like Florida’s Jaylen Watkins and Rice’s Phillip Gaines are also intriguing players.
At safety Alabama’s Ha Ha Dickson is generally considered the cream of the crop though I like Louisville’s Calvin Pryor too. Dickson will most certainly play free safety and do it well in the league. Opinions differ but I think Pryor is the type of in the box coverage safety the Titans could take to replace Pollard. His game in a way reminds me of Pollard.
Later round prospects like Wyoming’s Marqueston Huff, Washington State’s Deone Bucannon, and Baylor’s Ahmad Dixon could also be in the conversation. All have nice size and range with good athleticism.
The Titans have options at linebacker with the Wesley Woodyard and Shaun Phillips signings and the restructure with Kam Wimbley means he will also be in the mix. Moise Fokou has played in the 3-4 as an outside linebacker. Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown should be able to transition to the 3-4 defense as well. Zaviar Gooden and Colin McCarthy are question marks to me on whether that transition can be made but they should get the opportunity to try.
Having said that, linebacker, particularly inside linebacker, would seem to be an area the Titans might address early. The inside linebacker market isn’t nearly as loaded as outside linebacker where the Titans could look later. UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr has been linked to the Titans. The best linebacker in the draft is Khalil Mack and he is unlikely to be there when the Titans draft at 11.
Barr is a good player but for my money I would far prefer to see the Titans pick a defensive back or an inside linebacker at the 11 spot. CJ Mosley is generally considered the best inside linebacker in the draft and would be a great fit in Ray Horton’s new system. Mosley is an incredible athlete who performed quite well at his pro day. His injury history is of note but he checked out medically.
Two other later round linebackers who greatly intrigue me are Florida State’s Telvin Smith and Christian Jones as well as Kentucky’s Avery Williamson. Williamson was in Nashville for a pre-draft visit with the Titans and should play inside linebacker in the league.
Smith is intriguing because of the many ways you could use him. A linebacker in a safety body, he has the kind of range and coverage skills of a safety with the hard hitting of a linebacker. I could see him used much like the Titans used Pollard last year as an in the box safety acting as an additional linebacker. He has incredible range and quickness. He projects to go in rounds 2 or 3.
Like Smith, Jones is a versatile player who played defensive end as well as inside and outside linebacker for the Seminoles. I thought his tape at defensive end at times was much more impressive than linebacker. That versatility would make him a good fit for Ray Horton’s system and a guy who could fill multiple roles. He is projected to go in the 4th round.
The Titans have a lot of defensive linemen but most were drafted with the 4-3 base in mind. The signing of Al Woods make nose tackle less of an issue and Jurrell Casey will do very well in Ray Horton’s defense. Antonio Johnson has played in both the 3-4 and the 4-3 and will be a fine piece of the puzzle. Defensive lineman Karl Klug can play in both systems as well.
I’m less convinced about Mike Martin, Sammie Lee Hill and Derrick Morgan who don’t seem to fit the new hybrid system. I posed the question of whether Morgan could be traded but obviously you have to have a partner. If he makes the transition it would seem to me the best option would be at the defensive end spot and he has bulked up in the past.
Casey enters the final year of his rookie deal in 2014 and while the Titans could extend him or get a new deal done it would behoove them to plan for the future. To that end, Aaron Donald could enter the picture. While Jadavenon Clowney is the talk of the draft, and rightfully so, he will not be there when the Titans draft at 11 and they have no realistic means of moving up to take him.
Missouri’s Kony Ealy and Auburn’s Dee Ford get linked to the Titans a lot but both strike me as situational pass rushers which isn’t an ideal pick in my opinion for the 11 spot. Later in the draft you could see them snag one like Louisville’s Marcus Smith who can be a hybrid defensive end/linebacker or even West Virginia’s Will Clarke. Arkansas defensive end Chris Smith is also an intriguing later round prospect.
When the Titans released right offensive tackle David Stewart as expected as it was offensive tackle became of even more immediate concern. I wrote about the Michael Oher signing here. While Oher fills the immediate need, I expect the Titans to draft at least one tackle. I don’t think they will take one in the first two rounds.
Texas A & M offensive tackle Jake Matthews was linked to the Titans in the past and his family connections to the franchise make him attractive. It is unlikely he will be available at 11 when the Titans draft, nor will Auburn’s Greg Robinson. Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan gets linked to the Titans but his off the field issues have me believe the Titans will pass.
Former Tennessee Volunteers Tiny Richardson and JuWuan James could be there in the second round and are players the Titans could certainly target. For my money, Lewan’s teammate at Michigan Michael Scofield is a late round prospect who could develop into a quality starter. Matt Patchan is another later round prospect who could develop into a strong run blocking right tackle though his injury history is of some concern.
The Titans could also look at guard even though they did re-sign veteran guard/center Chris Spencer. The starters are set with left guard Andy Levitre and right guard Chance Warmack but depth is an issue. LSU’s Trai Turner or Tennessee State’s Kadeem Edwards could get a late look. They hosted former Vol Zach Fulton as well.
They look to be set at center with second year man Brian Schwenke. Absent a setback from ankle surgery he should be a full go at training camp and might also be able to participate in some mini camps. They are sure to bring in several undrafted free agent offensive linemen to compete in training camp.
I have fully disclosed my draft crush on Mike Evans via twitter but is an unlikely option for the Titans at 11 since there are wide receiver needy teams in front of them. Could they look at wide receiver in later rounds? It’s certainly not out of the question though the position is by no means a bare cupboard for them.
Justin Hunter should make a big leap (pun intended) in his second year while third year man Kendall Wright is already a star in the making. Nate Washington has been a solid player for the Titans in his tenure and almost passed the 1000 receiving yard mark in 2013 even with some inconsistencies at quarterback.
Still, the Titans not surprisingly let Kenny Britt walk in free agency and have no one in that mold to replace him. I like Michael Preston and really hope he shines for the new coaching staff but he isn’t that big physical wide receiver that the Titans drafted Britt to be. That type wide receiver is missing from their roster.
Penn State’s Allen Robinson or Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews could be there in the second round though ideally both need to bulk up to fill that role. Kelvin Benjamin could be there in the second and fits that mold but the Titans could be scared off by his inconsistent hands. I know it’s a big concern for me.
If the Titans are seriously interested in a receiver who can fill Britt’s spot look no further than Mississippi’s Donte Moncrief. Bonus in that Titans General Manager loves that Ole Miss connection. Moncrief is a physical specimen who projects perfectly to that X wide receiver position. Justin Hunter will play the Z wide receiver spot.
One player who intrigues me is Saginaw Valley’s Jeff Janis who possesses nice size and pretty good athleticism. He has very small hands so those who look at such things tend to downgrade him for it. Still a very productive player albeit at a small school. He projects to the 5th or 6th round.
Finally, Brigham Young’s Cody Hoffman is another player in that same type mold and he could be a late round steal. While bulk and strength are cited as issues that is something that would be improved in an NFL training program. Hoffman was incredibly productive at BYU and should get an opportunity to prove himself at the next level. He projects as a late round prospect.
I don’t expect the Titans to draft a tight end this year but never say never. Delanie Walker established himself as the team’s best tight end last year and had an excellent season for the Titans. While Craig Stevens and Taylor Thompson’s performance slipped, I expect both to get every opportunity to retain their spot in training camp.
North Carolina’s Eric Ebron is largely considered the best tight end in this draft class and likely the only one who goes in the first round. I just don’t see the Titans using the 11th pick on a tight end. Texas Techs Jace Amaro could go late first but is probably more a second round guy. Could the Titans pull the trigger there? I just don’t see it.
The Titans did host former Gator and Tennessee State tight end AC Leonard and he is a very athletic tight end who could go higher than expected. Off the field concerns could also mean he goes around the 5th or 6th round. The Titans have visited with him as part of their local players visits. I do expect the Titans to bring in several undrafted free agents to compete in training camp.
With the release of longtime Titans place kicker Rob Bironas, the Titans kicking position became wide open. Maikon Bonani is the only kicker on the roster and he was in training camp last year. The Titans will likely bring in competition but I don’t see them doing it via the draft.
Brett Kern should retain his punting job but look for someone who can help ease his load in camp. Otherwise, look for the Titans to work Kern judiciously to keep his leg fresh. The return position will be fun to watch with the return of Marc Mariani, the re-signing of Leon Washington, and the addition of Dexter McCluster.
The Titans are kicking the tires on several quarterbacks this year and have been linked to all the hot names. I view drafting a quarterback as a long shot this year. The Titans will give Jake Locker every opportunity to earn the job.
The NFL Draft was moved to a later date by the league and will commence on Thursday, May 8, 2014 with the first round. The second and third round will take place on Friday, May 9 and the final rounds (4-7) on Saturday May 10.
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