NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Titans appear to have their guard up when it comes to the NFL Draft. Then again, they might just have a corner on the market. Or the Titans might just tackle this draft with a defensive lineman up front.
Those four positions – guard, cornerback, defensive end and defensive tackle – have consistently resonated as the Titans’ primary needs heading into the three-day NFL Draft in New York City. It begins Thursday night with first-round selections being announced, followed by rounds two and three Friday night, and concluding with rounds four through seven on Saturday.
The Titans have nine draft picks, including the No. 10 overall selection in the first round, marking the first time the franchise has ever picked at that position.
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“I think it could be one of three or four,” second-year Titans general manager Ruston Webster said of the positions the team is focused on most for their first-round pick and beyond. “I don’t think it is a certainty right now at this point.”
A lot of that feeling has to do with the way the Titans went through free agency in hyperactive mode. They signed a dozen players, including former Buffalo Bills guard Andy Levitre, considered the top free agent at the position and certainly a team need. Even so, the guard position remains a top priority, considering there could be as many as three at the position – Alabama’s Chance Warmack, North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper and Kentucky’s Larry Warford – drafted in the first round. With Levitre at one guard and a top draft pick at the other, coupled with veteran Titans stalwarts Michael Roos at left tackle and David Stewart at right tackle, the offensive line could be set for quite some time.
Veteran Titans Fernando Velasco, Eugene Amano and Mike Otto will vie for the center slot.
“There is some difference, obviously, because of where they are going (to be drafted),” Webster said when comparing Cooper and Warmack, the latter of whom might not be around when the draft gets to the Titans’ first-round pick. “But I think that is not to slight those other guards and say they wouldn’t be good starters in the league.”
Those other guards who could be taken down the line with subsequent Titans picks include Syracuse’s Justin Pugh, Oregon’s Kyle Long, Kent State’s Brian Winters, Alabama’s Barrett Jones and Wisconsin’s Travis Frederick, to name a few.
In other words, it is a deep draft for quality interior offensive linemen.
“There is about three or four (guards) behind (Warmack and Cooper) that have a really good chance of coming in and starting this year also for teams like us or somebody else, that can come in and compete right away,” said Titans head coach Mike Munchak, a Pro Football Hall of Fame guard in his playing days with the franchise.
Pressuring the quarterback was one of several weaknesses for the Titans during last year’s 6-10 campaign that put Munchak and Webster on notice from owner Bud Adams. Former first-round draft pick Derrick Morgan has flashed good signs when healthy, veteran Kamerion Wimbley might still have some gas in the tank and free agent signee Ropati Pitoitua, a former Kansas City Chief, adds depth.
But there are many pundits who feel the Titans could go defensive line with their first-round pick and then pick up a quality guard down the line. Topping the prospects list at rush end are players who played linebacker in college, including BYU’s Ziggy Ansah, LSU’s Barkevious Mingo and Oregon’s Dion Jordan. If the Titans go defensive tackle in the first round, they appear to be high on, like most other teams, Utah’s Star Lotulelei and Florida’s Sharrif Floyd.
“You’d like the guy to be 275, 280,” Munchak said of the preferred weight for a defensive end, “but again, I’ll take Reggie White that was 320 that could (defend the run and rush the passer), so you’d like to have a guy that can do it all and never leave the field and play every single down for you.”
At cornerback, the Titans appear set with veterans Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner on the outside and second-year Coty Sensabaugh emerging in the nickel. But drafting a cornerback with press coverage skills is always a consideration in the NFL.
“It is a good corner class,” Webster said. “There is a lot of depth at that position as well. I think there is pretty much any kind of corner you would want, whether it is a guy to play press man or a zone player. I think it is a good class and there is a lot of depth.”
Position-wise, the Titans are set at quarterback with third-year Jake Locker ready to fulfill the heir apparent role, although the Titans did get some insurance when they signed former Bills starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Lead running back Chris Johnson maintains that role, but the signing of Jets free agent Shonn Greene added a twist to the position that has been inconsistent the past few years. The Titans replaced departed free agent tight end Jared Cook, who signed with St. Louis, with another free agent, Delanie Walker, formerly of San Francisco.
Wide receiver, though, is an interesting proposition, especially after the Titans used their first-round draft pick last year on Baylor’s Kendall Wright. His 64 catches led the team and tied for most among NFL rookies.
The ongoing health concerns of former first-round pick Kenny Britt and the aging of veteran Nate Washington make it a possibility, too.
Overall, though, the Titans have identified their positional needs. Then again, the aggressive approach to free agency might have altered the Titans’ approach to the draft when it comes to filling positional needs against the backdrop of selecting the best player available at the time, regardless of position.
“I think it definitely helps us, as active as we were in free agency and the positions we brought in,” Webster said. “I think it will definitely help us there be a little more flexible in what we can do in the draft. We’ll always look at needs. Best player available is the guy that stands out. He’s on a different level than everybody else. I think when people say that, that’s what they mean. If guys are on the same level, most teams lean toward need.”
Barring any trades, the Titans head into the draft with one pick in round one (10th overall), one in round two (40), two in round three (70 and 97), one in round four (107), one in round five (142), one in round six (202), and two in round seven (216 and 248).