NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Sitting at No. 11 overall in the first round of Thursday’s NFL draft, the Titans feel confident there will be plenty of options to fill a variety of needs.
Then again, they enter the three-day draft with only six picks for seven rounds, sans a third-round draft pick they traded away last year to move into the second round to select Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter.
"Like anybody in my position, you would like to have more picks," Titans general manager Ruston Webster said at Tuesday’s pre-draft press conference held along with new coach Ken Whisenhunt.
The Titans own one selection in six of the draft’s seven rounds, including the 10th pick in the second round (42nd overall). Other selections include overall picks 112 (fourth round), 151 (fifth round), 186 (sixth round) and 228 (seventh round).
So what will the Titans do once they go on the clock for that first pick? Position needs include an outside linebacker with both pass-rushing and run-defending skills for the new 3-4 set.
Or might it be a quarterback? The Titans decided last week to not exercise the fifth-year option on quarterback Jake Locker’s initial deal, placing the starter that missed 14 games the past two seasons because of injuries heading into a contract year.
Then again, it might be a cover cornerback to replace Alterraun Verner, who parlayed his breakthrough Pro Bowl season of 2014 into a fat free-agency deal with the Buccaneers.
Don’t be surprised if what the Titans do at No. 11 is make no pick at all and trade deeper into the first round with a willing partner that is also agreeable to give up a later-round pick, plus their first-rounder, to jump up and nab a player they covet.
"So, we’ll see what happens," Webster said. "But if not, we’ll make the most of the six. That really depends on who’s there when we pick and if teams want to move up for those guys. That’s something that will happen when we’re on the clock."
Should they remain at No. 11, the consensus is the Titans will select — if available — UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr, a specialist at rushing the quarterback. New Titans linebackers coach Lou Spanos was Barr’s position coach in college and can certainly provide inside knowledge there.
Then again, one or both of two highly-touted cornerbacks — Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert or Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard — may still be on the board. The Titans feel comfortable a starter is already on the roster with either Coty Sensabaugh, Blidi Wreh-Wilson or Tommie Campbell, all former Titans draft picks. But an upgrade at a key defensive position might be too much to pass.
"Position-wise, I think there will be a fairly broad range," Webster said of the quality of players that will still be available when they pick 11th. "Most positions will be available at that point."
The 800-pound gorilla on the Titans’ draft board is what to do at quarterback.
Last season, Locker played well when he played, leading the team to a 3-1 start. But he also missed nine starts and is still recovering from foot surgery that caused him to miss the last seven games of 2014.
The top-rated quarterbacks expected to be drafted early include Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Fresno State’s Derek Carr and Central Florida’s Blake Bortles. Chances are, one or two or all three of those players will not be taken in the first 10 picks.
Then there’s the second tier of quarterbacks that could be drafted in a later round and possibly brought in to be the quarterback of the future, if Locker does not eventually pan out. That group includes LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, Georgia’s Aaron Murray, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron and Eastern Illinois’ Joey Garoppolo.
"I think there are a few quarterbacks in this draft that can potentially play in the league, be good players in this league," said Whisenhunt, who’s known for his work with such quarterbacks as Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, San Diego’s Philip Rivers and Kurt Warner when he was in Arizona.
"Value is the production you get out of them," Whisenhunt added. "Where you get the guys is not really a question of putting a value on them. There are some good quarterbacks in this draft."
With the release of running back Chris Johnson after six seasons, the Titans are also in the market for a running back to complement veteran Shonn Greene. But with the position downgraded in importance the past few years and no running backs expected to go in the first round, there will be quality depth at the position in later rounds.
Former Auburn running back Tre Mason might be a good fit in Whisenhunt’s new offense that also got a bump with the free agency signing of versatile Dexter McCluster. Other running backs the Titans have an eye on include Washington’s Bishop Sankey, LSU’s Jeremy Hill and Boston College’s Andre Williams.
The Titans have a trio of talented receivers with Hunter and veterans Kendall Wright and Nate Washington, who is in the final year of his contract. Adding another receiver — like Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews, the most-prolific receiver in SEC history — could add depth there.
There might be a need to add another playmaker at tight end, too. Veteran Delanie Walker was a free agent signee who had a career year in 2014 despite various injuries. But Whisenhunt’s offense could use another weapon at the position, like North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron, graded tops at the position in the draft.
Whatever players the Titans take, they will be doing so for a new offense and defense. Drafting players to fit those schemes are paramount as Webster and Whisenhunt navigate their first draft together.
"That’s something that we’ve really tried to stress," Webster said. "Ken and (new defensive coordinator) Ray (Horton) and all the coaches have been great, kind of giving us an idea of what they are looking for at each position."
Webster and Whisenhunt admitted there have been and will continue to be discussions and, consequently, disagreements on certain players and how they may or may not fit the Titans. But Whisenhunt said that’s all part of the process.
"Just like with a brother or a family member or close friend, you are not always going to agree," Whisenhunt said. "And that’s good. That’s healthy. And I think it’s important in the discussions that we’ve had between the scouts and the coaches, that there has been disagreement.
"That gives you a better chance of coming to a consensus on a player. There have been no disagreements that have caused any concern."