NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The selection of quarterback Marcus Mariota second overall on Thursday evening signified that the Titans are changing gears and overhauling their offense — something that may take time to adjust for not only Mariota, but also head coach Ken Whisenhunt.
As the final minutes of the NFL draft came to a close, Tennessee’s finalized draft board hinted at the same, showcasing the front office’s desire to produce immediate results for a team that has posted one winning season since 2009 and build around its star draftee.
The Titans pulled in nine picks prior to Saturday’s closure: one selection in each of the second, third, fifth and seventh rounds as well as two in both the fourth and sixth rounds — using the vast majority of them to address the offensive side of the ball.
After sending the 33rd overall pick in the draft to the New York Giants for the 40th pick (second round), 108th pick (fourth round) and 245th pick (seventh round), the Titans kept themselves in the headlines grabbing problematic Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham with the first of the three aforementioned picks from the Giants.
While the Mariota choice still remains a curious one at this point, drafting Green-Beckham might easily be the best example of a high-risk, high-reward choice in this year’s draft.
Green-Beckham was most notably dismissed from Missouri in April 2014 amidst a handful of legal issues he had been a part of over the course of the previous 18 months: Twice arrested for marijuana possession (October 2012 and January 2014) and the subject of multiple investigations by Columbia, Mo., police officers for possible assault and first-degree burglary. Both investigations were closed with no arrests.
His off-the-field issues put a negative spotlight on a player that has the potential to be an all-world receiver. If Green-Beckham, who hasn’t played a snap since the 2014 season, can prove to the Titans that his personal distractions will no longer be an issue, Tennessee could truly benefit from his combination of size, strength and speed.
"We have a plan for how we try to support him with that," said Whisenhunt. "That’s an important piece of it, so it’s already started essentially when he came in here. We talked about it on the phone a little bit when we touched base with him, and we’ll do that when he comes in here.
"One of the things you feel good about is I really like our receiver coaches. I think they have strong personalities, and I think they’ll be good for him in that way. We’ve got some receivers, too, with Harry Douglas, who I think is a strong character guy, I know is a strong character guy, in that room. I like that character in that room, and that helps, too. We’ve got some good guys on this team who can help with that."
Switching their focus, the Titans spent their next two picks addressing both the offensive and defensive lines, drafting offensive lineman Jeremiah Poutasi out of Utah in the third round and Auburn defensive tackle Angelo Blackson in the fourth. Both Poutasi and Blackson have the potential to deliver for Tennessee, selected to boost both front lines that needed improvement over the offseason. However, both expressed surprise that they were drafted as high as they were.
"It was sort of a surprise, but my agent has done a good job" said Blackson on his post-draft conference call. "Just the thought of me being, potentially we were going to go in this round. We didn’t think we would be the first pick, but I am happy and excited. I am ready."
Were there better players to select for those positions available at the time? You could certainly argue for it. T.J. Clemmings, former Pittsburgh offensive tackle and now-Minnesota Vikings draftee, slid until early in the fourth round amid injury concerns.
Yet, both Poutasi and Blackson present towering 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-5 frames while both weighing well into the 300-pound range on the scales.
"I’ve been through a bunch of these, and I think you’re dealing with pretty humble kids," said Webster. "That’s just kind of the way they are. The big thing for us is just the fit for what we’re doing. You look at the board and you go, ‘Well, if we don’t get … there is no other 6-foot-5, 315 pound, 4.9 (40-yard dash) type of defensive lineman left.’ So, you make decisions to take guys."
Drafting Jalston Fowler eight picks after Blackson left another question mark among Tennessee’s first five picks in the draft. A powerful multi-purpose fullback out of Alabama, Fowler finished his college career with 738 yards on 112 carries and five touchdowns — including seven touchdowns on 18 receptions over the previous two seasons.
The Titans finished last season 26th in the NFL for total rushing yardage, averaging less than 100 yards per game and only gaining six touchdowns the whole year. Historically, former Titans Ahmard Hall and Lorenzo Neal immediately come to mind when imagining what a game-breaking fullback can do for a deficient run game.
The big question remains whether or not Fowler can deliver in their footsteps, or if he’ll even be used as such? Both Webster and Whisenhunt speculated that Fowler would be utilized in multiple positions — tight end, single back and fullback — than the position he transferred to after tearing his ACL and sitting out the 2012 season.
"You see him catching balls out of the backfield, lining up as a tight end and playing fullback, lined up in the backfield as a single back running the football, also in protection," said Whisenhunt. "Whatever those roles he can contribute will get him a lot of snaps on Sunday.
"I think you like the flexibility of being able to block the edge as a tight end. You like the ability to be a lead back as a fullback. You can use him as running the football especially in that role sometimes to finish off games. It’s really going to be up to him what he can contribute but he’s shown, from what you’ve seen, a high level of football. He can play a lot of roles."
Choosing Minnesota running back David Cobb with their fifth round pick, the Titans have a chance to eventually pair him up with Fowler for a one-two backfield punch. Cobb set a single-season rushing record last year at Minnesota with 1,626 yards and added in 13 touchdowns, including two separate 200-plus yard games against both Middle Tennessee State and San Jose State.
Quite possibly the steal of the draft for the Titans, Cobb could become Tennessee’s most powerful rusher since the likes of Eddie George.
Louisville outside linebacker Deiontrez Mount and Boston College center Andy Gallik comprised both sixth round picks for the Titans. Mount has the ability to adapt anywhere that Ray Horton and Dick LeBeau want to place him. With their 3-4 defensive scheme struggling to get off the field last season, Mount’s addition can definitely provide a boost.
On the flip side, Gallik could give both Chris Spencer and Andy Levitre a run for their money upon his arrival to the team. A finalist for the Rimington Trophy — awarded annually to the most outstanding center in college football — Gallik was a four-year starter at Boston College and a first-team All-ACC member.
"I bring leadership which is something every center should bring," said Gallik. "Also, I bring durability. I started a lot of games and never missed a game because of an injury. I am very tough, physical and powerful."
With their final pick in the draft, Tennessee selected what could possibly be their biggest late-round draftee since Marc Mariani was taken 222nd overall in the seventh round of the 2010 draft. Hailing from the College of William and Mary, wide receiver Tre McBride provides the Titans with a dynamic playmaking receiver that was projected to be drafted in the third or fourth rounds — only to fall all the way to late in the seventh.
Having the option of using him as a bonafide option for Mariota or maybe even in the return game, McBride’s numbers back up his ability to blaze downfield — running a 4.41 40 yard dash at this year’s NFL Combine.
"I got great speed," said McBride. "I showed that at the Combine, also I am a technician. I run good routes, something I feel has been lost in the game of football. I understand NFL schemes. I came from a West Coast offense. I’m able to pick up different schemes very quickly and I also catch the ball. I can produce on kickoff return and punt return"
There’s an obvious element of mystery and intrigue for Tennessee’s 2015 draft class. Highlighted by Mariota and Green-Beckham, there is play-making ability throughout. The biggest questions, however, will be if they can all transition — one way or another — to the playing style that will be asked of them.