2012 NFL Draft: Tennessee Titans' 10 Most Important Targets

Will Lomas@@jlomas72Correspondent IMarch 28, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: Tennessee Titans' 10 Most Important Targets

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    Many Tennessee Titans fans consider the team's 9-7 record in the 2011 NFL season to be a big success.

    The Titans went from being desperate for a quarterback to being solid and two-deep. They took that area of need and turned it into an area of strength by identifying "their guy" in the draft and giving him a mentor in free agency.

    Then, they identified the major needs on the defensive front. Not only did they find two very talented young linebackers in Colin McCarthy and Akeem Ayers, but they added two defensive tackles in Jurrel Casey and Karl Klug that could prove to be a fearsome tandem for years to come.

    The way this team is built, and the way it has always been built, is through the draft. With Mike Reinfeldt and Ruston Webster at the helm, and without a long-tenured head coach or owner meddling in the draft strategies, the Titans could become a competitive, playoff-caliber franchise next year.

    These 10 players are the best possible options for the Titans. While they can't get all of them, a pickup of even two of these targets could mean instant success for the Titans.

10. Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina

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    Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Alshon Jeffery was supposed to be a lock to be taken in the top ten this year. Some analysts even had him second only behind Andrew Luck.

    Since then, there have been rumors have been thrown around about his weight control and lack of work ethic. While most of these have been proven to be unfounded slander, it has definitely hurt his stock.

    On the field, he has never had a quality signal-caller throwing him the ball like a Brandon Weeden or Robert Griffin III. His production is a testament to how well he gets back to the ball on poorly-thrown routes, and how he uses his massive frame and precision to grab the ball at its highest point. 

    Jeffery has played against blue chip prospects his whole career, whether that means Dre Kirkpatrick from Alabama or Janoris Jenkins in Florida, or any of the other quality SEC defensive backs.

    Not only is he used to that high level of competition, but he has always been a game-changer in those games when the QB has been halfway decent.

    In Tennessee he would have a young crew of fellow wide receivers to draw coverage away from him, and two solid options at quarterback that could get the ball to him on a regular basis. The tandem of Kenny Britt and Alshon Jeffery would make AFC South defensive coordinators wake up in a cold sweat from nightmares of how to play for the two playmakers.

9. Sean Spence, WLB, Miami

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    Will Witherspoon has played well in his years as a Titan, but his best years are behind him and it looks like it's time to bring in a young playmaker to compliment last year's draft additions.

    Spence is a bit undersized at 5'11"—but his solid, 230-pound frame and blazing speed make him a coveted prospect.

    He isn't the strongest linebacker, but when he decides to close in on a ball carrier he usually takes them down. He plays with intelligence and self-awareness.

    He knows that he isn't going to win a strength battle with an offensive tackle, so he uses his agility and change-of-direction skills to knife through the blocking route of the linemen before they have time to get there.

    A concern, though, is that he lives and dies by his instincts. Though he deciphers plays quickly and generally accurately, he can get caught out of position on trick plays and could end up biting on a play-action pass that leads to a touchdown by a tricky team like the Texans

    If he is available in round three, Tennessee needs to pick him up. Not only for youth, talent and depth, but  because he will have instant chemistry with former 'Cane Colin McCarthy. The familiarity between the two should make for a quick and easy transition into the NFL.

8. Alfonzo Dennard, DB, Nebraska

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    At the end of the college regular season, if you would have said that Alfonzo Dennard had a 50/50 shot at being available when the Titans selected in round two, I would have laughed in your face.

    Dennard was then in a tight race for the second corner in this year's draft with the only better choice being Morris Claiborne.

    Now, he is, at best, the fifth corner on most boards, trailing behind M.C., Dre Kirkpatrick, Stephon Gilmore, Janoris Jenkins, and some small school defensive backs.

    Despite his ranking, Dennard was impressive in man coverage and provided rushers like Jared Crick to be successful by not only aggressively pressing wide receivers off the line of scrimmage, but also having the speed to stick with them after the recovery.

    In over 30 career college games, he played with poise—with the exception of a small altercation with Alshon Jeffery in his last game. If he can hone his aggression and keep his anger under control, he could draw similar comparisons to former Titan Cortland Finnegan.

    Most importantly, he has the versatility and tools to play either corner or safety. If the Titans can get that caliber of player in round two they could plug him in at nickle situations and let him compete with Verner and Campbell for the nickleback roll. In fact, he may even be an upgrade for Griffin's vacated safety spot in a year.

7. Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall

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    A lot of people have heard of Vinny Curry, but few have seen him play extensively, so allow me to paint a picture of how he plays.

    It is second down, Curry walks to the line and puts his hand in the dirt. Looking inside to the ball he sees the center's hand flinch (whether intentional of not) but has the discipline not to jump.

    The second the center snaps the ball, Curry is into the offensive lineman's pads. He knocks the tackle onto his heels on first contact, then in a smooth transition he jerks the lineman forward and executes a beautiful swim move.

    By the time the quarterback hits his third step on his drop, he sees Curry screaming towards him, even though the offensive lineman is trying his best to hold him back with his arm rapped around the defensive end's neck.

    Within the next second, Vinny Curry has thrown the quarterback down with one arm. After the play, he does a small cheer and then gets his defense ready for the next play without missing a beat.

    He is a tempo-setter, and he is consistently productive even with no real talent around him. Not to mention he fits the description of the typical defensive lineman the Titans draft.

    He is slightly undersized, but his motor is always running and he is from a small school. Imagine what he could do on a line with Karl Klug, Kamerion Wimbley and Jurrell Casey.

6. Antonio Allen, S, South Carolina

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    If Antonio Allen doesn't go in the first or second round, it is because he doesn't have a good publicist.

    Allen is sneaky good, and he is called a "tweener" by some because of his size.

    Another word for that is "hybrid". There have been some rumors that the Bears like Allen as a a weakside linebacker who can use his explosiveness to not only exploit offensive lines, but cover tight ends like Finley, Rudolph, and Pettigrew.

    He played a position called the "Spur" during college, which is essentially a defensive back that is allowed to follow his instincts and make plays.

    If that doesn't sound familiar, allow me to point to Steelers All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu. I'm not saying their production will be similar, but he does have all the tools and intangibles to be that guy.

5. Lavonte David, OLB, Nebraska

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    Lavonte David may be the best linebacker in the draft. He is quick, instinctive and athletic. He can take on blockers at the point of attack and has the option to easily over-power them or go around them.

    He is one of the most explosive athletes in college football as far as impact defensive plays go. In just his senior year he racked up 133 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and two interceptions. What more could you want out of a weakside linebacker?

    In addition, he still could have some upside considering his senior year was only his second year with the great Nebraska defensive coaching staff. His first two years he was busy blowing up the JUCO world, recording 216 tackles, 31 tackles for loss, eight sacks, eight forced fumbles and four interceptions.

    Look at that stat line again, and tell me that that isn't a guy that would put the Titan's linebacking group in the top five for the next three to five years.

4. Melvin Ingram, DL, South Carolina

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    Many think that Ingram is a top ten pick, and I don't disagree. But while he would still be great in our defense, he is only the second-best defensive end the Titans could take.

    Who is the best fit? We will get to that later.

    Ingram is 6'2" and 275 pounds, and carries his weight well. His best asset is his versatility—he has a Freeney-like spin that only works against guards and centers, because his feet are much faster.

    And, if he bumps inside on passing situations, quarterbacks beware. He will beat your guards at some point and if you don't have a second man there, your QB will end up with a chunk of turf sticking out of his helmet.

    The issues I have with Ingram in our system is that he doesn't play with a consistent pad level and he relies too much on his natural gifts in college.

    If he stands up as much as he has shown on tape he will be a big liability in the running game which may be why he is often projected as a DE/OLB. 

    If the Titans could snag him, they should be more than happy. But his short arms, smaller frame, and pad level are a big concern. And only one of those can be coached up, at best.

3. Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin

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    It may surprise you to read this, but there is almost a better argument for the Titans to draft Konz than any other player in this draft.

    Center is a huge need because Amano has shown that he is not fit to anchor this line. Amano does thrive if you put him at guard next to a great center, as was apparent when Kevin Mawae was the leader of the Titans line.

    If Konz is drafted, the Titans offensive line issues may be solved for the next few years. The starters from left to right would be Roos, Hutchinson, Konz, Amano and Stewart.

    This would be a huge upgrade to the Harris-Amano-Scott interior line last year, also known as the "Three Stooges".

    Konz is a leader that has played through pain and finds a way to beat the man in front of him. He has a bigger frame than Nick Mangold and plays like a Pro Bowler.

    He has handled the likes of Devon Still, Jerel Worthy, Karl Klug and Mike Martin.

    He can dig out defensive anchors and make speed rushers look like they are trying to run through molasses.

    With Konz in the middle, Chris Johnson could dodge defenders two yards past the line of scrimmage instead of two yards deep in his own backfield. That, my friends, is the key to finding where CJ2K went.

2. Nick Perry, DE, USC

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    Before anyone complains about ranking Perry above Melvin Ingram, there are a few things to think about.

    Melvin Ingram plays on a stacked SEC defense, and while you can't fault him for it, you also have to give some respect to Nick Perry, who had a great year in 2011 without much star power on his defensive line.

    That said, Perry would benefit more from a good defensive line (like the Titans) more than Melvin Ingram would.

    Perry is familiar with Jurell Casey and vice versa. It may not seem like much of a difference, but Casey can help explain to Perry the terminology that the defensive coaching staff uses.

    Not to mention that those two would be a great tandem because they play to each other's strengths.

    For example, an opponent would need to dedicate three guys to block those two. If Casey gets a double to the outside, Perry has the quickness to attack the outside or to go to the hole vacated by the center in the A gap.

    Another thing that puts Perry over Ingram is his frame. Perry has an extra inch and longer arms than the South Carolina product. Arm lengths are valuable to a pass rusher, and the new pass rushing coach can tailor Perry's pass rush moves to fit his frame.

    In the end, even if you ignore the things I said above, Perry is the more explosive player on the edge and that is what the Titans need.

    They already have a guy who can bull rush his way to the QB (actually two, Ayers and Morgan) but an explosive end is something this has been missing since "The Freak" Javon Kearse left.

1. David Decastro, OG, Stanford

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    David Decastro. No. 52. Destructive, opposing defensive lineman. All year long.

    Whether it was on a pull-block, a hook or a straight man-to-man angle block, he was superior to every player he faced on 99 percent of his snaps this year.

    Take, for instance, Washington's star defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu. Ta'amu clearly went into the matchup with a weight and leverage advantage.  Watch every play in which those two competed, and you will see that Decastro won and won convincingly.

    Now this is nothing new for Decastro, who has made ordinary running backs look great.

    In fact, as long as he has been starting, the team has had 8,111 yards rushing the ball. That adds up to 5.4 yards per carry over that span.

    Never once has he had a Chris Johnson-type running back either. All the backs he blocked for were mediocre without him.

    I know you're thinking that the offensive line plays as one unit, so shouldn't I credit the other offensive linemen just as much? The short answer is no.

    Their staple play is a power play to the left, which means that the RG David Decastro has to pull, read the blocks and find the man left untouched that is his responsibility.

    After that split-second read, he has to square up to the defender, get under their pads, and drive them out of the hole so that the RB can break out.

    It is a tough thing to do, but not if you're Decastro. He excelled at pulling like this and for years has helped pave the way for his runners.

    If that isn't enough, he is just as great in pass protection as he is in the running game. He has been a brick wall on the right side of that line, and gave Luck clear passing/rushing lanes when he needed them.

    In fact, the only times I have seen Andrew Luck sacked from a right DT was when the tackle either stunted far, far away from Decastro or when Decastro was running wild in the pocket and lost track of him.

    Decastro is the best guard to come out of the draft since newly-added Titan Steve Hutchinson.

    If he is, by some miracle, available at 20, the Titans need to grab him. I don't care if Claiborne, Luck, RG3, Kalil and Trent Richardson are all there too, he should be the Titans top draft target.