NFL Draft 2012: 5 Areas of Immediate Needs for Titans
Despite achieving their first winning record since 2008, the Tennessee Titans still have several areas where they could stand to upgrade.
With the 2012 NFL draft only 17 days away, let's take a look at some of their most gaping holes and how they can fill them in order to contend during the upcoming season.
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The Titans linebacking corp is generally regarded as being good, given the emergence of MLB Colin McCarthy and solid play by SLB Akeem Ayers. Both are rookies, which is a positive sign for the future.
However, on the weakside, aging Will Witherspoon has become somewhat of a liability. He is awful in coverage and weak against the run. He does offer some veteran leadership and can blitz, but he is entirely expendable.
Options at WLB
Draft Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College: Kuechly has all the tools necessary to be a stud in the NFL. At Boston College, Kuechly put up a ridiculous 102 solo tackles, 12 tackles for loss and three interceptions.
Kuechly has great instincts, takes good angles and holds up against the run. It is unlikely that he makes it to No. 20, but if he does, the Titans should take him and develop one of the best linebacking corps in the league for years to come.
Draft Zach Brown, LB, North Carolina: Brown is probably the most athletic LB in this draft. He has stunning speed and has a nose for the ball. He gets fairly deep into his drops and uses his speed to cover a lot of ground in coverage.
However, against the run, he has trouble shedding blocks and is easily blocked out of plays. He will be a work in progress but certainly still an upgrade over Witherspoon.
Sign Jonathan Casillas, LB, New Orleans Saints: If the Titans opt against spending a draft pick on a linebacker, Jonathan Casillas could be a solid pickup for the squad.
A report came out today that the two sides were meeting in Nashville. Casillas is a speedy linebacker who, like Brown, covers a lot of ground quick. Rarely a starter on the Saints' defense, it is unlikely that he gets suspended when punishments are handed down for the bounties.
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The Titans would appear to be set at defensive tackle with Jurrell Casey and Karl Klug lighting it up during their rookie seasons. According to ProFootballFocus, Casey was the third best defensive tackle in the league against the run. Klug accounted for a team best seven sacks.
However, Klug is a rotational guy and a liability against the run. The Titans currently have Shaun Smith and Sen'Derrick Marks rotating starts next to Casey. Smith was, frankly, awful and saw his playing time decrease as the season progressed. Marks, a former second-round pick, has done nothing notable in his two seasons with the team.
The Titans could stand to pick up a run-stuffer next to Casey.
Options at Defensive Tackle
Draft Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State: Cox has seen his stock rise as of late. The 6'4", 300-pound Goliath has uncanny speed and athleticism. What makes Cox different is that, unlike many linemen in the draft, he is not a one-trick pony. He can rush the passer but is also very stout against the run. An interior line with Cox, Casey and Klug rotating in would be a phenomenal upgrade.
Draft Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis: Poe's stock has skyrocketed since the NFL combine; he ran a 4.87 40 at nearly 350 pounds. However, Poe is a risk. His production at Memphis was lackluster, and he could easily end up as one of the many workout freaks who fizzle out in the NFL.
However, he clearly has the raw physical skills to be a dominant tackle. Poe has generally good technique; he keeps his pad level low, uses his leverage well and is good at splitting double teams.
Draft Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State: Worthy is someone who would fit the Titans' mold very well. He shows great explosion off the line, can split double teams well and is stout against the run.
He is a high-character guy whose role in Michigan State's defense changed over time. He adapted, and although his numbers decreased, he was vital to their line.
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If the Titans current lineup is completely healthy, this is not a need. Kenny Britt is undoubtedly an elite receiver, and Nate Washington took a big step forward during his 2011 campaign.
However, Britt has only played in 15 games over the last two seasons, and Washington is much better suited as a number two receiver.
With Britt proving to be injury prone, the Titans should seriously consider going wide receiver early in the 2012 draft. If Britt turns out to be healthy, the Titans would have one of the most scary offenses in the NFL. There is no downside.
Options at Wide Receiver
Draft Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech: Hill has a rare combination of size, speed and strength that has not been seen since Calvin Johnson. Although he did not put up eye-popping numbers at Georgia Tech, that was largely a result of the option system he was in. Hill still managed to account for nearly 30 percent of the Yellow Jackets' passing offense.
Draft Rueben Randle, WR, Louisiana State: Randle would be a steal for the Titans in the second round, if he lasts until No. 52. Despite some atrocious quarterback play, Randle put up nearly 1,000 yards and averaged 17.3 yards per catch.
Draft Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina: Jeffery is a risk; let's just get that out of the way right now. However, Jeffery has the raw ability and size to be one of the best receivers in the game.
There is nary a jump ball that he cannot catch. Competing against the elite defenses of the SEC, Jeffery put up 49 catches for 762 yards and eight touchdowns.
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The struggles of running back Chris Johnson are well documented. Although he is hardly blameless for the Titans' anemic run game, he does have a somewhat valid excuse: The interior offensive line was atrocious.
Thus, it comes as no surprise that the Titans have desperately been trying to find a replacement for current center Eugene Amano.
Amano, easily the worst offensive lineman on the team, is a liability in both the pass game and run game. He lacks the strength to overpower any of the bigger DTs or NTs in the league. The Titans need to upgrade here as soon as possible.
Options at Center
Sign Dan Koppen, Center, New England Patriots: The Titans recently met with the 32-year-old center. Koppen was named to the Patriots' All-Decade team and was widely regarded as one of the best at his position.
A fractured ankle landed him on injured reserve, and the emergence of Dan Connolly made him expendable. 32, although appearing old, is considered prime for offensive linemen. Koppen could feasibly start for the full length of a four to five-year contract.
Draft Peter Konz, Center, Wisconsin: Konz is almost unanimously regarded as the best center in the draft. A dominant center for Wisconsin, a school known for churning out successful offensive linemen, he may not even be on the board at 20.
However, if he is, the Titans should not hesitate to pick him. He can develop with quarterback Jake Locker and create the type of relationship that Peyton Manning had with Jeff Saturday.
Draft Michael Brewster, Center, Ohio State: Brewster's stock has fallen after a weak Senior Bowl and combine, but his game tape is generally good.
Brewster carries his weight well, has solid technique and is equally good run-blocking and pass-blocking. He is more of a project than Konz, but the Titans have two Hall of Fame offensive linemen on the team who should be able to develop him into a top-flight center.
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The Titans were 30th in the league in getting to the passer. Former first-round pick Derrick Morgan accounted for a team-best 20 quarterback pressures but only managed 2.5 sacks. Former defensive end Jason Jones has signed with the Seahawks.
Right now, the Titans simply need numbers. Although they picked up Kamerion Wimbley during free agency, the team still has a gaping hole at the position. Morgan, Wimbley and hybrid DE/DT Leger Douzable are the only linemen capable of playing defensive end on the roster.
Options at Defensive End
Re-sign Dave Ball: Dave Ball will never put up 10 sacks in a season, but for a team sorely lacking depth, he is solid. He could likely be gotten for cheap and would not require spending a draft pick.
Draft Whitney Merciless, DE, Illinois: Merciless has been a popular pick in mock drafts and for good reason: He put up 16 sacks last year for the Fighting Illini.
Picking defensive end in the first round would be interesting after the Wimbley signing; do the Titans abandon Morgan as a starter? Wimbley was certainly paid as a starter, and it's highly unlikely that they draft a DE in the first round for depth.
Draft Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall: Curry has all of the physical tools necessary to be a good defensive end in the NFL. Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller has Curry ranked as the third best 4-3 defensive end in the draft, in front of Merciless and Andre Branch. Curry lit up the Senior Bowl and would be a must-have if he falls to No. 52.