2012 NFL Draft: Tennessee Titans Latest News, Rumors and Storylines
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Last season started as a complete rebuilding process, from the first new head coach since the franchise was located in Houston to a new starting quarterback. It ended with a surprising fight for the playoffs that ended one win short of the postseason.
Instead of needs at every position, the Titans can be more selective with this draft class. Defense remains a priority even after the team selected defense with six of last year's nine draft picks.
Free agency has calmed down after Peyton Manning picked the Broncos. There may be a veteran or two who signs before Week 1, but for now the focus will be on the new first-year talents to arrive at Baptist Sports Park.
There's a lot less media attention on the Titans selecting at 20 compared to last year's eighth overall selection. The loss of Cortland Finnegan puts the spotlight on the new crop of cornerbacks. The Titans will open up their draft board.
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Rumors and Speculation
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The only interesting Titans draft rumor so far was a report that they were going to trade a conditional third-round pick to the Eagles for Asante Samuel. But Tennessean reporter Jim Wyatt debunked the report and the rumor died.
The Titans rarely trade draft picks and wouldn't want to take on Samuel's salary that would be close to what the Rams are going to pay Cortland Finnegan.
Tennessee has hosted centers Scott Wells, Chris Myers, Jeff Saturday, Dan Koppen and most recently Jeff Faine. All but Faine have signed elsewhere. If the Titans do not get an upgrade at center before the draft, a rookie is possible.
One of the Titans' potential targets, defensive end Nick Perry out of USC, is rumored to be slipping by none other than NFL news machine Adam Schefter. However, all rumors leading up to the draft are to be taken with more than a grain of salt.
Even though the Titans signed Kamerion Wimbley, Leger Douzable, Pannel Egboh and Dave Ball to help shore up the defensive line, that's a position of need.
Will Witherspoon is on the last year of his contract, so the team is going to need to find his replacement. While linebackers Patrick Bailey and Tim Shaw re-signed with the team, both players are special-teams standouts and are not seen as eventual linebacker starters.
If the team wants to think more long-term, Michael Griffin has the franchise tag and could leave after the season. Jordan Babineaux re-signed but is an older player, and the roster is short on quality depth at safety.
Workouts and Visits
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Predraft visits and workouts give a team an opportunity to put draft prospects through their paces. Jake Locker and Akeem Ayers were two players who visited the Titans and were later drafted by the team in 2011. Here's the list of visitors from Pro Football Talk.
* Player worked out and visited the facility.
Alabama safety Mark Barron
LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers
Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox
*Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd
South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore
Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower
Georgia Tech receiver Stephen Hill
South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram
Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick
Wisconsin center Peter Konz
Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly
Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus
Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still
Alabama defensive end Courtney Upshaw
Baylor receiver Kendall Wright
Second- and third-round prospects
Arkansas receiver Joe Adams
North Carolina linebacker Zach Brown
Alabama defensive tackle Josh Chapman
Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David
Vanderbilt cornerback Casey Hayward
West Virginia linebacker Bruce Irvin
California linebacker Mychal Kendricks
Michigan defensive tackle Mike Martin
Boise State linebacker Shea McClellin
Vanderbilt safety Sean Richardson
Utah State linebacker Bobby Wagner
On Trading Down or Up
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The Titans aren't big on draft-day trades. Mike Reinfeldt, GM for the past five years, has been promoted to Senior Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer of the Titans. Ruston Webster will run his first draft in 2012. There's not much of a track record.
There are two recent draft trades, and both were for the Titans to move up. In 2009, the front office fell in love with an athletic freak of a tight end in Jared Cook who was available in the third round. The Titans traded their 2010 second-round pick to the Patriots to get Cook.
In addition, 2010 featured one of the more unusual draft-day trades in recent memory. LenDale White was expendable and the Seahawks were interested. They weren't that interested, as evidenced by what the Titans got for him.
In exchange for LenDale White and defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, the Titans got to move up from the 111th and 185th picks to the 104th and 176th picks. That's a seven- and nine-pick move up in the fourth and sixth rounds, respectively.
The fourth-rounder turned into Alterraun Verner, who will start at cornerback this fall.
It's unlikely that the Titans will trade up. The last time the Titans traded down in the first round was when the Houston Texans offered them a boatload of picks to move up and draft Jason Babin.
Babin was a bust for the Texans but was a Pro Bowler for the Titans in 2010. The Titans didn't get much out of the picks they received.
Where Will the Titans Draft a Defensive End?
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There is no spot the Titans need improvement more than in their pass rush.
The position has been fortified with the addition of Kamerion Wimbley. Wimbley has played more outside linebacker in a 3-4 than defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. Pencil him in as a starter opposite Derrick Morgan.
The Titans used a first-round pick on Morgan two years ago. He tore his ACL in the fourth game of 2011 and didn't make an impact last year. If he can get a half-dozen sacks and set the edge well on run defense, that's a big improvement.
Jason Jones and William Hayes are gone. Dave Ball re-signed for depth. There's not much else there other than practice-squad types like Keyunta Dawson and Pannel Egboh.
Melvin Ingram probably won't be there at pick 20, but Whitney Mercilus is a possibility. He's seen as a possible 3-4 outside linebacker or 4-3 end. Nick Perry from USC should be there as well, although he hasn't visited the team yet. Mercilus looks like the most likely candidate.
Players who could be there in the second round include Marshall's Vinny Curry, Nebraska's Jared Crick and Clemson's Andre Branch. Shea McClellin is another DE/OLB tweener who could slide to the third round. Another third-round possibility is Cam Johnson of Virginia who has the critical 4-3 end experience.
Prognosis: The Titans will pick up a defensive end in the first three rounds. They could use two picks on the position.
Where Will the Titans Draft a Defensive Tackle?
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Even with recent high draft picks Sen'Derrick Marks and Jason Jones on the roster, the Titans drafted three defensive tackles in last year's draft. That was an early sign that the defense was going to change under new coordinator Jerry Gray.
One of the draft picks was Zach Clayton in the seventh round. Clayton barely played, finishing with two tackles and one assist in three games. Two of the best picks in last year's draft were Jurrell Casey and Karl Klug.
Casey's the space-eater defensive tackle that you want to hold the line on run plays. Klug's the pass-rush specialist who led the team with seven sacks in 2011. Both are players who exceeded expectations with last year's abbreviated offseason. They're going to be major contributors in 2012.
There isn't much else. Marks is in the last year of his rookie deal. He's not been a playmaker to date. Jason Jones is gone. Shaun Smith was a heralded free-agent pickup from the Kansas City Chiefs. His role dropped as the year went on and he needs to turn things around to be an impact player this year.
Of the top draft prospects, I don't expect Fletcher Cox to be available at pick 20. The other top defensive tackle prospects like Michael Brockers, Devon Still, Dontari Poe and Jerel Worthy should be there.
Brockers is intriguing because he's very raw as a redshirt sophomore. The Titans could take a shot on him like they did with an SEC underclassman named Albert Haynesworth in 2002.
Prognosis: The only player the Titans brought in to replace Jason Jones in free agency was Leger Douzable. They need more depth. A defensive tackle going off the board to the Titans in the first two days of the draft would not be surprising.
Where Will the Titans Draft a Cornerback?
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When a team loses a starter in free agency and does not find a veteran to fill the position, speculation is that a draft pick is going in that direction. Cortland Finnegan took eight figures a year to ply his craft in St. Louis.
Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner are the starters. Both have shown the ability to make big plays and the sixth- and fourth-round picks respectively have not found the spotlight to be too harsh so far. In terms of depth, the Titans have options, none of them terribly comforting.
Ryan Mouton tore his Achilles last year. The 2009 third-round pick out of Hawaii had opportunities and never developed. He's been passed by McCourty and Verner.
When McCourty missed the Saints game last year, undrafted rookie Chris Hawkins was the third corner. The 2011 seventh-rounder Tommie Campbell played a lot of special teams and showed off his speed on a kickoff return touchdown.
At the 20th pick, if the Titans select a cornerback, it's going to be a current or former SEC star. Dre Kirkpatrick of Alabama, Stephon Gilmore of South Carolina and Janoris Jenkins of North Alabama are the best possibilities. Jenkins has the most talent but has off-the-field concerns, and it might still be too soon after the Titans wasted a top-10 pick on Pacman Jones in 2005.
Prognosis: The nickel corner is a defense's 12th starter. This is a position that will get a ton of snaps. The Titans may stand pat with what they have. Considering how well they've done with later draft picks at the position, taking a guy on the third day of the draft makes sense.
Where Will the Titans Draft a Safety?
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The Titans should be set at safety in 2012 with Jordan Babineaux and Michael Griffin penciled in to start.
When it comes to making draft picks, the best teams are planning a year or two in advance.
Griffin got the franchise tag. The front office seemed willing to let him go until the safety landscape appeared to be bleaker than once thought. He's trying out for a new team in 2013.
Babineaux is signed for three years, but he's no Pro Bowl candidate and the Seahawks were willing to let him go last August.
There's only one player worth the first-round pick and that's Alabama's Mark Barron. But he had hernia surgery, which has limited his ability to showcase his skills for scouts. It's not a great safety class.
Prognosis: Barron's a high-floor prospect. The Titans have more important needs. They still have the option to find a veteran during training camp to back up Babineaux and Griffin.
Where Will the Titans Draft a Wide Receiver?
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It's been nothing but defense so far. The offense could use a touch-up as well. After all, the unit finished 21st in points and 17th in yards last year.
This may be the deepest wide receiver unit the Titans have had since the Derrick Mason/Drew Bennett days. The thought of Kenny Britt and Nate Washington starting 16 games is comforting. Damian Williams and Lavelle Hawkins are fine as depth and have had few moments of note.
A dynamic slot guy would be a huge help. Kendall Wright in the first round probably isn't going to happen but he could make a big impact. Joe Adams from Arkansas is an intriguing option in the second or third rounds. TY Hilton is another guy who could contribute in that role.
Prognosis: It's a deep class and the Titans should jump on one of these guys in the middle rounds.
When Are the Titans Going to Take an Interior Offensive Lineman?
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The interior offensive line's run blocking was bad last year. Eugene Amano, Leroy Harris and Jake Scott did not cut it. Scott's gone, and Amano/Harris could be pushed out by a free-agent signing or a draft pick.
Five free-agent centers have visited Baptist Sports Park this offseason. Jeff Faine was the latest and the only one who hasn't signed elsewhere. Amano is going to get competition for his starting job if not pushed to guard or released from the team.
Steve Hutchinson signed and will start at left guard. The former Viking and Seahawk is 34, so he's probably going to start for another year or two.
In the first round, the only guard I could see the Titans selecting is David DeCastro of Stanford. He's one of the top prospects at any position. At center, Peter Konz of Wisconsin is the top guy. Mike Munchak said almost two months ago that the Titans wouldn't take an offensive lineman with the 20th pick.
Two guards who could be available in the second round are Kevin Zeitler of Wisconsin and Amini Silatou of Midwestern State. Center prospects for the second day include Mike Brewster of Ohio State, Ben Jones of Georgia and David Molk of Michigan.
Prognosis: I'll take Munchak on his word and predict no offensive linemen until at least the second round. There are a lot of free agent centers on the market, so I'm thinking that a guard will be taken at some point.