In a league where players are expected to contribute earlier and earlier in their careers, the 2012 Tennessee Titans draft class will be faced with the pressure of helping the team compete for a playoff berth in their first year in Nashville.
Coming off one of the most successful rookie classes in franchise history that saw three players start at least eight games and seven of the nine players be active in 12 or more contests, this year's class will be hard-pressed to match the immediate productivity of the 2011 rookies
One advantage that these rookies have is a full offseason to get acclimated to the NFL game while getting to know their teammates, coaching staff and the playbook, after last offseason was marred by a lockout that eliminated many of the workouts.
Looking towards the regular season, the Titans' 2012 draft class consists of:
1. Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
3. Mike Martin, DT, Michigan
4. Coty Sensabaugh, CB, Clemson
5. Taylor Thompson, TE, SMU
6. Markelle Martin, S, Oklahoma
7. Scott Solomon, DE, Rice
Like most rookies, these players can be divided into three categories: Immediate contributors, rookies that can work their way on the field, and long-term projects.
1. Kendall Wright
Even before Kenny Britt's legal problems raised their ugly head again, Wright was expected to see the field early and often once the regular season kicks off.
During his time at Baylor, Wright was an explosive playmaker that served as Robert Griffin III's primary receiving option during his Heisman season. After investing a first-round pick in Wright, the Titans' coaching staff has had nothing but glowing reviews about his attitude and college tape, and as the team shifts to a Run 'N' Gun offense, every receiver will get a chance to make plays.
After missing the first few days of training camp, Wright has finally put the pads on and started working with Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker. Though he hasn't lit up training camp thus far, Chris Palmer has spoken of his dynamic talent a number of times, going so far as to compare him to Terry Glenn and Andre Johnson as rookies.
"I've been fortunate in my career (to have coached) Andre Johnson, as a rookie, had 975 yards. Terry Glenn as a rookie, had 90 catches," Palmer told the media on Aug. 2. "I felt good about those guys, and I feel good about Kendall, what he can do."
Though he will likely have to battle with Damian Williams and Lavelle Hawkins for the third or fourth wide receiver spot, every indication points to head coach Mike Munchak and Palmer looking to get Wright on the field as often as possible.
2. Mike Martin
Coming off of a season in which the Titans recorded just 24 sacks, good for 31st in the league, Martin will likely be given every opportunity to earn reps as an interior pass-rusher as a rookie.
Martin demonstrated an ability to get into the backfield and fight off double-teams while at Michigan and, according to reports, has continued to showcase that skill in one-on-ones in training camp. On a roster with a lot of young talent on the defensive line, Martin will likely split first-team reps with 2011 draft picks Jurrell Casey and Karl Klug at defensive tackle.
Martin has a wrestler's ability to use his hands and shed blockers and can be strong both in the run passing games, sharing many of the traits that enabled Casey to start 15 games as a rookie last season. Assuming he stays healthy, he should have a chance to make a big impact up front early on.
Can Work Their Way on to the Football Field
1. Zach Brown
Brown appears to be locked into a competition with Will Witherspoon for starter's reps at the weakside linebacker spot. The second-round pick has excellent athleticism and above-average coverage ability, but has had his toughness questioned throughout the draft process and seems to try to run around blocks rather than slip through them.
With that being said, he has a great skill-set and fits the direction the Titans are looking to move with their linebacking corps. Though Witherspoon will likely get the starting job out of camp, Brown will probably see the field on passing downs, as his speed mixes well with the physicality of Colin McCarthy and Akeem Ayers.
2. Scott Solomon
As is the case with Martin, the Titans are simply looking for players that can put some pressure on the quarterback. Solomon demonstrated a knack for getting behind the line of scrimmage and tackling for a loss, but has had a fairly slow start to his training camp.
While most seem to believe he would fit in the project category, he does have some nice explosiveness and has the benefit of playing at arguably the weakest position on the roster. Solomon will need to make an impact in the preseason if he wants to earn reps, but the potential is there for him to be a surprise playmaker this year.
1. Taylor Thompson
No draft pick defines the idea of a long-term project more than Taylor Thompson.
A year after playing defensive end at SMU, Thompson is in the process of converting to tight end in the NFL after displaying elite athleticism during his pro day and individual workouts heading into the April draft.
Thompson has had a few consistency issues early on, but his size and speed combination will likely allow the Titans to stash him on the roster at least for his rookie season before giving him a chance to see the field as a pass-catcher in 2013.
2. Markelle Martin
Martin has battled injuries throughout the draft process and into training camp and has yet to step onto the practice field. Once thought to be a second- or third-round prospect, Martin slipped due to the injuries and will likely be heading for the PUP list out of training camp.
With Michael Griffin, Jordan Babineaux and Robert Johnson getting reps at the two starting safety spots, Martin's time on the field will almost certainly be pushed back a year.
3. Coty Sensabaugh
Although the cornerback position is not incredibly deep for the Titans, Sensabaugh has not stood out in the early part of camp and will likely hold the fifth or sixth cornerback spot behind Jason McCourty, Alterraun Verner, Tommie Campbell, Chris Hawkins and possibly Ryan Mouton.
Sensabaugh has a good feel for the game and can make plays on the ball, but needs to get used to the toughness and physicality of the NFL game before he makes it on the field.
Overall View of the Draft Class
Although this draft class doesn't have the number of impressive athletes or big contributors as last year, if the four players that can contribute early on are able to do so, the Titans could set themselves up to have a very impressive young core to build around.
Wright offers explosiveness and playmaking ability after the catch that the Titans wide receivers have been missing while Brown can fill the final hole on a young linebacker group that already has Colin McCarthy and Akeem Ayers.
The quality of this draft class, particularly in the first year, will likely come down to Mike Martin, Solomon and the projects. If the two rookie defensive lineman are able to make an impact and help the Titans rediscover its missing pass-rush, the class as a whole will be viewed as a success, if not, it could be viewed as a slight disappointment heading into 2013.
As always, if you have any questions about the article or anything else Titans related, either post in the comments section or hit me up on twitter @QuinnCretton and I will get back to you as quick as possible.
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