Tennessee Titans: 10 Defensive Prospects They'll Be Watching
The Tennessee Titans have been out of the playoffs for a while, so they've had plenty of time to shift their focus to April's draft.
The Titans certainly have a lot of needs on offense. The interior line needs to be fixed, a tight end may be needed, and they may need to replace Chris Johnson, but the bulk of their needs are on defense, and that should be the main focus of this draft.
The Titans' biggest need is a pass-rushing defensive end, but they'll also be looking for a starting-quality corner, a new strong safety and better depth at middle linebacker.
So who are the prospects they'll be looking at the closest? Here are 10 I think could end up as Titans next year.
1. Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
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On many big boards, Bjoern Werner (aka the Germanator) is the top defensive end in this year's class. He has the most sacks of any player in this draft class, with 13, and he also picked up 18 tackles for loss, five quarterback hurries, seven deflected passes and a forced fumble.
He also saw a lot of double-teams because the ends across from him were injured.
I have Werner as my No. 2 defensive-end prospect right now, which puts him squarley in the range of the Titans. He's only 255 pounds right now, but he played at around 270 in 2011 and still got great production, so he would have no problem adding weight.
His only problem is that his sacks came in bunches. He registered all of his 13 sacks in only six games, and he had five games in which he registered two tackles or fewer.
His combine will greatly affect his standing, but for now, he's amongst the top prospects that the Titans might grab.
2. Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
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Ezekiel Ansah may be the defensive end with the highest ceiling in this entire draft.
The Ghana-born BYU player has only been playing football since 2010 but is a physical freak with prototypical size reminiscent of Jason Pierre-Paul.
His overall numbers for the season aren't impressive enough to warrant a top-10 selection. For the season, Ansah has 4.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss, six hurries, nine deflected passes, a forced fumble and an interception.
Not bad, but not what you expect out of a top defensive end. However, like I said, he has fantastic athletic ability. He also had a big performance in the Poinsettia Bowl, with five tackles, an interception and a forced fumble.
If he blows up the combine like he's expected to, the fact that he's gotten some production with such limited experience; a 6'6", 270-pound frame; and killer athleticism will make him a very early pick.
3. Margus Hunt, DE, SMU
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Margus Hunt is an Estonian-born monster of a man who also happens to be a champion shotputter and discus thrower.
It may seem strange that all the defensive ends on my list so far were born outside of the United States, but that's just the way it worked out.
Now, I wasn't very high on Margus Hunt until I watched him in the Hawaii Bowl. He was dominant and had Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr's number all night, racking up three solo tackles (all for loss), two sacks, two hurries and two forced fumbles.
He reminded me of J.J. Watt in the Rose Bowl, and if you think someone can match Watt, you take him. I don't think Hunt will ever be what Watt has become, but he's got a ton of potential.
At 6'8" tall and 280 pounds, he's big enough to command double-teams regularly, even in the NFL. If he does well at the combine, he could be a top-10 pick, but for now, he's a solid second-rounder.
Like Ansah and Werner, however, he hasn't been consistent. He's had a lot of games in which he's struggled, but at the same time, his size and strength make him very appealing.
Besides, the last time the Titans drafted an Estonian native (Michael Roos), it turned out pretty well.
4. Alex Okafor, DE, Texas
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Texas was supposed to have a stout defense this season, but in the end, only two players really distinguished themselves. One of them was Alex Okafor.
Okafor, in my opinion, is one of the more underrated defensive ends in this draft class. He's made plays all over the field and looks like a pretty complete defensive end that can pass protect, rush the passer and stop the run.
He also just had a monster game against Oregon State in which he had 4.5 sacks, five tackles for loss and a forced fumble.
For the season, Okafor has 12.5 sacks, nine hurries, 16.5 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles, a broken-up pass and a blocked kick.
Bud Adams certainly likes taking players from Texas, so if Okafor does well at the combine, don't be surprised to see the Titans pick him up.
5. DeMarcus Milliner, CB, Alabama
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DeMarcus "Dee" Milliner is the top cornerback on almost everyone's big boards, including mine, and his numbers back him up.
For the season, Milliner has 18 broken-up passes, two interceptions and a forced fumble. He's also capable of contributing around the field and has the four tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks to prove it.
He's not a ball hawk, but he isn't a blanket cover corner, either. He sits somewhere in between and reminds me of a taller Cortland Finnegan.
However, he's also had the advantage of playing with a great supporting cast around him, and in his matchups against elite receivers, he has split.
Against Arkansas's Cobi Hamilton, Milliner had one broken-up pass and limited Hamilton to two catches for 14 yards. Tennessee's Justin Hunter, on the other hand, caught four passes for 70 yards against Milliner.
It doesn't help Milliner that when he went up against Hamilton, Arkansas's backup quarterback was the one throwing.
Now, I have no doubts that Milliner will be a very good corner. I just wonder how much better he'll be than what the Titans already have in Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty.
6. Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
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I didn't like Johnthan Banks at the season's start, but he's grown on me so much that I thought about putting him over Milliner as the top corner in the class. In fact, I like Banks so much that I mocked him to the Titans in the first round of my most recent draft.
Banks is capable of playing as a man-coverage shutdown corner, but he's also a playmaker when he needs to be, so he'd be a great fit for the Titans, whether they were running more man overage schemes or stuck with the zone.
Against the University of Tennessee's fantastic group of receivers, Banks all but shut down Justin Hunter, limiting him to just two catches, and had a forced fumble that stopped what could have been a game-tying drive.
He's also got fantastic length for a corner, standing 6'2" tall and with long arms. The only knock on him was that he played through an injury this season and may not be fully healed.
If he goes into the combine back at 100 percent, he may not make it to 10th overall.
7. Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
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If the Titans use their second pick on a cornerback, the one that seems most likely to be there is Jordan Poyer.
Poyer is the Titans' kind of corner. He's almost as tall as Milliner and Banks at 6'0", but he's more of a quick, playmaking corner than the other two are. He reminds me, in some ways, of Cortland Finnegan.
For the season, Poyer has seven interceptions, seven defended passes, two sacks, five tackles for loss and a forced fumble. He was also part of an Oregon State defense that led the team to a nine-win regular season in the tough Pac-12.
Poyer is the kind of corner that would flourish in a zone scheme like that which the Titans run, but he's more than capable of playing man coverage if required. He'd be a great fit for the Titans.
8. Matt Elam, S, Florida
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Matt Elam has been great throughout this season, and that's why he's the top safety in my mind. He got my attention playing Tennessee, against which he was a key player in Florida's big win.
Since then, he hasn't slowed down. For the season, he has four interceptions, five defended passes, a forced fumble, two sacks, 11 tackles for loss and 76 total tackles.
He put a great effort forth against Louisville, netting 11 total tackles, a sack and a tackle for loss. Despite his efforts, Florida lost the game.
Since he's one of the top safeties, the Titans may not have a chance at him unless they trade down or he makes a big fall on draft day. However, both of those are possibilities, so he's definitely a player they'll be watching.
Tennessee's safety play has been among the league's worst this season, and a game-changer like Elam could potentially do more for the its passing defense than another corner.
9. Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
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The other player who stood out on the Texas team was safety Kenny Vaccaro. He is the top safety on most big boards, but I've had him at No. 2 for some time. The fact that he was shown throwing punches at an Oregon State player on national television in the Alamo Bowl won't help his stock, either.
Depending on what happens up until the draft, the Titans could be in a position to pick him up in the second round or late in the first if they trade down.
Vaccaro has had a great season overall for the Longhorns, with a couple of interceptions, five defended passes, three hurries, two forced fumbles, 3.5 tackles for loss and 96 total tackles.
Vaccaro isn't as much a pure strong safety as Elam appears to be, which might actually make him a better scheme fit for what Jerry Gray is trying to do with the Titans defense. That also means he'd probably work well with other in-between safeties like Markelle Martin and Robert Johnson.
He certainly has some attitude issues, but his talent is undeniable.
10. Middle Linebackers
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The Titans need depth at middle linebacker, not a new starter. Colin McCarthy has done very well when he plays healthy, but that was a rare occurrence this season.
He certainly warrants another season as a starter, but it's clear that the Titans need to improve depth at the position. Since they'll be looking at late-rounders, I don't see them focusing too much on one in particular.
However, here are some of the guys they'll be watching for in the late rounds.
Andrew Jackson, WKU
A sleeper who could end up a very high pick, Andrew Jackson is a monster who had a big game against Alabama this year. If he falls to the later rounds (if he declares at all), the Titans may grab him.
Nico Johnson, Alabama
Johnson is an inside linebacker for one of the country's best defenses. He's also likely to be around late in the draft, so don't be surprised to see the Titans snag him late if they can.
James Morris, Iowa
Morris is a smaller guy, at 230 pounds, but he has over 100 tackles and nine tackles for loss. He also has the frame to add weight in the NFL.
He could function as a backup middle and outside linebacker, and that will appeal to the Titans.