8 NFL Combine Prospects That the Tennessee Titans Must Closely Watch
Pre-draft rankings are something that seem to be in a constant state of flux. The NFL Scouting Combine and pro days are the time when a team's draft board shifts the most. They finally have standardized information on every prospect and have gotten the opportunity to interview them as well.
At this point we all have a pretty good idea of who the Titans will let walk when free agency rolls around. A team's free agents can have just as much bearing on who that team scouts as its deficiencies at a position.
The Titans need help at both guard spots, second-string running back, defensive end and tackle depth, middle linebacker, nickel back and safety. How free agency will affect those needs is yet to be determined, but with the combine being less than a week away, teams will already have a strategy in place as to what positions they are most likely to fill through the draft.
Here's who the Titans are most likely going to take a closer look at when the scouting combine rolls around.
Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
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I realize they may seem to be contradictory to everything I've written this offseason, but ultimately if the scouts and people in charge come to the conclusion that Chance Warmack is the best player in the draft, they have to strongly consider him with their first-round pick.
Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller had this to say about Warmack:
Chance Warmack of Alabama is one of the best guards you'll find coming out of college football in the last decade, and he highlights a strong class of interior offensive linemen in the 2013 class.
The Titans offense has been in dire need of a improvement at guard and center since 2010. Mike Munchak's ability to coach up offensive line prospects has not bore any fruit since drafting Michael Roos and David Stewart in 2005.
The Titans offensive line has been among the league's best in pass protection over the past five years, but it lacks the physicality to be a dominant run-blocking team.
Warmack has elite strength to knock defenders off the ball and open up running lanes, the way he did for Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram in college football's toughest conference.
More so than any other positions, guard and safety are of utmost importance in the hierarchy of positions to improve.
Warmack has been named the best player in the draft by Scouts Inc's Todd McShay and NFL Network's Mike Mayock. The issue here lies with positional value. If the Titans can plug a few of the other holes on the team's roster through free agency, Warmack could be a no-brainer.
Kevin Minter, ILB, Louisiana State University
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In my latest mock draft, I had the Titans selecting Georgia's Alec Ogletree with the 10th overall selection in the draft. However, Ogletree's inability to stay out of trouble off the field, coupled with WR Kenny Britt's seemingly constant mentioning by the New Jersey Police Department should scare them away from considering the Bulldog.
Enter Kevin Minter who is fast rising up draft boards. Here's what Scout.com had to say:
A fierce MLB, Minter is the type of player defenses are built around. Has the size to take on and shed larger OL, and has natural leverage due to height. Exceptional upper-body strength and light feet serve him well in the box and allow for excellent lateral range. An outstanding inside-out player, Minter is very good against the run and is a solid three-gap player. Has the speed to cover FBs and can hold his own versus RBs.
Middle linebacker is a question mark for the Titans. In Colin McCarthy's rookie season, he made a name for himself by racking splash plays. Overall, he was a below-average player. Leading up to last season, McCarthy looked like he had made major strides toward becoming a quality starter in the league, but instead his season was marred with injury.
The Titans have to decide if they want to give him another shot as the leader of the team's revamped linebacker corps or go in another direction at the position by taking a linebacker in the second round for the third consecutive draft.
Minter could be the final piece in the Titans' rising young group of linebackers.
Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
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The Titans had one of the most inept safety combos in the league last season and could really use some improvement at both spots. However, Michael Griffin is signed for another four years, and therefore the Titans will only try to improve at strong safety.
Texas' Kenny Vaccaro was the one bright spot on an otherwise dismal season for the Longhorns defense in 2012. Many draft experts have him ranked as the top safety in the upcoming draft.
Here's ESPN's Mel Kiper's pre-combine write-up (paid subscription only):
Likely the top safety drafted, and it starts with versatility. Adept in coverage, he's also strong as an extra defender against the run because he has the size to attack the line of scrimmage like an extra linebacker. Still, you can match him up in coverage inside or out wide and he'll hold his own. Makes good reads and big plays.
The Titans have been linked recently to George Wilson to help fill the void at the back end of the team's defense (per Fox Sports Tennessee).
It could be a sign that the team is looking for some veteran leadership on an increasingly young defense. However, Wilson is 32 years old and won't have much playing time left in his legs. Tennessee could opt to bring in another prospect later in the draft if they opt to pass on Vaccaro.
If last year's draft is a sign of things to come, then Vaccaro could definitely make his way into the top 10 of the draft when Mark Barron went seventh overall.
Ezekiel Ansah, DE, Brigham Young University
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Ezekiel Ansah is relatively new to the sport of football. Ansah is originally from Ghana and came to America to play basketball. It wasn't until 2010 that he decided to try his hands at football.
Through 2011, Ansah had hardly made his presence felt as he continued adding size and strength to his frame while learning the game.
In 2012, Ansah finally earned a starting defensive end spot racking up 62 total tackles, 13 tackles for loss, including 4.5 sacks. You can also toss in nine pass breakups, one forced fumble and one interception while lining up as a rush outside linebacker, defense end and defensive tackle.
The Titans made some major strides to improve its putrid pass rush toward the end of the season. More than half of the team's 39 sacks were picked up in the last six weeks of the season.
Derrick Morgan made major gains in being a full-time starter and needs to prove that he can do it again. On the other side, Kamerion Wimbley struggled a bit in his first season as defensive end since his rookie year, but he will need to improve in his second year with the team to warrant his contract.
Either way, the Titans need depth at end, and a pass-rushing specialist like Ansah could be developed while playing in a rotation.
Ansah brings versatility and amazing athletic ability to the table in a time when NFL quarterbacks are becoming increasingly more athletic.
Here's NFL.com's rundown:
It is amazing how far Ansah’s technique has come in such a short amount of time, not to mention how much he has transformed his body to fit the role coaches want him to play. That sizable frame coupled with outstanding closing speed and natural power will captivate many, making a top-20 selection possible. Ansah is rough around the edges, but the number of height/weight/speed athletes with positional versatility selected in that area in recent years point to a rise up draft boards.
Matt Elam, S, Florida
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Matt Elam is the next best option at safety but isn't likely the first-round talent that Kenny Vaccaro is. However, Elam is still a quality playmaker, racking up six interceptions in two years as a starter.
NFL.com had this to say:
Elam is one of the higher profile prospects at his position due to his onfield emotion and energy when lining up big hits in the open field. The junior thrives when his number is called, and Elam was very visible since he frequently lined up in the box at strong safety. However, when looking beyond the splash plays, Elam lacks urgency to his game and can be seen standing around while others make the play. That combined with his tendency to launch himself at ball carriers rather than make form tackles may cause some evaluators to be a bit apprehensive. But, if the Gator can harness the electricity he flashes, Elam could end up being one of the top safeties in this class and is a potential first-round pick.
Some of the key words in that player analysis is his on-field emotion and energy which is huge on defense. Take a look at what Ray Lewis did his entire career for the Baltimore Ravens. Also Elam's ability to deliver the big blow to offensive players is not to go unnoticed.
Safety is a position with rising value, but teams still aren't quite sure if they are worthy of early first-round selections. If the Titans fall in line with that way of thinking, Elam could be on their radar in the second round.
Marcus Lattimore, RB, University of South Carolina
Marcus Lattimore rehabbing from torn ACL, LCL and PCL in right knee.
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Marcus Lattimore suffered a torn ACL, LCL and PCL in his right knee this past season, yet still managed to be ranked No. 5 at running back by NFL Network's Mike Mayock and ESPN's Mel Kiper. He will not participate in any of the drills at the combine, but doctors will get a chance to take a look at him.
The Titans have made it clear that in addition to fixing the interior of the team's offensive line, it would like to bring in a second running back to help carry the load. Why not go after a huge talent like Lattimore that probably would have been the top-ranked back if not for injury.
NFL.com reported that Dr. James Andrews, the end all be all of the surgery world, stated that Lattimore would "shock the world" with his recovery speed. The Titans will need to make it a priority to meet with Lattimore and have their doctors take a look at his badly injured knee before coming to a conclusion, but Lattimore could be a steal in the third round or later.
Larry Warford, G, Kentucky
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The 2013 NFL draft is chalk full of talented guard prospects. If the Titans decide that the position doesn't warrant a top-10 selection for Chance Warmack or Jonathan Cooper, then perhaps the fast-rising Larry Warford could be their choice.
Warford showed well at the Senior Bowl last month. His combination of size and agility make him the last of the guard prospects that are capable of starting immediately in the NFL. It's been more than a decade since a guard has been drafted in the top-10 of the first round, and the Titans brass may want to keep that trend going.
We'll go back to NFL.com for our player analysis. The profile states:
Warford translated his power as a drive-blocker, unexpected foot quickness and downfield hustle into a fantastic, decorated college career –- and should win his share of battles against NFL linemen when able to get his thick body moving quickly off the snap. That size, strength, and those surprising nimble feet should help him nab a draft slot in the top half of the draft and step into a starting lineup at the next level immediately.
Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
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Cornerback isn't a huge position of need for the Titans, but the team may look to improve its depth at the position to help out in nickel situations. Ryan Mouton is set to hit free agency and looks to find a team with less competition at the position.
Tommie Campbell started out the season looking like a top candidate to be the team's third corner but ultimately lost out to Mouton and Coty Sensabaugh. The Titans will need to decide if they like what they have in Sensabaugh and Campbell or if another prospect needs to be brought in to compete.
Desmond Trufant is another prospect that performed well at the Senior Bowl. John Glennon of The Tennessean was the first to draw a connection between Trufant and the Titans, but others have agreed.
The brother of NFL cornerbacks Marcus and Isaiah flashes playmaking ability and very good foot quickness, but must play stronger, smarter, and avoid technique breakdowns to be considered a sure-fire NFL starter. His skillset will still likely see him as a Day 2 selection.
Trufant's speed could make him a natural for the slot in the NFL.