Tennessee Titans: An Early Look at 2014 Draft Prospects
We're only three weeks into the NFL season, and just four weeks into the college season, but it's never too early to talk about the draft, right?
The Titans look like they may go into 2013 with almost no glaring needs. The roster is at least adequate at almost every spot, but there are of course a few areas that are weaker than others.
That means they're free to take the best player available if they wish, but, assuming they do draft by positions of need, here are some prospects they may look to.
I know what you're thinking. The Titans would be crazy to spend a high pick on another wide receiver.
Well, I agree, but things might be very different next season. Between the rumors (via NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah) that Nate Washington was on the trading block and Kenny Britt tweeting that he was unlikely to return to Tennessee, the Titans could suddenly be without two of their top three receivers.
Given that they traded up for Justin Hunter in 2013 and used their first pick in 2012 on Kendall Wright, I think they'd be unlikely to use their first pick on a receiver, but it isn't out of the question.
If they were to spend their first pick on a receiver, someone like Marqise Lee would be in the right range. Jordan Matthews could be there with the Titans' second pick.
Lee is the kind of vertical threat who could be a good replacement for Britt, even if he doesn't have Britt's height.
Matthews, on the other hand, is a bigger receiver with good hands, and reliable hands is something that the Titans receivers are sorely lacking at the moment.
Since the Titans have other things they'll need to focus on more than wide receiver, I think a second-round pick would be more likely. Also, who wouldn't want to see a player who's already in Nashville stick around?
Before the season started, I would've picked this as one of the Titans' biggest needs. However, a couple of games in, it's clear that the need for end depth isn't as desperate as it once appeared.
Derrick Morgan is doing great, as expected, but Ropati Pitoitua is the surprise here for me. He's contributing way more than I thought he might.
Even so, Pitoitua will be a free agent in 2014, and you can never have too many pass rushers. The Titans are unlikely to use their first selection on one when it isn't their biggest need, so they'll be looking at second- or third-rounders.
One of my favorite prospects at the position is Oregon State's Scott Crichton. In 2012, he had nine sacks, 17.5 tackles for loss, and three deflected passes. So far this year, he's racked up 1.5 sacks, six tackles for loss, and a forced fumble.
He's not at the top of the class with guys like Jadeveon Clowney, Anthony Barr, and Stephon Tuitt, so he could be there for the Titans' second pick.
Other interesting prospects at the position are Texas's Jackson Jeffcoat, Florida's Dominique Easley, and Kentucky's Za'Darius Smith.
This is one of two or three positions I think the Titans could use their first pick on.
Alterraun Verner is entering free agency, and even if he could be retained, the Titans may elect not to keep him, since they appear to be trying to move toward a system that doesn't favor his skills.
If Verner is gone, then the Titans will need a rookie who's ready to start immediately, which almost necessitates a first-round pick.
Where the Titans are looking like they'll pick (I have them at 17th overall right now), there's a chance one of the first couple of corners will be available.
Among the top prospects that might be there are Ohio State's Bradley Roby, TCU's Jason Verrett and Florida's Marcus Roberson.
Roby entered the season as the top corner prospect, but off-the-field incidents that got him suspended for Ohio State's first game could push down his stock. Still, he's the kind of tall, fast, playmaking corner that can start right away.
Verrett is a corner very much in the mold of Verner. He's short, but quick, and he can read an offense. Through just three games, he has 15 tackles, two for a loss, a sack, and five defended passes. His only issue is the fact that he's not physically what the Titans are looking for across from Jason McCourty.
Roberson is tall and lean, and looks to be a good cover corner. He's extremely athletic, but needs to add some weight and may benefit from having another outstanding corner across from him.
What corner the Titans pursue would largely depend on where they are planning to go with their defensive scheme, but I like Verrett's ability to read an offense. If Verner couldn't be retained, he'd be my choice.
I've been pleasantly surprised by Moise Fokou, but he's still a guy the Titans could improve on.
Two of the best prospects at the position are currently C.J. Mosley out of Alabama and A.J. Johnson of Tennessee. Both look like first round selections, and both are stout run defenders.
Mosley plays on perhaps the most talented defense in the nation and finished 2012 with 107 total tackles, eight tackles for loss, four sacks, a couple of defended passes, and a couple of interceptions.
Mosley looks like an outside linebacker in a 4-3, but he's undoubtedly talented enough to cover the middle position in a 4-3 as well.
Johnson put up even more impressive numbers as one of the few bright spots on a dismal Tennessee defense in 2012. He recorded 138 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, a sack, eight hurries, and a defended pass.
He also had six rushing touchdowns as a power running back.
For the Titans, I like Johnson better. He's bigger than Mosley, a better fit for the defensive scheme, and a local product. He could form a dangerous trio of linebackers with Zach Brown and Akeem Ayers.
Taylor Thompson has seen very little playing time so far, which isn't a good sign for his development in the near future.
As a result, the Titans may elect to use a high pick on a tight end.
North Carolina's Eric Ebron is among the top tight ends right now. He just came off of a very impressive performance against Georgia Tech, where he caught six passes for 108 yards and a touchdown.
At 6'4" tall and 245 pounds, he's also the right size to play tight end in the NFL, and he has a good chance of being available in the second round as well.
Oregon's Colt Lyerla is another prospect the Titans might look to early. For whatever reason, Lyerla hasn't been a big part of the Ducks' offense, with only two catches for 26 yards, but he's fast and an excellent pass catcher in the red zone.
In 2012, six of his 25 total catches were touchdowns, and in 2011, five of his seven catches were end-zone passes. If the Titans continue to struggle in the red zone, Lyerla might be right up their alley.
Bernard Pollard only signed a one-year deal, George Wilson is only on for two—and is older than you'd like to have a starter be—and cutting Michael Griffin could be a big cost-cutting maneuver if the Titans are trying to keep on Michael Roos, David Stewart, Alterraun Verner, or Ropati Pitoitua.
Either way, having a safety in for the long term is something the Titans need, and it may actually be their first pick given how big a need it could become.
Right now, there are four safeties who look like potential first-rounders: Haha Clinton-Dix of Alabama, Ed Reynolds of Stanford, Antone Exum of Virginia Tech, and Craig Loston of LSU.
Loston has had the best 2013 season so far, but it's been nothing special enough to make him a first-rounder right now. Clinton-Dix is on a defense surrounded by talent, and hasn't shown enough skills in pass coverage. Exum had a phenomenal 2012 season and has fantastic size, but he hasn't played in 2013 yet due to injury.
Right now, my favorite safety in the class is Stanford's Ed Reynolds. Although Reynolds had a rough game against Arizona State where he had several missed tackles, but he's the kind of deep coverage safety the Titans need.
Reynolds had an impressive 2012, with six interceptions and five defended passes, and so far this season, he has one of each to go with 23 total tackles. One bad game isn't enough to downgrade him below the other safeties in this class.
Daimion Stafford has shown a little promise as a strong safety, and George Wilson plays fairly well in run coverage too, so a free safety of the future is more a priority for the Titans anyway.
Right now, the Titans have one of the best tackle tandems in the NFL, but that might not be the case for much longer.
Both Michael Roos and David Stewart will be 31 before the season ends, both are coming close to free agency in 2015 and, even more pressing, both have a voidable year on their contracts in 2014.
Given the talented tackle class this season and the possibility that the team could very shortly be without either of their starting tackles by next year, I expect the Titans to use a relatively high pick on a tackle.
First round prospects at tackle include Texas A&M's Jake Matthews (son of offensive line coach and Hall of Fame lineman Bruce Matthews), Michigan's Taylor Lewan, Tennessee's Antonio Richardson, and Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio.
Matthews and Lewan are pro-ready, but Richardson and Kouandjio both need a little work on technique, but are very athletic.
Second-round prospects include Stanford's David Yankey, North Carolina's James Hurst, and Baylor's Cyril Richardson. Yankey and Hurst can likely play either left or right tackle, but Richardson is almost certainly limited to playing the right side, so I wouldn't expect him to be the pick.
This is the big one. Jake Locker looks fine if you just look at his stat line, but with the talent around him, he should be doing better (outside of the Chargers game, where he looked great).
More frankly, chances are that if the Titans don't make the playoffs, Mike Munchak and his staff will all be fired. New regimes get new quarterbacks, so if the Titans don't go into the postseason, Locker may not have a job much longer.
Now the situation that the Titans find themselves in is that they will win too many games to land one of the consensus top picks (Teddy Bridgewater and Tajh Boyd), so they'll be looking at taking the third quarterback off the board at best.
Right now, that could be Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, Fresno State's Derek Carr, San Jose State's David Fales, or my favorite of the four, UCLA's Brett Hundley.
All offer some upside, but I like Hundley the best. He doesn't have the weak arm of Fales, the attitude issues of Manziel, or the powder-puff opponents that Carr has. He has a solid stat line (66.3 percent completion rate, eight touchdowns to three interceptions), and some impressive wins.
If the Titans decide to go in a different direction at quarterback, Hundley is the direction I'd hope they go.