The NFL Scouting Combine starts this Wednesday, offering all 32 teams their first opportunity to get up close and personal with the majority of the prospects who will be available in the upcoming draft.
Teams should have compiled a list of areas where help is most needed, as they will be focusing heavily upon those positions in Indianapolis. Even in a world where the best player available is often the one taken, attention will be paid across the board.
The Tennessee Titans new coaching staff has yet to really work with the players already on the roster, but they have finished evaluating the team based on last year's film and have an idea of what they would like to do to improve the team in 2014. Now is the time to narrow every coaching staff member's wish list through the combine's all-inclusive process.
With the combine on the horizon, let's take a quick look at who should be the Titans' top draft targets. We will also take a look at a couple of sleepers who are likely to be on the team's radar as well as a couple who soon could be with strong showings.
Taylor Lewan, Michigan
Potential first-round targets:
- Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo
- Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
- Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
- Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
- C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Finding a player who is consistently capable of making his way to the quarterback is rare. DeMarcus Ware and Michael Strahan only come along so often, so don't expect a similar type of player to come out of this draft. Still, the team does need a player who emulates that type of talent.
Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr both offer a rare combination of size, speed and athleticism. Mack, especially, has the size and ability to bulk up and play end and outside linebacker from Day 1, while Barr still has room to pack on the muscle to do the same.
With the team planning on switching to a hybrid-front defense, the need for versatile and, more importantly, talented players has grown immensely.
C.J. Mosley is another player the team could select considering the team's inability to find a starting caliber talent at the position in a 4-3 defense. With plans of running a 3-4 defense at least some of the time in 2014, the Titans will need two quality inside linebackers.
Greg Robinson and Taylor Lewan are both talented offensive linemen who capable of filling the hole of David Stewart, who is likely to be cut this offseason due to his declining play and massive cap hit. Both Lewan and Robinson have the talent to play on either side of the line, and each could spend the first year on the right before moving to the left side when Michael Roos' contract runs out.
One thing that became evident in the Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl run was not just the dominance of their defense but, specifically, their dominance in the trenches. The Titans have gotten off to a great start after restructuring the offensive line last offseason, bringing in new guys such as Andy Levitre and Chance Warmack on the interior.
However, on defense, there is a bit of concern as to who fits where. Jurrell Casey and Derrick Morgan are both prototypical 4-3 talents. Casey will likely be asked to play end in 3-4 situations, while Morgan could find himself with a very limited role this upcoming season.
Sammie Lee Hill is the only guy on the roster with the size to play either defense effectively. The Titans must bring in more big bodies who are capable of helping to alleviate the strain on several undersized talents that will be asked to learn the 3-4.
DeAndre Coleman offers a rare combination of size and strength at 6'5", 315 pounds. He would be a great fit at defensive tackle, playing in a rotation with Casey and Hill while easily popping outside to end when employing the 3-4.
While linebackers have ranked as a top need for much of this offseason, the need for the Titans to bulk up the defensive line cannot be overlooked.
For all the same reasons the Titans would like Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr, Adrian Hubbard would be a great fit in new defensive coordinator Ray Horton's defense.
The decision to run more 3-4 fronts should help Akeem Ayers continue to develop into a valuable member of the defense, as he fits the role of a 3-4 outside linebacker much more than a 4-3 one.
Kamerion Wimbley would seem like a natural fit to play at the other outside linebacker spot, having played in a 3-4 defense for the majority of his NFL career. However, his contract is an albatross, and barring a contract restructuring, I can't picture a scenario where he remains on the roster in 2014.
That Leaves Derrick Morgan to play standing up. The new coaching regime has repeatedly stated that Morgan is a player who stands out on game film, as noted by Ken Whisenhunt during an interview with the Tennessean's Jim Wyatt.
However, I don't think Morgan will excel without having his hand in the dirt. He's not the kind of player that screams athletic freak, and he is much more of the technical and max-effort type of player.
At 6'5", 252 pounds, Hubbard provides versatility to play end or linebacker and does especially well at stuffing the run. While the Titans are in dire need of another pass-rushing talent, Hubbard is still very capable in that aspect of his game as well.
The likelihood of running back Chris Johnson being with the team when the 2014 season rolls around are slim to none due to his massive contract and average level of play. Johnson has also made it clear that there is "no way" he would take a pay cut, per Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean, leaving the Titans in the position to cut the team's star player and find a cheaper option.
If Johnson is cut, Shonn Greene would be the lone running back left on the roster, and while he is an effective power back, the Titans would be wise to pair him with a younger back. Enter Tre Mason, who proved to be a very capable back in the SEC throughout his career.
He has good agility, power and speed to run between the tackles or to the outside, and he has the hands to be utilized in the passing game. A solid combine performance would back up what is evident on film and put him on the Titans radar, if he isn't already.
The lack of talent at inside linebacker is something the team must address this offseason. While finding talent at linebacker capable of pressuring opposing quarterbacks is a priority this offseason, finding a reliable tackler to play inside is a must.
Colin McCarthy and Moise Fokou are both on the chopping block, in my opinion, as they both leave a bit to be desired. Fokou doesn't have the prototypical size to be an inside backer in a 4-3 front, let alone a 3-4 scheme, and McCarthy is better served as a backup.
Glenn Carson isn't the fastest guy at the position, but he is an aggressive run-stuffer who hits with ferocity. He does a great job of playing gap-assignment football, filling running lanes with consistency.
I expect the Titans to have their eyes on a few of the inside linebackers at the combine, but Carson is a riser.