Biggest Questions the Tennessee Titans Must Answer over Draft Week
Draft week is upon us, Titans fans, yet we still know relatively little about the team's draft plans.
Obviously, that's by design. However, over the last few drafts, there has been a clear-cut favorite player or position the team was targeting with its first-round pick.
This year, the favorite position seems to be a 3-4 edge rusher, but draft pundits have been projecting various quarterbacks and corners to the team as well.
Who the Titans end up selecting will be a thriller. With a new coaching regime, a new owner and a general manager with a bit of an increase in power, the team's drafting preference is a bit of a mystery and has the potential to shape the second half of the draft.
Most of the questions emanating from the media about the Titans have revolved around Chris Johnson's replacement, the loss of Alterraun Verner and the upcoming season for Jake Locker.
While the team does not have many gaping roster holes, the aforementioned issues are just skimming the surface of what questions the team must answer beginning on May 8.
Should We Take the QB Queries Seriously?
Over the last few weeks, the Titans have started to be seen as the last team in the top half of the draft who may be interested in drafting a quarterback.
Head coach Ken Whisenhunt has made it clear that Jake Locker is the Titans' starting quarterback, but he's also made it clear that the upcoming season is a "make-or-break" year.
Pundits have been projecting top-three quarterbacks like Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater. The team has also interviewed Johnny Manziel and been heavily connected to Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr.
Locker's first three seasons in the league have left a lot to be desired. Locker's biggest inadequacy is his inability to stay healthy. He's started just 18 games over the last two seasons and missed large portions of three of them.
While the talent at quarterback in this draft does not appear to be elite, there is depth, and the Titans are in prime position to take one of the top-three prospects or trade back and still select a top talent like Carr.
The Titans have a serious conundrum on their hands. Statistically, Locker has improved with each passing year, but the injury concerns are enough for his position on the depth chart to be replaced.
The first two days of the draft will let us all know how concerned the team is with the development and injury history of its young quarterback.
What Type of Running Corp Do They Want to Have?
Because of the team's free-agency hauls of the last two off-seasons, the Titans have been able to go into the draft with the strategy of taking the best player available—this year more so than last.
Last year the one glaring need was at guard and this season the major need is at running back. Superstar running back Chris Johnson was released from his contract this offseason, giving the team a blank slate.
To the rest of the league, the Tennessee Titans are faceless franchise with an oft-injured quarterback and changing identity.
The team intends to find its replacement for Chris Johnson by using a committee. Shonn Greene, Dexter McCluster and Jackie Battle serve as the top three backs on the current roster.
However, the team is almost guaranteed to draft another back to complete the unit. Per this article by the Associated Press, the Titans are looking for a host of backs who are capable of doing everything:
If you look at the tape of the San Diego Chargers, their running backs did everything. They caught out of the backfield, they protected well and all the backs had to know everything. That’s one thing I like because it definitely puts the pressure on the backs to know the system and do a lot more. If you watch guys like Danny Woodhead and guys in the San Diego system, catching 70-plus balls, that’s a big advantage for a quarterback.
As the team with the most glaring need for the position, the potential for the Titans to be the first team to select a running back in the draft is there. However, the top running back in the draft, Carlos Hyde, runs very similarly to Greene.
No other running back in the draft is worthy of the team's second-round pick. If the Titans select Hyde it becomes clear the team is looking to employ a power running game with a one-two punch of Hyde and Greene and McCluster mixed in as a receiving threat.
Otherwise, the more likely choice appears to be a back that better combines the skills of Greene and McCluster.
How Happy Is the Team with Its 3-4 Personnel?
One of the more overlooked topics of the Titans switch to a 3-4 defense is the need for bigger bodies upfront. While Jurrell Casey was dominant as a 4-3 defensive tackle, his effectiveness will be tested more heavily in a "30" front.
I don't think the coaching staff should be as concerned about the transition for Casey as they should be about the team's lack of a true nose tackle. Outside of Ropati Pitoitua, Al Woods and Antonio Johnson, the Titans don't have much 3-4 experience among their defensive linemen.
Teams struggle to find capable 3-4 ends and tackles, so for the Titans to have no zero-technique tackle with starting potential on the roster should make it a pressing need for the franchise.
Sammie Lee Hill was signed last offseason to add some size to the unit and will likely be charged with manning the middle of the team's defense. His issue is that he did not display the strength to withstand a the push of the offensive line on a consistent basis.
There are several tackles with the size to ply nose in the NFL, but we will learn a bit about the coaching staff's view of its roster if none are drafted.
How Confident Are the Coaches in Their Cornerbacks?
The past few of offseasons saw the Titans coaching staff under Mike Munchak attempt to bring in a man coverage approach to its defensive backfield and twice pit Tommie Campbell against Alterraun Verner for No.2 corner duties.
This offseason, Verner's contract was ended and he left for Tampa Bay. Campbell remains on the roster as an option, but is behind Coty Sensabaugh and Blidi Wreh-Wilson on the depth chart.
The new coaching staff have had their first opportunity to see players in action and may feel the answer for replacing the team's sole Pro Bowler is not currently on the roster.
Several draft experts have the Titans selecting Justin Gilbert or Darqueze Dennard with their first-round pick, pointing out the regime's drafting of Patrick Peterson in Arizona as part of the reason.
If the team passes on corner early, I don't believe it intends to draft one.
How Dire Is the Need for Help at Linebacker?
The need for an elite pass-rusher has troubled the team's defense for some time now. The transition to a hybrid 3-4 defense makes that need a linebacker issue.
Also at issue for the Titans linebacker corp is the poor play at middle linebacker—with the entire unit struggling. The team double dipped into the Denver Broncos' castaways by signing Wesley Woodyard and Shaun Phillips.
The defensive scheme change also turned two of the team's defensive linemen, Kamerion Wimbley and Derrick Morgan, into outside linebackers.
Phillips, Wimbley and Woodyard are the only linebackers on roster with any real 3-4 experience. The poor play of Wimbley since signing for Tennessee, combined with Phillips' age and Morgan's inexperience leave a bit to be desired on the edges.
Inside, Zach Brown will compete for a starting role along with Colin McCarthy, Moise Fokou and Woodyard. Overall, with the poor play of Brown and Akeem Ayers last season, questions are asked of this positional unit.
Talents like C.J. Mosley or Anthony Barr would become immediate contributors to the team's defense. Inside linebacker is an undervalued position in the NFL, but there isn't much quality depth at the position. On the edges there is plenty.
We will have a better understanding of the team's thoughts on this unit by the time the draft draws to a close.