Tennessee Titans Day 1 2014 NFL Draft Primer

Chad Minton@@chad_mintonCorrespondent IMay 7, 2014

Tennessee Titans Day 1 2014 NFL Draft Primer

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    The Tennessee Titans enter this NFL draft without being terribly desperate at one particular position but in need of quality depth at nearly every position.

    It will make for a draft that is more unpredictable than usual for the Titans. A predominantly new coaching staff led by Ken Whisenhunt will also make this a very unpredictable draft.

    One thing we do know is that the Titans will most likely focus on getting a running back and a quarterback at some point. The big question is when they'll choose to address those positions.

    Since the Titans have just six picks in this draft, there will be even more emphasis on them making the right picks to turn them into a playoff contender in 2014. There will be very little room for error with just six picks and no third-rounder.

    The Titans also have to figure out how confident they are in Jake Locker for 2014. Unless the Titans are comfortable with the possibility of Charlie Whitehurst starting if Locker goes down, getting a quarterback early will be a must.

    As always, the top 10 picks will shape how the Titans tackle their 11th pick. They could decide to trade it away for more picks.

Departures and Additions

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    It's been another busy offseason for the Titans, and the roster will once again look very different from the way it looked when Tennessee walked off the field in its 2013 season finale.

    The Titans have a lot of room to make an impact in the draft thanks to the moves they made this offseason, most notably at running back.

    Even though they lost a handful of productive players, they are still better off. They got younger and freed up room on the roster to change into the team they want to be under Ken Whisenhunt.



    The obvious blockbuster departure is Chris Johnson. We can argue until we're blue in the face on whether this was the right move for the Titans. In the end, the two sides just weren't right for each other anymore. It's not to say that Johnson won't go on to have a productive career with the Jets, but it wasn't going to end well for him in Tennessee.

    There is now room for flexibility at running back with him out of the picture. The Titans can draft a guy they like for their system to complement Shonn Greene and Dexter McCluster.

    Alterraun Verner was the other major departure. He picked the perfect year to break out and earned his big payday with the Buccaneers. The Titans seem to be fine without him with both Coty Sensabaugh and Blidi Wreh-Wilson as worthy contenders to be his replacement.

    Another notable departure was backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Say what you want about his shaky performances in place of Jake Locker, but there's no doubting he was a warrior for this team. It was a tough loss that leaves the Titans in a questionable place if Locker once again goes down due to injury.

    Other key departures were longtime offensive tackle David Stewart, wide receiver Damian Williams and kicker Rob Bironas.



    The Titans made plenty of additions to counter their losses, and the first one to come to mind is McCluster. He got a healthy deal worth $12 million over three years. He'll play a wide range of roles on offense and special teams.

    The Titans showed a lot of attention to linebacker by adding Shaun Phillips and Wesley Woodyard. Both will make early impacts, but the addition of Phillips is a big one as the Titans shift to a hybrid 3-4 defense.

    Offensive line went through some change with the addition of Michael Oher to replace David Stewart. The Titans are better off with Oher over the aging Stewart, who had a good run in a Titans uniform.

    Finally, Charlie Whitehurst was signed to back up Locker and act as somewhat of a mentor to help Locker learn Whisenhunt's system. He doesn't appear to be an upgrade to Fitzpatrick as a backup. 

    Overall, the Titans were productive enough in free agency to give themselves more flexibility in the draft. 

Team Needs

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    As previously stated, the Titans aren't desperate at any particular position. However, injuries are inevitable, and they need depth at several key positions.

    The two biggest positions of need are quarterback and running back. Both were partially addressed in free agency but not enough to move into the regular season feeling comfortable about them.

    There's also still a need on the defensive line to add more bodies to a system that will be much different from last season.

    You can make an argument for almost every position being in need of depth at this point.



    How big of a need the quarterback position is hinges on how much faith you can have in Jake Locker right now.

    His track record of not being able to stay healthy to go along with being a streaky player on the field leaves a lot of room for uncertainty.

    Backing up Locker is Charlie Whitehurst, who has just four starts in six years of NFL experience. Most of his playing time came when the game was out of reach one way or the other.

    Nate Washington called Whitehurst a "walking playbook," according to Craig Peters of the Titans' official website. That may be the case, but it doesn't mean it would translate to the field very well.

    The team has to find a project quarterback in the upcoming draft, at the very least. It could end up being disastrous if Locker goes down during a playoff hunt.


    Running Back

    The departure of Chris Johnson leaves an obvious void but not an enormous one that can't be overcome in the draft.

    This draft class is deep at running back and full of capable guys who can step into a complementary role their rookie season.

    The Titans have to address this position in the draft. The combination of Shonn Greene, Dexter McCluster and Jackie Battle is not enough. 

    Jeremy Hill out of LSU would fit the best with this team. He's a balanced runner who would solidify the rushing attack, and he also has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.

    A tweet from Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean illustrated this need clearly:

    Webster said running back is clearly a need for the #Titans. Team will pick one, just a matter of when

    — Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) May 6, 2014

    You also have a handful of other guys who could fit in here, like Carlos Hyde, Bishop Sankey or Tre Mason.

    If the Titans struggle at running back in 2014, it will make it hard to justify the release of Johnson.


    Outside Linebacker

    Titans may have added Shaun Phillips in free agency to help at outside linebacker, but they still need another edge-rusher in the mix. This could come in the form of drafting Anthony Barr at 11th overall.

    Questions surround virtually every other option the Titans have at outside linebacker right now. Akeem Ayers hasn't lived up to his potential, and Zach Brown hasn't shown great ability to rush the passer just yet. It doesn't mean they won't work out, but they're still question marks right now.

    Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley are also looking to see some time at outside linebacker, but that shift from defensive end might not go smoothly.



    This area is obviously a need due to Alterraun Verner's departure. However, the Titans aren't in desperation mode here.

    Coty Sensabaugh will probably win the starting job opposite of Jason McCourty, which would leave Blidi Wreh-Wilson as the primary backup. The Titans would still need to add depth here, preferably in the middle of the draft.

    Using a first-round pick would not make sense to crowd up a position when there are bigger needs to address.



    The Titans unexpectedly released Rob Bironas. His accuracy had begun to dip, and his price tag just wasn't worth it anymore.

    Look for them to sign an undrafted free agent or maybe even elevate Maikon Bonani as a starter. A strong preseason would probably cement his place as the kicker going forward.

    Drafting a kicker isn't completely impossible, according to Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com:

    Webster doesn't dismiss idea #Titans could spend a draft pick on a kicker. (Obviously late).

    — Paul Kuharsky (@PaulKuharskyNFL) May 6, 2014

    It's still a minor need that the Titans haven't had in quite a while.


    Tight End

    As impressive as Delanie Walker was in his first season with the Titans, he needs some help. Both Craig Stevens and Taylor Thompson don't seem to be the answers as pass-catching tight ends.

    The Titans could target this position in the sixth or seventh round of the draft. They need a guy who is athletic and has the physical frame to provide a good weapon to the quarterback.

    An undrafted free agent could also emerge to help in this area.

Top Targets

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    The Titans draft board is probably about as complex as it can get right now. There are so many different directions they can go thanks to not having one clear-cut position that needs attention over the others.

    We do know that they have to address two key offensive positions: quarterback and running back.

    However, they're missing one key piece on defense that will be available when their turn comes up at No 11.


    1. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA

    The idea of taking an outside linebacker who can rush the passer was way more of a need prior to free agency and the signing of Shaun Phillips.

    With that said, he isn't enough to make this pass rush as formidable as it needs to be. The Titans need a guy who has a high ceiling, and that guy is Anthony Barr.

    He may be a risk, but every player in the draft is a risk. The Titans would be getting an athletic freak who could make an impact as early as Week 1 and eventually turn out to be a regular Pro Bowl type of player.

    No other player makes more sense at 11th overall than Barr. The team can wait to address every other position until the second round or later. He should be on the top of Tennessee's big board.


    2. Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State

    The Titans can't dismiss the possibility of taking a quarterback in the first round. It's probably unlikely, but Derek Carr is the one guy who would justify a high selection. If you like a guy enough and he fits your system, it doesn't matter if it may be a reach. In the end, you have to get the guy who fits your team when you have opportunity to take him.

    One thing that is for certain is that stability at quarterback is critical for success in today's NFL. It's safe to say that the Titans aren't stable at quarterback right now with Jake Locker.

    It has been reported by Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean that the Titans have shown extended interest in Carr as possibly being their top choice at quarterback.

    Again, the Titans find themselves in a weird spot with the 11th pick. A lot of "star" talent will already be off the board. If these top two guys aren't available, then the Titans should trade that pick to a team that needs it more and gain more draft picks in exchange.


    3. Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

    If the Titans decide to trade their 11th pick to a team that finds more value in it, then a guy like Kony Ealy is very possible. He would add another moving part to the Titans' pass rush and would fit in nicely at defensive end.

    According to Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com, Ealy is a "worst-case scenario" if the Titans decide to trade back to later in the first round. 

    He makes more sense than any other defensive lineman who rates in the first round, such as Timmy Jernigan or Aaron Donald.

    However, it's up for debate if any of these guys make sense in the first round for the Titans. Out of all of them, Ealy should be at the top.


    4. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

    The Titans already have solid replacements for Alterraun Verner. It's not at the very top of the big board, but they might still add a highly rated cornerback prospect such as Darqueze Dennard.

    He is a balanced and physical player. He looks to have a bright future in the NFL and be a safe pick. His selection would make the cornerback position a crowded one, with Coty Sensabaugh and Blidi Wreh-Wilson also pushing for starting roles.

    If the Titans like him enough to add some healthy competition to the position, then they could pull the trigger on Dennard. He's a safe pick compared to some of the others.


    5. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

    Don't discount the possibility of the Titans taking an offensive tackle just because it's not an immediate need. Michael Roos is entering a contract year, and Michael Oher could easily be a one-year guy under his contract. That means that this position could become a major weakness heading into next season.

    The Titans may decide to look ahead and cover themselves for the future if a few of their top choices aren't available on their big board.

    Since no position must be addressed in the first round, don't be surprised if the Titans take Taylor Lewan to be the future at offensive tackle. He has a great mean streak that will translate well to the NFL.

    This wouldn't be a flashy pick by any means, but it could end up being a brilliant one when we look back at this time next year.


    6. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama

    Clinton-Dix is another guy who deserves a spot on the big board because he would offer protection at safety following next season. 

    George Wilson is aging and entering the final year of his contract, and Michael Griffin has been a streaky player over his career. Bernard Pollard is locked up for a couple of seasons, but there's not much after them.

    John Glennon of The Tennessean wrote that the Titans could take a guy who may not make an immediate impact in his rookie season but shows a ton of value for the long-term future.

    Clinton-Dix would fit into that strategy if the Titans see enough value in him for the long haul. Patience is obviously the key if they end up taking this route.

What the Experts Are Saying

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    Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com: Justin Gilbert

    The Titans lost Alteraun Verner to free agency and despite feeling comfortable with some of the young cornerback talent on the roster, Gilbert's long, fast skill set might be too enticing with this pick.

    As promising of a prospect as Gilbert is, he doesn't fit the Titans. He'll fit other teams in the first round really well but not the Titans. They can be more productive addressing other positions than cornerback, which already has two promising players on the roster to replace Verner.

    If the Titans were uncertain about Coty Sensabaugh and Blidi Wreh-Wilson, then this pick would be a home run choice. Since both guys have played well in limited action, the Titans should resist the temptation to take the talented Gilbert.


    Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean: Anthony Barr

    I picked Barr in March, and I still like him even though the Titans signed free agent Shaun Phillips. Barr seems like the perfect fit: a game-changing player the Titans are familiar with (linebackers coach Lou Spanos was UCLA defensive coordinator) and could line up as a 4-3 DE or a 3-4 LB.

    This remains the most logical pick for the Titans at 11th overall. If they were just a few spots higher in the draft order, then everything would change. The debate would be even hotter than it already is.

    Barr's ceiling is so high that he's worth the gamble. The worst-case scenario is that the Titans add another athletic body to their pass rush. They're not desperate enough at any other position to reach at the 11th pick, and all of the big impact players will probably be off the board when the Titans get on the clock.


    Brian Baldinger of NFL.com: Blake Bortles

    The Jake Locker era is winding down and Ken Whisenhunt has shown an ability to work with quarterbacks and to protect them.

    This pick is definitely out of the norm, but it does get you thinking. A pick of Bortles, or any quarterback in the first round, would mean complete abandonment of Jake Locker. It would make for an awkward quarterback situation in 2014, as Locker still has one more year left on his contract.

    For that reason, I can't see this scenario playing out, even if Bortles slips this far down. None of these quarterbacks are ready to start immediately, so the Titans should wait for their quarterback later in the draft to have him more as a project. He can act as a backup plan to Locker if he does indeed fail to deliver.


    Greg A. Bedard of SI.com: C.J. Mosley

    New Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton needs a versatile triggerman in the middle of his defense to make it work. Mosley is plug-and-play and an instant upgrade.

    The Titans appear to be set at inside linebacker after the addition of Wesley Woodyard in free agency to go along with Zach Brown, Colin McCarthy and Moise Fokou. As good as I expect Mosley to be at the next level, he's not the best fit for the Titans.

    The only way this would make sense is if the Titans are married to taking a linebacker in the first round, and Mosley is their top guy on the draft board. If they're going linebacker, they need athletic pass-rushers. In a fantasy land, Khalil Mack would somehow fall out of the top 10. That's not happening, so the Titans go with Barr before they take Mosley on the inside.

Latest Rumors, Reports and Analysis

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    There are plenty of rumors and reports to go around as the draft is just hours away. Here are some of the latest:


    Titans targeting a running back in Round 2?

    A recent report from Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean said that it's likely the Titans will draft a running back at some point in the draft. Tre Mason has been a popular choice, but the trigger would have to be pulled in the second round if the Titans want him.

    The absence of a third-round pick for the Titans means that Mason probably won't be available for them in the fourth round. The Titans could end up gaining back that third-round pick in a trade scenario.

    Mason is a versatile guy who produced well against stiff competition in the SEC. He's definitely near the top of a loaded running back draft class. Is he worth a second-round pick from a team that has just six picks? That would be a big stretch.

    It's hard to make an argument for taking a running back in the second round these days.

    Maybe the Titans are in love with Mason and what he could bring to the offense. If that's the case, then they should stick to their guns and not risk losing him by passing on him early.

    Another guy who fits into this conversation is Jeremy Hill of LSU. He's another back who will be available when the Titans get on the clock in the second round, but he may not fall to the fourth round. They might have to reach a bit to get the guy they want at running back.


    Could the Titans trade their 11th overall pick?

    NFL Media Analyst Judy Battista recently reported that the Titans might want to move back in the first round to get their quarterback, and that quarterback could be Derek Carr.

    This trade-down has become an increasingly popular scenario so that the Titans can essentially knock out two birds with one stone: gain more picks from a team that is rich in total picks, like the 49ers, while still getting the guy they want.

    Teams that are heavy in draft picks can afford to trade a couple of picks to move up and get a guy they want at No. 11.

    Carr put up some crazy numbers at Fresno State playing in a spread offense. His game needs some polishing before he's ready to be a starter in the NFL, but his strong arm and accuracy make him an intriguing option to compete with Locker.

    This could end up being a smart move for the Titans if the guys on their draft board aren't there. There's no point in reaching for a player at the expense of not gaining more picks. The Titans have just six draft picks, and that's somewhat of a concern considering how deep this draft is at so many different positions.


    What's the worst-case scenario for Titans in the first round?

    According to Bucky Brooks of NFL.com, the Titans' top two needs are at cornerback and outside linebacker. That means players like Justin Gilbert, Darqueze Dennard or Anthony Barr would be a productive draft pick. If the Titans can't get one of those guys, Brooks says that a guy like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix would be a worst-case scenario to add depth at safety.

    There will be a handful of promising cornerbacks on the board at the 11th pick.

    However, a team always has to have a few backup plans in the draft process. Clinton-Dix would offer the Titans some insurance at safety heading into next season when George Wilson's contract expires, and Michael Griffin is owed a fat contract.


    Titans eyeing Blake Bortles?

    To expand on the talks of a quarterback, Josh Sanchez of Fansided.com said that the Titans have a "pretty good grade" on Blake Bortles, per Chris Mortensen of ESPN.

    If the Titans choose to go with a quarterback in the first round, it would mean the Locker era is basically over in Tennessee. You don't draft a quarterback in the first round for him to sit on the bench behind another young quarterback who hasn't shown anything except durability issues.

    Some may argue that adding Bortles would maybe push Locker in a positive way. It could also have the opposite effect. The Titans can't ignore the other needs on the roster for a quarterback who isn't the future. At least not in the first round at the 11th pick. 

    Bortles is considered by some as the best quarterback in the draft class, but that is nowhere near a consensus. There is such a wide range of opinions on this year's quarterback class. 

    It would be a major gamble to take Bortles here. The Titans are better off waiting until after the first round to take more of a project quarterback to maybe replace Locker after 2014. If Locker puts up career numbers and get this team to the playoffs, then the Titans would have a solid backup.

    If they draft Bortles, it would make for an interesting positional battle in training camp. 

7-Round Tennessee Titans Mock Draft

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    Round 1 (11th Pick): Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA

    The safest pick for the Titans if they stay at No. 11 is Anthony Barr. His ceiling is so high, and he has already produced at an insane level in just two seasons of playing linebacker.

    Even if he isn't an every-down player, he's still the best fit. His raw athleticism would instantly upgrade the pass rush, which has lacked greatly in recent years.


    Round 2 (42nd Pick): Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU

    The Titans will most likely give Jake Locker one more chance to show his value, unless he's somehow beaten out in training camp by a rookie.

    Zach Mettenberger makes a lot of sense for the Titans, but he won't immediately beat out Locker for a starting role.

    Mettenberger has all of the physical tools to translate into a solid starter in the NFL within a couple of seasons. However, he's not a Week 1 starter. The Titans take him here to protect themselves in case Locker doesn't pan out in his last chance to produce in 2014. 


    Round 4 (112th Pick): Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona

    Jeremy Hill was originally the pick here, but it doesn't appear likely that he'll slip to the fourth round. Unless the Titans obtain a third-round pick through a trade, the Titans will have to dig deeper into the draft class for a running back.

    Luckily, the draft class is deep at the position. The Titans aren't desperate at running back, as they have viable options heading into next season with Shonn Greene, Dexter McCluster and Jackie Battle. 

    However, the team needs to add a guy with the potential to eventually become the feature back in Tennessee. The powerful and determined Carey would be a nice here in the fourth round. Rob Rang of CBSSports.com compares Carey to Ahmad Bradshaw. That's not a bad comparison for a player who gets chosen in the fourth round.


    Round 5 (151st Pick): Rashaad Reynolds, CB, Oregon State

    A cornerback fits nicely here for the Titans. They need a replacement for Verner in the form of depth but not necessarily as a starter. They have Sensabaugh and Wreh-Wilson to battle it out in training camp for that.

    Rashaad Reynolds is a well-balanced cornerback who brings a ton of toughness to the position. His major weakness is he's undersized at 5'10", but he'll earn a spot on this team as a backup. This pick will leave the Titans set at cornerback heading into training camp.


    Round 6 (186th Pick): A.C. Leonard, TE, Tennessee State

    The Titans need to get another pass-catching tight end to help out Delanie Walker. There has even been speculation of Tennessee addressing that need in the first round by selecting Eric Ebron. Tight end is not that big of a need, but it deserves attention late in the draft.

    A guy like A.C. Leonard makes sense here. He has a lot of potential and is athletic for the position. 


    Round 7 (228th Pick): Ken Bishop, DT, Northern Illinois

    Adding defensive line depth makes sense here to close out the draft for the Titans. They can get a rotational guy like Ken Bishop to help bolster the run defense. It gets questionable at defensive tackle after Jurrell Casey.