Against the best advice that yours truly has dispensed over the past few months, the Titans appear set to pass on quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston and stick with 2013 sixth-round pick Zach Mettenberger as their initial opening at quarterback in 2015.
We've been hearing rumblings through the latter portion of the season that the Titans liked Mettenberger enough to believe he could be their future at quarterback. Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean still believes that to be the case and thinks the Titans won't be selecting Mariota or Winston at No. 2:
As much as I think this is a terrible decision from a management perspective, as well as something the Titans could wind up regretting down the road, I am nothing if not a realist. With that in mind, the question then becomes: What do the Titans do with the No. 2 overall pick? At this point, we have three ideal scenarios, and I'll list them in the order in which they appeal to me.
Ah, the great white whale of the NFL draft season. Best I can tell, every message board and comment section is filled with fans clamoring for a trade down that rarely ever comes.
Even if the Titans aren't willing to pick Winston or Mariota, they should be rooting for them to establish their draft credentials in the College Football Playoff because their hopes of pulling off a Washington-esque heist for the No. 2 pick depend on it.
I find it much more likely that Winston will be the player in question to be auctioned, as Mariota doesn't have a "Controversies" section in his Wikipedia. However, given that NFL scouts determined that Teddy Bridgewater's knees were too small to be a franchise quarterback, I think it's too early to rule anything out.
We're really getting into territory that I'm uncomfortable forecasting from this far away if we try to determine what kind of draft value Winston and Mariota will have in April. The combine, medicals, off-field detective work and interviews will make up a lot of the evaluation.
I personally believe that Winston will settle in as a mid-first-round pick when it's all said and done, and thus the Titans won't be in a bargaining position with the No. 2 pick.
But that is just a barely informed guess at this point. Titans fans should be rooting for both quarterbacks to strut their stuff in their last few college games, in the hopes that a viable market develops for the No. 2 pick.
The Titans finished 12th in Adjusted Sack Rate, but that was mostly built on the aggressive blitzing scheme of defensive coordinator Ray Horton. Derrick Morgan is their only outside linebacker who showed any real aptitude for rushing the passer, but he has displayed a tendency to gather up hurries by the bushel rather than actually finishing with sacks.
Also: he's a free agent who performed poorly as a run defender when asked to stand up, which means he may not be long for Nashville.
|Derrick Morgan -- King of Hurries|
|Year||Sacks||Hurries (PFF)||Hurries (FO)||QB Hits|
|Sources: Football Outsiders, Pro Football Focus|
Enter Nebraska edge rusher Randy Gregory. Gregory officially declared for the draft early Tuesday morning.
Gregory is regarded as the top available defensive prospect by Rotoworld's Josh Norris. The Internet scouting community as a whole is very high on his prospects, and I think at this point it's fair to say he is the most highly regarded edge rusher in the draft.
By drafting Gregory, the Titans would give Horton license to back off the blitzes a bit, as well as create a miniature version of what J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney were supposed to give the Texans before Clowney underwent microfracture surgery.
There is perhaps no more important position than edge rusher after quarterback, and the best ones don't last very long after the draft starts. Prioritizing an upgrade here would be about the best the Titans could do if they keep the pick and won't consider a quarterback, in my opinion.
Other possible edge-rusher selections: Shane Ray, Missouri. Eli Harold, Virginia.
Standing alone as a unique specimen in this class, USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams has the kind of uncommon size-athleticism combination that you'd build in a Madden laboratory.
While the Titans don't necessarily need another three-technique player, as Jurrell Casey is a star and Ropati Pitoitua is a solid run defender, Williams would give them a very versatile front to work with from the standpoint of blitz looks in different gaps, which is a thing Horton tinkers with early and often.
I am less sold on Williams just because as a general rule, I tend to look for players with a quicker get-off at the line of scrimmage. But I think you could make the argument that grabbing Williams here and picking up an edge rusher in the second round is a better "draft combo" than an edge rusher and a much weaker three-technique in the second.
There's also an argument that since Williams played hurt this season, he wasn't able to fully showcase his talent.
Either way, it's obvious that the defensive front seven—the one that led the Titans to a 29th-place finish in run defense DVOA, per Football Outsiders—needs some revamping around Casey, and Williams would be a nice start who could also provide some interior pass rush.
The Titans have a long path back to respectability again. Ignoring quarterback in favor of Mettenberger, who I think has too many flaws to be a real franchise quarterback, is like seeing an ATV on the side of the road and laughing it off.
But that doesn't mean they can't find something to propel them up the line early in the draft. It's just a question of whether they'll look back down the path in a few years and regret the way they decided to travel.