The Tennessee Titans have a number of needs inching towards the 2014 NFL Draft. The team has been mired in mediocrity for years and is now moving forward with an entirely new coaching regime, led by head coach Ken Whisenhunt, the offensive guru. Tennessee is coming off a 7-9 campaign and lost big names in free agency, albeit two unsurprising ones in Alterraun Verner and Chris Johnson. This draft will say a lot about the direction Whisenhunt and new defensive coordinator Ray Horton are going to go with this team.
As it currently stands, the Titans have only six draft picks. The team is without a third-rounder after trading up in the second ground last season to grab wide receiver Justin Hunter, so trading down will continue to be an option for this team should things not unfold the way they like. The Titans have the 11th overall pick, and it is very much a mystery which direction they will be going.
The interior of the trenches on both sides of the ball is the most stable area the Titans have. Tennessee used high draft picks last year on guard Chance Warmack and center Brian Schwenke, two guys who should be building blocks in Nashville for a long time. Jurrell Casey broke out in a big way as a dominant all-around tackle on defense, and should flourish even more in Horton’s new scheme. The Titans will be running a lot of 3-4, and Casey is the perfect big body to clog up space in the middle while still frequently breaking through and making plays in the backfield. The Titans also should be set at receiver for the time being, as Kendall Wright had a very nice breakout season and Hunter had a solid rookie showing. Hunter has been adding weight in the offseason and a lot will be asked of him.
Aside from interior line and wide receiver, the Titans are pretty much wide open, which is why it is hard to gauge where they might be leaning in the draft. The team may very well employ a “best player available” strategy since this team does not have a single identifiable star with Chris Johnson gone. The Titans just need talent, most specifically in the form of a pass rusher. The Titans were 21st in the NFL with 36 sacks last season, and did not get the playmaking ability from guys such as Kamerion Wimbley, Zack Brown or Akeem Ayers that they had planned.
Horton’s 3-4 defense needs playmakers for this scheme to work, and Wimbley should be more comfortable switching back to outside linebacker. Signing Wesley Woodyard also bolsters the linebacking corps, but Brown and Ayers need to continue to progress after both taking a step back last year. Middle linebacker is also an area of need, as Colin McCarthy cannot seem to stay healthy. In the secondary, three of the four spots are very secure, but replacing Alterraun Verner will be a priority. The Titans do have depth at the position with Coty Sensabaugh and Tommie Campbell, but using one pick in the later rounds on that spot could be an option. Tennessee also used a third-rounder last season on corner Blidi Wreh-Wilson, and still has high expectations for him in the future. The Titans have shown prowess in drafting late-round corners, as evidenced by the success of Verner, Jason McCourty and Cortland Finnegan.
Tackle could also be an option with Dave Stewart retiring. Michael Oher was signed to replace him at right tackle, but he underperformed last year and the team would be remiss not to consider bolstering that unit. Michael Roos could be heading into his final season at left tackle, so his future replacement could definitely be something the Titans may look for.
A final area of need is in the playmaking department. Chris Johnson has been the Titans’ biggest playmaker for years, and signing Dexter McCluster is not enough to make up for losing him. He may not have been the same CJ2K that he was five years ago, but he was still an incredibly reliable and dynamic player both as a runner and as a receiver out of the backfield. Shonn Greene is a reliable between-the-tackles guy, but in five years the longest run of his career is 36 yards. McCluster will see an uptick in carries and play a role similar to that of Danny Woodhead last year when Whisenhunt was in San Diego, but there are still too many available touches that need to be given to another dynamic player.
Players to Keep an Eye on in the Draft
With the first round pick, (should the Titans not trade down) the Titans still should be looking at the best player available within reason. One name that continues to pop up is UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr. He is a prolific pass-rushing talent and would give Horton an ideal weapon to play with. C.J. Mosley out of Alabama could also be in play as a great multi-talented middle linebacker who could anchor the defense for years. Also, don’t think that taking a quarterback in round one is too farfetched. New regimes often mean new signal-callers, and the Titans recently declined Jake Locker’s fifth-year option due to his inconsistency and inability to stay healthy. This year is Locker’s last chance to cement his status as a franchise quarterback. This once highly-touted quarterback class has been heavily criticized in recent weeks, and it is almost a certainty that at least one of Jonny Manziel, Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater will be there for the Titans at 11.
Round two is where the Titans could start to look at a running back. There is a small chance anyone in this year’s crop cracks the first round, but at the top of the second round the Titans will take a long look at guys like Jeremy Hill from LSU and Carlos Hyde out of Ohio State. The team could also look to hit a home run with a later pick on someone like Dri Archer or De’Anthony Thomas.
Commentary by Justin Hussong
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer covering the Tennessee Titans