Tennessee Titans Starter vs. 2014 NFL Prospect
Take your pick: Tennessee Titans Starter or 2014 NFL Draft Prospect
The 2013 NFL Draft has come and gone, and unfortunately the Tennessee Titans' scouts must start from scratch in assembling a never ending draft board for next May's draft. The Titans' 53-man roster is far from being set, but due to pending contract negotiations, aging players, and draft busts the front office has a good idea on the franchise's future.
For several Titans, the 2013 season is a make or break season where their performance on the gridiron will ultimately determine if they have a future in the Music City. Titans General Manager Ruston Webster used the offseason to upgrade the offensive line to open up more holes the $10 million running back Chris Johnson and to give talented but inconsistent quarterback Jake Locker more time to throw to an arsenal of offensive weapons. Due to the significant investments made on the offensive side of the ball the future of Johnson and Locker is far from certain.
Although the Titans failed to select a quarterback or running back in this past NFL Draft, if Locker and Johnson fail to produce the Titans may not be able to resist the urge in 2014. Wide receiver Kenny Britt may find that his days in the Music City may be numbered as well if he fails to duplicate his lone dominant season and avoid his frequent bouts with immaturity and poor judgement.
On the defensive side of the ball the entire secondary must demonstrate some consistency or risk finding their roles reduced due to the Titans free agent acquisitions Bernard Pollard and George Wilson along with rookie Blidi Wreh-Wilson who have made a lot of noise during OTAs. Not one defensive lineman can view their job as safe past the 2013 season either. Derrick Morgan recently had his knee scoped, and he has proven to be a rotational player at best. Jurell Casey continues to be a ball of potential that is dominant one play and a pushover on the next.
The Titans' current crop of starters may have avoided being cut due to an unimpressive 2013 draft class that was devoid of any clear cut difference makers. However, the 2014 Draft has an abundance of play-makers who would instantly upgrade the Titans. If the Titans continue their losing ways, which starters' jobs would be safe and which 2014 prospect would be an immediate upgrade?
Jake Locker or 2014 QB Prospect
Jake Locker has been anything but consistent since being selected with the eighth pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. It appears at times that the game has overwhelmed him as he struggles to make the correct check at the line of scrimmage and fails to throw the ball accurately.
Titans general manager Ruston Webster has surrounded Locker with an impressive arsenal of weapons leaving very little room for excuses going into his third year in the Music City. The Titans did not select a quarterback in the 2013 NFL Draft which should provide a huge vote of confidence to Locker who has the potential to be great but has yet to show it on a consistent basis.
The Titans may have resisted the urge to add a young quarterback once, but they are unlikely to do it again, especially considering the number of elite quarterback that will be available in next year's NFL Draft.
Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is considered by many to be the top quarterback in the 2014 NFL Draft, and he would be an immediate starter if the Titans were fortunate enough to select him. Bridgewater never seems to get rattled with the mobility to extend plays and his accuracy and arm strength are simply a thing of beauty.
If the Titans were unable to select Bridgewater there is an impressive collection of other draft prospects like Clemson Tiger Tahj Boyd, San Jose State's Nathan Falles, Georgia Bulldog Aaron Murray, and reigning Heisman winner Johnny Manziel that would be poised to unseat Locker in 2014 if given the opportunity. Locker may be the unquestioned starter in 2013, but that clearly may not be the case in 2014.
Tennessee Titans Offensive Line vs 2014 OL Prospect
This offseason Titans General Manager Ruston Webster made upgrading the offensive line a top priority by signing guard Adam Levitre and drafting Chance Warmack with tenth pick. The Titans then added depth to an offensive line that already had two All-Pro tackles in Michael Roos and David Stewart.
It would appear that there would be little need to select another offensive lineman in the first three rounds despite the family connection between the Titans offensive line coach Bruce Matthews and his son Jake Matthews who is considered to be the top offensive tackle available in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Chris Johnson or 2014 RB Prospect
Chris Johnson believes that he is the top running back in the NFL, however, his production after amassing 2,000 yards two season ago says otherwise. Last season Johnson blamed his struggles on his offensive line, and in response the line was upgraded via the NFL Draft and free agency.
Johnson avoided being a cap casualty as the Titans guaranteed the $10 million that he was owed, but a repeat of last season's struggles may lead to his ticket out of the Music City. It appears that the writing may be on the wall with the Titans signing bruiser Shonn Greene as a free agent. Since tandems continue to be all the rage in the NFL, $10 million would appear to be a lot of money to invest in a running back not named Adrian Peterson.
Last season seven running backs rushed for more yards than Johnson, and each of them made significantly less money than him. In the new era of the NFL, running backs are dispensable and franchises seldom overpay for them if their are more explosive and inexpensive options available.
The running backs in the 2014 class are nothing short of explosive and are all capable of turning a short screen into 98 yard touchdown. Despite being undersized, De'Anthony Thomas and Lache Seastrunk are premier game changers that offer the same big play ability at half of the price that the Titans would have to pay Johnson.
Although the Titans did not select a running back in the draft, they would certainly be able to get the biggest bang for their buck if they selected Thomas or Seastrunk instead guaranteeing another $10 million to Johnson who is approaching 30.
Titans Wide Receivers or 2014 WR Prospects
If there was ever position that was virtual certainty that the Titans would ignore in the first three rounds of next year's draft it is wide receiver. The Titans have invested three first day selections into the position in Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright, and Justin Hunter.
Each of these wide receivers possesses the ability to out muscle, out jump, and out run opposing cornerbacks. Britt has had an All-Pro season, Wright led the team in yards last season, and Hunter finally recovered from an ACL injury and is poised to be the steal of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Although the Titans may consider adding depth in the later rounds, there is no way they select a wideout on the first day, especially considering that both of top wide receiver prospects have huge character concerns and red flags. Marquise Lee and Sammy Watkins both possess electrifying talent, but their poor judgement would be reason enough for the Titans to not even consider selecting either of them even if they fell into their lap. The Titans have weathered storms of immaturity with Vince Young, Albert Haynesworth, and Kenny Britt, but there would be no reason for the Titans to go down that road again.
Delanie Walker or 2014 TE Prospect
Delanie Walker is the epitome of a versatile athlete who is able to contribute in every aspect of the game, even on special teams. For years he has been overshadowed by Vernon Davis, but now as the unquestioned starter and primary safety valve, the possibilities are endless.
When the Titans were a successful team the tight ends always played a critical role in their success, and Walker is expected to continue the tight end tradition in the Music City. Although the Titans may be in the market for a second tight end to add to the equation it is unlikely to be considered a huge priority in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Although the top tight end prospects like Colt Lyleria and Austin Saferian-Jenkins may be long gone by the time that the Titans choose to select a tight end, each of them would be potent additions to a Titan offense full of explosive playmakers.
Titans Defensive Ends vs 2014 DE Prospects
The Titans finished second in the NFL in sacks, but this is very misleading because the Titans have failed to get consistent contributions from the defensive end position. After four years it's safe to presume that Derrick Morgan is a rotational player at best, and it appears to be a longshot that he will fulfill what is expected of a player selected with the 16th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.
Morgan is currently sitting out of OTAs due to having his knee scoped, and his partner in crime, Kamerion Wimbley, has failed to duplicate his rookie season when he registered double digit sacks. Last season the Titans set a franchise record for surrendering the most points in franchise history which is a huge indictment on the edge rushers who failed to apply consistent pressure.
Although the Titans failed to add a proven edge rusher via the NFL Draft or free agency, it does not appear that things will be changing anytime soon. However, the 2014 draft will be filled with edge rushers who would immediately upgrade the Titans defense. The unquestioned top prospect, Jadeveon Clowney, would immediately resurrect the Titans defense by making opposing quarterbacks think twice before going through their third and fourth progressions.
If the Titans are unable to select Clowney there is far from a shortage of edge rushers who would make Morgan and Wimbley expendable like Aaron Lynch, Will Sutton, and Dominique Easley. Although Morgan and Wimbley are starters now, their days as starters are near the end in the Music City.
Titans Defensive Tackles or 2014 DT Prospects
The Titans' defensive tackles are a clear example of potential. On one play they show glimpses of dominance, and then the following play they are on-field spectators. In the offseason Webster added depth to the defensive line in hopes that Jurrell Casey and Karl Klug would be more consistent disruptors by reducing their snaps.
If Casey and Klug are able to duplicate their rookie seasons then adding a defensive tackle would not be a primary concern. But due to their inability to be consistent, the Titans may be tempted to select a defensive tackle from an impressive crop in 2014. The top defensive tackle prospect is Stephon Tuitt who thrives as both a run stopper and an edge rusher. His versatility would immediately improve a defense that struggled to stop the run and apply pressure to the opposing quarterback.
There is a deep, impressive crop of defensive tackles that the Titans will be able to select from if they are unable to draft Tuitt. Anthony Johnson, Louis Nix, and Tom Jernigan would all be immediate upgrades and likely first day starters over Casey and Klug who may just be rotational players at best.
Colin McCarthy or 2014 MLB Prospect
Colin McCarthy has been the unquestioned leader of the Titans defense when he has been on the field. McCarthy has struggled with injuries in his short career, and he is currently recovering from an ankle injury that caused him to miss a lot of action. In order to be a successful middle linebacker contact must be your friend, because on each play you're taking on a pulling offensive lineman or fullback and you're expected to make the tackle. When McCarthy is on the field he has been able to accomplish that task with ease.
But how reliable is an injury prone linebacker who is a slow healer that cannot stay on the field? Although McCarthy enters this season as the unquestioned starter the need for finding another middle linebacker is certainly a priority that the Titans must address via the 2014 NFL Draft or through free agency.
There are a number of exceptional middle linebacker prospects with high football IQs that would wreak havoc on opposing running backs, but the top prospect this year is Andrew Jackson.
Unlike McCarthy who is terribly undersized, Jackson possess the size and muscle to disrupt plays as well as the football IQ to diagnose plays and drop into coverage. If Jackson is not available, prospects like A.J. Johnson and Erin Kendricks would also be immediate upgrades over McCarthy who cannot seem to shake the dreaded injury bug.
Tennessee Titans DB or 2014 DB Prospects
Last season the Titans secondary was exposed as minor corners at best that were frequently victimized by opposing quarterbacks on a weekly basis. Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty made every opposing quarterback that they faced look like an All-Pro.
Their struggles last season took everyone by surprise, especially considering the success that they experienced early in their careers. Although the last time that the Titans used a first round pick on a corner was back in 2003 with draft bust Andre Woolfolk, depending on where they select adding a proven shutdown corner may not be such a bad idea.
Bradley Roby and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu would be immediate upgrades as they both possess the size to push receivers off of their routes and the speed to disrupt the pass. Since the Titans selected Blidi Wreh-Wilson in the third round they may be looking for someone to pair him with because he may be best served at safety. This would allow Verner to return to nickel where he thrived in his rookie year
Tennessee Titans Safeties or 2014 Safety Prospects
In the offseason the Titans added George Wilson and
Bernard Pollardwho are both great in the box tacklers but are huge liabilities in coverage. The Titans other safety, Michael Griffin, has been a two-time Pro Bowler who is entering into a contract year.
Last year Griffin tried his best to cover up the defensive deficiencies in the secondary to no avail, but it appears that Wilson and Pollard will provide little help outside of tackles in the box.
Since the Titans failed to add a safety who can cover via free agency or the draft there are a number of talented prospects who are great tacklers that will not be liabilities in coverage. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is believed by most pundits to be the top safety prospect who is exceptional in coverage as well as being a sure tackler.
The leadership that Wilson and Pollard will provide in the locker room will be invaluable, but their inability to cover the slot or the tight end makes the safety position a priority that must be addressed in the 2014 NFL Draft.