The Tennessee Titans own the No. 11 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, and with 10 teams picking ahead of them, a lot of who they draft will be based on who is available. While the Titans may have a need at right tackle, running back, corner and inside linebacker, by the time the draft rolls around, the biggest need is clear: The Titans need a premier pass rusher.
The biggest name on the market is obviously Jadeveon Clowney, defensive end from South Carolina. Clowney has a massive 6-foot-5 frame and has amazing athletic ability (4.53 40-yard dash time). The big issue with Clowney is will he play hard, and based on his 2013 tape you have to be unsure.
Sure he was “double-teamed” often and yes even occasionally “triple-teamed,” but he was left one-on-one far more often than people want to admit. Also, on inside runs and whenever the ball was past him, he just looked disinterested. Coaches want to see hustle at the college level so they know when you get paid you won’t pull an Albert Haynesworth move.
The biggest issue I have with Clowney is can he play in the Titans’ new 3-4? Honestly, I don’t think so. While he would be good with the pass rushing aspect, Clowney wasn’t great in space last year and his high-tackling (led to missed tackles) isn’t what you want to see out your edge defender.
Next is Anthony Barr, the outside linebacker from UCLA. Barr is a freakish athlete with the best upside of any player in this draft. Despite only playing linebacker for two seasons, he accumulated 10 or more sacks both years. Barr has elite closing speed and in a few years he could turn into the best pass rusher from this draft if he keeps developing, though not all prospects keep developing once they get into the NFL.
The issue with Barr is that he is just so raw. His hand usage and technique aren’t great, and he can miss his assignment on occasion. He may just need time and coaching, and the Titans certainly can provide him with that given that they hired his UCLA defensive coordinator Lou Spanos as their linebacker coach.
Finally, Khalil Mack from Buffalo rounds out the top three (in no particular order). Mack is exceptional, and I believe that while the other two have the potential to be great, Mack will be the best. As a 3-4 edge rusher, Mack has a blend of strength and speed that make him impossible to block properly on a consistent basis. He is quicker than offensive tackles and stronger than guards, and he can use either his dip or bull rush wherever he wants on the field.
Mack compares favorably to Brian Orakpo, who just re-signed with the Washington Redskins. Both Mack and Orakpo are violent rushers who impact tackles and force turnovers when they get to the quarterback. They both also play with a non-stop motor no matter if they are up by 20 or down by 30. In the new 3-4 hybrid defense, Mack would thrive and would likely be a better fit in the system for the Titans than Clowney.