The Tennessee Titans have done a good job over the past few years of drafting guys who can make an impact right away during their rookie seasons. Chance Warmack, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Kendall Wright, Zach Brown and Akeem Ayers are just a few guys from the past couple classes who wasted little time getting on the field during their rookie campaigns. Who from their 2014 NFL Draft class will continue the trend?
First round pick Taylor Lewan (OT, Michigan) is already competing for the starting RT spot, and to make it even more impressive, he’s beating out Michael Oher, whom the Titans just signed to a head-scratching 4-year, $20 million dollar contract (with $9.35 guaranteed). I had Lewan as the second ranked offensive tackle in the ’14 class (behind Jake Matthews who went sixth overall), and thought he’d likely start out on the right side before eventually moving to the left. Well, the wheels are already in place.
He’s a mauler in the run game and fits well in a power-man blocking scheme, but also has the athleticism and lateral footwork to excel in a zone-blocking scheme (remember, Lewan ran a 4.87 40-yard dash at 6-foot 7, 310-pounds, faster than some running backs). The future is very bright for Lewan and it looks like he’s wasting no time carving out a big role on the offensive line. I expect Oher to provide depth as a swing tackle.
Second rounder Bishop Sankey (RB, Washington) could also find himself in the starting lineup by the time week 1 rolls around. With Chris Johnson gone, the Titans are looking for a new feature back and Sankey could be the guy. He’s a complete back who can run inside and bounce it outside, and has the hands to be dangerous in the receiving game as well. His main competition will be Shonn Greene, who’s coming off yet another knee injury, and power back Jackie Battle, who’s best suited for short yardage carries. Sankey is too valuable of a weapon for the Titans not to take advantage of this fall.
DaQuan Jones (NT, Penn State), the teams fourth round pick, will likely join the Titans DL rotation fairly early on. He doesn’t offer much in terms of a pass rush, but he’s an enormous run stuffer with the strength to play two gaps. Jurrell Casey is likely going to play more DE than NT this fall (evidenced by his weight loss), and Sammie Hill is constantly battling nagging injuries (while rarely making much of an impact), so the stage is set for Jones to be an early contributor.
A dark horse contributor could be undrafted center Gabe Ikard (Oklahoma), who could push incumbent Brian Schwenke, who’s coming off ankle surgery and a poor rookie campaign. Ikard will struggle in power schemes and with man blocking against odd fronts, but is a very smart, mechanical player who plays with good leverage and mobility. Even if Schwenke wins the job, there’s little depth at the position and Ikard could potentially push himself into the interior rotation with a strong camp.