Are the Titans still good at developing offensive linemen?

In 2005, the Tennessee Titans struck gold in the NFL draft, selecting tackles Michael Roos and David Stewart, in the second and fourth rounds respectively. Roos was an immediate starter, and Stewart stepped into the starting lineup in his second season, and the two have formed probably the NFL’s best tackle tandem over the past five seasons.

Since taking Stewart, the Titans have also drafted the following offensive linemen:

Daniel Loper, 2005, 5th round
Leroy Harris, 2007, 4th round
Mike Otto, 2007, 7th round
Troy Kropog, 2009, 4th round
Ryan Durand, 2009, 7th round
Byron Stingily, 2011, 6th round

Obviously, it’s too early to judge Stingily’s career, but let’s run down the other players:

  • Loper: No regular season starts for the Titans. Started at right guard in the 2007 playoff game against the Chargers, and played poorly. Allowed to leave at the conclusion of his rookie deal. Since leaving the Titans had been a spot starter for bad teams or backup.
  • Harris: Became a starter his fourth season in the league, behind the curve compared to past OL mid-round picks (compare Jacob Bell, 5th round, injury fill-in starter as rookie, regular starter in second season; Zach Piller, 3rd round, starter in thid season; Benji Olson, 5th round, starter in second season). Moved from center to left guard because of snapping problems. Titans re-signed him to two-year deal when rookie deal expired.
  • Otto: swing tackle, two NFL starts in five seasons, both as a fill-in. Re-signed as a fifth-year restricted free agent, but will likely be allowed to leave this offseason. Success of Roos and Stewart made it very unlikely he’d start at OT.
  • Kropog: cut after two seasons, during which he was active six times and did not start. Spent 2011 on Titans practice squad. More or less a bust.
  • Durand: cut in training camp as a rookie. Spent past three seasons on edge of Titans roster, playing in one game in 2010.

I won’t get too down on the Otto or Durand picks, as it’s not reasonable to expect much from seventh round picks. Look at it from this perpsective though. Between 1998 and 2004 (and add in the Roos and Stewart picks in 2005), every single offensive linemen the Titans took in the first 190 picks of the NFL draft became a starter no later than his third season, and most of them were starting by their second season. Since the David Stewart pick, not a single person fits that category.

What’s been the consequence of that, you wonder? Well, generally speaking, there are two ways you can find a starter in the NFL: you can draft them or you can pay for them. Daniel Loper not being good enough brought Jake Scott in free agency. I think Leroy Harris’s inability to play center brought us Eugene Amano’s big money contract. Lack of another option brought us Harris re-signed at a deal much less modest than I anticipated.

I estimate that the aggregate 2011 cap value of the five starting offensive linemen was $24.98 million of an estimated cap value of $112 million for the entire team. Even after the Titans made Chris Johnson the highest-paid running back in football, the offensive lineman took up 35% more cap space than the other six starters on that side of the ball (Hass/CJ/Hall/Cook/Britt/Washington, Stevens/Cook is a wash). And have the Titans gotten the elite offensive line play they’re paying for? I don’t think anybody thinks that.

I don’t mean to come off too forceful in this post. I don’t mind at all the Titans paying elite dollars so long as they’re getting elite value, like I believe is the case with Roos and Stewart. On the whole, though, offensive line has gone from being a position where the Titans were turning draft picks into good and cheap players that let them spend money elsewhere to a position where the Titans are spending premium dollars without getting elite results, forcing economies elsewhere. Mike Munchak may have faith that by some alchemical process he can fix the Titans’ offensive line, but recent history suggests that whatever he and the Titans had that allowed them to have such success with drafting offensive linemen and plugging them in early with success seems to have stopped working.

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