Examining the Titans’ draft trends

As Andrew noted, it’s been a quiet time for the Titans of late. They haven’t added a player since signing Kamerion Wimbley ten days ago, and don’t seem to have been particularly close to any either. There have been Asante Samuel trade rumors flying, but I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt in assuming Jim Wyatt is right and they’re not giving up a third-round pick for a player who’s already probably somewhat overpaid.

We are less than a month until the draft, though, so it’s time to turn our focus to players who didn’t play in the NFL in 2011. To sort of set the groundwork, I thought it would be a useful exercise to look at some broad-scale trends in drafting by the Titans. For instance, here’s what they did the last five years of the Floyd Reese era:

2002-2006 1st Rd 2nd Rd 3rd Rd 4th Rd 5th Rd 6th Rd 7th Rd
“Skill Position” X XXX XXXX X XX XXX XXX
OL X X XX X XX
DL X XX XX XXX X XX
LB X XX XX X
DB XX X X XXXXX X XX

And, for comparison’s sake, here’s what the Titans have done the last five years:

2007-2011 1st Rd 2nd Rd 3rd Rd 4th Rd 5th Rd 6th Rd 7th Rd
“Skill Position” XXX XX XXX XXX X XXX X
OL XX X XX
DL X XX X X XXX XX X
LB X X XXX
DB X X X X XXX XXX

To make the charts a little cleaner, I’ve lumped together some positions; “skill position” includes quarterbacks, running backs, fullbacks, wide receivers, and tight ends. I also grouped together defensive ends with defensive tackles, even though Reese tended to value defensive ends a lot more than defensive tackles.

What do these charts potentially tell us?

A couple things, really.

  • The chart of the past five years may tell us nothing about what the Titans are likely to do this year. Mike Reinfeldt was the general manager for the past five drafts. This is the first draft where Ruston Webster is in charge. He’s been part of the process lately, but we don’t know exactly how much input he had into creating the Titans’ draft board or what player exactly they picked when. What he values may or may not be the same about what Reinfeldt values.
  • The Titans look for defensive backs later than most other teams. Studies looking at when the average defensive back has been drafted finds that the average starting corner is taken pretty high in the draft. Reese was willing to spend very high picks on defensive backs. The Titans lately have not been. They’ve had success with it, last year’s top three corners were all drafted in the fourth round or later. Those mock drafts with the Titans taking a corner in the first round? It’s not impossible, but don’t count on it.
  • Linebacker, shminebacker. Akeem Ayers is a big outlier. Yes, it certainly doesn’t look like Will Witherspoon or Gerald McRath is a particularly good answer at weakside linebacker either in 2012 or going forward. Still, I wouldn’t expect them to spend a high draft pick on their potential replacement.
  • The Titans don’t draft offensive linemen early. We already knew this. Maybe this changes this year. Maybe.
  • This may be the year the pendulum swings back to defense. In both charts, the Titans spent eight top-three round picks on offense. That’s a little misleading, as the Titans had 19 top-three round picks under Reese and 16 under Reinfeldt. Since the Titans don’t draft offensive linemen, that means they’ve been on skill position overload lately. While I think they could still use a wide receiver as Kenny Britt insurance, I’m not counting on them agreeing with me.
  • You’re drafting individual players, not trends, and every draft is different. Before last year, Akeem Ayers would have looked like a long shot, since they hadn’t drafted a linebacker in the first or second round since Keith Bulluck in 2000. Heck, they’d only drafted three linebackers in the previous four seasons before apparently hitting on Ayers and McCarthy. On the other hand, the Locker pick makes a little more sense, as they’ve been in love with the idea of drafting offensive playmakers.

Overview out of the way, I’ll be continuing with a look at what directions the Titans can go in the draft, whether they match past trends or not, and some players who might be on the Titans’ radar.

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