Overviewing the Tennessee Titans’ 2013 draft

With the draft in the books and before I delve into more detail on the players the Titans drafted, I thought it was worth taking a broader look at how the Titans handled the draft.

Coming into the draft, the Titans had two clear immediate needs, for a starter at right guard and a cornerback who could at least compete to play significant snaps as a rookie, even better if he could play in the slot. Beyond that, they had a need for depth at linebacker and defensive end in particular. Next in priority came future starters at a number of positions, including offensive tackle, linebacker, and safety. While not necessarily holes in the depth chart, the Titans also had a need for impact payers everywhere on defense, and particularly on the defensive line.

In selecting offensive guard Chance Warmack from Alabama with the tenth overall pick, the Titans filled that biggest need, for a starter at right guard. I wrote about Warmack before the draft and also covered him the day after the pick was made. Even the people like me who don't like Warmack that much think he's likely to be a good NFL player for a long time, and he clearly fills an extreme immediate need. That Jonathan Cooper was already off the board as the first guard probably made it easier for the Titans to grab Warmack here, though they seemingly would have otherwise considering that he was apparently the number two player on their draft board.

In the second round, the Titans traded up from their 40th pick to the 34th and selected Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter. There are two interesting things here, Hunter and the trade, and I'll discuss Hunter in this post and leave the trade discussion for another day. Before tearing his ACL in 2011, he flashed explosive big-play potential. As a tall (6'4"), thin (195 pounds) receiver, he inevitably drew comparisons to Randy Moss, though of course there are a lot more guys who look like Randy Moss than there are guys who play like him. Still, I thought he could be a top ten pick. In 2012, though, he played like a guy who was coming off an ACL injury, not showing the same physical explosion and struggling badly with drops. Hunter seems like Kenny Britt insurance, but this was a weird pick to me because the Titans seemed relatively set at receiver. Further, even early-round wideouts have shown they are very hit-and-miss in terms of rookie production. The Titans assumedly have a plan for how they'll use Hunter productively even as a rookie, but I don't know what that is.

In the third round, the Titans filled that cornerback need with Blidi Wreh-Wilson from UConn. He has the size and length the Titans are looking for in outside cornerbacks and has played both press and off coverage. He seems like a good fit for teams that play as much Cover-3 as Jerry Gray likes to, and those were the teams looking at him. I guess this means Alterraun Verner plays the slot, though I suppose they could play Coty Sensabaugh there again and hope he's good there.

With their third-round compensatory pick the Titans selected linebacker Zaviar Gooden from MIssouri. I noted linebacker was a need, but I thought their need was a player who could play in the middle or on the outside. As both Ruston Webster and linebacker coach Chet Parlavecchio noted, though, Gooden is strictly a weakside linebacker, a guy and chase player. Like Keith Bulluck, he's an undersized converted safety. In other words, he's Zach Brown's backup and a special teams player. Unless the Titans are having an attack of the clevers, which I don't think they are and hope isn't the case, this is a luxury pick designed to manipulate the 2013 roster in a particular way.

The Titans picked Cal center Brian Schwenke in the fourth round, 107th overall. Putting aside the gratuitous back-patting I gave myself for predicting this, pencil him in as a swing interior backup this season and the 2014 starting center. If the Titans instead end up giving Fernando Velasco $26 million over five years, I'm going to be angry.

With their fifth round pick, 142nd overall, the Titans selected LSU defensive end Lavar Edwards. Throw him into the defensive line mix, likely playing end on base downs and with the ability to kick inside in sub package situations, which is the same role he played for LSU. He may never be more than a rotational player, but the fifth round normally carries with it pretty modest expectations.

The Titans used their sixth round compensatory pick, 202nd overall, on another cornerback, Khalid Wooten from Nevada. Like Wreh-Wilson, he's an outside guy with relatively good size. Throw him in the cornerback mix somewhere; maybe this'll be 2009, when the sixth-round corner ended up better than the third-round corner, or maybe Wooten won't make the 53.

The Titans had one more pick, a seventh-round compensatory selection, 248th overall, and used it on safety Daimion Stafford out of Nebraska. He joins a crowded and murky bottom of the safety depth chart. He played more free safety for the Huskers, looked like a strong safety at 221 pounds at the Combine, and dropped down to 211 at his pro day. My guess is the Titans see him as a strong safety.

Conclusion
Relative to what I thought they'd do, the Titans hit most of the same positions. It didn't surprise me a bit they doubled up at cornerback or on the offensive line. The positions I thought they were most likely address they did not were defensive tackle and running back. The place to take a defensive tackle was in the first round, and their love for the right offensive player again occluded their defensive needs; they're counting on a new co-coordinator, strong safety, and rotational defensive tackle, plus a lot of internal improvement to fix last year's dreadful defense.

I thought the biggest likelihood was they would spend no more than one non-late pick on an offensive "skill position" player. That ended up being Hunter rather than a running back, where I thought the immediate need was strongest. If the Titans are planning on running the ball as much as I think they are, is Jamie Harper enough depth and insurance? I don't think they like him any more than I do, but it's easy for me to see the draft value not shaking out in a way where the Titans spend a pick on a back. Ditto a developmental tackle, though I can't help but point out the Texans selected one of those, David Quessenberry, with the pick the Titans gave the Vikings last year when they traded back into the draft to grab Scott Solomon.

Is this a home run of a draft? Certainly not in my view. Warmack was a needs pick with reasonable value. Hunter has good upside, but I'm not sure he makes the Titans better in 2013. Drafting a player like Gooden whose ceiling is as a backup seems like an indulgent use of a third-round pick. At the same time, though, the Titans used their high picks to fill their biggest needs, and outside of maybe Gooden I wouldn't characterize anybody as a clear reach. Now we get to find out just how well the Titans did their homework and watch the development of this octet as NFL players.

UPDATE: I decided to defray discussion of the Hunter trade to a later post.

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