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Breaking down the Titans’ 2014 pre-draft visits and workouts

Before the Tennessee Titans spend a high draft pick on a player, the chances are good they either brought him to St. Thomas Sports Park for a visit or had a private workout with him,.

When I did a version of this post in 2012, first-round pick Kendall Wright, second-round pick Zach Brown, and third-round pick Mike Martin were among the names on the last, while 28 of the 29 non-local players I listed were off the board by the time the Titans picked next.

The 2013 version had four draft picks on it-first-rounder Chance Warmack, second-rounder Justin Hunter, fourth-round pick Brian Schwenke, and sixth-round pick Khalid Wooten. When the Titans took Blidi Wreh-Wilson in the third round, a player they wanted to work out but who declined, 20 of the 32 non-local players were off the list. When they chose Zaviar Gooden, the only recent top-three round pick with whom they do not seem to have had any contact (Jurrell Casey did not do any workouts, but he talked to the team), only 9 non-local players were left. By the time the pick used on Lavar Edwards came up, only 6 non-locals were available. When they chose Daimion Stafford, only three non-locals were left.

Translating those histories into numbers gets complicated-in 2012, did they draft 10% visitors (only 3 of the 29 players), 42% visitors (3 of 7 picks), 60% visitors (drafted visitors at 3 of the 5 slots where they could have drafted a visitor), or 93% visitors (based on visitor availability)? I’m not so sure about the best methodology for calculating that last number, but I think all of those could be considered valid estimates. Same exercise for 2013, 12.5% visitors, 50% visitors, 50% visitors, or 69% visitors?

At a minimum, I think we can say the Titans consider visits and private workouts to be important, especially in the early rounds. Ruston Webster said as much last March in a radio appearance on 1o4.5. “Especially when you’re bringing in the higher picks, first, second, third rounds, those are guys you have to hit on to succeed so you want to do as much homework as you can.” While I noted earlier in the offseason maybe we shouldn’t overread Titans visits, the hypothetical me-who-bets would bet at 80% odds any player the Titans select in round 1 will be mentioned in this post and at 50% odds for rounds 2 and 3 (assuming, of course, they picked up a third round pick).

As I have done the past two years, I have attempted to separate this list into relative draft tiers. As I noted with estimates in the offensive and defensive position draft previews, these draft tiers should be considered very rough estimates only and should not be relied on (see, e.g., Kiko Alonso as a Day 3 pick when he was gone by the middle of the second round).

To try to streamline this post a bit, I will limit my main discussion to the countable visitors and reported private workouts. Thanks to Titans Report for the work in putting the list together. The NFL allows an unlimited number of visitors from players at local (Nashville-area) colleges and those whose parents live in the area, so that the Titans brought a bunch of Vandy players and others with local ties in does not necessarily indicate a strong or even much interest in them.  Yes, Jordan Matthews might fit what they want in a receiver, but for the sake of making my life easier, I’m going to list the local visitors into a separate category and not go into them in detail.

ADDENDUM (2014/05/07, 1215 CT): I should emphasize that these are the visits and private workouts that have been reported. It is almost certainly not a comprehensive list of all visits and private workouts the Titans have had.

1st Round Picks

  • Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA-Talented high-upside rush end still learning how to play defense. I like him better as a pure rusher than he showed in college, because he spent a lot of time doing contain bull-rushes into offensive tackles. Depending on how you think his evaluation will go, he could be off the board as early as 6 or fall into the late 20’s; I lean the former.
  • Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State-David’s kid brother. Throws a nice ball. Spent the past two years in a spread throwing bubble screens, go routes off bubble screens, screens, swing passes, and fades. Pro-style experience before that. Not big. Not sure he handles pressure well. Slim chance he’s gone at 11, I include him here because I think he’s likely gone by the time the Titans pick in the second round, not that I’d take him then.
  • Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama-After Kenny Vaccaro went 15 last year and Mark Barron went 6, I don’t see any reason Clinton-Dix couldn’t do the same. I don’t love him as a Seattle-like high safety, but he’s played both on the line of scrimmage and off it and over the slot.
  • Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina-Josh Norris of Rotoworld described him as a more physical Jared Cook. I think that undersells him a bit, as I think he’s a better overall mover than Cook, whom I considered pretty straight-line. Inconsistent hands, sometimes making tough contested catches and sometimes dropping easy ones. 50-50 he’s available at 11.
  • Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech-Related to Vinny. Love his game. VT played him like a box safety against triple-option Georgia Tech, to give an idea what they think of his versatility and physicality. Not as physically talented as some other players, and coming off foot surgery. Love him at 25, but I want more upside at 11.
  • Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State-Big, long, fast, what you’re looking for physically. Not consistently physical or effective in run support. Needs to learn how to play DB, rather than just running with guys. He’ll go in the first because his talent, but more of a second- or third-round player right now.
  • Ra’Shede Hageman, DL, Minnesota-Big, strong man. Really inconsistent, rag-dolling offensive linemen at times and then not doing anything for long stretches. Will need the right line coach. Turns 24 in August. I’d be surprised if he went before 15.
  • C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama-Really good college player and the best MLB in the draft. Only 234 pounds, so maybe not a true strong inside type like past Alabama players. What’s a middle linebacker worth, and how much do you care about his history of injuries? My answers are (a) not that much and (b) a lot, so I see him as a 20-40 player.
  • Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville-Interchangeable-type safety. Really aggressive. I’m on the same page as Sigmund Bloom, seeing a player whose positives are negated by flaws. Probably won’t go higher than 13, and I’d guess he goes in the 20’s.
  • Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State-2012 v. 2013 tape. In 2012, he looked like a potentially dominant athletic cornerback. He seemed to sleepwalk through most of 2013 playing more off man coverage in a defense whose talent-based success for most of the season obscured their lack of identity. Has okay but not special size. Some off the field concerns. Like Gilbert, he could be off the board at #11 or fall late but will probably be a first-round pick on physical talent.

Day Two

  • Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois-Spread offense slinger with serious concerns about how he handles pressure and the transition to throwing to NFL-sized windows instead of OVC-sized ones. I think he’s a sack and pick machine until he adjusts to the NFL game, which he may never. Day 3 guy to me, but I’m guessing he goes in the second round once a quarterback run starts.
  • Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU-Had me thinking LeGarrette Blount with better hands. You may recall I had the Titans cutting Blount as a UDFA, as he was a power back who didn’t run to his size until he got downhill and lacked great vision. Also multiple off-the-field issues, though you could read Ruston Webster in the pre-draft press conference as saying the Titans have accepted he’s since matured and overcome those. Stylistically, a Shonn Greene replacement. Could go in the second, but I’m guessing more likely third or fourth rounds.
  • Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State-Another Shonn Greene replacement in terms of style, Hyde also has Greene’s Big 10 background. Volume runner who got downhill and almost never lost yards. Can catch the ball and has some decent pass pro work as well. Definitely does not have plus long speed, and if you question his burst you wouldn’t be alone. Is he more than just a younger version of Greene? Very slim chance he’s gone before the Titans pick in the second round, very slim chance he’s there when Day 3 begins.
  • Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee-Good size. Not a great run-blocker and doesn’t have great strength. Not sure he’s a left tackle. My go-to on offensive line play, Lance Zierlein, has him as a third-rounder, though I’ve seen first-round buzz lately. I got bored watching him.
  • Timmy Jernigan, DL, Florida State-Undersized nose tackle with great strength but who didn’t show much pass rushing ability. 4-3 NT size, not a traditional 3-4 NT. He and Mike Martin would make for a decent rotation. Reportedly failed a drug test at the Combine. I saw a second to third round player on tape. Got back half of the first round buzz.
  • Tre Mason, RB, Auburn-Ran through a lot of holes Gus Malzahn’s offense created last year. Some people like his vision and ability to get yardage. I saw a guy who ran through holes and got low, hardly ever caught the ball, and consistently got rocked backwards in pass protection. Could go in the second, I see him as Day 3 guy.
  • Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU-Traditional pocket passer with a strong arm. How much did the great wideouts at LSU bail him out of throws that would otherwise have been incomplete or intercepted? Statue in the pocket. Failed drug test at the Combine. Got kicked out of Georgia for unwanted female attention. Torn ACL. Enough to take him off plenty of boards. Could go late 1st, could be a UDFA.
  • Marcus Smith, OLB, Louisville-Very productive edge rusher at Louisville who played all over the place. A lot of his sacks came on “easy” plays created by alignment, and I did not see him as a purely explosive rusher. Dane Brugler, whose draft guide I strongly recommend, has him as a 2nd-3rd round pick, which I thought was about right.

Day Three

  • Shaquil Barrett, OLB, Colorado State-Edge rusher, primarily, for the Rams, both standing up and from a 3-point stance. After watching him, I wrote in my notes “insert white pass rusher cliches,” as he won with effort and technique more than pure athleticism. Well-schooled by Joey Porter. Watching him, I wondered if he couldn’t be a strong inside linebacker. Won’t go before Day 3, maybe 6th-7th rounder.
  • Preston Brown, ILB, Louisville-Game reminded me a lot of Colin McCarthy, albeit with better power and less range. Made plays, seemingly all of them when he was unblocked and could just flow downhill to the football. Didn’t see him make many plays when he had to do something else, and play recognition didn’t seem like a plus. (I think basically said both those things about McCarthy, and if I haven’t I should have.) Since I didn’t see him as an SILB, I didn’t see a place for him on the team.
  • Travis Coons, K, Washington-Drafting a kicker generally does not work out. Had a private workout. Included only for completeness sake. I don’t scout kickers.
  • Cameron Fleming, OT, Stanford-In fairness, he’ll probably be go Day 2. Zierlein has him as a borderline second/third round pick. For the right team, maybe. I saw a player who reminded me of Larry Warford, what my former Football Outsiders compadre Doug Farrar called a power pig. Has tackle length, but definitely not good left tackle feet. Drafting him would make me think the Titans think Michael Oher is a left tackle and would therefore make me sad.
  • Marquis Flowers, ILB, Arizona-I first saw he had pre-draft contact with the Titans while writing this post. Seventh round/UDFA-level player unless I’m missing something. If the Titans draft him, I’ll watch him.
  • James Gayle, OLB, Virginia Tech-Played LDE for the Hokies, at least in the games I saw. Okay first step, got most of his production with effort or against substandard right tackles. Could he be Shaun Phillips in five years? Yeah, maybe, but most fourth or fifth round picks end up nowhere close to Phillips.
  • Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia-Nice collegiate quarterback, but physically marginal for the NFL level in terms of size and arm strength. Coming off a torn ACL. Fourth-fifth round pick.
  • Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina-Undersized occasionally productive collegiate passer. If you just watched his last bowl game, you’d think he’s on Murray’s level. UDFA to me.
  • Charles Sims, RB, West Virginia-Versatile runner with lots of receiving experience. Spent most of his career at Houston, where I thought he was a more productive runner than he was with the Mountaineers. Didn’t see him run between the tackles like he was 214. Is he more than a third-down back who does his best work as a runner on the perimeter? Third-fifth rounds.
  • Hakeem Smith, S, Louisville-I’ve tried to watch every Titans visitor. Didn’t get to Smith. Late rounder?
  • Terrance West, RB, Towson-Tremendously productive I-AA back who ran both zone plays and power/counter with some effectiveness. If you don’t like him, you see a big back who runs upright and lacks burst. If you like him, you see a physical runner who has a good feel for the timing of the run game. I like him. Could go in the second to a team that really believes he could be a 20-carry back, more likely third-fifth.
  • Avery Williamson, ILB, Kentucky-Like Preston Brown, good size but I didn’t see a SILB-type who could be a take-on player. Does he move well enough to play in the nickel? I wasn’t sure, but I doubted it. Fifth-rounder?

Local Visitors
G Alex Bullard, Tennessee (UDFA). RB Orleans Darkwa, Tulane (UDFA). G Kadeem Edwards, Tennessee State (UDFA). CB Andre Hal, Vanderbilt (Day 3). G/C Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt (Day 3). S Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt (Day 3). TE A.C. Leonard, Tennessee State (Day 3). WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt (1st-3rd round). C Demetrius Rhaney, Tennessee State (UDFA). K Kerry Spear, Vanderbilt (UDFA). C James Stone, Tennessee (UDFA). RB Wesley Tate, Vanderbilt (UDFA). S David Van Dyke, Tennessee State (UDFA).

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