The Tennessee Titans entered the 2013 NFL Draft after a disappointing season where the team had no identity and struggled. Quarterback Jake Locker had his share of struggles and Chris Johnson has not been the franchise player he was expected to be when he signed that contract extension. The defense has some talent but little in terms of marquis players or an identity. General Manager Ruston Webster and Head Coach Mike Munchak had to decide how they wanted to get the team back on track. In the end, they really put a stamp on the offense starting in free agency with the signing of Andy Levitre, the talented offensive guard from the Buffalo Bills but still brought in talent to the defense and really made good use of value throughout the draft while both helping the two most important players on offense and sending a clear message to a third.
Coming into the draft, the vast majority of people projected the Titans to use the tenth pick in the draft on another guard despite singing Levitre to a lucrative deal. This was a little surprising just because that was a lot of guard and they had needs elsewhere, most notably along the defensive line and particularly defensive tackle. The Titans have some young players there like Jurrell Casey and signed Sammie Hill from the Detroit Lions in free agency, but could have really put a stamp on it with someone like Star Lotulelei, Sheldon Richardson, or Sharrif Floyd if one of them fell to them at ten. When the draft began and the Titans were on the clock, all three of these talented defensive tackles were available. The Titans instead opted to continue rebuilding their offensive line and selected the incredibly talented Alabama prospect Chance Warmack. Along with Levitre, this is a substantial investment at guard, but the Titans looked at it and decided that Chris Johnson would either take advantage of great blocking or be out of excuses. With Warmack and Levitre, there should plenty of holes and Johnson should be able to return to form as one of the best running backs in the draft. In addition, Locker gets a consistent running game and protection to become the quarterback they need him to be or prove that they need to look elsewhere. While they could have gone with defensive tackle here, it is difficult to argue with the end result for the organization and do everything they can to help Locker and Johnson.
Levitre becomes their left guard and Warmack walks in and takes the right guard spot. Warmack is an institution along the offensive line and is a bulldozer in the running game. He uses good technique and his overwhelming strength to power opponents off the ball and create running lanes, reminiscent of his hero and former Cowboy legend, Larry Allen. Warmack is not just a run blocker though as he has shown an impressive ability to pass block with good lateral agility and the ability to mirror defensive linemen before using his strength to eliminate them. Warmack played left guard at Alabama which is a testament to his ability to pass block but he has the power of a prototypical right guard and in so many ways is the ideal mauling guard. The one issue with Warmack is that he is not overwhelmingly athletic when it comes to pulling. He can do it and will do it, but he is better in the phone booth. Warmack should be one of the best rookies this year and could have a monster impact on the offense that might not be appreciated by casual onlookers, but make no mistake, he and right tackle David Stewart should be a fantastic combination. The Titans would go on to further improve the offensive line later in the draft.
The Titans traded up in the second round with the 49ers for the pick they got in the Alex Smith trade with the Chiefs and went local, picking wide receiver Justin Hunter from the University of Tennessee. This pick made a great deal of sense on a number of levels. First, Hunter is a fantastic receiver the prototypical triangle numbers to be a franchise receiver. At 6’4”, around 200lbs, and having 4.4 speed, Hunter is a fantastic deep threat as well as someone who can get yards after the catch. So much focus was on his teammate Cordarrelle Patterson for all of the highlight plays he had this past year that people seemed to forget that Hunter was the #1 receiver for the Volunteers. He was a dominant receiver who was productive throughout the season despite not being 100% as he was still recovering from ACL surgery from the year before. Hunter could actually get even better for his rookie year as he is more confident in his knee which is great timing for the Titans and Locker. Hunter had some concentration drops that resulted from trying to run before he secured the ball, which is a fixable problem. Hunter, when he was focused on the football, had some of the most spectacular catches of the entire year and high points the football as well as anyone in this year’s draft which should be a great pairing with Locker’s arm.
The Titans have stockpiled a number of talented receivers now with the addition of Hunter. Their first round pick from last year, Kendall Hunter, should hopefully be able to continue growing as he is an outside speed threat. Nate Washington has been a consistent presence for the Titans. Then there is the extremely talented but problematic Kenny Britt. This is the other aspect of this pick that has a monster impact. Britt has a ton of talent and makes plays but he has been extremely immature and had numerous run-ins with the law. If the Titans are not content to be rid of Britt already, this is the message that Britt is on his last chance with the Titans. If he can stay clean and focused on football, Britt and Hunter make for an unbelievable pairing on the outside with height, strength, and speed to give Locker plenty of options. It allows Hunter and Washington to work the inside and create huge mismatches. They also have Delanie Walker, who they signed from the 49ers in free agency, giving them a ton of weapons to give Locker every chance to be successful. If the Titans ultimately move on from Britt, Hunter can become the #1 option. It is a great insurance plan for the moment and gives the Titans a ton of talent at the wide receiver position in a division that is not packed with talent at the cornerback position.
The price to move up for the Titans was a seventh round pick and their third round pick in 2014. The price was fair for the move up six spots in the draft and the talent for Hunter was high, so the move made a lot of sense for Tennessee. The 49ers continue stockpiling draft picks and get more for their war chest in next year’s draft.
In the third round, the Titans went to the other side of the ball and selected two defenders; the first of which was Blidi Wreh-Wilson, cornerback from Connecticut. In Wilson, they get a tall, rangy corner that uses his length to break up a lot of passes. His speed is not overwhelming but his timing and long reach allows him to make up a ton of ground and deflect passes. He has shown the ability to contribute in man and in zone and is another guy who may not have been playing quite at 100% this past year after suffering a knee injury at the end of last season. Wilson is regarded as being a little soft, but there may not have been a corner in this draft more willing to put their body on the line as he threw himself in offensive linemen to take them out of the play and allow his teammates to track down the ball carrier and make tackles. Although he did not do a ton of it while he was at Connecticut, Wilson has tremendous potential as a press corner on the strong side. He was accustomed to playing up near the line of scrimmage, but did not press all that much. It would make sense for the Titans to have him do that or at least give him another option in mixing up their coverages. Wilson is not a guy who makes a ton of sense to play in the slot so if he is the third corner coming out of camp, he will likely go to the outside with Alterraun Verner or Jason McCourty sliding in to cover the slot.
With the compensatory pick they had in the third round they got from losing Jason Babin, the Titans picked up Missouri outside linebacker Zaviar Gooden. This pick did not make sense for some looking at it from a starting point of view as the Titans have a nice set of young linebackers in Zach Brown, Akeem Ayers, and Colin McCarthy. Where Gooden makes a ton of sense is nickel and in a league with more and more passing and more passing formations, he gives them a ton of options. Gooden is a converted safety with impressive quickness and speed who showed he was a huge asset in man coverage for Missouri. He has a ton of range and is a prototypical run and chase linebacker from the weak side. The knock on Gooden is that he does not play physically, but in games like the one he had Georgia, he shows he can be an extremely physical player who can take on and shed blocks; he just needs to do it consistently in the NFL. This pick allows the Titans to play Brown and Gooden in nickel packages, having two linebackers who can contribute in coverage with 4.4 speed so they also cover a ton of ground. It allows them to be creative with their coverage packages and potentially free up additional pass rushers. So while for some, the idea of picking a fourth linebacker does not make a ton of sense, it is actually a good use of the pick and one that could pay dividends immediately.
The Titans went back to addressing their offensive line in the fourth round by selecting Brian Schwenke, the talented center, out of Cal. With this pick, the Titans have the pieces in place to completely revamp the interior of their offensive line and improve themselves in the running game as well as the passing game. Schwenke is a gritty, tough positional blocker that showed up well at the Senior Bowl. This class was not a great one for getting a pivot in the middle of the line but the Titans got a good option at a nice value here. The Titans will probably have what amounts to a three-way battle for the center spot with Schwenke competing against Eugene Amano and Fernando Velasco. The winner will get the center job, which could be Schwenke, but the loser between Amano and Velasco will likely not make the team and the early favorite to win that battle is probably Velasco at this point. Whoever wins that spot could end up being flanked by the best set of guards in the AFC, if not the entire NFL.
In the fifth round, the Titans addressed the defensive line by selecting Lavar Edwards, the defensive end from LSU. If anyone needed a reminder of why the SEC is so good, this was the third defensive end just from LSU selected in this draft and it was only the fifth round. While much of the focus was on Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery (deservedly so), Edwards was able to be an effective contributor on the LSU defense and could have a much better career in the NFL than he did in college. Edwards brings a nice combination of length and athleticism that the Titans have seemed to favor in recent years and it would not be surprising to see Edwards used in a similar way as Karl Klug. Klug has been a productive rotational defensive linemen who can play basically anywhere on the line. Edwards, likewise, could see time both at end and tackle to get after the passer even though he may project to be a left end in the long run. With Edwards, the Titans have three rotational defensive linemen of similar builds and skill sets to come in and play the run or rush the passer. The Titans have not been a team that focuses on specific roles for players but has opted for a series of interchangeable parts.
At the end of the sixth round, the Titans used another compensatory selection on Khalid Wooten, a cornerback from Nevada. The first thing that stands out about Wooten is his size at over 200lbs for a 5’11” corner. He is a strong player that like Blidi Wreh-Wilson, projects as a press corner in the NFL. The difference between Wilson and Wooten is that Wooten has a ton of experience playing press and has excelled at it. Wilson is a much better athlete but Wooten is another guy who can play press and support the run. It seems like the Titans are looking for corners that can press, be physical, and contribute in run defense. The potential issue for Wooten is a lack of straight line speed. If he is unable to get a good press at the line of scrimmage, he is vulnerable over the top. He is going to need to find a way to improve in this area or they will have to protect him over the top if he can get time in the starting lineup. Because of his size and strength, he could end up contributing in the slot and just beating up receivers trying to work inside of him as well as being a contributor on special teams. He will be a guy who needs to fight for a roster spot as he could end up landing on the practice squad, though currently the Titans only have five corners on their regular roster so he has a good shot of making the final cut.
With their final pick in the draft and another compensatory pick at the end of round seven, the Titans went with Daimion Stafford from Nebraska. First and foremost, Stafford is an in-the-box strong safety who is at his best when he is coming down hill and attacking the run. As an oversized safety, he ends up looking more like a smallish linebacker at the last level of defense. Currently, the Titans roster is loaded with safeties and they are going to have a make a series of cuts as the process goes along. Out of the players on their roster, Stafford ends up having more in common with the Bernard Pollard, the free agent signed from Baltimore in the offseason than any of the other safeties on the roster. It stands to reason that in addition to being a reliable run defender, he is going to have to prove he can be a big time contributor on special teams. He is a good fit as a zone player but this move is a flyer in hopes that Stafford can show them something worth holding onto in camp. He might be a good bet to end up on the practice squad.
My Thoughts: I thought all along the Titans would opt for one of the defensive tackles to give them a franchise player in the middle of that defensive line, but I underestimated the Hall of Fame guard in Mike Munchak and just how committed he was to addressing the offensive line. While a defensive tackle would have made a ton of sense, I like the overall vision the Titans had in this draft. Their offensive line is a huge strength now for Locker and Johnson and with the mainstays Michael Roos and Stewart on the bookends, they could get back to having one of the most productive offensive lines in the league. I also like the selection of Schwenke as an attempt to overhaul the interior line totally and have a complete unit to count on for years. The value on these players was good and the overall plan is difficult to argue.
Justin Hunter was my favorite pick in this draft because of just how much talent he brings to this team and his feet within their system. I had Hunter ranked as the second overall receiver in this draft and think he was underrated throughout the process, even when he started getting some buzz toward the end of the process. He has everything a team looks for in a franchise wide receiver and if Locker can play up to his remarkable amount of talent, this could be a big time connection for years to come. The Titans are loaded with receivers that have speed and the ability to stretch the field. They have also protected themselves if Kenny Britt refuses to grow up and they ultimately part ways with him. This could prove to be a steal, especially if he is even better this year with a fully healthy knee. If Britt can turn his life around, the Titans have two big time receiver prospects to play on the outside.
While I never had Blidi Wreh-Wilson as a late first rounder or even second round pick as some did, I really liked his value in the third round. I think he’s a little misunderstood in how he plays the game and can be a physical presence in the passing game; he just needs to be coached up there. Moreover, I think he was underrated in run support and his willingness to throw his body around. I think his long time future could be as a starting strong side corner with good length and coverage skills. Combining that with the selection of Khalid Wooten in the sixth round, the Titans have more talent and depth at the corner position as well as guys who can play press and make tackles on the outside, allowing them to clog up the middle of the field more.
I am definitely intrigued to see the combination of Zach Brown and Zaviar Gooden in nickel. They just have so much speed and range with the ability to cover tight ends allowing them to send more guys after the passer. Gooden is also a great character individual that is an asset in the locker room, a hard worker, and someone that should make that organization proud with his commitment to the community. I think Gooden has been an underrated prospect throughout the process and really do not see why he was ranked so far below Alec Ogletree by so many. He is faster and stronger than Ogletree with the same issues taking on blocks but he is not the knucklehead Ogletree is. I would not be surprised in the least if Gooden ends up the better player.
Lavar Edwards fits what the Titans do and could be a nice asset for them, but this is the area that leaves me concerned about the Titans after the draft. They could not hit everything in this draft, but I expect the defensive line will be an area to address in next year’s draft. The interchangeable parts concept to their defensive line and particularly its depth is an intriguing one and something worth keeping an eye on going forward.
Overall, I really like the first four picks the Titans made in particular and think they made great picks at a great value that are that much better when the overall plan is taken into consideration as it relates to helping Chris Johnson be the player he should be and Locker being the player he can be. If Locker ultimately flops, it will not be because they did not try to help him. And if he comes out this year and has a fantastic year establishing himself as their quarterback for the present and the future, this draft could be a huge reason for the change. Too many teams will draft a guy and then not make investments to help them. The Titans behind Ruston Webber and Mike Munchak have done everything to help him be a success in Tennessee and they deserve a ton of credit as a result.
Tags: Alabama Crimson Tide Football Blidi Wreh-Wilson Brian Schwenke Cal Golden Bears Football Chance Warmack Chris Johnson Connecticut Huskies Football Daimion Stafford Jake Locker Justin Hunter Khalid Wooten Lavar Edwards LSU Tigers Football Missouri Tigers Football Nebraska Cornhuskers Football Nevada Wolfpack Football NFL Draft 2013 Tennessee Titans Tennessee Volunteers Football Zavier Gooden