The Tennessee Titans came into the 2014 NFL Draft and really attacked their biggest weaknesses on offense right out of the gate. It is a mystery what their defense is going to look like under new defensive coordinator Ray Horton, but were able to add a talented player at each level for him, and finished the draft with quarterback depth. Provided off field issues do not came back to bite them, they have a really talented group and did a great job with value.
Taylor Lewan, on talent, is up there with most anyone. He gives them the ability to upgrade the offensive line both in run blocking as well as pass protection. David Stewart put in a long, quality career for the Titans, but it was over for him and Lewan continues a strong youth movement along the offensive line.
Lewan can come in and play right tackle and potentially give them a formidable right side with Chance Warmack to power the running game, but they should also be excellent in pass protection for Jake Locker.
Off the field, Lewan has some issues that have an eerily similar feel to what Richie Incognito was run out of Miami for doing. Lewan has a few instances and is currently charged with randomly punching a stranger after the Ohio State-Michigan game in front of a street full of witnesses. He has basically been a thug and too many people are just finding out now.
If Lewan can grow up and stay out of trouble, this could be a big pickup for the Titans and give them a lot of talent that is young up front with Lewan potentially kicking over to left tackle when Michael Roos is done there. In the meantime, they should have a strong front after rebuilding the interior of the line last season.
In the second round, the Titans took the first running back off the board in Bishop Sankey. He was also my top rated back. The Titans have a bunch of talented wide receivers and weapons in general, but between Chris Johnson’s incredible fall in production and the mediocre JAGs they signed in free agency, the running game all but vanished in Tennessee. While injuries have been largely responsible for Locker’s struggle to get consistent and why the team did not pick up his option, a running game would take pressure off of him and open things up down the field.
I really like Sankey, because he is a tremendously natural runner, sees the field well and maximizes his carries. His increase in strength really allowed him to have a great junior year. Sankey can also make plays as a receiving threat, which could allow Sankey to have a big rookie year and will make him a popular choice for offensive rookie of the year.
Given the personnel the Titans had when Ken Whisenhunt came in, which was predominately suited for an athletic 4-3 defense, it will be interesting to see what Ray Horton wants to do with it as he has made it painfully clear he prefers the 3-4, even if it is not a traditional one. Jurrell Casey is coming off of a career year, but appears slated to be a nose tackle in the 3-4. So, it will be interesting to see where they want to put Daquan Jones.
Jones seemed to be best suited to be a 1-gap nose guard but he does have the length to play a 5-technique end. He may play more of a defensive tackle look head up on the guard or tackle than a true end in Horton’s scheme.
The big question with Jones is consistently playing with good leverage. He tends to drift too high and has to work much harder than he should. If he can consistently play lower, he can be more disruptive and be a bigger threat. The value for where they got Jones may have simply been too much to pass on and he could prove to be a steal there.
Marqueston Huff is another player with options. Huff had his best years at Wyoming as a corner but played a deep high safety this year while the Cowboys played a lot of Cover-1 and Cover-3. Athletically, he can fly around and make plays and is not afraid to get physical, but he may not be a great fit in terms of his size and strength for safety. He could end up playing both spots and would be a great fit in nickel.
The other part about Huff is that he brings a ton of energy and should be a great player to have in the Titans locker room, wherever he plays. He is extremely competitive but does his best to get the best out of his teammates.
My favorite pick for the Titans was Avery Williamson. So many linebackers that go on day three of the draft are there because they are sub package players that fit in one particular situation. Williamson has all of the tools to be a three down linebacker, but just needs more time and polish to get there. With time, Williamson could start out as depth and work his way into the starting lineup. Williamson has the size, strength and athleticism to most everything, especially at inside linebacker in the 3-4. I think he could end up being a steal.
The Titans finished up their draft by selecting Zach Mettenberger. The pick makes sense for what Whisenhunt seems to like in quarterbacks. He is big with a strong arm. Mettenberger’s feet are not bad, but he just does not use them enough and will get lazy with his footwork and throw from awkward positions. As a result, it is easy to scheme for him as pressure from the A gap gives them a ton of issues.
What makes this pick so peculiar to me is not the pick itself, but the reaction to it. Almost immediately after he was selected, people began writing off Locker and projected that Mettenberger would take the job. Based on the injury history of Locker, which seems like a safe bet, but for most people, the belief was that Mettenberger would just be too good and pass up Locker, which is a huge stretch for me.
People can assume Locker is terrible if they choose, but when he has been able to stay healthy for any length of time, he has been able to progress and improve. Then an injury happens and he almost starts over in the process. Getting a quarterback to backup Locker is a smart play, but giving up on Locker on talent seems silly. If he can stay healthy, not only would he be able to keep the job, but the Titans could be a good team, especially with the way the offense is put together.
Overall, while both Lewan and Mettenberger come with some serious baggage off the field, they really did knock out this draft in terms of talent and value. If Lewan can grow up, he could be a long time pro for the team and help them reestablish a running game with Sankey as their main back. The defense is going to be interesting because it is unclear how they expect it will look, but if he can stay upright and healthy, Locker is in a great situation to succeed. He just has to do it. And if he can stay healthy, Locker fits the type of quarterback that Whisenhunt loves, so it makes sense he would give him this year to prove it.
The Titans are routinely a team that gets caught in the middle and tends to be largely unnoticed. They had less picks than the Jaguars and Texans, but they may have done just as well with what they had, getting more value out of every pick. Those two teams may beat them this year strictly on volume, but pound for pound, the Titans had a quality draft and while much of it may end up resting on Locker’s shoulders, that offense should be much better.