2013 NFL Draft: Tennessee Titans spotlight
The normally conservative Titans went all-in during free agency, leaving only a few obvious holes to be filled in the draft.
The Tennessee Titans have historically been one of the more conservative teams in unrestricted free agency.
Someone forgot to tell that to general manager Ruston Webster.
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The Titans signed 14 new players to contracts worth well over $100 million in the past month and appear -- on paper, at least -- to be one of the most improved teams in the AFC.
Like with any club, however, the Titans will only go as far as their quarterback will take them, which brings us to Webster's first bold move as the team's primary talent evaluator.
Two years ago, the Titans bypassed several highly-rated prospects at quarterback including Colin Kaepernick when they selected Jake Locker with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. Webster became the Titans' general manager in 2012 after previously serving as the club's vice president of player personnel (2010-2011). Webster held a similar role with the Seahawks from 2006-09.
The selection was highly criticized at the time, and while Locker showed flashes last year in his first season as the starter, the Titans finished 4-7 in his first starts. Perhaps most troubling was that after Locker began his season throwing four touchdowns against two interceptions in the Titans' first three games, he suffered a shoulder injury that kept him out of five games and then returned to throw just six touchdowns in the Titans' final seven games ... against nine interceptions.
”I think Jake has done a good job, and he has all the talent to be a fine player," Webster said when asked to evaluate his young quarterback. "One of the things we have to do is have more consistency around him. When your offensive line is in flux and you are changing coordinators and doing all those things, and he gets hurt, I don’t think that does anything to help a quarterback’s development. Jake is doing good and we expect him to be a fine player for us.”
The Titans made beefing up their offensive line a huge priority, signing the top-rated offensive guard available, Andy Levitre (Bills) on the first day of free agency and adding veterans Robert Turner (Rams) and Chris Spencer (Bears) as well. They replaced talented but inconsistent tight end Jared Cook with a similarly gifted Delanie Walker (49ers) as well as improving their size at wide receiver with Kevin Walter (Texans) and also at running back with former Jets' starter Shonn Greene.
Tennessee was similarly aggressive on the defensive side of the ball with defensive linemen Ropati Pitoitua (Chiefs) and Sammie Lee Hill (Lions), as well as safeties Bernard Pollard (Ravens) and George Wilson (Bills), leaving few obvious holes on their roster.
The addition of embattled defensive guru Gregg Williams to the coaching staff perhaps provides some clue as to which direction the Titans might be looking on draft day, however.
Under Williams' guidance, the New Orleans Saints featured a blitz-heavy attack with playmaking cornerbacks. The Titans were respectable in the pass-rush department a year ago with former first-round pick Derrick Morgan making strides, but free agent addition Kamerion Wimbley did not have the impact expected. Meanwhile, the team clearly missed the coverage skills and tenacity lost when Cortland Finnegan left Tennessee to reunite with former Titans' head coach Jeff Fisher in St. Louis.
As such, the Titans could be looking for defensive playmakers early in the draft, perhaps even beginning at No. 10 overall.
Tennessee Titans 2013 draft picks: 10, 40, 70, 97, 107, 142, 202, 216, 248
Primary needs: DE, DT, CB, WR, LB, OL
General manager: Ruston Webster, third season
Five draft picks that clicked:
-- WR Kendall Wright, 20th overall, 2012
-- OLB Zach Brown, 52nd overall, 2012
-- OLB Akeem Ayers, 39th overall, 2011
-- CB Jason McCourty, 203rd overall, 2009
-- RB Chris Johnson, 28th overall, 2008
Five players who should be on the Tennessee Titans' draft radar:
Player, school (overall rating, position rating)
DE Bjoern Werner, Florida State (6, 1): The Titans ranked dead last in the NFL in 2012 by surrendering 29.4 points a game. The quickest way to turn that around would be to amp up their pass rush. The club was reasonably effective with this a year ago, tying for ninth in the league, and that number will likely rise in 2013 simply because of the influence of the hyper-aggressive Williams. Adding another versatile pass-rusher to complement Morgan, Wimbley and the club's athletic linebackers makes some sense and Werner, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, is a proven sack-artist with the consistent production and instincts Webster and coach Mike Munchak appreciate. Pass rushers are clearly a focus for the Titans, as they're reportedly hosting a number of them in private visits, including Oregon's Dion Jordan and LSU's Barkevious Mingo, two ultra-athletic rushers who may be off the board by the time Tennessee is on the clock.
OLB Arthur Brown, Kansas State (40, 4): The Titans boast two incredibly athletic outside linebackers in Zach Brown and Akeem Ayers and, when he's healthy, middle linebacker Colin McCarthy can be a standout as well. The problem, McCarthy has struggled with durability and, while the team may have addressed this concern by signing former Colts' linebacker Moise Fokou, that likely wouldn't keep the team from considering Brown should he be available here. Brown came in bigger than expected at the combine (6-1, 241) but weighed less than this while starring at inside linebacker for the Wildcats. If he can maintain this weight, the Titans (and other clubs) could see him as a plug and play starter. While scouts wish he had more big plays on his resume, his instincts and reliable open-field tackling make him among the safest prospects in the 2013 draft.
CB Jordan Poyer, Oregon State (57, 7): Poyer has been lost in the shuffle a bit since the season ended, but savvy scouts won't forget his playmaking ability or the role he played in the Beavers' surprising 9-4 campaign. The 6-0, 191-pound Poyer intercepted 11 passes over the past two seasons in Corvalis, proving that he has the instincts and athleticism to handle the move to cornerback after initially playing safety for the Beavers. Among the better zone corners in the draft, Poyer would make a lot of sense as a third-round target for the Titans.
DT Brandon Williams, Missouri Southern (97, 9): Webster loves mature, hard-working players and while Williams' level of competition leaves a bit to be desired, he certainly proved to be a determined standout, earning All-American honors three times with the Lions. The Titans feature plenty of quickness at defensive tackle but lack bulk. At 6-1, 335 pounds, Williams is a load who could play on the nose in the Titans' typical 4-3 alignment, as well as hold up to double teams when the club switches to an occasional 3-4 look, as defensive coordinator Jerry Gray has publicly indicated the club may do in 2012.
OT Xavier Nixon, Florida (116, 11): The strength of the Titans' offensive line is at tackle with Michael Roos and David Stewart, but there is little established depth behind them. Considering that the duo is entering its ninth NFL season, the Titans would be wise to begin planning for the future. Nixon is a maddening prospect for talent evaluators because he possesses the physical traits to start in the NFL but he's been prone to inconsistency throughout his career with the Gators. Munchak, not to mention Roos and Stewart, could prove effective tutors for the long-armed 6-6, 321-pounder.
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