2014 NFL DRAFT TEAM SPOTLIGHTS: ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN | CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND | JAC | KC | MIA | MIN | NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | OAK | PHI | PIT | SD | SF | SEA | STL | TB | TEN | WAS
This is the 23rd of a team-by-team series, analyzing five prospects that each team should consider in the 2014 NFL Draft.
The Titans have been knocking at the postseason door for several seasons, but what will it take for them to finally break though? Many believe it's a change at starting quarterback, a job that former top-10 pick Jake Locker has held for the past few years.
Locker showed flashes of improvements last year before a foot injury prematurely ended his 2013 season. And with a new coaching staff in place, led by head coach Ken Whisenhunt, the future of Locker in Tennessee is very much a question mark. Will the Titans be tempted to pull the trigger on a quarterback in the first round? Possibly, but not likely. But in the second or third round, the probability of a quarterback being the pick goes up quite a bit.
Tennessee also needs fresh legs at running back after the release of Chris Johnson and with the defense transitioning to a 3-4 scheme, a new identity on defense is also in the cards. So while the quarterback situation isn't the only question mark, it definitely has the most unpredictable answer.
Tennessee Titans' 2014 draft picks: 11, 42, 112, 151, 186, 228
Primary Needs: CB, OLB, QB, RB, OL
General Manager: Ruston Webster, 3rd season
Head Coach: Ken Whisenhunt, 1st season
Five draft picks that clicked:
• DT Jurrell Casey, 77th overall, 2011
• LB Colin McCarthy, 109th overall, 2011
• CB Jason McCourty, 203rd overall, 2009
• FS Michael Griffin, 19th overall, 2007
• OT Michael Roos, 41st overall, 2005
Five players who should be on Tennessee's draft radar:
(overall rating, position rating)
CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State (13, 1): With Alterraun Verner signing a big-money contract in Tampa, cornerback is in play for the Titans in the first round despite the promise of young players like Coty Sensabaugh and Blidi Wreh-Wilson already on the roster. Gilbert is a very talented athlete with excellent height, length and speed to cover vertically, but needs to refine his technique and improve his footwork and balance in his transition, too often playing tight and upright. Gilbert also adds value as an impact return man with eight touchdowns in his career (six on kick returns, two on interceptions). He is dripping with natural talent and has high NFL upside if he fixes his technique and stays focused, flashing the first round tools to be the top cornerback drafted.
QB Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois (48, 6): Whisenhunt is an offensive-minded coach and although Locker is still under contract, many expect the Titans new coach to find a quarterback he can develop and compete for the starting job in the not-so-distant future. Tennessee has done its homework on several quarterback prospects in this class, including Garoppolo, who could very easily still be on the board when the Titans pick in the second round. The former EIU passer operated from a mostly shotgun spread attack in college and benefited from a lot of quick-strike throws, setting numerous records at the FCS level. Garoppolo is a very efficient and a smart passer with lightning quickness between the time he takes the snap, makes a decision and gets the ball out of his hand. He lacks elite arm strength, but is more than adequate in this area and isn't afraid to test small windows. Garoppolo is appealing as a next level quarterback because of his eye use, timing and overall intellectual process as a passer, making him a possible fit in Tennessee.
RB Tre Mason, Auburn (54, 3): With Chris Johnson out, Shonn Greene is currently the starting running back for the Titans entering the 2014 season so a running back is a possible target for Tennessee in the top three rounds. Mason could still be on the board in the third round and would fit the Titans offense as a productive change-of-pace option, in a similar mold as Giovanni Bernard last season for the Bengals. Mason lacks elite build for his style at the position and needs to develop as a pass blocker to maximize his NFL potential, but he runs like he's 25 pounds heavier and leaves it all out on the field. He has quick feet and marries his lower body with his excellent vision, showing a decisive style with the innate ability to feel holes open up and hit them with controlled burst. There is no question he benefited from Auburn's multiple spread offense and strong offensive line in 2013, but Mason is a versatile runner with a blend of skills that allows him to be effective in several different ways.
OT Michael Schofield, Michigan (128, 11): Tennessee added Michael Oher in free agency to presumably handle the right tackle duties, but offensive line depth is still a question mark. Schofield has double digit starts at both guard and tackle on his Michigan resume and would give the Titans options. He is built well for the edge with good bend and arm length, but his limited quickness and heavy feet cannot be ignored, leading some to believe his best position is inside at guard. Schofield plays like a veteran with the competitive attitude to finish blocks, but he works best in smaller spaces.
OLB Shaquil Barrett, Colorado State (313, 28): With the Titans transitioning to a 3-4 scheme under new defensive coordinator Ray Horton, a pass rusher who can be developed will be on the wish list for Tennessee. Barrett began his college football career at Nebraska-Omaha, but played only one season there before the program was dropped. He transferred to Colorado State and was eligible immediately and produced quality numbers as a hybrid linebacker and rush end, earning conference defensive player of the year honors with 20.5 tackles for loss and 12.0 sacks as a senior. Barrett has very average physical traits, but makes up for his limitations with his high energy attitude and quick-thinking approach. He isn't overly explosive, but is a balanced and flexible athlete with traits worth developing as a later round prospect.