The Titans averaged just 1.75 sacks per game in 2011, with their 28 sacks giving them the distinction of being one of the six teams to put the opposing quarterback on the ground less than 30 times. So one of their needs early in the draft is clear, but exactly when that need should be addressed isn’t.
Much like last year, there should be plenty of pass rushers available in the first round. In 2011, nine defensive ends/outside linebackers came off the board during the draft’s opening night, and depending on who’s mocking, up to seven could be ready to hear their named called on April 26 this year. The depth at the position will extend into the second round and beyond, with a pass rusher like Andre Branch likely available on the draft’s second day if he doesn’t sneak in and become a late first rounder.
The Titans grabbed outside linebacker Akeem Ayers early in the second round last year, and they signed veteran Kamerion Wimbley during free agency, the former Raider who’s had 16 sacks over the past two years. The need for more depth and support is still there, but with so many options likely available later, can Tennessee justify spending a first-round pick on a need that can easily be addressed after waiting a round or two?
1. After a season when the Titans finished 31st in sacks, is a defensive end the clear direction in the first round? And is there a pass rusher high on your wishlist? Whitney Mercilus could be around at No. 20…
I wouldn’t say you can ink the Titans in for a defensive end just yet. The Titans picked up Wimbley a few weeks back and he’ll be starting across from Derrick Morgan. It’s just a matter of how much he’ll be able to play. There are plenty of options they might be looking at with that pick. I’ve definitely been looking at the top pass rushers in this class and my favorite thus far is Nick Perry out of USC. I think that guy has a bright future in front of him. It’s also a pretty deep class for defensive ends and the Titans could certainly wait untill the third or fourth round to pick up an end, such as Boise State’s Tyrone Crawford. He’s another defensive end I’m pretty high on.
As for Mercilus, he has a few question marks, and after the Titans’ issues at the defensive end position after they took one with the 16th pick two years ago (Morgan), I think they might be a little gun shy about pulling the trigger on him. I know I am.
2. Dipping into the cornerback pool is another option after the departure of Cortland Finnegan. Or do you think the Titans are fine with Jason McCourty, and Alterraun Verner stepping up?
Personally, I’m happy with the cornerback position as is, and I feel McCourty and Verner are both more than capable of handling the spot.
I also like the depth we have there with players like Chris Hawkins, Tommie Campbell, and Ryan Mouton. That being said, the Titans are probably still looking at picking up another CB. If they were to go for one in the first round of the draft, I’d expect them to give Stephon Gilmore out of South Carolina a hard look. He would bring along a lot of the skills the Titans lost with the departure of Finnegan, and I really like him.
3. What about a wide receiver early? There’s some promising upside on Tennessee’s wide receiver depth chart, along with Kenny Britt returning from his injury. But WR is a deep position this year, so giving Jake Locker (if he wins the job) another young target like Stephen Hill could be tempting.
As you said, it’s a deep class for wide receivers, and the Titans certainly could be enticed to jump if the right receiver is there. Maybe if Michael Floyd fell to them they’d go for it. But I think the Titans feel pretty good about where they are with their receivers right now, especially when Nate Washington had such a good season in Britt’s absence.
4. Any other players or needs you’re eying in the first round?
Safety Mark Barron out of Alabama. I’ve been on the Barron bandwagon ever since the draft talk heared up. Michael Griffin is back with the franchise tag and Jordan Babineaux doesn’t have too much time left. Barron is a young, hard-hitting play maker who could really be a difference maker.