By Ron Wynn
The Titans had major problems on both sides of the ball during last season’s dismal 6-10 campaign, but indicators point to them selecting an offensive lineman very high in this year’s NFL draft.
A number of draft predictors and services have quoted general manager Ruston Webster saying that improvement on the offensive line was a major priority. Despite signing three new linemen already in free agency, it is very possible that the Titans may pick either Alabama’s Chance Warmack or North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper as their first selection when the draft begins Thursday.
These two are alternating in terms of potential when compared by scouts and services. The advantage for Warmack, who is six feet, two inches and 317 pounds comes in his reputation as a superb run blocker. Given running back Chris Johnson’s prominence in the Titans’ offensive schemes, many figured it was a sure bet that if he were available when it was the Titans’ turn (10th pick), that he would be their choice.
But in the last few days, there’s been more support going to Cooper, who is also six feet two and is 311 pounds. He’s deemed more a throwback type, someone ideal for short yardage and very strong at the point of initial attack in the line of scrimmage. He’s also considered to be faster than Warmack, and really good at downfield blocking.
However Warmack regularly practiced and played against huge defensive linemen in a 3-4 scheme, something that the Titans value due to playing twice a year against the Houston Texans. J.J. Watt manhandled Titans’ guards during both games last season.
Cooper is given the edge against speed rushers. He is also more versatile, having playing both guard and center. The Titans haven’t been that effective at center since the departure of Kevin Mawae. They did not sign current starting center Fernando Velasco to an extension, and injuries devastated the offensive line last season.
There is also pressure on the drafting team to get more immediate contributors across the board. While they’ve done decent jobs in terms of retention (79 percent of the players selected are still in the league and 63 percent remain with the team), the stats don’t look so good when you begin focusing on performance.
Only 13 of their 43 draftees over the last five years have started more than half their games. Only two have made the Pro Bowl, Chris Johnson and kick/punt returner Marc Mariani. Johnson is the lone Titans’ draftee to make an All-Pro team (and some feel he should have been NFL offensive MVP the year he gained 2,000 yards).
But on the plus side, they do have current QB starter Jake Locker, defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and linebackers Akeem Ayers and Colin McCarthy all making sizable contributions from the 2011 draft class. They also have gotten major boosts from last year’s selections of wide receiver Kendall Wright and linebacker Zack Brown.
Big things are still expected from wide receiver Kenny Britt, who’s been unable to stay healthy, and defensive end Derrick Morgan. The Titans also haven’t always been in the greatest drafting position, since their average spot has been 20th.
They cannot afford to make any mistakes this time, which is why the choice to possibly select a guard is getting so much scrutiny. The NFL draft gets underway with round one Thursday. The second and third rounds are Friday beginning at 5:30 p.m. The final rounds (four through seven) start at 11 a.m. The entire draft will be televised on both ESPN and the NFL Network.