State of the Titans, Pre-Draft: Defense
With the offense preview completed, it’s time to look at the other side of the ball. One important thing in the NFL: if you can’t stop other teams from scoring, you won’t win very many games. And one of the things the Titans were bad at in 2006 was stopping other teams from scoring. Opponents scored 40+ points against the Titans three times last year, the same number of times they were held below 17. Using Football Outsiders’ stats, the Titans ranked 24th in the NFL in defense. And that’s with a pass defense ranked 17th, a pass defense there’s good reason to expect will be significantly worse (disclaimer: most of those fine stats for Pacman are the product of my work). So, let’s see how that situation can be addressed this weekend.
DE: Kyle Vanden Bosch, Travis LaBoy, Antwan Odom, Sean Conover, Josh Savage
KVB’s sack totals dropped from 2006 to 2005, but he was still a very effective pass rusher. The problem came from everybody who lined up on the other side of the defensive line from him. LaBoy and Odom have both been severe disappointments since being selected in 2004. Conover was a UDFA out of Bucknell and practice squadder for a reason. Savage was a third year player on his third team, and looked like it. The Titans have a strong need for a quality DE to play opposite Vanden Bosch. This has lead some people to predict the Titans will draft Florida DE Jarvis Moss with the #19 pick. Despite my feeling that this is a strong position of need, I’m not in favor of Moss. I think there’s likely to be better talent at other positions, and I think he’s overrated. Kearse was a physical freak with production. Moss hasn’t been as productive, and has a troubling injury history. Kearse was also a one-dimensional player for much of his Titans career; granted, it was a fine and important dimension, but the rest of the team was good enough they could camouflage his shortcomings in a way the current Titans defense could not.
DRAFT EXPECTATION: Drafting Moss wouldn’t surprise me, though I’m not in favor of it. I expect one of the five picks in the first 4 rounds to be used on a DE.
DT: Albert Haynesworth, Rien Long, Randy Starks, Marcus White, Jesse Mahelona
Robaire Smith left for Cleveland, Rien Long returns from injury after missing all of 2006. When Smith and Haynesworth were both active and healthy, they could form a formidable pair in the middle, the best the Titans had had since, well, Smith and Haynesworth before Robaire left to join the Texans. Long is probably a better pass rusher, but hasn’t shown the same sort of run-stopping ability. Starks has been another DL disappointment from 2004, Mahelona didn’t show much as a rookie last year, and White hasn’t appeared in a game in either of his first two years in the league. As with DE, the Titans could use a talent influx at DT. The good news is that Alan Branch is dropping down draft boards, and could be there when the Titans select in the first round. Assuming he checks out satisfactorily medically, I believe the Titans should draft him. I can’t see him being there on Saturday, though, and there’s not another DL I’d pick there (Carriker is a pipe dream, IMO). I’d like to see the Titans address this position, preferably fairly early.
DRAFT EXPECTATION: At least one, preferably in the first four rounds.
LBs: Keith Bulluck, David Thornton, Stephen Tulloch, Ryan Fowler, Rob Reynolds, Terna Nande, Spencer Toone, Colin Allred, LeVar Woods, Ken Amato (also LS)
Among the names I’ve seen connected to the Titans in mock drafts are Penn State LB Paul Posluszny and Florida State LB Lawrence Timmons. Tell me, when making a mock draft, wouldn’t you think of what needs a team has? Behind QB, I can’t think of a single position the Titans are less likely to draft in the first round than LB. Bulluck and Thornton are good to great OLBs, and between Tulloch and FA acquisition Fowler the Titans should have a pretty decent starting MLB. I expect this to be the best starting LB corps the Titans have had in at least three years and perhaps longer. Because of that, I can’t see the Titans using a high pick on a LB. Based on how they feel their backups are, particularly on special teams, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them use one of the later picks on a depth LB.
DRAFT EXPECTATION: One LB in the 6th round or later.
CBs: Reynaldo Hill, Nick Harper, Cortland Finnegan, Andre Woolfolk, Michael Waddell, Eric King
As noted in the intro, this position was the hardest hit for the Titans this offseason. Pacman was an immensely talented player who essentially took away one side of the field from the other team. His on-field contributions will be sorely missed. Nick Harper was brought in, but he’s older and no better than adequate. Renaldo Hill showed us last year why he was a 7th round pick in the first place; seeing the same from Cortland Finnegan in 2007 wouldn’t be a surprise. Woolfolk has been a severe disappointment since being selected in the first round. Waddell missed last season, and should be counted on as no more than a possibly adequate nickel back. There are players here; the problem is that none is known to be particularly good.
DRAFT EXPECTATION: If one of the corners the Titans have a good grade on is available at #18, he HAS to be the selection. If not, the second round pick could go for a CB, though I expect all the decent ones to be gone by then. If they don’t pick a CB in the first two rounds, then the Titans would likely be better off looking for more of a body for depth purposes, and I’d wait until the 6th or 7th round for that.
Ss: Chris Hope, Lamont Thompson, Vincent Fuller, Calvin Lowry, Donnie Nickey, Bryan Scott
Hope is the starter at one safety spot. Thompson returns from his role as the other S starter, but should (will hopefully) be challenged for that job by Fuller and Lowry, and maybe even Scott. Nickey is an ace special teamer, and should be regarded as such more than as a safety. It wouldn’t be a surprise to me to see 5 or possibly even all 6 of these guys make the final roster as the safeties. Maybe you could bring in a premium S, but the Titans have enough holes I’m not in favor of that.
DRAFT EXPECTATION: No picks.
And that’s the draft preview. I plan to have more content tomorrow evening and/or Saturday morning, looking at specific players the Titans may take.