After an 0-6 start that culminated in a 59-0 thrashing at the hands of the Patriots in the Foxboro snow, all hope seemed lost for the Tennessee Titans, a team with high hopes coming off a 13-3 season in 2008. Former 2006 first-round pick and Rookie of the Year Vince Young replaced Kerry Collins as the Titans starting quarterback and led the team to five consecutive wins to get back into the Wild Card discussion. Tennessee still fell short of the playoffs with an 8-8 record, but their 8-2 finish with Young under center again gives them hope heading into next season. Chris Tripodi breaks down how Tennessee’s draft will help them reach expectations.
Tennessee lost defensive ends Kyle Vanden Bosch and Jevon Kearse to free agency and were in the market for a top-notch pass-rushing prospect. They were ecstatic when Georgia Tech’s Derrick Morgan fell to them with the 16th pick in the first round. The top defensive end on the Draft Insider draft board despite being taken behind Brandon Graham and Jason Pierre-Paul, Morgan has a very polished set of pass-rush moves. His size (6-3, 266) and speed (4.77) are not ideal, but he plays with excellent leverage, a quick first step and a good closing burst. Morgan is great at keeping his feet moving while pushing up the field and will be an impact pass rusher once he improves his strength, awareness and block shedding ability, if not right away.
The Titans lost their second-round pick this season in a trade with the Patriots last year that landed them tight end Jared Cook, but got good value with their third-round choice in USC receiver Damian Williams. We had him graded as a first- or second-rounder and his game-breaking ability will play well alongside emerging star Kenny Britt down the line. Williams plays faster than his 4.53 40 time and runs polished routes, exhibiting excellent body control, hands and an willingness to go over the middle and make tough catches in a crowd. His thin build (6-0, 197) will limit his immediate impact but once he adds strength, Williams has the upside of a number-one receiver at the NFL level.
Tennessee drafted Georgia linebacker Ronnie Curran with their second-pick in the third round. Despite being undersized (5-10, 235) Curran has drawn comparisons to former Pro Bowler Dexter Coakley as a linebacker who plays bigger than he’s listed with great explosion. He has great instincts and can always be found around the ball, whether filling the gaps or roaming sideline-to-sideline. Curran is an intelligent, hard-working player who uses his strong hands to keep blockers at bay. He does struggle to separate once blockers get their hands on him but is an excellent fit in the Titans gap defense and could eventually replace the aging David Thornton on the weak side.
After trading LenDale White to the Seahawks on day three, Tennessee used the fourth-round pick they got in return to select UCLA cornerback Alterraun Verner. Graded as a second-round pick, Verner has solid instincts, ball skills and the ability to get physical with opposing receivers. He is effective recognizing routes in zone coverage but struggles to stay with receivers down the field and doesn’t recover well when caught out of position. He should add depth to a secondary that was just 31st defending the pass last season and has starting potential if he improves his man-coverage ability.
Safety Robert Johnson finally put everything together in his senior season at Utah after showing flashes of talent. He has the ability to play sideline-to-sideline and is a solid athlete with good discipline, timing, ball skills and a knack for the big hit. His size (6-2, 203) is a negative as is his tendency to over-pursue plays and a lack of acceleration, but Johnson is a solid centerfielder who can contribute in pass defense.
Florida Atlantic quarterback Rusty Smith has the natural ability to be an NFL starting quarterback, but he must improve his footwork and wind-up release as well as learn to protect the ball and take fewer chances. Smith is a bit of a gunslinger but if he can refine his game, he has the size (6-4, 231), arm strength and touch to be a starter at the NFL level.
Sixth-round pick Myron Rolle, a safety out of Florida State, is more well-known for his Rhodes Scholar accomplishments off the field than his play on it. His size (6-2, 215) and speed (4.59) translate well to the NFL but he must elevate his level of play, particularly his football instincts, to find a place in the league after eschewing football in 2009 to study at Oxford.
The Titans had two seventh-round picks, taking Montana receiver Marc Mariani and Brown defensive tackle David Howard.
Mariani had an excellent career at Montana and is a complete receiver with good route-running ability, hands and awareness. He lacks the speed to stretch the field and the size to be a dominant possession receiver and his awareness and vision on punt returns may be his ticket to NFL success.
Howard is slightly undersized at 6-3, 290 pounds but his thick lower body allows him to be an anchor in the middle of the defensive line. He fits well in Tennessee’s one-gap scheme and could provide depth along the defensive line.
Grade: C+ Not a bad draft for Tennessee, who filled their biggest need by selecting the best defensive end on the board in Morgan. Not having a second-round pick hurt but they were able to draft a second-round value in Williams, who could prove to be a steal with the 77th pick. The Titans drafted a cornerback and two safeties to add depth and talent to a secondary that was suspect most of last season while finding players in the late rounds that fit well in their system and could have an impact in a few seasons. The Titans got excellent value with their early picks and drafted smart players with solid football instincts and awareness. Four of their nine picks were focused on improving their terrible pass defense from a season ago and that will be a key for Tennessee if this team wants to get back into the playoffs.