Tennessee struggled on both sides of the ball last season and after a promising 2011 debut, quarterback Jake Locker didn’t take the step forward many expected. The Titans looked to the 2013 NFL Draft to fix some of their issues and overall, they did a nice job filling holes with solid prospects and finding upside in the mid-to-late rounds. Chris Tripodi tells you which rookies to keep an eye on in Tennessee this season.
Chance Warmack/G/Alabama (Round 1/Pick #10): The last time a guard was drafted in the top 10 was Chris Naeole in 1997, but Warmack wasn’t even the first guard drafted in 2013. A relatively weak draft and two standout prospects at the position led to the Cardinals taking Jonathan Cooper 7th overall and the Titans taking Warmack 10th. Precedent says guards aren’t valued as top-10 picks both Cooper and Warmack transcended that thinking this year. Warmack is a low-risk, high-upside mauler on the inside and while he is very slow and doesn’t pull out into space well, he should have no trouble opening big holes on the inside for Chris Johnson to run through. Warmack is a great fit for the run-heavy offense Tennessee wants to implement in 2013 and should make an immediate impact.
Justin Hunter/WR/Tennessee (Round 2/Pick #34): An obvious indictment of the coaching staff’s trust in Kenny Britt, the Titans used an early second-round pick on Hunter. If NFL teams drafted solely on athletic ability, Hunter would have been the first receiver taken thanks to his 6-4, 196-pound frame, 4.4 speed and 39.5-inch vertical leap. His inconsistent hands, poor route running and lack of focus at times adds some risk to the ultimate reward of a number-one receiver though, which he why he wasn’t a first-round pick. Britt will be an unrestricted free agent after this season and if he can’t regain the dominant form he flashed at the beginning of 2011 before tearing his ACL, it will likely be Hunter starting next to Kendall Wright at receiver next season. Hunter himself tore his ACL in 2011 and Tennessee seems to be betting on either him or Britt to reach their potential. If they both somehow can, Jake Locker will be a very happy quarterback.
Blidi Wreh-Wilson/CB/Connecticut (Round 3/Pick #70): The Titans ranked 26th against the pass last season and with Alterraun Verner’s contract expiring next offseason, Tennessee was wise to draft his potential replacement at a third-round price. Graded out as a second-round pick by Draft Insider and garnering tons of pre-draft buzz, Wreh-Wilson was a steal in round three and has the skills to be the team’s best cornerback in the future. He is a bit raw and struggled with injuries during his junior and senior seasons, but there is no rush for him to start in Tennessee if he doesn’t force his way into the lineup. At 6-0, 195 pounds with 4.45 speed, Wreh-Wilson is athletic and physical and has the potential to shut down an opponent’s top target. The Titans have the luxury of starting him off as a nickel corner, but don’t be surprised to see him as their top corner in 2014.
Zaviar Gooden/OLB/Missouri (Round 3/Pick #97): On the surface, this was a slightly curious pick by Tennessee. Gooden was the fastest linebacker in this draft but the Titans drafted a speedy outside linebacker last season when they took Zach Brown. Brown has had injury issues in the past though and this pick can provide insurance for him as well as injury-prone middle linebacker Colin McCarthy, who could see less of the field in nickel packages to keep him healthy. Gooden is solid in coverage and could push Akeem Ayers to a rush defensive end position in the nickel, as Ayers was not on the field on most passing downs last season. Gooden’s lack of size (6-1, 235) is a limiting factor and while he won’t start over a healthy Brown on the weak side, he’s a good insurance policy who should see the field and help the Titans’ pass defense as a rookie. A slight reach in round three, but one that fits Tennessee’s defense and can contribute immediately.
Brian Schwenke/C/California (Round 4/Pick #107): The Titans’ interior line is undergoing a transformation after the signing of guard Andy Levitre and the drafting of Chance Warmack. Tennessee likely envisions Schwenke as their starting center as early as this season, meaning Chris Johnson will have at least three new offensive lineman to complain about when he continues to dance behind the line of scrimmage. Schwenke played both guard positions in college before switching to center last season and receiving All-Conference honors for his performance. He is explosive off the line, quick to the second level and has the intelligence and leadership qualities an NFL starting center needs. This was a good value pick as well for the Titans, as Schwenke was projected to go about a round earlier.
Lavar Edwards/DE/LSU (Round 5/Pick #142): Edwards flew under the radar as a part-time player at LSU, but his talent and potential warranted a pick earlier than the fifth round. He played a consistent role on a great Tigers defense since his sophomore year and his speed off the edge will be a nice addition to an already solid Tennessee pass rush. Edwards lacks bulk against the run and isn’t great in pursuit, but will add to the Titan’s depth at defensive end and has the upside to ultimately become a starter at the NFL level.
Khalid Wooten/CB/Nevada (Round 6/Pick #202): It’s obvious that the Titans went into this season’s draft focusing on improving their pass defense and while Wooten won’t be a starter in the NFL, he has the athleticism to develop into a nickel or dime corner. He never showed much consistency at the college level but if Wooten can improve his mechanics, his speed, physicality and aggressive mentality against the run could help him stick in the league.
Daimian Stafford/S/Nebraska (Round 7/Pick #247): Stafford was a two-year starter with the Cornhuskers after transferring from junior college before the 2011 season. His size (5-11, 221) and speed (4.58) are what teams look for at the safety position but Stafford struggles in coverage and has some work to do to be a contributor at the NFL level. His athleticism, discipline and toughness against the run leads me to believe he can be a solid special teams player for the Titans this season and he has enough upside to develop into a sub-package safety on defense if he can polish his coverage ability.
Grade: B+. Tennessee did a great job adding talent in this year’s draft, using the first two rounds to solidify their running game and add another big target for Jake Locker. Three of their next four picks netted them players who should have gone at least a round earlier on our board and the Titans added four players who could be starting by the end of this season and 2-3 more who could see the field as a situational players.