The Tennessee Titans’ putrid play in 2014 earned them the second overall selection in the 2015 NFL draft. With Jameis Winston as good as a lock to go number one overall to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, intrigue surrounding the second overall pick is at an all-time high. For the Titans, that means a step in the right direction. But which of the many team needs will Ken Whisenhunt and his staff address with their first pick in the draft?
The Titans were in the bottom third in the league in both passing and rushing yards, in addition to rushing yards allowed in 2014. Perhaps the only reason the team ranked 15th in passing yards given up was that teams were too far ahead and decided to just run the ball. The Titans posted a putrid 2-14 record, and quarterback Zach Mettenberger went 0-6 down the stretch. Tennessee must make the most of its draft position this season or risk being at the back of the pack yet again after the 2015 season.
What will the Titans do with the second overall pick? The options are nearly endless, but here are five that seem the most feasible.
5. Address the Line of Scrimmage
After Jameis Winston goes off the board at number one, the Titans will have an entire draft board to choose from to find one starter for 2015 and beyond. If quarterback is not the decision, then the team must get better at the line of scrimmage. Tennessee scored just six rushing touchdowns in 2014, ranking the team just 29th. On the other hand, the Titans defense allowed 17 scores on the ground, ranking them 28th in the league. An upgrade must be made on one line or the other, and the second overall pick enables the Titans to do just that. Due to a perceived lack of elite level talent on the offensive line, I believe if the Titans do pick at number two, a defensive lineman will be the choice. The top player here for Tennessee would be former USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams, who has been touted by ESPN’s Todd McShay as the best all-around defensive talent in the draft. What makes Williams such a gem is that he’s effective against both the run and the pass—a trait the Titans’ defense has been without for nearly a decade.
4. Add Pop to a Sputtering Offense
Bishop Sankey had far less impact than what was expected of him in his rookie season. And be it a product of his team play or his own performance, the Titans are in need of a play-maker on the offensive side of the ball. While Kendall Wright is an above-average possession receiver, Zach Mettenberger is simply not good enough to succeed on this team without additional help. Sure Delanie Walker and Justin Hunter are feasible weapons, but this team needs a real game changer on offense if it is going to stick with Mettenberger. Who would be the best fit to start opposite Wright on the Titans? Alabama’s Amari Cooper tops a talented class of recievers, and is a favorite of McShay’s as well.
Kevin White of West Virginia or even DeVante Parker out of Louisville could be other options for the Titans should they target a wide receiver, but in my mind Cooper is the best wide receiver in this class.
3. Address the Defense
The Titans defense forced just 16 turnovers this past season. As students of the game know, turnovers come easier with pressure in the backfield. With the second pick, the Titans will have their pick of the litter of athletic pass rushers. Tennessee plays 3-4 defense, using four linebackers matched by three down linemen. The Titans had just 39 sacks and just five forced fumbles in 2014. They must find a way to put pressure on opposing team’s offense, and drafting this year’s class’s best outside linebacker could ease their suffering on defense. Florida’s Dante Fowler Jr. separated himself from the rest of the outside linebackers as the offseason unfolded, posting a 4.61 40-yard dash time at the combine to go with his 6’3″, 261 pound frame. Fowler would be an instant upgrade at either the strong side or weak side linebacker for the Titans, beginning a much-needed rejuvenation process within the Titans front seven.
2. Trade Back
Numerous teams have been linked to a potential draft day trade with the Titans. From the Philadelphia Eagles offering Sam Bradford and a package of picks to the San Diego Chargers placing Philip Rivers on the trade block, countless scenarios have crossed the news desks in Tennessee regarding the Titans’ movement away from the top of the first round. The bidding price for the second overall pick is at a premium, so why would the Titans not sell high?
If Tennessee does not see Mariota as the quarterback of its future, why not make the most of the situation? Acquire multiple picks, and get this rebuild off the ground in a hurry. Some team will inevitably mortgage its future for Mariota, and if said situation should occur, the Titans would be mad not to take a deal reminiscent of the trade in which the St. Louis Rams fleeced the Washington Redskins when the latter acquired Robert Griffin III in 2012 . The Titans have so many needs they could find a starter at any spot in the top 15, so they need not lock into the second overall pick if they are not in love with any prospects slotted there, especially Marcus Mariota.
1. Draft Marcus Mariota
In a perfect world, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota would develop into an elite-level starter in the NFL, and the Titans would win multiple Super Bowls with him at the helm. This scenario is what the Titans are buying if they select Mariota at number two overall. Yet the uncertainty and doubt accompanying any early round pick of a quarterback is what the team is shying away from. Is Ken Whisenhunt ready to mortgage his own future on Mariota? That is the question the Titans must answer prior to the 2015 NFL draft. Whisenhunt has had success in the past with pocket passing quarterbacks, a label Mettenberger takes on but Mariota would not. ESPN’s Todd McShay offered similar sentiments on Mariota in his latest mock draft, but also raised doubt about the quarterback’s readiness from day one.
Mariota would provide good mobility from the QB position behind an offensive line that really struggled last year,” McShay wrote in his latest mock draft. “He has the potential to be a major upgrade over incumbent starter Zach Mettenberger, but he’ll need time to be developed properly. He has rare athleticism from the position and elite intangibles, but he needs to improve his footwork and anticipation as a pocket passer to win consistently in the NFL.”
It is Mariota’s perceived lack of NFL readiness that scares teams away from him. Yet both of ESPN’s lead draft writers, McShay and Mel Kiper, have him going second to the Titans in their latest mock drafts. As does Bleacher Report’s lead NFL draft scout Matt Miller. Kiper’s take echoes McShay’s.
I don’t project trades here. But in talking to people inside and outside the league, my sense is that Mariota is likely to be taken here — it’s just hard to say which team is making the pick. Yes, it could be Tennessee, but it could be a handful of other teams if a deal gets done. (San Diego, the Jets, Chicago, St. Louis … many have been named as possible fits.) As I’ve said before, I think Mariota has done as much as he can to show he wasn’t just a system guy at Oregon. I wouldn’t want to start him right away in 2015, but you can’t question Mariota’s physical profile or his potential to improve and grow as an NFL quarterback given his attitude and work habits.”
While Kiper and McShay paint a more current picture of the state of Mariota, Miller’s take is of one who has studied the quarterback for the longest period of time, and one who fully understands the quarterback both as a player and a prospect.
Mariota has gone from clear-cut No. 1 pick to developmental player, and there’s some truth to both. He is talented—athletic, accurate, smart and a high-character leader—and has big upside potential when you look at his work ethic and quarterback traits,” Miller said. “He may not be what Ken Whisenhunt historically looks for in a quarterback, but the league is changing and the Titans need the franchise quarterback they haven’t had since Steve McNair.”
In the NFL, the road to greatness starts at the quarterback position. Sure winning the battle at the line of scrimmage is integral, and for every Tom Brady there is a Super Bowl ring-wearing Trent Dilfer. Still, there is no doubt that to build a winning franchise, a team needs a strong foundation at quarterback. The Tennessee Titans have their chance to draft a quarterback prospect with nearly-unlimited upside in Marcus Mariota. They would be wise to do so.
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