By most accounts, including my own, Alabama standout guard Chance Warmack is the top interior lineman in this year's draft, but UNC's Jonathan Cooper could make a push for his top spot in NFL war rooms for one reason: versatility.
The Problem: Ever since the Titans let Kevin Mawae leave this game of musical chairs Tennessee has played in the interior line has been horrendous. Though we tout two Hall of Fame offensive lineman on our coaching staff the game plan in the offseason the past few years had lacked any significant attempt to fix the middle of the offensive line. Even adding Hutchinson seemed to be a band-aid at best and turned into an awful decision as fans saw him struggle with speed rushers throughout the season.
Finally injuries and lack of talent have pushed the Titans to address the need in free agency in a big way by signing top-end guard Andy Levitre from Buffalo this week, and by tendering a second round-level offer to Fernando Velasco who easily stood out as the Titans best interior lineman last year.
So far the argument against Levitre was that he was given a bloated contract, but when you have the money to spend you NEED to spend it on talent for your need positions, that has been the mantra of every Titans fan the past few years when Tennessee has nickel and dimed their way to mediocrity. This has left some analysts to speculate that we may be done addressing offensive line for this year, but that would be a mistake. Levitre has a six-year deal so he isn't going anywhere, but Velasco could easily test the waters of free agency next year if we are pressed against the cap and there is still a gaping hole at right guard.
Solution A: The obvious solution is a no brainer so I will keep it short. Tennessee drafts Warmack at 10, plugs him in at right guard and runs behind him for a decade. I have no problem with this strategy, but that is assuming that he is there which might be a little optimistic considering we just took Buffalo's best offensive lineman away and they have pick number eight.
Solution B: Take Cooper and decide in camp whether he is a better center or guard, then let Velasco fill the other position. Cooper played a game at center in college because of injuries on the team and he played it really well. Rumblings from draftniks say that some scouts prefer Cooper to Warmack for his ability to slide to any interior position on the line.
Cooper is a great guard who has had to live in Warmack's wide shadow, but that doesn't make his tape any less phenomenal. Cooper is a stellar athlete for the guard position and he often gets to the second level or downfield in sync with the running back and makes solid blocks 15+ yards away from the line of scrimmage. That level of athleticism and versatility is rare and could entice Webster and company to draft him over Warmack even if both are still on the board.
Final Word: It is like splitting hairs picking which one of these guys will have the better NFL career, but it comes down to whether your team prefers the brutality and mauling mentality of a guy like Chance Warmack, or if they want someone who can play center or guard and who can stone wall even the quickest defensive linemen while still having the strength and speed to create holes in the running game.