Two years ago the Titans decided to select Jake Locker with the 8th pick in the NFL Draft. That move triggered the Jaguars to move up and select Blaine Gabbert at 10 and the Vikings quickly scooped up Christian Ponder just two selections later. Early in the second round Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick quickly went off the board. With four QBs picked after Locker (and Cam Newton going first overall) the Titans not only grabbed their quarterback of the future but set off a run on the position. That resulted in talent at other positions dropping down and the Titans were able to pounce on Akeem Ayers with their second round pick. I bring this situation up because it's a great example of how the Titans were able to read the situation. It's far better being at the start of a position run than the end, and in this case it had a great side effect on the other picks.
With that in mind I've been trying to figure out how the Titans should play this year's draft. It was a lot easier to predict the QB run in 2011 than the positional runs this year. We'll start with the position we're all locked in on right now: guard. Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper are predicted early first round picks and the second round consists of Larry Warford, Kyle Long, Brian Winters and potentially a few others. I think right now MCM has reached a pretty solid consensus on Chance Warmack. We just flat out love the guy. Jonathan Cooper may not be getting the same amount of love but he's a darn good prospect as well. Let's say they take Warmack or Cooper with the tenth pick. Will Warford, Long and Winters all be gone by the 40th pick? That would mean five guards go in 39 picks, which seems extremely unlikely. Obviously I realize the prospects aren't all at the same talent level, but for the sake of this post I just want to look into how to maximize every possible aspect of the Titans draft. Ideally you'd like the positions you still need to fall to 40 rather than have a lot of guards left on the board and perhaps another desired position depleted already.
Let's move on to the next position of defensive end. This position becomes a little harder to classify as linebackers and defensive ends can sometimes just be grouped as a new hybrid pass rushing position. Expected early picks include Dion Jordan, Ezekiel Ansah and Barkevious Mingo. A little later in the first you have Bjoern Werner, Datone Jones and Tank Carradine. The list continues with potential second rounders such as Margus Hunt, Damontre Moore, Sam Montgomery and Alex Okafor. At first blush the sheer numbers of "pass rushers" would seem to indicate that the Titans can afford to postpone a DE selection until the 40th pick. Things get a little tricky with this group though. First, are the Titans looking for a speed guy like Mingo or a big body like Margus Hunt? There aren't a lot of explosive players once you get into the second and third tier of players. Jordan, Ansah and Mingo have that extra speed gear and as a result are put ahead of their peers. If the Titans are looking for a more physical end then they have a few more choices later on. The second aspect to consider here is that not all these players fit the Titans system. Datone Jones for instance seems like a better fit in a 3-4. These two factors are going to decrease the number of players available to the Titans.
I went back and did a quick count of what I considered "pass rushers" in the last two drafts. Within the first 39 picks, there were eight and nine players in 2012 and 2011 respectively. (Worth noting: Only four and five pass rushers went in the same timeframe in 2010 and 2009.) I listed above ten players so if pass rushers are valued as highly in this draft as they were previously, the Titans will have far fewer choices with the 40th pick if they eschew the position in the first.
With many primary needs filled through free agency, some feel the Titans will look at a corner early on. As many as four corners could go in the first round with another 5-7 available in the second round. This would indicate that if the Titans do want a corner (something I'm not yet convinced of) they could grab one later on. Sticking with the secondary, safety could be an option as well. The only likely first rounder would be Kenny Vaccaro and I doubt that move would be met with cheers on Thursday night. There are a handful of options in the second and third round too. Once again it seems that the Titans would be better suited to wait and select one later on.
I will reiterate here that not all the prospects are equal or even similar. If the Titans really do love Warmack as much as our blog manager does, there's no reason to get too fancy and overthink it. If they really like Warford or someone else at guard too though, playing the draft board is always worth considering. Pouncing on their top defensive end at 10 may result in a lot of talent falling down to 40, including choice of the remaining guards.
With that in mind I'll open the question to MCM in the comments - what do you think the best strategy would be for the Titans Thursday night?