The Tennessee Titans have done some work thus far in the off-season to remedy the ails of the team's defense from a season ago. But there is still an unmistakable hole in the middle, and that is with or without a big transition to Horton's new defensive scheme.
So with most all of the impact Inside Linebackers off to new homes, it appears more and more likely by the day that the Titans will look to dip into this year's draft crop for a difference maker at the heart of the new-look defense. With that said, who fits best? Most here have heard the shortlist of ideal candidates, but when looking closely (some diligent film review), and matching their fits to both the Titans' scheme and needs after Free Agency, which prospects stand out?
CJ Mosley, Alabama
Mosley is all but the consensus top inside linebacker in the draft, and that comes as little surprise. His combination of ideal size and athleticism are an asset to any defense. Coupled with a fluidity in and out of a crowd, a high football IQ, and the versatility to play inside and out, Mosley represents a promising option for the Titans. On top of this, Mosley has been as good a leader as he has been a producer for Alabama.
The Crimson Tide backer isn't without detractors, however; Injury and tackling consistency concerns loom large, and cannot be ignored, especially for a guy who would be tasked with plugging the middle against the run. At this point, 11 may be too rich for CJ Mosley, with other players likely to overshadow him as BPA at that point. In the end, I can see Mosley going between pick 15 and 25 when the draft finally (and mercifully) rolls around.
Chris Borland, Wisconsin
Borland is an intriguing player for any defensive coordinator to consider. Rarely-fooled and intelligent, Borland shows a consistently high-motor that matches his resume as a strong tackler. For a team like the Titans, who have struggled mightily with missed tackles, especially among the linebacking corps, Borland would be an excellent add. The numerous comparisons to former Dolphin backer, Zach Thomas are not without merit.
He lacks ideal speed to make plays on the perimeter, but on a defense featuring Zach Brown, Wesley Woodyard, and even Zaviar Gooden, speed isn't going to be a major concern when all is said and done. Scouts have also pointed to Borland's lack of length, but such limits haven't stopped him from racking up an impressive resume. Without prototypical athleticism, the Wisconsin defensive leader will likely tumble down draft boards, making him a steal if the Titans could nab him in round two.
Shayne Skov, Stanford
Skov is another player with strong instincts for the ball. At Stanford, Skov was a tone-setter with his physicality and explosion. He stands today as an ideal, albeit limited, inside 3-4 run stopper, with an excellent propensity to shed blocks and find the ball. Skov also shows a lot of resilience in returning from injury, after taking the next step during the 2013 season after a less-impressive campaign following an ACL tear. Another bonus for the Titans connection is that Skov is already well-familiar with the 3-4. Though a pure 3-4 is not what Horton will run in Tennessee, the added experience in the fundamentals of the system would serve him well to rotate in on different looks.
His lack of top-end speed will keep him locked inside, but as mentioned with Chris Borland, that might not be the end of the world for Horton's defense in Tennessee with plenty of speed already on the field.
Christian Jones, Florida State
Another top prospect being talked about is Florida State's own Christian Jones. I like Jones in the same way that I like Zach Brown. Like Brown, Jones possesses excellent fluidity in coverage, with ideal hip swivel and change of direction skills rarely seen in inside backers at any level. Jones showcases excellent range and speed, able to make plays anywhere on the field.
However, he loses the ball at times, and can be stood up at the point of attack. With the Titans having signed Woodyard to fulfill the role he will likely be slotted into playing, Jones, while an excellent player, doesn't make a world of sense unless he plummets down the draft boards. For the record, I think Jones will be a talented player at the next level, but the Titans already have several of him, per-se.
So when all is said and done? I would think, with value factored in, that Borland and Skov would be the two to shoot for. I like CJ Mosley a lot and have confidence that he would fit in well as a 3-down backer in Tennessee, but as previously mentioned, durability concerns coupled with a case of draft positioning might hinder his fit with the Titans. The team would have greater flexibility when targeting either Borland or Skov in round 2 and beyond, and would be getting players who both fit the mentality and style of the new defensive scheme, and slot into the last major hole remaining.