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Should the Titans go ‘best player available’ or address need at the top of the draft?

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A case for why there is only one position that should be under consideration at 25.

2010 NFL Draft Round 1 Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Best player available or drafting for positional need? It’s a topic that comes up every year around draft time. I usually fall in the camp of best player available, but I feel differently — at least about the top of the draft — this year.

Its not that the Titans have a massive, glaring hole on the roster that needs to be filled with an instant starter immediately. In fact, I think the top end of the roster is in pretty good shape for the most part. Most of the starters on both sides of the ball are set with the possible exceptions of left guard and inside linebacker, and I don’t think Kevin Pamphile and Jayon Brown would represent huge liabilities if they’re day one starters.

There is, however, a lurking need that could become massive if the Titans don’t do something about it soon: edge rusher. Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan are both still above average starters, but they’ll be 32 and 29, respectively, when the 2018 season starts and both are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents after this season. The Titans may choose to extend one or both of them, but that’s just a temporary solution given their wear and tear at this point in their careers. With nothing but question marks behind those two — its hard to expect much from Kevin Dodd, Aaron Wallace, or Josh Carraway for a variety of reasons — the time for the Titans to make a move at edge is now.

You could certainly argue that other positions like inside linebacker, tight end, and center are in similar boats, but the difference between those spots and edge rusher are that you can find quality players at those other positions in the middle rounds of the draft or in free agency. You can’t do that with edge rushers.

Look at the top edge rushers in this free agency class. With Demarcus Lawrence and Ezekiel Ansah getting franchise tagged, the de facto top of the class ended up being Trent Murphy and Vinny Curry — two good players, but nowhere near elite talents. When is the last truly elite edge rusher that hit the free agent market? DeMarcus Ware probably, but he was 32 and past his prime when he signed in Denver. Olivier Vernon got paid like an elite edge rusher, but I wouldn’t say he’s among the top 10 at his position. The top paid edge players in recent signing classes include guys like Paul Kruger and Pernell McPhee. Not great return for the investments those teams made.

Not only is edge a tough spot to fill via free agency, but it’s really hard to find elite guys outside of the first couple rounds of the draft. Take a look at the top 10 edge guys according to PFF in 2017.

Top 10 Edge Rushers in 2017

Rank Player Draft Round Draft Overall
Rank Player Draft Round Draft Overall
1 Cameron Jordan 1st 24
2 Von Miller 1st 2
3 Demarcus Lawrence 2nd 34
4 Calais Campbell 2nd 50
5 Khalil Mack 1st 5
6 Melvin Ingram 1st 18
7 Joey Bosa 1st 3
8 Brandon Graham 1st 13
9 Jabaal Sheard 2nd 37
10 Robert Ayers 1st 18
Pro Football Focus

Not a single one of those guys were drafted outside the top 50 picks in the draft. While I wouldn’t necessarily classify Sheard or Ayers as “elite”, I think the rest of this group is pretty unimpeachable. I’d replace one of those guys with Chandler Jones, who is also a former 1st round pick. You could also consider former 1st overall picks Jadeveon Clowney and Myles Garrett as borderline elite players. Even the Titans current duo of Orakpo and Morgan were both former 1st round picks. In fact, there are only three guys that I would consider difference making edge players currently in the NFL that were drafted outside the top 50: Everson Griffin (100th overall), Danielle Hunter (88th overall), and Justin Houston (70th overall).

Good edge rushers simply don’t fall in the draft in the modern NFL. The position is too important. As the influence of the quarterback has risen, so has the pressure on defenses to find players that can make them uncomfortable. If the Titans want to secure this position, they are going to have to spend a top pick to do it. That’s why I think the Titans would be wise to address this position with their first pick in the 2018 draft.