As I noted last week, the Titans’ drafts over the last decade have been underwhelming. Most years, I find myself scratching my head wondering why the Titans have done what they’ve done, and when the team’s performance really dropped off the last four years, let’s just say it didn’t take me by complete surprise.
However, I’m starting to see some hope for the franchise. As I noted Friday, I loved the team’s pick of Chance Warmack in Thursday’s first round. As the draft continued the next two days, I found more things to like than not to like.
With that, here’s my take on each of the Titans’ next seven picks throughout the weekend.
Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee, second round, pick 34
I wasn’t initially a big fan of this pick for two reasons. First, there was the cost: the Titans gave up their seventh-rounder this year and a third-round pick next year to move up six spots. I am generally not a big fan of trading up to get players, because you often pay more than you should, and that may be the case here.
Second, while Hunter had 73 catches for 1,083 yards and nine touchdowns, he had 25 of those catches for 442 yards and seven scores between the Georgia State, Akron and Troy games, meaning that his stats were just okay – 48 catches, 641 yards, two TDs – in the rest. He also had a knee injury in 2011, which, depending on how you look at it, is either a bit of a red flag or encouraging that he was able to overcome it and produce the next year.
On the other hand, Hunter – other than his five-catch, 39-yard game against Vanderbilt this year, which was also partially to blame on quarterback Tyler Bray – usually passed the look test when I saw him. He’s big, he’s fast and he can make a lot of plays down the field. I have a feeling that had he not gotten hurt as a junior and if he hadn’t played for a quarterback who sometimes seemed to have rocks for brains, he wouldn’t have been around for the Titans to pick.
The big thing is to look at how Hunter fits within the Titans. The team has rarely had big-play-making wide receivers – Derrick Mason was excellent, but he was always more of a work-the-middle-of-the-field guy more so than a deep threat – but now it has two of them with Hunter and Kenny Britt, plus slot receiver Kendall Wright, who looked capable of handing the middle of the field as a rookie.
Now, one never knows when Britt’s going to do something stupid and get suspended. That, and the fact that Britt’s a free agent next year, is probably why the Titans felt they needed to pay a premium to get Hunter at that spot. But in a best-case scenario under which Britt behaves and everyone stays healthy, that’s a pretty-good trio of talented wideouts.
Sometimes, you have to throw away a little bit of caution to the wind and go get your guy if you think he’s an impact player. That was the Titans’ gamble, and I can definitely see a scenario under which it pays off.
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB, Connecticut, third round, pick 70
Wilson’s 2012 numbers – 47 tackles, one interception, nine pass break-ups – are hardly All-American-type stats. But here’s the number you need to know: 18. That’s the yardage of the longest pass completed against Wreh-Wilson in his senior season (it came in a game vs. Pitt) as teams tended not to throw his way. With the pick, the Titans also landed an athlete who can play on special teams.
The downside: Wilson got nicked up a bit (he missed four career games) and ran a just-okay 4.53 40 at the combine. Still, the production seemed to be there, so it’s hard to knock the pick where the Titans took him.
And in case you’re wondering, it’s pronounced, “Bleedy Ray.”
Zavier Gooden, OLB, Missouri, third round, pick 97
The Titans like guys on the outside who can really run, and they definitely landed one here in a 234-pound guy who ran a 4.47 40 at the Combine. The folks at DraftNasty.com, who may be the best in the business at this (full disclosure: I’ve done a lot of work for them, though as a feature writer and not a scout) graded Gooden as a fourth-rounder, so the Titans may have reached here just a bit.
But on the plus side, he seems to fit the system and there’s talk that Gooden could plug in on the outside and the Titans could move linebacker Akeem Ayers to end. Given the Titans’ desperate need for pass-rush help, it would be hard to knock the pick if that’s how things pan out.
Brian Schwenke, C, California, fourth round, pick 107
Speaking of my friends at DraftNasty, they liked this pick, rating the 307-pound Californian the 88th-best player on their board. Schwenke, a first team All-Pac-12 player last year, has some quickness and should help the Titans in the run game – which is where I suspect the offense might be geared this fall.
Lavar Edwards, DE, LSU, fifth round, pick 173
Edwards was under the radar last year; of course, when you play behind Barkevious Mingo (first round) and Sam Montgomery (third), that can happen. The Tigers had six defensive players selected in the first three rounds this year, which tells you a lot about the competition level in Baton Rouge.
However, it’s interesting to note that Edwards beat out Montgomery – a first team All-American in 2011 – to start the season, and wound up getting a half-dozen starts last year. DraftNasty rated him its No. 130 player overall, and ESPN’s Mel Kiper termed him “a steal” in the fifth round, so perhaps he can help the Titans where they really need it, and hopefully soon.
Khalid Wooten, CB, Nevada, sixth round, pick 202
A big (210-lb.) corner who can really run (4.43 40) and can play press coverage. Some think he’ll be a safety one day. Wooten was a second team All-Mountain West player as a senior, and he also did well at returning punts (16 for 242 yards).
Daimion Stafford, S, Nebraska, seventh round, pick 248
My wife being a Nebraska grad, I watch a decent amount of Husker football every fall (though not as much this year). Unfortunately, my enduring memory of Stafford is this scene where he really gives it to his coach, Bo Pelini, who in Stafford’s defense has a habit of verbally abusing players and probably deserved it.
Still, there was production here: he had four picks and 96 tackles as a senior and earned first team All Big Ten honors. DraftNasty didn’t rate Stafford among its top 30 safeties, though ESPN had him at 219th on its board, suggesting the Titans got a bit of value there. Stafford runs a 4.5 40, a great time for a 219-pound man.
The Titans really, really helped their offense where it counted through the Draft and free agency, and should be pretty good on that side of the ball next year, assuming Jake Locker develops. Even if injuries strike, the Titans now have depth on that side of the ball. The other variable, of course, is Chris Johnson, and if he doesn’t have a Pro Bowl-caliber year this time, we’ll know it’s him and not on his linemen
Defensively, there are still some holes, especially in the pass-rush department. But if Edwards surprises and Derrick Morgan develops. there’s some hope there, too. The key may be at linebacker, where Gooden and last year’s pick, Zach Brown, have a chance to make a difference.
None of us will really know how this turns out until four years from now, but the thing with the Titans through the years is that you can almost unfailingly tell with a great degree of accuracy when they’ve done something really dumb on draft day. This year, that’s not the case; I’d grade the draft about a B-plus, with the cost of obtaining Hunter a small strike against the effort.