Watching the Titans pick in the first round has been an exercise in frustration as much as anything within the last decade.
Obviously, the Titans hit it big with Chris Johnson in 2008, but it’s been a mixed bag, otherwise. First-rounders Kenny Britt and Michael Griffin symbolize the Titans’ up-and-down performance in the first round in many ways: Britt’s been very good when he’s healthy and staying out of trouble, and Griffin, though the last few seasons haven’t been so good, did make Pro Bowls in 2008 and ’10.
Of course, there were all those first-round train-wrecks. Pacman Jones (third) and Vince Young (sixth) were busts for where they were picked, and then there was Andre Woolfolk (2003), a later first-round pick who delivered about fifth-round value at his first-round selection.
It’s not the worst first-round track record around; hey, we always have the Raiders to kick around, right? But in the last decade, the Titans have more or less become a mediocre NFL franchise – the team is exactly two games over .500 in that span, with just a lone playoff win back in ’03.
I guess it shouldn’t be surprising, because “mediocre” pretty well sums up the Titans’ first-round performance during that time.
Where the Titans have gone wrong is in assigning too much weight to upside, and not nearly enough to downside. Jones had all kinds of ability, but obvious character issues. Young had questions about his maturity and intelligence. Woolkfolk had just started to transition from receiver to cornerback, and as the Titans found out, the NFL’s not a great place to make that switch.
Which brings me to last night’s draft, where the Titans picked 10th. There were some pretty good options available, including Alabama’s D.J. Fluker and Chance Warmack, Florida’s Sharrif Floyd and Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson, just to name some Southeastern Conference guys available there. The Titans, as you now know, took Warmack.
It’s not often that offensive guards are taken that early in the draft, and that’s a potential downside. Warmack also didn’t perform particularly well in some elements at the NFL Combine. His height (6-foot-2) isn’t his biggest asset, and some worry about his weight (320 lbs.) being an issue.
But that’s not a lot not to like. Combine numbers have proven time and time again to be overrated, and you don’t need your guards to be skyscrapers, either.
And on the other hand, boy, is there ever a lot to like here.
The Titans have often eschewed productivity for workout numbers. This time, they didn’t, and they got rewarded by a guy that’s incredibly productive. He was probably the best offensive lineman on what might have been the best offensive line in college football history. He’s athletic enough, he’s got great balance, he’s been called a “road-grater,” which is a good thing to have on a team that still employs Johnson.
Not convinced? Here’s a good assessment by TideSports.com’s Chase Goodbread, a respected writer who saw Warmack’s whole career at Alabama.
“Physically, Warmack was born to run block. He has incredible power at the point of attack, and a low center of gravity to get leverage underneath his targets. He does a good job pulling and blocking in space, and has no injury history to speak of,” Warmack said.
If that’s not enough, his coach, Nick Saban, said Warmack has a chance to play a dozen years or more. Other respected people I know who saw Warmack play extensively use words like “Hall of Famer,” when they talk about his future.
Best of all, it’s part of a bigger effort to address what really ailed the Titans’ offense last year: interior line play. Now that Tennessee has both Warmack and free agent signee Andy Levitre, its guards should be a strength next year. Not only will there be more holes up the middle for Johnson, but it should help protect Jake Locker better also.
The signing of running back Shonn Greene should take some of the load off Johnson. If the Titans can keep Locker and Britt health, and develop last year’s first-rounder Kendall Wright – who had a respectable rookie season – there’s reason to believe the team could sport a good offense this fall.
Regardless of Warmack’s immediate impact, I love the pick long-term. It’s nice to hear phrases like “Hall of Fame” associated with Titans’ draft picks, rather than the “What?” that’s so often accompanied them in recent years.