Defensive Line might very well be where the Titans see the biggest drop off from the production of last year’s starters. Pro Bowl DE Kyle Vanden Bosch fought injuries much of last year, and didn’t play every game in a season for the first time since his rookie campaign in 2001. His counterpart on the opposite end of the line, Jevon Kearse, played above expectations in his first season with the Titans since 2003. With that said, Kearse’s last few lackluster seasons in Philadelphia made any consistent production a huge improvement, and Kearse has a lot of wear and tear (plus an injury history) for a 32 year old speed rusher. While both are slated to be starters next year, the loss of both Antwan Odom and Travis LaBoy to free agency last off-season, continues to leave the Titans with a lack of depth at the position, and unfortunately some decline is almost certain.
While the Titans lost a certain $100 million man in the off-season, the DT position might be in better shape than DE. Tony Brown had his most productive year last season, starting all 16 games next to the recently departed Albert Haynesworth. Brown can get to the quarterback well for a DT, and is very effective when he doesn’t make some silly mental mistakes. Jason Jones played extremely well as a rookie last season, and might soon be a star in the league. Tennessee also picked up Jovan Haye (68 tackles, 6 sacks in 2007)in the off-season, and he’s bound to get his fair share of playing time in the coarse of the season.
There’s not any doubt that Tennessee will address at least one of these areas (probably both) in this weekend’s draft. Here’s a look at the players who they’ll take a long hard look at when they pick with #30 if they’re still available.
*BJ Raji, Brian Orakpo and Aaron Maybin have been omitted from this list because, simply put, there’s not a chance in hell they’re still around when the Titans pick*
DE Everette Brown, Florida State – Brown is a pure pass rusher, who recorded 13.5 sacks last season for the Seminoles. Brown is capable of exploding off of the line and is excellent at timing the snap. The biggest knock on Brown is that he’s pretty weak at defending the run at the line, though he has the speed to make some tackles from behind. Brown could potentially play either DE or OLB in a 3-4 defense, but more than likely he projects as an end, regardless of the scheme.
DE Tyson Jackson, LSU – Out of the numerous “3-4″ defensive ends projected early in the draft, Jackson is the only interior DE. Jackson is a big dude who stops the run better than any other end in the draft. The trade-off, though, is that he’s not a great pass rusher, and probably won’t ever have the speed to be a huge sack threat in the NFL, even though he’s got the strength to overpower some offensive tackles.
DE Robert Ayers, Tennessee - Ayers is a hard player to get a good read on, seeing that last year was his only year consistently starting (for a few reasons). Ayers has had some trouble with coaches and the law, but whoever takes him early in this draft is assuming that those issues are behind him. On the field, Ayers has few weaknesses. He plays the run and the pass equally well (both above average), and is a very good athlete for someone his size (6’3″, 272 lbs). His speed isn’t great, but his mix of quickness and strength will tend to make up for that deficiency.
DT Peria Jerry, Ole Miss – Jerry is the second ranked DT in this year’s draft and he’s got a great skill set to go with an awesome name. Jerry is a massive run stopper, who also gets to the quarterback extremely well for a big man up the middle. Peria’s upper body strength is a plus, allowing him to effectively shed blocks in both passing and running situations, and he has the quickness to exploit the space created. Conversely, his lack of lower body strength is a concern, as is his conditioning overall. Jerry has also had a history of injury problems, though he did stay pretty healthy his final two years in school. If Jerry can stay in shape and avoid the injury bug he should be a huge presence in someone’s lineup for years to come.
DT Evander Hood, Missouri - Hood is another solid all around tackle and, like Jerry, he’s regarded as a “character” guy. Hood doesn’t necessarily stand out as being the best at any facet of the position, but is above average at playing the run and the pass, and is a very good complete DT. Hood doesn’t have the strongest base in the world for a DT, and doesn’t play low enough to the ground, but he always gives max effort and doesn’t give up on plays. There’s probably a good chance that Hood falls to the second round. If that’s the case, I think some team will be very happy with their second round pick.
All of these guys, with the possible exceptions of Hood and Ayers, are almost certain to go in the first round. If Hood and/or Ayers go in the first as well, I don’t think anyone would be very surprised at all. Either way, I’d be amazed if Tennessee has more than one shot at any of these players. As is the case with every draft, it will be intriguing to see who goes where, and who will be left on Tennessee’s board when they finally get their chance to pick . I have the feeling that we might see some surprises in the first round of the draft, and that Tennessee will have their choice of some picks that none of us think will last that long (regardless of position). B.J. Raji anyone? Just kidding.
Would you be happy with any of these linemen, or would you view Tennessee drafting a DT or DE as being another example of the Titans being the same unimaginable franchise? Do you think any of these guys would be an especially good fit for Tennessee? If you think the Titans should get D line help would you rather see them pick a Tackle or an End?
Tags: Aaron Maybin Albert Haynesworth Antwan Odom B.J. Raji Brian Orakpo Evander Hood Everette Brown Florida State Jason Jones Jevon Kearse Jovan Haye Kyle Vanden Bosch LSU Missouri Ole Miss Peria Jerry Philadelphia Eagles Rober Ayers Tennessee Tennessee Titans Tony Brown Travis LaBoy Tyson Jackson