For months now, experts have been claiming that the Tennessee Titans ’ most pressing need is a pass-rusher. Linebackers appear on almost every mock draft you’ll read, and if not, it’s likely the cornerback is the projected pick.
However, this regime isn’t always tied to a certain position. Look at 2012, when Kendall Wright was selected in Round 1. Just last year, the Titans traded up to grab Justin Hunter. Linebacker is not a sure bet.
So, in the spirit of unpredictability, let’s examine some of the outside-of-the-box Round 1 possibilities for Tennessee:
Eric Ebron, TE North Carolina
Though there is talk of the “Vernon Davis incarnate” going in the top 10, most experts suggest he’d certainly be available for the Titans to select in Round 1. The question is: would they draft him?
Eric Ebron certainly presents an opportunity for the Titans to cement a potentially lethal passing attack, but Delanie Walker is already in place at tight end. Not only is he firmly planted as the starter, he’s played well and is starting to emerge as a leader on the offensive side of the ball.
But wouldn’t it be nice for Jake Locker to have the prototypical “receiving tight end” that is becoming commonplace in today’s NFL? If the top pass-rush prospects are gone and the Titans can’t trade out of the pick, why not take a shot at this year’s clear top tight end?
Ra’Shede Hageman, DT Minnesota
The Titans are going to have to retool the defensive front seven before the 2014 season starts. There’s no question about that. But, what some aren’t realizing is that the first-round pick doesn’t have to be a linebacker.
Standing at 6-foot-6 and weighing 310 pounds, Ra’Shede Hageman could be the most athletic defensive tackle in the draft. He has experience at several positions along the defensive line. Add that with his apparent football intelligence, and you slide him into a rotation that will include maulers Jurrell Casey and Ropati Pitoitua.
Of course, when you’re talking about fringe first-rounders, there’s an element of “boom or bust” in place. He’s not a known run-stuffing, space-eating nose tackle typical of the 3-4, so he’ll likely be playing defensive end until he adjusts to the speed of the NFL. Still, the upside on this kid is astounding, and if you surround him with the appropriate coaching, the sky’s the limit.
Mike Evans, WR Texas A&M
While wide receiver isn’t presently on the radar for the Titans’ first-round draft choice, drafting Evans wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. At this point, it’s pretty safe to assume we know what we’re getting with Kendall Wright & Nate Washington. Justin Hunter improved greatly over the course of the season, but still shows signs of being a raw, unfinished product.
So, why not add another first-round talent to the receiving corps?
Mike Evans has a big NFL-ready body, excellent hands, and tremendous body control. Basically, he displays a lot of the technique needed to succeed on Sundays. This situation reminds me of 2012 when Kendall Wright was drafted not necessarily out of need, but because he was the best player available. That turned out pretty well.
Evans looks and plays a lot like Vincent Jackson. So Titans fans: would you have turned down Vincent Jackson in his prime? I wouldn’t. The former Aggie would be a tremendous asset in Nashville.
Khalil Mack, DE/LB Buffalo
I know this seems absurd, but what if Khalil Mack slides to the 7-10 range? Let’s say Jadeveon Clowney & Sammy Watkins go in the top 5 as expected. St. Louis & Atlanta grab Jake Matthews & Greg Robinson to solidify their offensive lines. All of the quarterback-hungry teams grab their preferred signal-callers in the first round.
The odd man out would be Khalil Mack in this scenario. Though I think this is extremely unlikely to happen, crazier things have happened before. Would the Titans consider trading up to grab the biggest piece missing from the defense?
Khalil Mack is the perfect hybrid player for the 3-4 defense, and his skills have most experts claiming he won’t slide past Jacksonville at No. 3. If Ruston Webster & Ken Whisenhunt truly believe that they are one piece away from serious Super Bowl contention, why wouldn’t they grab that piece?
The problem is the Titans are definitely not just one piece away from a Super Bowl. The gamble wouldn’t be worth it. Keep in mind, the Titans don’t have a third-round pick this season. They’d likely have to give up their second-round pick or multiple mid-late round picks in order to pull this deal off.
But hey – what if???
Johnny Manziel, QB Texas A&M
Ken Whisenhunt has openly backed Jake Locker as the starting quarterback for 2014, but what else could he really say?
If he doesn’t support Locker, he opens the organization up to a distracting and unwarranted quarterback competition. Locker seems like a mentally tough enough man, but injuries have made it so that he’s never truly been pushed by competition.
Is Whisenhunt truly behind No. 10, though? There have been rumblings about the Titans drafting a developmental quarterback in middle rounds of the draft. Speculation hase also surfaced about Tennessee trading for Tampa Bay quarterback, Mike Glennon.
But, considering a lack of desperate needs on either side of the ball, the Titans would be wise to at least examine the possibility of the heir apparent to Jake Locker. That heir could be the quarterback with the highest playmaking potential in this year’s draft: Johnny Manziel.