Drafting strategies. There’s best player available. Then there’s best player available at position of need.
With the No. 11 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Tennessee Titans used somewhat of a tweener stance: best player available at position of ‘future‘ need.
Fans waited anxiously as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell approached the podium. The previous three picks were players whom many had mock-drafted to Tennessee: cornerback Justin Gilbert, outside linebacker Anthony Barr, and tight end Eric Ebron. Fans who had dreams of a new franchise quarterback and face of the franchise envisioned either Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater competing with Jake Locker for the 2014 starting quarterback job.
The Titans drafted Taylor Lewan, offensive tackle, University of Michigan. Most analysts had Lewan competing with Jake Matthews as the No. 2 offensive tackle in this draft. This is the second consecutive draft that Tennessee had drafted an offensive lineman in Round 1. In 2013, they used the No. 10 pick on Chance Warmack, offensive guard, Alabama.
Most of the initial reactions weren’t positive. Below are some of the immediate reactions from fans and local media. These responses were some of the most well-behaved ones:
I hate this pick with every fiber of my being
— SharonaShines (@SportsbySharona) May 9, 2014
I take up for this organization all the time. And this is the pick they make???? — Ricky Merritt (@titansfan4life) May 9, 2014
The Titans just drafted a back-up tackle over one of the most electrifying QB talents in college history. I’m still in shock. — Clay Travis (@ClayTravisBGID) May 9, 2014
Cleveland has already gotten more national attention than Tennessee will get all year
— Dalton Glenn (@DaltonGlenn22) May 9, 2014
How does Lewan fit with the Ken Whisenhunt-coached Titans? The Titans already have left tackle Michael Roos, who’ll turn 32 next October. They just gave approximately $9.5 million guaranteed to Michael Oher, who’s expected to start at right tackle.
There lies the problem for most fans: Lewan may not offer enough of a Year 1 contribution. Before Oher was signed, some fans who were trashing this pick were praising the idea of adding Lewan as Stewart’s short-term replacement and Roo’s long-term replacement. With Roos and Oher, Lewan may have to sit a year before he gets his opportunity.
Lewan very well may end up as the best offensive tackle in this draft class. He has a nastiness that will remind Titans fans of a younger David Stewart. He’s a more polished pass-blocker than the projected No. 1 offensive tackle, Greg Robinson. Lewan should develop into a left tackle who protects his quarterback from Jadeveon Clowney, J.J. Watt, or any other young AFC South pass-rusher.
Fans feared the idea of Clowney wreaking havoc against Tennessee. Now fans express anger at the organization for having the foresight to deal with this long-term issue. What better way to contain an elite defensive end prospect than with an elite offensive tackle prospect?
The Texans have a quarterback killer for the next decade? Now the Titans have a quarterback protector for the next decade. At age 32 in October, Roos doesn’t have much time left. Look at how much Stewart fell off these last couple of seasons. While Roos hasn’t dropped off as quickly, his play has also regressed from his 20s. Just watch him against the Kansas City Chiefs. Roos isn’t the immovable object that he once was. Aging won’t improve that.
Drafting Lewan doesn’t give this team what I considered as their No. 1 need in my draft needs assessment: playmakers. That’s okay. They’ll have Rounds 2-7 to correct that issue. Lewan gives them long-term security toward allowing those playmakers to make a difference. Jake Locker or no Jake Locker, injury-prone quarterback or no injury-prone quarterback, the Titans can’t have a bad left tackle in this division. Lewan surrendered zero sacks during the 2013 college football season.
It’s an unsexy pick. That doesn’t mean that the Titans drafted a bad player. It’s a great fit. People may hate this move now but it’ll pay off in the long haul.