Above is one of the newest—and most controversial—members of the Tennessee Titans. Taylor Lewan was taken with the No. 11 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Many fans expressed resentment over the fact that other more desirable players were available. SEC fans are well-versed on Johnny Manziel and the entertainment factor that he’d bring to a franchise that lacks star power. Other players may have had a better chance to become more significant contributors in 2014. Some fans can’t ignore character allegations that paint him as “the next Richie Incognito,” maybe even with less respect toward females.
Set aside the emotions. This pick will pay dividends throughout the remainder of this decade and well into the 2020s. Here are 11 reasons for why it makes sense to use the No. 11 pick on a offensive lineman, the second consecutive season that the team has used its first-rounder on the line.
Best Player Available
The Titans drafted the top pass-blocking prospect of the entire draft. His 2013 senior resume included zero sacks allowed. That’s not a bad thing when Tennessee will see J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney for the next decade.
A great talent is a great talent. You don’t pass on great talent just because of a perception that it doesn’t fill a need before 2015. The San Francisco 49ers have gone to three consecutive conference championships, one leading to a Super Bowl appearance. They practically draft players with the idea of red-shirting them during their rookie seasons (e.g. Cornellius ‘Tank Carradine, Marcus Lattimore). The 49ers still win games.
Position of Importance
Far more Round 1 picks are spent on left tackles than any other offensive line position. For good reason. Left tackles are left alone with some of the NFL’s more established pass-rushers. A dependable left tackle prevents an offense from having to overuse a tight end or running back in pass protection. It gives the quarterback a peace of mind to perform his duties without having to worry about 270-pound defensive ends mauling him within seconds.
Consider the two primary quarterbacks: Jake Locker (injury history) and Zach Mettenberger (immobile quarterback with injury history). These men can’t afford to stand behind an offensive line with a less-than-stellar left tackle. Keep them upright and allow them to make plays.
Position of Need…No Later than 2015
Everybody loves Michael Roos. Roos has been a fixture at bookend since the 2005-06 NFL season. During that span, the 31-year-old Roos has started 143 of a possible 144 regular-season games. His only missed start came in 2012. Following the post-Steve McNair era, the Titans have never been able to rely on their quarterback play. It has nothing to do with left tackle.
The reality that many don’t want to realize: Roos’ time is nearing its end. His body has sustained a lot of wear and tear. Look at how quickly David Stewart regressed over the last couple of seasons. Roos and Stewart are about the same age. Roos will turn 32 in October. After this season, Roos will become a free agent.
Nobody knows how the 2015 left tackle class will turn out or whether the Titans will have a high enough pick to acquire an elite prospect. Why not take the opportunity to address the matter at No. 11? If Lewan is the best player on their board, it makes sense.
Protects against Injury (Depth)
This isn’t Madden NFL Football where teams can turn injuries off; an injury at a key position such as left tackle can have damning consequences on offensive efficiency and overall productiveness. Michael Roos gets injured and we’re talking about Michael Oher or Byron Stingily protecting Jake Locker or Zach Mettenberger’s blindsides. Then we’re talking about another “flukish” quarterback injury.
Protects against Continued Michael Oher Incompetence
Some experts (e.g. Pete Prisco) rejected this pick because the team had already signed Michael Oher. Oher will anchor the right side of the offensive line. He’s coming off a forgettable 2013-14 season when Pro Football Focus ranked him among the NFL’s worst offensive tackles. Oher was ineffective in both run and pass protection.
What if those struggles continue? Now the Titans have a great backup plan. At the least, the additional competition will force Oher to earn his starting spot. Stingily probably wasn’t posing much of a threat to someone who just got paid a guaranteed $9.5 million.
There’s nothing wrong with using the No. 11 pick on a future Pro Bowl-caliber talent. Many mock-draft experts projected Lewan to the Atlanta Falcons (No. 6). Lewan very well may have gone top five in a 2013 NFL Draft class that included offensive linemen as six of the first 11 picks.
No Guaranteed Week 1 Starters
Some fans wouldn’t have been satisfied without a surefire Week 1 starter. Let’s consider the top prospects available at No. 11: Kyle Fuller. Darqueze Dennard. C.J. Mosley. Ryan Shazier. Teddy Bridgewater. Johnny Manziel. Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix. Calvin Pryor. Any available wide receiver. Aaron Donald.
None of those players are guaranteed Week 1 rookie starters. Maybe they are…but heck, maybe Lewan is too. Minus the quarterbacks, they’d all get spot playing time. Yet again, Lewan could get some spot snaps.
Let’s revisit Roos becoming a free agent in 2015. Adding Lewan not only gives them a quality replacement but a much more affordable one for at least the next three to four seasons. The Titans can use that extra cap space toward free agents or extensions with Jurrell Casey, Derrick Morgan, etc.
Experience vs Jadeveon Clowney
Lewan and Clowney faced off against each other in a Jan. 2013 Bowl Game (LINK). This was the monster season that earned Clowney No. 1 overall credentials. For the most part, Lewan held his own. He didn’t allow a sack. There was what appeared like a miscommunication between him and the offensive guard on the play where Clowney blew up the ball-carrier.
Worried about a Clowney-Watt tandem? Then enjoy having one of the top pass-blocking offensive lineman prospects. The Titans have done a superb job repairing an offensive line that has played parts in Locker’s injuries and Chris Johnson‘s ineptness.
Job Security of Ken Whisenhunt
Most fans aren’t programmed to look beyond 2014-15 season. Their whole draft view is based on how well a rookie will perform during his first season. How much playing time will he see. Making it harder to swallow is that it’s an offensive lineman and the character allegations.
Unrealistic expectations for a new coaching staff. It’s safe to assume that the Ken Whisenhunt regime will get at least three years to help this franchise take a leap out of mediocrity. They have enough job security to focus on drafting the best player. Nashville needs a long-term winner, not a half-season wonder like the 2013 Kansas City Chiefs.
Innocent Until Prove Guilty
Any player with character concerns will scare a fan base who has witnessed a decade of first-round picks that include Adam ‘Pac-Man’ Jones, Vince Young, and Kenny Britt (speaking of Britt, anyone hear about his alleged sex video? NSFW…).
General manager Ruston Webster insists that he’s unconcerned with allegations that have haunted Lewan’s past. Among those allegations: one count of aggravated assault and two counts of assault or assault and battery in a Dec. 1, 2013 incident where he allegedly punched someone in a fight. Lewan claims he was breaking it up (LINK). In another incident, Lewan was alleged as threatening to rape a female student if she went public on sexual assault accusations against former Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons (LINK).
Lewan hasn’t been convicted of anything. The latter incident is basically him saying something stupid five years ago. I’m not condemning someone for ALLEGEDLY saying something stupid five years ago—when he was 17 (LINK). If I had to condemn every 17-year-old for saying something stupid…you get my point.
Just because Lewan allegedly said something stupid in 2009 doesn’t mean he has to work at The Krusty Krab (minimum-wage job) until he’s proven innocent. Dude has rights. Just because people want to assume the worst in everyone and every incident, that doesn’t mean that it’s automatically true. Let the court process play itself out.
Feel free to welcome Taylor Lewan to the Tennessee Titans via Twitter (@TaylorLewan77).