The last time the Titans took a linebacker in the first round was in 2000 with the selection of Keith Bulluck. I’d say that pick turned out pretty well. He also happened to be the 30th pick in that draft. Since then, the Titans haven’t had to worry too much about at the position. Bulluck has held that unit down for going on almost a decade now and the cast of characters put around him during that time, while solid, wasn’t a list of future Hall of Famers. As good as Bulluck has been on the field and in the locker room, it’s time for Titans fans to come to grips with the fact that Bulluck is now 32, and his contract will be up after next season. Most fans hope that Bulluck and the Titans can come to some sort of reasonable agreement where he finishes his career here, but no one is holding their breath on this one. The bottom line is that it’s time for the Titans to start looking for a linebacker to take over when the day comes that #53 isn’t the face of this defense anymore, and this draft may be the best place to find that person.
Aaron Curry, Wake Forest – Best linebacker in the draft, hands down. Probably the best all-around player too. He’ll probably be off the board in the first five picks.
Brian Cushing, Ray Maualga and Clay Matthews, USC – These three were not only teammates for the Trojans, they are next three linebackers on most expert’s boards. They also sport some of the most “radical” hair you’ll ever see in one linebacking corps. That beach shit ain’t gonna fly here though boys, so let’s get a cut. There is a lot to like about all of them, and they could go in any order as they all possess impressive skill sets. Each plays both the run and pass well and their instincts are second to none. Cushing probably provides the most versatility in the run/pass game, and projects as a guy who could play in either a 4-3 or a 3-4. Matthews watched his stock grow because of impressive displays in the Senior Bowl and the combine. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s got pretty good genes: his father, Clay, and uncle, Bruce (yes, Oilers/Titans Hall of Famer), played a total of 574 games in the NFL. Maualga is the real wild card of the bunch. He isn’t the most disciplined at times, but he makes up for that with his aggressive mentality. I think the Titans would welcome any of these guys and chances are that one of them may be available at number 30.
James Laurinaitis, Ohio State – Laurinaitis was considered a top-of-the-first round selection after his junior year at Ohio State, but his decision to return for his senior season, while a noble one, may have cost him millions. It wasn’t his production, as he was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in both 2007 and 2008. It was more the time that many teams had to scout him and notice his flaws. He will probably drop out of the first round, but would be a great value any later than that.
Paul Kruger, Utah – There is a lot to like about Paul Kruger. For starters, he’s an absolute beast (6’4″, 263). He’s the biggest linebacker in this class. For a big dude though, he controls his body very well and was incredibly effective against the run and the pass. He was even used at defensive end his senior season. The biggest concern with him is that his production came in the Mountain West, a non-BCS conference. The Titans could use help at both DE and LB, so Kruger could be on their radar if they don’t select a LB with their first pick.
Larry English, Norther Illinois & Conor Barwin, Cinncinati – Used primarily at DE’s in college (they’re both massive as well), many project English and Barwin to be moved to outside linebacker in the NFL. There is always a question as to whether a guy can make that positional transition (say that five times fast) and there certainly will be some speed bumps in the learning process. If either is able to do it successfully though, they could provide nice middle round value.
There are a few other names of interest that the Titans may have their eye on like Clint Sintim (Virginia), Jasper Brinkley (South Carolina), Tyrone McKenzie (South Florida), and Marcus Freeman (Ohio State) to name a few. They are all projected as mid-round picks, and there could be some decent value found in this bunch. If one of the USC LB’s were to make it to the Titans at 30, that might be the pick. Either way, the Titans will most likely look to address this position in the top half of the draft.
Is LB the biggest need for the Titans in the draft? How do you all feel about them taking one in the first round? Is their one of the USC guys in particular that you’d prefer?