Sep 1, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide center Barrett Jones (75) and guard Chance Warmack (65) prior to the snap against the Michigan Wolverines at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
The Tennessee Titans will have many questions to answer before the NFL Draft on April 25th, the most basic being whether to draft an offensive or defensive player. We reviewed the safety and defensive end positions in the previous draft breakdowns, as the Titans surrendered an NFL-worst 29.4 points per game. They have since addressed the safety position through free agency, signing both Bernard Pollard and George Wilson.
The Titans have also been active in signing offensive talent this offseason: G Andy Levitre, RB Shonn Greene, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, TE Delanie Walker, and C/G Rob Turner. Levitre will immediately upgrade the interior, and Turner will offer much needed depth and competition along the line.
At the start of the offseason, Titans GM Ruston Webster publically stated that the organization has no reservations about taking an offensive lineman in the 1st round. Even with the additions of Levitre and Turner, the Titans still need another guard to compete for the starting position. There are several intriguing prospects in the 2013 NFL Draft, and the Titans will consider at least one of these top five prospects:
1. Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
Normally a guard would not be considered a possible top-10 pick, but Chance Warmack is a rare talent. Warmack has paved rushing lanes for Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, and Eddie Lacy over the past three seasons at Alabama. His college tape shows a dominating force, able to manhandle SEC defensive linemen at the line of scrimmage. His combine workout was not exceptional, but Warmack is more of a football player than pure athlete.
The Titans passed on the highly-touted David DeCastro last year in favor of Kendall Wright, but they will be far less willing to pass on Warmack if he falls past Buffalo at 8th. Warmack would bring strength and leverage to a unit that struggled at the point of attack. Unless the organization feels they can find another guard in the later rounds, they will consider drafting the big mauler from Alabama.
2. Jonathan Cooper, G/C, North Carolina
Oct 27, 2012; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels wide receiver Erik Highsmith (88) with the ball as guard Jonathan Cooper (64) looks to block in the first half at Kenan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
While Warmack is widely regarded as the top guard prospect in this year’s draft, Cooper has made strides up draft boards in recent weeks. At 6’2” and 311 pounds, Cooper is roughly the same size as Warmack, but he differs in a number of ways. Cooper lacks the driving force at the point of attack, but he is much quicker and more adept at pulling than Warmack. He also has experience at center, which is versatility the Titans may covet.
Many scouts have moved Cooper above Warmack due to his versatility, so at this point it’s really more of a preference for the Titans. Both linemen could be available at 10th, but at least one will certainly be an option. If the Titans pass on one or both of these talented prospects, they will certainly be targeting the position in the 2nd or 3rd round.
3. Larry Warford, G, Kentucky
Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper are consensus 1st round draft picks, so the Titans will have to quickly decide which route to take this draft. Do they immediately bolster the offensive line in the 1st round, or do they wait and draft an impact player at another position? Warmack and Cooper offer one possible route, but Kentucky guard Larry Warford offers another.
Warford truly brings the beef at 6’3”and 332 pounds. Due to his size, many assume he’s more of a run-blocking mauler, but he has surprisingly quick feet in pass protection. In 2012, he shut down Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson, widely considered a 1st round talent, and held his own against Florida’s Sharrif Floyd, considered a top-10 pick. NFL scouts project Warford as a high 2nd round pick. So if the Titans pass on Warmack and Cooper in the 1st round, Warford offers the most value in the 2nd.
4. Barrett Jones, G/C, Alabama
Most NFL scouts project Barrett Jones as a center, but his true value lies in his versatility. Alabama head coach Nick Saban compared Jones to Hall of Famer and Titan legend Bruce Matthews, as both have played all five positions along the offensive line. While I’m not even close to comparing him to a 14-time Pro Bowler and NFL great, the high praise does warrant some attention.
Jones began his college career at guard, then moved to left tackle in 2011 after the departure of James Carpenter, a 1st round pick of the Seahawks. He then moved to center for his senior season, winning the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center. Jones won three BCS National Championships during his collegiate career, as well as several individual accolades. While he is a limited athlete, his high character, versatility, and football intelligence project him as a long-term starter in the NFL. The Titans could possibly land Jones in the 3rd round, giving them incredible flexibility along the interior for years to come.
5. Kyle Long, G, Oregon
March 14, 2013; Eugene, OR, USA; Oregon Ducks offensive lineman Ryan Clanton and offensive lineman Kyle Long go up against each other at Oregon pro day at Moshofsky Center. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports
Son of Hall of Famer Howie Long and brother to current Ram’s star Chris Long, Oregon guard Kyle Long has NFL bloodlines in spades. Kyle is still relatively new to football, having concentrated on baseball for much of his youth. He has ideal size for an offensive lineman (6’6”, 313 lbs), but also possesses rare mobility given his height.
Long’s lack of experience will undoubtedly hurt his draft stock, but NFL scouts won’t be able to ignore his rare combination of size and athleticism. He projects as a late 2nd or early 3rd round pick, with the upside of possibly moving to tackle after a few seasons. The Titans may view Long as an ideal prospect, a player who can start his career at guard then hopefully move to tackle, bearing the torch from either Roos or Stewart.
Conclusion: Contrary to standard operating procedure, the Titans have been very aggressive in free agency. Landing top target Andy Levitre, albeit at a steep price, represented a shift in the organization’s mentality. Instead of merely paying lip service to improving the run game, the Titans went out and made some moves.
TE Delanie Walker is an underrated player, never having had his chance to shine behind starter Vernon Davis in San Francisco. He is a superior blocker to Jared Cook and can also play the H-back position. RB Shonn Greene can pound the ball inside, giving the Titans more of a physical presence between the tackles. C/G Rob Turner provides much needed depth along the line, allowing for more flexibility in the draft.
Now the table is set for April 25th. Free agency has improved both sides of the ball, but there is still plenty of work to do. I strongly believe the Titans will walk away with one of these five players, hopefully solidifying a line in 2013 that sets the tone in the trenches. Either they strike early with Warmack or Cooper, or play the waiting game with several other talented prospects.
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