Many draft experts think the Titans will try to add a cornerback in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. That might not be the safest idea.
From 2014-2015, the Tennessee Titans won a total of five games. The roster was a disaster and upper management seemed at times to have no idea what they were doing. Last year, they nearly doubled that two-year total in just one season, winning nine games.
Unfortunately, those nine wins were not enough to earn a playoff berth. Nevertheless, the Titans greatly surpassed expectations and showed that they are no longer a pushover team.
The vast improvement came thanks to a change of identity, one that made a physical running game the central component of offensive game plans. New players like DeMarco Murray, Ben Jones, and Jack Conklin allowed the new scheme to be successful.
Perhaps the biggest reason the Titans were unable to win more than nine games in 2016 was their lack of talent in the defensive secondary. The group, led mostly by other teams’ castaways, was consistently exposed by good quarterbacks and wide receivers. The group’s ineptitude shined the brightest in a Week 16 matchup with the Jaguars.
Prior to that game, Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles had not posted a passer rating of 100 or greater all season. Against his division foe two weeks before season’s end, he looked like Joe Montana. Bortles carved up the Titans secondary from the pocket all game long, throwing for 325 yards and completing nearly 70% of his passes. He also caught a touchdown from receiver Marqise Lee.
When free agency began on Friday, Jon Robinson and his personnel staff immediately began working to improve the secondary. So far, they have signed CB Logan Ryan, S Johnathan Cyprien, and S Brynden Trawick.
Ryan is a blue-chip cornerback who does a little bit of everything, including making tackles in the running game. In the playoffs last season, along with the help of Devin McCourty, he was able to keep elite receivers Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, and Antonio Brown in check. He does everything that defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau likes his corners to do.
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Cyprien plays safety a lot like an undersized linebacker, often playing close to the line of scrimmage and making excellent plays in the running game. He has never finished a season with less than 100 combined tackles, and finished 2016 as Pro Football Focus’ highest graded run defender at any position.
Though Trawick was signed mostly for his special teams acumen, he will still provide a quality depth option to the Titans’ group of safeties. His size, understanding of the game, and ability to tackle should make him worth every penny that the Titans are paying him.
These three players will greatly improve the Titans’ secondary heading into 2017. However, the unit is still not where it needs to be. While Ryan, second year man LeShaun Sims, and Brice McCain are all capable cornerbacks, the Titans still lack a true #1 corner.
In the NFL, you don’t have to be Patrick Peterson to be a legitimate #1 cornerback. Plenty of players who don’t travel with opponents’ best receivers for entire games, like Washington’s Josh Norman and Seattle’s Richard Sherman, are still top notch cornerbacks. You do, however, need to be very athletic, blanket-like in coverage, and have the ability to consistently make plays on the football.
Plenty of cornerback options will present themselves to the Titans when they make their selections during the 2017 NFL Draft in April. Players like Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore, Washington’s Sidney Jones, and Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey have been deemed top notch prospects by scouts and media members. However, they should be extraordinarily careful to make the right choice.
Since 2011 (excluding the 2016 NFL Draft), 17 cornerbacks have been selected in the first round. When you look at the names of those corners, it becomes apparent that selecting a cornerback in the first round is a dangerous proposition.
Cornerbacks taken in the first round of the NFL Draft from the years 2011-2015 are Jimmy Smith, Patrick Peterson, Prince Amukamara, Morris Claiborne, Stephon Gilmore, Dre Kirkpatrick, Dee Milliner, D.J. Hayden, Desmond Trufant, Justin Gilbert, Jason Verrett, Darqueze Denard, Kyle Fuller, Bradley Roby, Trae Waynes, Kevin Johnson, and Marcus Peters.
Each of those 17 players was taken in the first round for the same reasons scouts say that Jones, Lattimore, and Humphrey should be first round picks. Their size, athleticism, and coverage ability made them prime candidates to be lockdown corners in the NFL. In reality, a fraction of them have seen success.
I organized the 17 corners into five categories: busts, average starters/backups, above average starters, good/quality starters, and elite players. Here are the results: (image courtesy meta-chart.com)
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Scouts raved about each of these players. But, as is the case with many positions in the draft, few succeeded while many others did not even come close to giving their teams the value of the pick they were selected with.
I am in no way saying that the Titans should not draft a cornerback in the first round. I’m simply pointing out the fact that, in recent history, cornerbacks selected in the first round don’t have a very good track record. Other than Trufant, Verrett, Roby, Peterson, and Peters, I’m not really sure if any of those corners were worth the pick their teams used on them.
The Titans undoubtedly need more help at corner. Selecting one in the first round, especially in the top five, may not be the safest way to get that help.