The Tennessee Titans weren’t horrible in 2013. They weren’t all that great, either. That “in the middle” feel has been the jist of the Titans lately, and new head coach Ken Whizenhunt will aim to eradicate it in 2014.
It’s not entirely certain how he’ll do it or how quickly Tennessee fans will see the results, but anything above mediocrity will be widely accepted. It likely starts and ends with the development or lack thereof of quarterback Jake Locker, who will enter 2014 as a lame duck after the Titans neglected to pick up his 2015 contract option.
Whether or not he can stay healthy and take his game to the next level will be the difference between another losing season or a trip to the playoffs in 2014. Then again, Tennessee might have other plans, altogether. Let’s break down the Titans’ top draft needs as we inch closer to the 2014 NFL Draft:
Offensive needs: QB, RB, OL
While it doesn’t necessarily mean the Titans will want to or have to take a quarterback in the first round, one of their main missions heading into 2014 is to find out whether Jake Locker is actually their franchise quarterback. By denying his 2015 option, the writing might already be on the wall. Tennessee still isn’t likely to spend their first rounder on a quarterback, though, so guys like A.J. McCarron, Aaron Murray and Jimmy Garoppolo should be monitored in the second and third round.
Chris Johnson is gone and Shonn Greene is a plodder, so the Titans will also have to look at improving their talent in the offensive backfield. They’ll probably seek a dynamic back with some speed and versatility, so anyone fitting the bill can’t be ruled out. Again, they won’t chase one down in round one, but they could do so anywhere from rounds 2-4. Guys like Tre Mason and Ka’Deem Carey have the athleticism they’ll be looking for. Bishop Sankey is another guy that could be in the mix.
Tennessee has worked hard to revamp their offensive line the past few years, so thankfully they don’t have a ton of holes to fill there right now. However, they could still use depth at guard and an insurance prospect at tackle behind the newly signing Michael Oher. They should look to address this later in the draft, but if Taylor Lewan slides to them in round one, I wouldn’t rule him out.
Defensive needs: CB, OLB, ILB
Defense is where the Titans figure to get things rolling in round one, where they could easily grab a stud corner, a legit presence at inside linebacker or an elite pass rusher for the outside of their 3-4 scheme. Not all of the guys they have fit the new scheme, so grabbing some more talent at outside linebacker might be a good idea.
Starting with corner, Oklahoma State burner Justin Gilbert is probably going to be the pick. The Titans let Alterraun Verner walk in free agency and Gilbert has the most upside of any corner in the draft. Whether they take him or not, they could look at another corner prospect in the next few rounds. If they opt to wait until round two, there should still be plenty of talent waiting around to avoid a terrible drop-off.
Outside linebacker will probably wait until the second or third round, although if Anthony Barr falls to them in the first round he stands a good chance at being the pick. In round two, Christian Jones, Scott Chrichton and Treny Murphy are just a few guys who could step into their pass rush rotation.
C.J. Mosley is certainly worth consideration for an inside linebacker spot, but spending their first round pick to land him seems a bit rich. If they opt to wait, they could land someone like Wisconsin’s Chris Borland in round two, while Arizona State’s Carl Bradford seems to be gaining steam and could be worth a pick in round two or three, as well. Getting a high quality inside linebacker would give Tennessee loads of flexibility to work on the ideal starters in their four-man line-backing corps.
The Titans will also need to find a kicker at some point, although drafting one isn’t a must. It should just be on the list of things to do and could be something they consider in the later rounds.