As draft weekend approaches, the Tennessee Titans enter without any glaring needs when it comes to their starting lineup.
That’s the good news for the Titans. It will allow them to better adhere to their draft strategy of selecting the “best player available” on their draft board rather than drafting for needs at a particular position.
But just because the Titans don’t have immediate needs among their first 22 or so on offense and defense, doesn’t mean there aren’t some holes to fill on both sides of the football. Over the next couple of days, we’ll take a look at the Titans’ want list heading into this draft, beginning with the offense.
Of course, no Titans’ off-season would be complete without much debate over the team’s deficiencies at the wide receiver position. Since the team came here from Houston in 1997, no other position has been scrutinized more closely in draft picks and free agency than the receiver spot.
And it’s not since ’97 that the team drafted its last bona fide pass catcher — Derrick Mason, a fan favorite and a clutch receiver. So, it is not surprising that the Titans enter the 2009 draft mostly back at square one in looking for help at the receiver position, just as they were in 2001 and 2005.
Justin Gage, who resurrected his career after coming over from Chicago in 2007, and newly signed Nate Washington are the starters. But behind them, there is little the Titans can bank on. Recent draft picks Paul Williams, Chris Davis and Lavelle Hawkins have yet to show they are up to the task of being the No. 3 receiver in the offense or of stepping into a starting role should Gage or Washington go down.
The Titans lost out on landing veteran Torry Holt when he agreed to a three-year deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars on Monday — a deal worth a reported $20 million. So, it is back to the draft board for the Titans — needing to add at least one and likely two receivers this weekend to beef up the depth chart.
Tennessee has not used a first-round pick on a wideout since Kevin Dyson in 1998 and last spent a second-rounder on one in 2003 with Tyrone Calico. But the strategy of unearthing a middle-round diamond has not worked, meaning the Titans might have to use a first-day pick on a receiver.
The question could be “when” to do it. In round one, highly touted Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin will be long gone by the Titans’ pick at No. 30. Beyond them, it is a mix-and-match of what a team might want as it looks for a receiver.
A big, speedy type like Maryland’s Darrius Heyward-Bey is a possibility, but his production was spotty in college. Florida’s Percy Harvin has explosive playmaking ability, but he may have off-field issues and there is the question of whether he adjusts to the pro game.
North Carolina’s Hakeem Nicks makes highlight reel catches, but has had some weight issues and is not the speed threat offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger would prefer. Kenny Britt of Rutgers appears polished, but again, whispers of discipline issues have been floating around him.
Beyond round one, the Titans could perhaps find a better value at the receiver spot. There also would be less immediate expectations for a player taken after the first round.
The Titans have had the likes of Mohamed Massaquoi of Georgia, a late riser in some eyes, Mississippi speedster Mike Wallace and Southern Cal’s Patrick Turner, a local product, in for visits. They also hosted LSU’s Demetrius Byrd, but his situation may be on hold pending his healing from a weekend automobile accident.
Unlike the receiver position, the Titans have struck gold over the years at the offensive line spot. Again, Tennessee has no glaring openings for a starter at any of the five positions, but does need another tackle to replace backup Daniel Loper, who signed with Detroit.
The Titans’ standard procedure regarding o-line draft picks is to simply let rookies watch, learn and develop in practice, readying them for down-the-line. Currently, Leroy Harris is atop the list of backups at both center and guard, and the Titans will hope that Mike Otto can be their guard/tackle backup.
But that leaves them needing one pick this year, perhaps a late-rounder, to groom for 2010 and beyond.
This year’s draft is loaded with prospects at the tight end position, and though it is not an immediate need for the Titans, the thought of adding one somewhere in their 10 draft picks is not out of the realm of possibility.
Alge Crumpler is a free agent after the season, and getting a deal done with franchised tight end Bo Scaife is not a certainty at this point, meaning the cupboard could potentially be thin a year from now.
The Titans would appear to be set with Chris Johnson as the starter and LenDale White as his caddy.
They also have what amounts to an extra draft pick in Rafael Little, a 2008 undrafted free agent because of a knee injury. Little has worked his way back and appears at least ready to challenge Chris Henry for the third running back spot. Little can also play special teams, which could affect Quinton Ganther’s status.
Drafting another running back doesn’t appear to be a Titans’ priority this year, but they have had Michigan State’s Javon Ringer and N.C. State’s Andre Brown in for visits, so a value pick is not out of the question, especially given that White can be a free agent after ’09.
Another position where Tennessee is seemingly set with Kerry Collins re-upping for two-years and $15 million is behind center.
After Collins, the Titans still have Vince Young, who could be in a make-or-break situation in ’09, unless he is willing to redo his contract to stay past this season. His cap number reportedly balloons to $14 million in 2010.
Patrick Ramsey recently came on board as the third quarterback, and is also working on a one-year deal.
The Titans did host Josh Freeman of Kansas State, the only quarterback they had in for a visit. In what is considered a shallow quarterback class, perhaps this is not the year to draft a middle round developmental QB, unless the value is simply too good to pass up.