The Tennessee Titans believe they have found the difference-maker they so desperately coveted on offense in the person of first-round pick Chris Johnson of East Carolina.
Johnson, chosen 24th overall, was an all-purpose star at East Carolina and was selected ahead of Michigan State receiver Devin Thomas, South Florida cornerback Mike Jenkins and North Carolina defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer.
Tennessee later added to their defensive line by drafting defensive tackle Jason Jones of Eastern Michigan with their second-round pick, the 54th overall choice in the 2008 NFL Draft.
Johnson had nearly 3,000 all-purpose yards last season as a running back, receiver and as a return man. He had a 301-yard rushing game against Memphis last season and was timed at 4.24 in the 40-yard dash in the NFL Combine, the fastest time among those invited to the event.
“We’re going to plug him wherever and whenever we can, because we know he’s a playmaker,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. “He has world-class, difference making speed, which is something we need offensively. We’re very excited to place Chris in the offense.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger is excited about Johnson’s speed and versatility as well.
“I like what he can do. He gives us a home run hitter and he makes our special teams better as a returner,” Heimerdinger added. “They said we need to add speed and a big-play guy and he can do that in a couple of areas.”
Johnson also scored 24 total touchdowns between rushing, receiving and returns as a senior for the Pirates. He knew the Titans were interested early on, after meeting with them at the Combine and visiting here. He also will have former East Carolina running back Earnest Byner as his position coach.
“Talking to Jeff Fisher, he already had a plan as for what he would do for me in the offense for me to contribute,” Johnson said of his visit to Tennessee. “They told me yesterday they were afraid I might not be there at their pick at 24, and I was just glad to get the call. … Whatever they want me to do, I’ll do it.”
Of the players being strongly considered with the 24th pick, the Titans were also strongly interested in Arkansas running back Felix Jones, who went two picks earlier to the Dallas Cowboys before the Titans grabbed Johnson.
“We’ve had numerous discussions, comparing and contrasting both Felix and Chris, and we’re very delighted to have an opportunity to draft Chris. Felix is going to have a great career. I even came in this morning early and looked at both of them again,” Fisher said.
Johnson played on special teams as a kickoff returner at East Carolina, but said he can return punts, something the Titans might give him a chance to do with the impending trade of Adam “Pacman” Jones and the team’s struggles last year with out the suspended cornerback and return man.
Jones, 6-5, 270, had 104 career tackles and has recorded 30.5 career tackles-for-loss and 10.5 career sacks.
The Titans will likely give Jones a chance at defensive end, where the team lost Antwan Odom and Travis LaBoy in free agency. Tennessee signed Jevon Kearse in the off-season, but was looking for another end to pair with him.
Jones has plenty of versatility, however, and the Titans could also give him a look at defensive tackle as well.
“That’s up to the Tennessee Titans. I’m a very versatile defender. In college, I played both, but mostly inside,” Jones said.
He is expected to start out as an and could eventually make the switch to full-time tackle down the line.
“He can eventually move down inside, and he’s an athlete and he’s smart.” Titans coach Fisher said. “He weighs much more than Antwan did. He weighs in the high 270s, low 280s and could weigh more than that by the time camp starts.”
Jones actually began his college career as a tight end. His only football offer was to Eastern Michigan, in part because he was also a basketball standout in high school.
Even after making the switch to defense his sophomore year of college, the Titans believe Jones is advanced enough at the position to earn a job in their rotation as early as this season.
“Good defensive linemen, those with height, weight and speed characteristics, but that can also play and do the things we’re looking for, are hard to find,” Fisher said. “We watched Jason very closely, … and we got in this situation where this was the right guy at the right time. As it relates to him, he’s going to be able come in and play right away. It’s not going to be a developmental thing.”
Still, Jones knows he will have some work to do with defensive line coach Jim Washburn as he makes the transition from the Mid-American Conference to the NFL.
“I’m a very raw person right now, but I feel with his help and my athletic ability, we can make things happen,” Jones said.
Jones made a pre-draft visit to Baptist Sports Park, where he met Kyle Vanden Bosch. He looks forward to playing on the same line as Vanden Bosch, Kearse and Albert Haynesworth.
“I’m going to come in here and there are veterans I can learn from. They’re hard workers, especially Vanden Bosch,” Jones said.