As coach Jeff Fisher said about the Tennessee Titans draft class of 2008, “They haven’t even been fitted for helmets yet.”
But that hasn’t stopped the prognosticators, analysts and draft “experts” from evaluating the class.
It is still way to early to tell, but perhaps the best way to get an early look at this year’s crop of rookies is to examine the Titans’ roster and depth chart to see exactly where the seven-member class might fit into Tennessee’s plans for the coming season.
First round — Chris Johnson * Running back
Who he will compete with on the roster: Johnson, the 24th selection overall in the draft, brings an element of speed to the running back position as well as receiving and return abilities. If he pans out, he gives Tennessee a nice weapon to use in a variety of ways, and the type of back they have not had since landing in the state in 1997. Johnson and second-year man Chris Henry won’t compete directly for a roster spot, but they could battle for playing time against each other to see which one is the primary complement to starter LenDale White.
Second round — Jason Jones * Defensive end/defensive tackle
Who he will compete with on the roster: Jones is expected to step in right away and help out on the defensive end rotation, probably on first and second downs, which means that veteran Bryce Fisher and third-year man Sean Conover will be his primary early competition. If, as expected, the Titans slide Jones inside to tackle on passing downs, then Antonio Johnson and Kevin Vickerson are also on notice as well.
Third round — Craig Stevens * Tight end
Who he will compete with on the roster: With veteran Alge Crumpler and holdover Bo Scaife safe on the roster, the rookie Stevens, who is said to be a solid run-blocking tight end, will likely have to battle with Dwayne Blakley, Casey Cramer and Jamie Petrowski for his playing time early on.
Fourth round — William Hayes * Defensive end
Who he will compete with on the roster: Hayes appears to be more of a pass rushing specialist, and could be the eventual heir apparent to Jevon Kearse down the road. The Titans hope he will progress enough early on to press for some playing time, which means he will be in the mix with Fisher, Conover and second-year man Jacob Ford for a backup role at the end position.
Fourth round — Lavelle Hawkins * Wide receiver
Who he will compete with on the roster: Hawkins will have a crowded field to work through for playing time as a rookie, though he could earn a role beyond special teams if he catches on quickly. Directly in front of him on the depth chart are unproven second-year men Paul Williams and Chris Davis. Further ahead, there is second-year man Biren Ealy and a host of veterans trying to sort out their own roles under new offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger.
Fourth round — Stanford Keglar * Outside inebacker
Who he will compete with on the roster: Keglar’s first role will be on special teams, where he will be expected to complement and/or compete against fellow backup outside linebackers Josh Stamer, Jorge Cordova, Kurt Campbell and Colin Allred.
Seventh round — Cary Williams * Cornerback
Who he will compete with on the roster: Another player whose first job will be to become an ace on special teams. Williams can probably earn himself a role as the team’s sixth cornerback with special teams prowess, but it’s asking too much of him currently to nose ahead of solid veteran backups like Eric King, Reynaldo Hill or Chris Carr.