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Evaluating the top defensive linemen from a Titans perspective

There are three basic directions the Titans could choose to go with the tenth overall pick in the draft. These three directions are at an offensive guard to fill the vacant starting right guard spot, for a defensive lineman to throw into the defensive line mix, or, less likely than either of the first two in my opinion, another direction. I covered the top guards available yesterday and will cover the defensive linemen in this post before turning my attention to the other options tomorrow.

What exactly do the Titans think of their current group of defensive linemen? Do the Titans think their defensive line corps is good enough? If not, what kind of player are they looking to add? I tried puzzling my way through that when I wrote about the Ropati Pitoitua signing. When I wrote about drafting to win the AFC South, one thing that really stood out to me was how much importance I assigned to the Sammie Lee Hill signing and what a player with his size and ability meant to what I thought the Titans think about the defensive line. Hill played about 40% of the defensive snaps for the Lions last year; is that really the type of player who can be counted on to make that much of a difference by himself?

If I'm running the Titans, I'm thinking about two specific defensive line roles in the draft, a quick penetrating 3-tech defensive tackle and a defensive end who can contribute as a rookie and take over for Kamerion Wimbley as a pass-rushing starter in 2014 if the Titans make him one of the cuts they'll be making. Another type of player I would not target but think they might target would be a player who could more of a run-stopping end in a base situation who also has some pass rushing ability inside in sub packages-think what Gray wanted Jason Jones to be in 2011 or what appears in a different flavor in J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith in Houston.

With that in mind, and keeping in mind I'm not better at evaluating hand use and the finer points of technique with defensive linemen than I am with offensive linemen, let's take a look at the defensive linemen-type people who are candidates to go in the top half of the draft.


 Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah
Chance he's there at #10: 30%
Where he fits: defensive end, at least
Why the Titans might draft him: Ridiculous athleticism. Dominated the Senior Bowl. Excellent size at 6'5", 271 pounds, and plays with that kind of size. The Titans don't have enough matchup nightmares and high-impact defensive players. Ansah isn't one of those yet, but he definitely has the athletic potential to get there. Could the Titans see him as a tweener fit, with similar size to Jason Jones (6'5/276)?
Why the Titans might not draft him: As undeveloped as you'd expect from a player who's only been playing football for three years and in great need of technique work. Came to BYU as a track athlete, not clear he loves football or just plays it because he's the kind of rare athlete who's good at it. Referred to his body as a "delicate flower" when he started playing football. Has not been reported as visiting the Titans, which the first- and second-round picks in the past two drafts have (all three guards profiled yesterday have visited or been worked out by the Titans). Turns 24 in May, so not young.
Chances the Titans draft him: Slim. Probably gone already, no visit, and limited skillset likely means only a modest impact in 2013.


Cornelius "Tank" Carradine
Chance he's there at #10: 99%
Where he fits: defensive end
Why the Titans might draft him: Outstanding, at times dominant production from a weakside defensive end spot, being named the #1 juco prospect and an All-ACC performer his final season at Florida State. Great burst, especially for his size of 6'4, 276 pounds (though he may have played lighter), and a plus overall athlete, though perhaps not quite so much so as Ansah. Not just a quick player, capable of winning with power as well.
Why the Titans might not draft him: Tore his ACL in November. Lacks advanced technique, depending a lot on his athleticism for production. Torn ACL in November has limited his ability to participate in pre-draft activities. Size has not translated into functional playing strength the way it has with Ansah. Workout April 20 will be important for showing status of recovery from torn ACL in November. No reported visit with the Titans. Have I mentioned broad uncertainty with his draft stock resulting from a torn ACL in November?
Chances the Titans draft him: Very slim at #10, to the point where I only included him because some mock draft I saw from someone I don't think does completely worthless mock drafts mentioned him as a Titans pick at one point. A more realistic option if he's there at #40, though I don't expect that.

Sharrif Floyd
Chance he's there at #10: 15%
Where he fits: defensive tackle
Why the Titans might draft him: Scheme versatility, with experience starting at defensive end and defensive tackle for Florida's ridiculously talented defense, capable of being a quality day one player at 3-tech and 5-tech in particular. Explosive off the snap with good penetration skills. Young but not raw (relatively speaking). Visited the team.
Why the Titans might not draft him: Modest production, with only 4.5 sacks in his two seasons as a starter. Looks at times like a defensive end rushing from his defensive tackle spot, struggling to operate in the constrained space in the interior of the line, and he's not moving back outside at 6'3/297. Does not play with great power for a nearly 300-pound man; performance against him is one of the reasons I like Larry Warford. Not necessarily an elite player in any one area, struggling to translate explosiveness off the snap into plays.
Chances the Titans draft him: Reasonable if he's there. A candidate to go as high as the Jaguars with the second pick, though more likely to Oakland or Philadelphia. In the unlikely event he's there, I can see the Titans drafting him.

Jarvis Jones
Chance he's there at #10: 80%
Where he fits: Defensive end, maybe, or outside linebacker
Why the Titans might draft him: Outstanding production in the SEC
Why the Titans might not draft him: Initially enrolled at USC, though they medically flunked him due to spinal stenosis, which is why he ended up at Georgia. A collegiate 3-4 outside linebacker, at 6'2/245, he's an outside linebacker in the pros, most likely in the 3-4, not a defensive end, and I don't think the Titans are looking for one of those. A lot of the outstanding production came from being unblocked or being matched up with a back or other underskilled (when it comes to blocking) "skill position" player. Seems to be a love-hate prospect, and you can tell what I think from the list of reasons the Titans might draft him. No reported visit with the Titans.
Chances the Titans draft him: Very slim, unless they're doing something very different defensively from what I think they are or something very serious happens to Akeem Ayers between now and the draft.

Dion Jordan
Chance he's there at #10: 5%
Where he fits: Defensive end, possibly, but more likely outside linebacker
Why the Titans might draft him: Maybe the most fascinating player in the draft at 6'6/248 with enough athleticism to line up in the slot and cover people and rush the passer. Creative defensive coordinators will dream of what he can do, with a reasonable non-great case scenario being a player like Julian Peterson, who plays 4-3 OLB on regular downs and kicks to DE in obvious passing and sub package situations. Great athlete. Visited with the Titans.
Why the Titans might not draft him: No obvious position unless they get creative. Probably not thick enough (he played more in the 230 or under range) to be a defensive end, especially given the emphasis on sub package run defense. Did not have outstanding sack production or a lot of passes defensed in college. 
Chances the Titans draft him: Very slim. He's a candidate to go #1 and a good candidate to go #2, and the Chiefs and Jaguars will figure out how to use him after they draft him. If the Titans draft him, it'll be because they're planning on doing something interesting on defense. There are enough coaches before the Titans who do interesting things to take him.

Star Lotulelei
Chance he's there at #10: 20%
Where he fits: defensive tackle
Why the Titans might draft him: Naturally strong player who's very good against the run and stood up well while playing a completely excessive number of snaps as a defensive lineman for Utah in 2012; Morgan and Wimbley got plenty of rest compared to him. Scheme versatile, with the ability to play any interior line position, including 3-4 end. Moves well for a big player, the opposite of a big (6'2/311) stiff. Quick off the snap.
Why the Titans might not draft him: Pass moves are somewhere between embryonic and non-existent. Did not work out at the Combine due to a heart condition, though subsequent reports give him a clean bill of health. Not a penetrator despite the quickness. Not clear he gives the Titans an element they don't have necessarily. No reported visit with the Titans.
Chances the Titans draft him: Slim, though there's a shot if he's there. I've noted before he's a player I had a certain level of affection for, but the Sammie Lee Hill signing more or less fills the niche I thought he'd fill well; not saying they're the same player, at all, but I don't see the need for him.

Barkevious Mingo
Chance he's there at #10: 40%
Where he fits: pass-rushing weakside defensive end
Why the Titans might draft him: Ridiculous athlete. Insane burst off the snap. Great closing speed. Great length. Ridiculous athleticism. Physical potential to be the best speed rusher in the NFL, with the potential to be a disruptive force on the level of Jevon Kearse. Could easily be a more productive NFL than collegiate player. Visit with the team.
Why the Titans might not draft him: Only 6'4/241, he's likely to be no stouter against the run in sub package situations than Kamerion Wimbley was. Undeveloped pass rush technique who will have to develop something other than an outside move to reach that amazing potential. With similar strengths and weaknesses to Wimbley, probably does not make the 2013 Titans better. Mediocre pass rush production at LSU in 2012, though that was partly a function of his use. Could easily be overwhelmed by NFL tackles with power. Trouble translating winning off the snap to production.
Chances the Titans draft him: Moderate. I love pure pass rushing 7/9-tech ends with great potential, so I think he should be gone before #10 and would be a wonderful fit for the Lions at #5; of course I'd don't love the NFL. With Wimbley having an excellent chance of playing elsewhere in 2014, I'd love to grab Mingo with the planning of starting him in 2014. Still, it's hard for me to see the Titans drafting somebody who doesn't clearly improve them in 2013 at #10.

Sheldon Richardson
Chance he's there at #10: 60%
Where he fits: 3-tech defensive tackle
Why the Titans might draft him: Because they need a penetrating 3-tech defensive tackle, and he's the best one in the draft. Excellent athlete, very good off the snap, moves well, everything you'd want in a prototype 3-tech.
Why the Titans might not draft him: Hand use needs further development to reach his potential as a pass rusher. A penetrator, not a run-stopper; he splits double-teams but doesn't soak them up. At only 6'2/294, has just moderate size for the position and probably isn't the best player against the run. Missouri moved him around, but I see him as less valuable in places other than at 3-tech. Off the field issues; not just going to juco out of high school due to inconsistent academics, which is common in this class and not a big deal if a player is serious about being a great football player (I'm evaluating these players as potential Titans, not potential friends of mine), but a suspension for something or another his final season at Mizzou. No reported visit with the Titans.
Chances the Titans draft him: Low to moderate. The Titans probably don't see him as as much of a fit for their needs as I think he theoretically is, plus the off the field issues make me wonder if he fits the kind of person the Titans are looking for.

Bjoern Werner
Chance he's there at #10: 80%
Where he fits: Defensive end
Why the Titans might draft him: Derrick Morgan redux. Seriously. Size/weight? 6'3/266 for Morgan v. 6'3/266 for Werner. Arms: 34" v. 33 1/4". Hand: 9 3/4" v. 9 5/8". Short shuttle: 4.40 v. 4.43. 3-Cone: 7.13 v. 7.30. Vertical jump: 34" v. 31". Broad jump: 9'4" v. 9'2". Morgan has the clear edge in the 3-cone and the vertical jump, but other than that they're shockingly similar physically. Great productivity. Plays with great energy. Stout against the run, not just a pass rusher, and a player who could come in and improve the sub package run defense.
Why the Titans might not draft him: Morgan went 16th and was the third defensive end off the board; is Werner more than a middle of the first round prospect? Morgan went third because his similar but slightly superior athleticism to Werner made people (including me) question the extent to which he'd be a superior NFL pass rusher. Collegiate LDE, would the Titans have him or Morgan switch sides? Not a plus athlete. Balanced pass rusher who's not special in terms of power or speed. No reported visit with the Titans.
Chances the Titans draft him: Entirely too good for my liking. His visits haven't leaked, unless he really hasn't taken any, so it's possible the Titans have visited him; the similarities to Morgan make me think they'd be very interested in him.

Final Evaluations
Players I would be very happy with: Ziggy Ansah, Sharrif Floyd, Star Lotulelei, Barkevious Mingo
Players I think the Titans like most: Sharrif Floyd, Bjoern Werner
Player I would scream at the television if the Titans drafted: Jarvis Jones