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On the Titans drafting offense in the first round

After posts on some defensive players I don’t want or wouldn’t mind the Titans selecting in the first round of this month’s NFL draft, it’s time to turn my eye to the other side of the ball.

I believe it’s very unlikely the Titans draft an offensive player in the first round. As I wrote in both those posts, I believe the Titans’ biggest need is for impact playmakers on the defensive side of the ball, and I think the Titans see at least roughly similar needs (note that this doesn’t mean I expect them to agree with the players I like and don’t like). The bigger issue is, it’s hard to find a position on offense where they could conceivably use the 20th pick. Here’s a brief rundown:

  • Quarterback: Drafted Jake Locker with the eighth overall pick last year. No chance.
  • Running back: Paying Chris Johnson $8 million a year. No chance.
  • Fullback: Nobody drafts fullbacks in the first round. No chance.
  • Tight end: While the Joel Dreessen pursuit indicates a certain level of dissatisfaction with the current Cook/Stevens/Graham trio, it’s far from a need or even serious want. No chance.
  • Offensive tackle: Roos/Stewart. No chance.

That leaves interior offensive line and wide receiver as the only positions on offense where I find it even conceivable they could use a first-round pick. I mentioned this briefly when I wrote about what new GM Ruston Webster had been saying, but he’s indicated that he only believes you should use a high pick like 20th overall on an interior offensive lineman if that’s a special player. By general consensus there’s one interior offensive lineman in this class you could rightly regard as special, namely Stanford guard David DeCastro. If he’s on the board, the Titans will probably seriously consider him, but I think he’s almost certainly gone by the time the Titans pick.

Assuming DeCastro is indeed off the board, that leaves wide receiver as the only offensive position the Titans could conceivably select. While it’s conceivable, though, I find it very unlikely. The Titans have consistently talked about their level of affection for their current wide receiver grouping. They retained Lavelle Hawkins, paying him $7.2 million over the next three years. Nate Washington had what I think everybody agrees was a nice season in 2011 and is on the books for the next couple seasons at starter money; not that he’ll assuredly be a Titan all three of those years, but (a) they’re invested in him and (b) he’s an obvious cap casualty like a guy like Jovan Haye last year or Will Witherspoon this year. Like Hawkins, Damian Williams was kind of terrible last year, but the Titans drafted him and he’s cheap for the next two seasons; he’s an okay number four wideout, which is about where he fits now.

Beyond those guys, you have of course Kenny Britt. I’ve already noted that when Britt was on the field in 2011, he was awesome. Unfortunately, for the second season in a row, that wasn’t often enough, and who knows how he’ll fare in 2012 coming off the ACL injury. When you combine that with Britt’s past off-the-field problems, the Titans are right if they’re concerned with Britt’s long-term future. Britt is not at the point, though, where you have to be concerned about the immediate future. The available evidence indicates the Titans should plan like Kenny Britt has at least a very strong chance of contributing; to do otherwise is to go chasing problems on a team that already has some. A first round pick on a wide receiver, any first round pick, would be a luxury pick, not meeting a key team need.

Even if the Titans do chose a receiver, the question is what kind of receiver do they take? The athletic freak people have fallen in love with lately has been Georgia Tech WR Stephen Hill. Like former Yellow Jacket Demaryius Thomas, Hill is an NFL X receiver. Kenny Britt is an NFL X receiver; I’m pretty sure he’s played the overwhelming majority of the snaps for his NFL career. Based on the history of NFL receivers taken in the second half of the first round, you’re not going to find somebody as good as Kenny Britt has already shown he can be. So do you play Britt out of position in a place where he won’t perform as well or do you do the same to Hill?

Baylor WR Kendall Wright is at least not an X receiver, so he’s fine playing with Britt, but he’s also not Britt insurance-the Titans would still need somebody better-suited to play the X is Britt goes out again. I don’t mean to pigeon-hole players into roles before they play in the NFL, but there’s nobody in the first-round who really fits what the Titans should be looking for to add to their receiving corps. For that reason, while there is a theoretical chance the Titans draft a receiver in the first round, it’s very hard for me to see it actually happening.

TL;DR: the Titans aren’t drafting an offensive player in the first round.