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Titans draft preview by position: Defense

After covering what the Titans might do at each position on offense yesterday, I now turn my attention to the same exercise for the defensive side of the ball.

Before I launch into the position by position part of this post, a couple notes. First, as I noted in yesterday’s entry, this is intended as a pre-draft post with a brief, general overview of what I think of each position. The overview is intended to be fairly concise and to highlight some factors the Titans might consider relevant in looking at the positive from a draft perspective. It is not intended as anything like a comprehensive overview.

Second, the Titans currently have six picks in the draft. I try to take this at least somewhat seriously, so my cumulative probabilities of drafting each position should add up to roughly how many picks the Titans have. My first attempt at probabilities had the Titans drafting four players, which meant I had to adjust the probability at each position upwards. If my probability of drafting a particular position looks too high, well, I probably agree with you in the abstract. If my probability of drafting a particular position looks too low, well, we just disagree.

Third, the positions I’m using in this post are the new ones for the new Ray Horton defense-grouping the defensive linemen together, plus separating outside (edge) and inside (off the ball) linebackers. For the positional analyses when I get to them in August, I will further subdivide defensive linemen into defensive ends and nose tackles, but I did not think that distinction would be useful in this post.

Fourth, another reminder from yesterday: “players they might target” are players the Titans have shown interest in, with a leavening of a players I like, but not a comprehensive listing of all players at the position that may interest the Titans. Player round estimates are my very, very rough guesses and should not be relied on.

Defensive Line
Need at position: Low to high
Analysis: I’m trying very hard to correct for my biases, since this is close to about the eighth year in a row I think the Titans could and should draft a defensive tackle with a premium pick, while they keep not showing nearly as much interest as I do in upgrading the position. As I noted in filling out the roster, the Titans have a large number of players at the position after bringing in Al Woods and re-signing Antonio Johnson and Ropati Pitoitua. On the other hand, I would generally rate only one of them as an above-average starter (Jurrell Casey). I don’t see the point of a later-round pick at the position, but an early rounder would make me happy.
Draft probability: 25%
Players they might target: Ra’Shede Hageman (1st-2nd), Timmy Jernigan (2nd-3rd after reported failed drug test at Combine?)

Outside Linebacker
Need at position: Moderate
Analysis: Between Akeem Ayers, Derrick Morgan, Shaun Phillips, and Kamerion Wimbley, are any snaps available for a new player, let alone enough for a moderate need at the position? It’s certainly a legitimate question, especially considering only three outside linebackers played a meaningful number of snaps for Horton’s 2013 Browns and 2012 Cardinals teams. I think so. Ayers and Morgan are in their last season under contract, while Phillips and Wimbley are both in their 30’s. They could really use a young player and a player who could be a premium pass rusher. Given the lack of snaps, this could easily be a player who would play only situationally as a rookie and could use a little more seasoning to become a complete NFL player (read Anthony Barr?).
Draft probability: 60%
Players they might target: Anthony Barr (1st), Marcus Smith (2nd), James Gayle (4th), Shaquil Barrett (6th-7th)

Inside Linebacker
Need at position: Low to moderate
Analysis: Similar to the outlook at defensive line, in that the Titans have a number of players at the position, only one of whom (here, Wesley Woodyard) may be particularly good. I have tried to be consistent in stating my belief Horton will have no particular problems starting Woodyard and Zach Brown next to each other, assuming of course he likes Brown enough as a player. This is not a traditional Fairbanks-Bullough two-gap 3-4 like Romeo Crennel runs, so I do not think the Titans will have to start a “true” strong inside linebacker next to Woodyard (or Brown). That said, I think there is a need for a player like that, though he will likely only play situationally and getting one does not require a major investment. Personally, I want no part of C.J. Mosley anywhere close to the 11th pick.
Draft probability: 60%
Players they might target: C.J. Mosley (1st), Preston Brown (Day 3), Avery Williamson (Day 3)

Need at position: Moderate to high
Analysis: When I broke down the numbers at each position recently, I noted a need for multiple players at the position. In another recent post, I noted there is a top three (maybe even just a top two, considering Blidi Wreh-Wilson’s lack of playing time last year) and a lot of question marks and uncertainties beyond that. Given the need for three at the absolute minimum, four for comfort’s sake, or even the five it would be nice to have, this is a position ripe for upgrading. Plus, Ruston Webster has drafted a cornerback every year. Oh, yeah, and Ray Horton has had a premium-type cornerback on the previous two defenses he coordinated, which he does not have in Tennessee.
Draft probability: 90%
Players they might target: Kyle Fuller (1st), Justin Gilbert (1st-2nd), Bradley Roby (1st-2nd), a bunch of guys outside the top 50 I have not bothered to study in sufficient detail to render an informed opinion on

Need at position: Low to moderate
Analysis: With the re-signing of Bernard Pollard, the Titans are probably relatively satisfied with their top three of Pollard, Michael Griffin, and George Wilson. On the other hand, you need four, and there’s no lock fourth on the team. Plus, Wilson is older, and defensive back is normally a young man’s game. Fourth safety is also a position where the Titans could look for a player of similar overall quality but with slightly different traits. I do not expect this to be a position the Titans draft early, unless he’s a player who would play in the slot in nickel situations like Vinny Fuller used to, once upon a time.
Draft probability: 40%
Players they might target: Ha’Sean Clinton Dix (1st), Calvin Pryor (1st-2nd), Hakeem Smith (6th-7th?)

Bonus note: Considering kicker draft pick hit rates and that they are probably the most attractive landing spot for an undrafted free agent kicker, the Titans should not draft a kicker.