Last year, the Tennessee Titans were already locked in on Jake Locker heading into the draft.
Picking eighth, the Titans knew they would almost certainly have their choice of any quarterback not named Cam Newton. And while many prognosticators had Blaine Gabbert, who went to Jacksonville at No. 10, projected as the next quarterback off the board, any talk of the Titans and Gabbert was purely smokescreen and bluffing. Locker was their man all along.
This year, with the 20th pick, the Titans won't be able to zero in on their target. There are simply too many variables with the 19 teams ahead of them.
“A lot of it is just going to depend on who's there at 20. We're a little bit at everyone else's mercy,” Titans general manager Ruston Webster said.
That said, Tennessee is still expected to lean toward defense next week in the draft. Cornerback and defensive end are particular needs still, just in terms of numbers on the roster, not to mention the need for impact players at both spots.
Two players who have been pointed toward the Titans in a number of mock drafts are Southeastern Conference cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore of South Carolina and Dre' Kirkpatrick of Alabama. If one or both of them are still available when the Titans pick, Tennessee would surely be tempted to add a potential difference-maker at a need position. The Titans' ranks at cornerback have been thinned by the free agent defection of Cortland Finnegan.
“Both guys are very talented corners and they've got good size,” Webster said. “They're both over six-feet tall and they can cover. Guys like that are rare and hard to find.”
But it doesn't necessarily mean the Titans are locked into a cornerback in round one.
Tennessee also has deficiencies at defensive end, even with the signing of Kamerion Wimbley and the re-signing of Dave Ball.
“You can never have enough pass rushers, and if we can find someone on the defensive front who can also play well against the run, then we'd have to take a hard look at that,” Webster said.
In terms of counting draft depth, Webster said cornerback might be a little deeper group than end.
“There's probably a little bit more depth at cornerback in this draft, but there is a good group of defensive ends in the middle rounds,” Webster indicated.
Certainly seeing a player like South Carolina's Melvin Ingram or Illinois' Whitney Mercilus still available at No. 20 would be difficult to pass up, especially if a quality cornerback could still be obtained later on in the draft, the same way Finnegan, Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner were in years past. Casey Hayward or Chase Minnifield should be around after round one.
Tennessee also will address the linebacker spot in the draft. Webster reiterated what he said earlier in the off-season that the front seven on defense will be areas to be addressed.
“We'll look at every area of the defense, but the front seven is an area where we will try to get better,” Webster said.
While the focus of this draft will be on defense, the offense won't be ignored.
The Titans have had a number of wide receivers who should have first or second-round grades in among their pre-draft visitors. That includes Baylor's Kendall Wright, Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill, Notre Dame's Michael Floyd and South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery
According to Webster, it is doing their due diligence, in order not to leave a top-flight player on the board just to fill a need.
“We're doing our due diligence because we don't want to pass up a special player on the board, just because he doesn't fit a need area,” Webster pointed out.
The offensive line, especially center, may also be addressed in the draft. A player like Wisconsin's Peter Konz could fill a need area for a long time.
“We didn't have a great year running the football last year, so we will look at ways to get better int hat regard,” Webster said.
As much as the Titans would like to address all their needs in the draft, Webster expects that the process won't be completed once the draft is finished.
“We'll do our best to address our key needs, but it's an on-going process,” Webster said. “We will continue to look for ways to improve. There will be the June cuts and waiver wire pickups and we'll look at everything no matter what happens in the draft.”