There is no doubt the Tennessee Titans are quarterback shopping this weekend.
The Titans are in the market for a quarterback in this year's NFL draft, but odds are that Florida State's Christian Ponder will be a better fit elsewhere.
Who they wind up with and in what round is entirely up for debate.
No quarterback has been more scrutinized by the Titans than University of Washington signal-caller Jake Locker. The Titans spent time with Locker at the Senior Bowl, the NFL Combine, his pro day, a private workout and for Locker's visit to Nashville.
In assessing Locker's skills, the Titans have to ask themselves if Locker is worth the eighth pick in the draft, if he's not, then is he worth dealing back into round one to take, and if that's not the case, are they comfortable with a guy like Texas Christian's Andy Dalton instead of Locker.
How and when the Titans grab their quarterback will depend upon the flow of the draft.
“I think it’s going to be fascinating to watch, to see when the run on the quarterbacks start,” general manager Mike Reinfeldt said. “There’s a lot of good ones that are worthy of first or second rounds. If it starts early, it’s going to drive some teams to kind of jump into the first to get their guy. If it starts late, then maybe some teams hang on and hope they can pick up their guy in the second round. So that’s going to be the fun of watching the draft.”
As draft day nears, this much appears to be at least somewhat clear:
Unless Missouri's Blaine Gabbert somehow falls into their lap at No. 8, the Titans quarterback of the future probably comes down to a choice between Locker and Dalton.
The Titans have no real interest in Cam Newton, even if he fell to them at eight, and Ryan Mallett has too many question marks and lacks mobility, even as a second-round fit. Christian Ponder of Florida State is better suited for a West Coast-style team, and Nevada's Colin Kaepernick, while he has tremendous upside, probably is too much of a project for the Titans' current needs.
The Titans, according to Reinfeldt and vice president of player personnel Ruston Webster, have about 24 players with first-round grades in this draft with six to eight being considered elite. How many quarterbacks are in that group remains up for debate.
“I think it’s a good year overall for quarterbacks. You probably have six guys maybe that somebody has a first-round grade on and somebody thinks is worthy of a first-round pick,” Webster said. “So, you know, that’s four—some people say four—the four could differ with every team. I think that’s a good possibility. And it’s probably mostly the fourth guy that differs, you know?”
As for Locker, Webster has spent plenty of time visiting with him and evaluating him as well.
“I feel good that we’ve done our due diligence on every quarterback,” Webster said. “We didn’t really play favorites. We saw them all and brought them all in here and did our work on them, so I feel good about that. As far as Jake goes, I think it’s kind of like everything else in this draft. It’s kind of a matter of opinion and what you’re looking for out of the position.”
So what are the Titans looking for in a quarterback?
“Obviously, the running game is a big part of our offense, when you have Chris Johnson in it. We’re going to be featuring him in a lot of ways. So you want someone that can tie into that, which is obviously a guy that can move, mobile, can go in and out of the pocket, you can run some boot stuff that helps the run game,” Munchak said, giving a description that fits a quarterback like Locker or Gabbert. “So that’s probably—play action, you want a play-action game, where you’re going to go and be able to make the deep throw.
"Those are the things right off the bat that there’s guys in the draft that obviously we feel very comfortably can do. Then you look at the intangibles on some of these guys and the leadership, that’s going to be a big part of it. When you pick a guy in that position, you’re expecting a lot. A lot is expected at that position. You’re hoping he can make the guys around him better. Those are the things kind of you’re looking at when you make that decision.”
Locker, as with all the quarterbacks, doesn't come without question marks and weaknesses. As Webster said, none of this class of quarterbacks are a finished product yet. The Achilles heel on Locker is with is accuracy, which has sometimes been off in the pocket. Is such a flaw fixable? Munchak says yes, and that offensive coordinator Chris Palmer has made such adjustments to quarterback prospects before.
“I know Chris feels comfortable doing that. He felt he did that with Eli Manning. He felt he had success with him with the accuracy with footwork, with technique as much as anything, and that is somewhat corrective,” Munchak said. “He’s a better guy to speak to it than myself, but I think he feels comfortable that that wouldn’t be something that would deter you from making a decision.”
The question is when will that decision be made and which quarterback will the Titans settle on come Thursday or Friday.
“Beauty is kind of in the eye of the beholder,” Reinfeldt said. “I think we’re all looking for different things from a quarterback, so in some people’s mind, it may be a huge division. In others, it may be no division at all, depending on what you value in that quarterback. It’s an art. It’s not a science. It’s not a thing that’s going to weigh two pounds. It’s how you evaluate all this information, and there’s a lot of information.”