Titans look for right fit with top NFL draft pick

5:58 AM, Apr 26, 2012   |    comments
Tennessee Titans
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By Jim Wyatt, The Tennessean

First-round picks are the building blocks for almost every NFL team. Hit on a first-rounder and the foundation is usually a strong one; miss on a few and the project can face costly setbacks.

The Titans know all too well that the draft is an inexact science. Their first-round picks over the past decade have been a mixed bag.

Perhaps that's why General Manager Ruston Webster and Coach Mike Munchak used the words "fit" and "feel" a lot when addressing the team's strategy going into the first round of the draft.

The Titans are scheduled to select 20th overall today and make six more picks in rounds 2-7 on Friday and Saturday.

"At 20, you can definitely get somebody that makes an impact. It's just a matter of finding the right fit," Webster said. "You really don't get a great feel for what their impact is going to be until they show up here, and then you know relatively quickly.

"But we all know teams have gotten those impact guys (later in the first round) before. It's happened here. And a lot of times your value is better there than maybe it is picking at six or eight."

With most of their needs on the defensive side of the ball, the options - and also the potential for foiled plans - are endless.

It's doubtful either of the top defensive ends - Quinton Coples of North Carolina or Melvin Ingram of South Carolina - will be available at 20. That could leave the Titans considering Whitney Mercilus of Illinois, Chandler Jones of Syracuse, Nick Perry of Southern Cal or Courtney Upshaw of Alabama.

If the Titans look for defensive tackles, Michael Brockers of LSU, Devon Still of Penn State or Jerel Worthy of Michigan State could be available. Cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore of South Carolina or Dre Kirkpatrick of Alabama might also be in play.

And that's not considering potential options at wide receiver, safety or offensive line.

"When you're picking 20, you're pretty much at the mercy of the teams in front of you, and it's hard," said Mike Detilier of M&D's Draft Report. "But there are absolutely Pro Bowl-caliber players available at that point in the first round. Those guys are there in the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds - you just have to find them.

"Let's be honest, though. When you are looking at first-round picks and impact players and Pro Bowl players, the bottom line is you've got nothing better than a 50-50 shot at it. The draft is the ultimate second-guess."

Although the jury is still out on the Titans' most recent first-round picks - quarterback Jake Locker (2011), defensive end Derrick Morgan (2010) and wide receiver Kenny Britt (2009) - other years show how difficult it can be to identify a foundation-type player.

Running back Chris Johnson (24th overall in 2008) was a hit - he has a 2,000-yard season and has been to three Pro Bowls. So was safety Michael Griffin (19th, 2007) - he has played in every game and has been to a pair of Pro Bowls.

Prior to those picks, the Titans had a mostly bad run from 2003-06.

Quarterback Vince Young (third, 2006) got off to a great start but faded. Cornerback Pacman Jones (sixth, 2005) never got on track because of off-the-field issues. Cornerback Andre Woolfolk (28th, 2003) flamed out. The Titans traded their first-round pick in 2004.

Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth (15th, 2002) became a two-time All-Pro.

The Titans haven't unearthed any all-star players recently in later rounds, either. They picked 46 players overall in the past five drafts and only two - Johnson and Griffin - have played in a Pro Bowl so far.

"You go through spurts with Pro Bowlers, and it usually goes hand in hand with making the playoffs," Webster said. "I think we all thought we had some guys (last) year that had a shot and didn't make it. ... I would hope through time we'd be able to build on the success from last season and the Pro Bowlers would come."

The Titans went 9-7 in Munchak's first season as head coach last year, just missing out on the playoffs.

"You want to draft a guy that you have a plan for and that can come in and actually have a chance to play right away and help," Munchak said. "You don't want to draft a guy and then go, 'How are we going to use this guy? He really doesn't fit our system.'

"When we pick a guy, most of the (coaches) are going to go, 'Oh yeah, I thought that is who we were going to take.' I think the process is productive over the last two weeks. You feel confident that we are going to get some really good football players and that we are all going to feel really good about it."

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