Wednesday, June 8, 2011

KD's NFL Draft Grades - Tennessee Titans

Sorry for doubling up on the Draft Reviews today. Chizzy and I both have been ridiculously busy the past week, but I think things are finally back on schedule...for me at least. Since I missed Monday and Tuesday, I'll add the Titans today as well.

Tennessee made a huge wave by selecting Jake Locker with the 8th overall selection. Many draft experts had Locker pegged at the bottom of the 1st round, at the highest, while most had him in the 2nd round. The Titans took him in the Top 10 as the anti-Vince Young, and they'll have to live with him for the next few years, as opposed to taking Blaine Gabbert, or even Nick Fairley, who was projected to go to the Titans by many. Here's how their entire draft class shook out:

1st round, 8th overall) Jake Locker - QB - Washington
Jake Locker actually went in the first round and Todd McShay and Mike Mayock both get vindicated a ton for riding that bandwagon since 2009. Locker's a prospect whose intangibles are off the charts and hard not to like, much like Tim Tebow of the 2010 class. He's a natural leader, he's tough, smart, and loyal to his teammates. He's 6'2" and 231lbs and you can make the case that he's the most athletic quarterback selected in the draft not named Cam Newton.

How he fits in: If you believe Bud Adams talk, then Vince Young is as good as gone in Nashville, even though several players, including running back Chris Johnson have asked for him to come back. Young is a certifiable headcase, but he still went 30-17 as a starter, which is the measuring stick for Jake Locker. With Young gone, the Titans have the ancient Kerry Collins, the enigma of Chris Simms and his mystical car rides through New York City, and Rusty Smith who saw some game action last year. The smart money says you almost have to put Locker out there from day one and let him earn his lumps while Chris Johnson is still going strong. That defense will take some time to get back to where it was under Jim Schwartz, so the more experience Locker gets, the better.

Outlook: If you've watched any of Locker's games, you'll know that he's a tremendous competitor. He's got a decent enough arm, and he can make a lot of throws. That said, some of his decisions are just outright terrible. I mean, really, really terrible. That, and he's not accurate. The highest completion precentage he posted at UW was 58.4% as a junior and his career clip was only 54%. He's much better at throwing the underneath stuff than he is going deep, and the Titans traditionally have thrown deep more than they've used underneath stuff. There's a lot of myster surrounding the offense, other than Chris Johnson, now that Jeff Fisher isn't running the show any more. But you can take it to the bank that the Titans are banking big-time on Locker panning out. They'll be in even worse shape than they are now if he doesn't.

2nd round, 39th overall) Akeem Ayers - LB - UCLA
The Titans weren't able to pick up the slack left from losing Keith Bulluck last year. Gerald McRath got the first crack at it, but he's very undersized. Ayers will likely supplant him from day one. Ayers is a solid yet unspectacular prospect who does a lot of things well, but nothing great. He's got great size at 6'2" and 254lbs, and even garnered some consideration by 3-4 teams looking for pass-rushing linebackers. While that was a bit far-fetched, he still racked up 14 career sacks. The main knock on Ayers is that he doesn't have great instincts and the motor isn't always running. He'll disappear for long stretches at a time, but he seemingly knows when to turn the motor back on. If the Titans can get him to keep the light on at all times, they'll have a very nice player on their hands.

3rd round, 77th overall) Jurrell Casey - DT - USC
The Titans are still searching for a replacement for Albert Haynesworth as Sen'Derrick Marks hasn't developed and Jovan Haye simply can't hold the point well enough. Even solid starter Jason Jones is undersized. This need is why many thought Nick Fairley was a perfect target, but Tennessee passed. Casey is also somewhat small at an even 6' and 300lbs. Casey was a solid player for the Trojans and came on a bit in 2010 racking up 11 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. He's certainly capable of competeing for a starting job as a rookie, but he might be better served as a rotational player for the time being.

4th round, 109th overall) Colin McCarthy - LB - Miami
The Titans may lose middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch, a tackling machine, depending on the outcome of the new CBA. The Detroit Lions are heavily targeting him as former Titans DC Jim Schwartz, now the Lions coach, knows all about him. McCarthy is an insurance pick. He can play both inside and outside positions in the 4-3, and may be a weakside option if the Titans opt to move Akeem Ayers to the middle. McCarthy isn't the typical explosive, hard-hitting linebacker from "The U", rather he's an undersized, football savvy player who gets the job done with his smarts. McCarthy battled through injuries throughout his entire career missing games in every season except his junior year in Coral Gables. He's an experienced player who at the very least should be a nice backup. He's got to stay healthy though.

4th round, 130th overall) Jamie Harper - RB - Clemson
Chris Johnson isn't going anywhere, and is perhaps the most explosive player in the league. His backup, Javon Ringer, whom I still have nightmares about as yours truly was knocked of the Ohio State Playoffs by his Chaminade-Julienne team in 2002, showed pretty well in very limited action. Harper gives the Titans an option they've not had since LenDale White quit drinking tequila a few years ago. Harper is 5'11" 233lbs and just couldn't get out of C.J. Spiller's shadow while at Clemson. He's a big back whose physical, but lacks speed and athleticism. He should give the Titans a nice short-yardage back as both Johnson and Ringer clock in at under 210lbs.

5th round, 142nd overall) Karl Klug - DT - Iowa
While the Iowa Hawkeyes aren't quite the class of the Big 10 conference, they're always near the top in defense, and their players have gone on to show strongly in the NFL. Karl Klug, and undersized plugger at defensive tackle is another in the long line of Hawkeyes on NFL rosters. He's just 6'3" 275lbs - some NFL linebackers are that size, like former Hawkeye Matt Roth for example - but Klug has been a disruptive force. A high school state qualifier in wrestling, Klug understands leverage and uses it well despite his lack of size. He's got pretty good technique, as most Hawkeye defenders do compared to other programs, and he should stick on the roster as part of the Titans infamous D-line rotation.

6th round, 175th overall) Byron Stingily - T - Louisville
The Titans might've found a late round gem here on the offensive line. Michael Roos is one of the best left tackles in the NFL, and David Stewart might be the best right tackle in the entire league, so Stingily probably won't start right away if they like him to stay on the outside. At 6'5" 313lbs Stingily is extremely atheltic, and clocked a blazing 4.95 40 (okay, fast for a lineman). Only a two-year starter at Louisville, Stingily's best fight might come at left guard where the Titans have developed several players into legitimate NFL linemen including Jacob Bell (Rams), Leroy Harris, and Eugene Amono (both with Tennessee). Stingily will need some refinement with his technique, but I've got a feeling he'll become a starter sooner rather than later.

7th round, 212th overall) Zach Clayton - DT - Auburn
The Titans ended up taking Nick Fairley's starting teammate later on in the draft. Clayton started next to Fairley every game in 2010, but only started one other game throughout his career. Clayton notched 28 tackles, 8 for loss and a sack playing next to Fairley, which is a bit underwhelming considering the amount of attention that Fairley was drawing, especially later on in the season. Clayton fits that undersized mold at 6'3" 299lbs. He's a guy that will struggle to crack Tennessee's rotations, and might be a practice squad candidate. If there's anyone who could've developed, it would've been former Titans D-line Coach Jim Washburn, now with the Eagles (Chizzy's team got a helluva coach), so Clayton probably won't be long for the roster this year, though the Titans new D-line coach is Tracy Rocker, who comes directly from Auburn.

7th round, 251st overall) Tommie Campbell - CB/S - California (Pennsylvania)
Campell took an interesting route to the NFL. His first two collegiate seasons were spent at Pitt, where he started 6 games at weakside linebacker, starting next to H.B. Blades and Clint Session, two NFLers in 2006. In 2005, he saw action in 11 games as a reserve strong safety. He then went to Edinboro College where he started 4 games at strong safety out of the 8 that he played. He then was out of school for two and a half years, then enrolled at California, Pa. and started 4 games at cornerback. So, as you can see, Campbell has bounced around schools and positions, but he brings a nice build to Tennessee at 6'3" 205lbs (pretty similar to Sean Smith of the Dolphins when he came out of Utah in 2009). The Titans have a very deep secondary at both the corner and safety positions, so Campbell's a big-time longshot for the roster. He might be interesting enough to keep around on the practice squad, and his size is intriguing.

Overall Grade: C
My initial reaction, much like San Francisco's draft, is that Tennessee's class is underwhelming. They swung for the fences with Jake Locker, but until he proves anything on the field, it looks more like a single than anything else. Locker and Ayers should both be day one starters for better or worse, and the Titans should get some solid rotational play out of Colin McCarthy, Karl Klug, and Jurrell Casey on the defensive side of the ball. I'm not sure where Jamie Harper's going to get carries from. Byron Stingily is a steal who could become a starter in due time, and they had some nice developmental prospects in Clayton and Campbell. I'd have scored the draft much higher had they selected Blaine Gabbert or Nick Fairley as opposed to Jake Locker. We do know that there were several teams, Minnesota and Miami, who also had Locker pegged as the top QB on their draft boards, so Tennessee pulled the trigger on the guy they liked before someone else got him. That said, I don't like Jake Locker all that much (for the record, I'd have been absolutely livid had the Dolphins taken him, thus I'm thankful for Tennessee not allowing Miami the chance to step up to the plate with Locker) and that's why I've given them a C. However, much like Cam Newton in Carolina, Locker's got the potential to bump that grade up considerably higher if he performs well, and that matter is something we'll have to wait and see about.


  1. I think Akeem Ayers will be the steal of the draft. I can't believe Buffalo and New England passed on him.

  2. Rooster,

    I think Akeem Ayers landed in a great spot going to the Titans as he fits what they like to do very well, and I think he can overtake Gerald McRath at weakside linebacker pretty easily. He reminds me a lot of Keith Bulluck.

    As for Buffalo and New England, I can see why each passed on Ayers. For Buffalo, they're transitioning to a 3-4 and had a need for more of thumper in the middle to play next to Paul Posluszny. Ayers certainly isn't a good enough pass-rush to play outside, and Poz already holds the role that Ayers would've had in Buffalo, so Kelvin Sheppard made sense there, though I'll concede the Aaron Williams pick is a head-scratcher.

    I think teams like Cleveland and Arizona, the two teams picking right before Tennessee selected Ayers, will end up kicking themselves more than Buffalo or New England, as I just don't see Ayers as a 3-4 linebacker, even though some folks thought he could be.

    In New England, obviously most thought they'd address OLB, and rumor is they're going to make a hard push for Matt Roth from Cleveland, who was a run-stopping force there and in Miami when he was a 3-4 SOLB. Ayers would've been forced to play in the middle there, and the Patriots already are having a hard time dividing snaps between Brandon Spikes and Gary Guyton (who could get PAID if he leaves) next to Jerod Mayo.

  3. You made lots of good points. Keep up the great work. Thank you very much.

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