A year ago the Titans pulled off one of the big surprises of the NFL draft by taking quarterback Jake Locker eighth overall. There’s not much they could do with the 20th pick in this year’s first round that would be as shocking, but it would be a surprise if they don’t bolster their pass defense in the draft.
Cornerback: The Titans gave up too many big plays to too many opposing wide receivers last season, and they’d love it if a player who’s capable of stepping in and starting the season as their top cornerback is available at No. 20. South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore is a cornerback the Titans are reportedly coveting, and if he’s available, they’d almost certainly grab him.
The problem is that there’s a good chance Gilmore will be gone before the 20th pick. If he is the Titans might turn to Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick, or take a chance on the talented but troubled Janoris Jenkins of North Alabama. Or they might just decide that cornerback is a position they can address later in the draft.
Defensive end: The Titans’ top three defensive ends last season, Dave Ball, Derrick Morgan and Jason Jones, combined for a total of just 9.5 sacks. A pass-rushing defensive end who can provide more pressure than that could make a big difference as a rookie in Tennessee, and if there’s a good pass rusher available at No. 20, that could be where the Titans go. Whitney Mercilus, the Illinois defensive end who led the NCAA in sacks last season, would be an option for Tennessee, as would Shea McClellin, the versatile outside linebacker from Boise State.
Offensive line: Chris Johnson got most of the blame for the Titans’ disappointing running game last season, and he deserved plenty of it. But if the Titans want Johnson to become more of a north-south runner, they’ll need their offensive line to open more holes for him. Adding Steve Hutchinson will help, but a player like Georgia’s Cordy Glenn, who can play either guard or tackle, could also be an option for the Titans in the first round. If they don’t go with the offensive line in the first round it’s a position where they’ll almost certainly add depth in later rounds.
As a team that unexpectedly finished last season with a winning record, the Titans enter this draft thinking they could be just a couple of quality rookies away from the playoffs. If those quality rookies arrive in this draft — and especially if they’re players who can bolster the pass defense immediately — the Titans will be content.