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VOL. 36 | NO. 45 | Friday, November 09, 2012

Blame bad drafts for Titans’ ills

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Everyone has an opinion as to why the Tennessee Titans have seemingly bottomed out midway through Mike Munchak’s second season as head coach.

There are those who blame the coaching, claiming the team looks unprepared to play as the lopsided losses mount.

And there are those who blame the players, saying there just isn’t enough talent on hand for the Titans to be a competitive football team week in and week out in the NFL.

There is truth to both claims, but a team in such disarray, losing by an average of 22 points in its six losses this season, didn’t arrive at this stage overnight.

Much of what plagues the Titans has been several years in the making – draft picks that didn’t pan out, bad luck with injuries and wrong personnel moves in terms of signing or not signing free agents.

Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, the Titans are in the midst of a severe rebuilding process.

If you look at the current roster, no less than seven regular starters and/or part of a rotation are either rookies or second-year players.

Current rookies already regularly plugged into the lineup include receiver Kendall Wright, linebacker Zach Brown and defensive tackle Mike Martin.

Among the second-year players who have already been established as starters are quarterback Jake Locker, linebackers Colin McCarthy and Akeem Ayers, and defensive tackle Jurrell Casey.

Yes, more and more rookies and young players are making a quicker impact on the league. But not every rookie splashes as quickly as Andrew Luck or Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin.

It takes time for those players to develop and to see whether or not they can pan out. And the reason the Titans find themselves in this situation with so many young players having to take on key roles is because of too many swings and misses in previous drafts.

Consider this: In 2006, the Titans had the third overall pick in the draft, which also meant they would be picking at the top of each round after that. How many players from that draft six years ago are still on Tennessee’s roster?

Zero.

That’s right. Not a single player, starting with the third pick wasted on quarterback Vince Young, is still wearing a Tennessee Titans uniform.

In fact, only two of the 10 players selected by the Titans in that draft are even in the league.

Stephen Tulloch was a fourth-rounder that year, and was allowed to walk away two years ago to the Detroit Lions. And Cortland Finnegan, a seventh-round after thought, left after last season to join the St. Louis Rams.

It can certainly be argued that the Titans should have hung on to both Tulloch and Finnegan, rather than allowing them to leave without replacing them except with a draft choice. But at least the Titans got some good years out of those two.

Players like Calvin Lowry, Terna Nande and Jonathan Orr from that draft contributed virtually nothing.

Admittedly, there is plenty of turnover each year on an NFL roster, roughly 25 percent, but the teams that draft well keep a core group of players from each draft class together and build their team around those players.

Other drafts produced players still on the roster, but not enough.

From the 2010 draft, the Titans mined just two starters – first-round defensive end Derrick Morgan, who has yet to live up to expectations, and fourth-round cornerback Alterraun Verner, who has basically inherited Finnegan’s cornerback spot.

The 2009 haul has been a little bit better with Kenny Britt and Jared Cook being two of Tennessee’s top players on offense, and Sen’Derrick Marks and Jason McCourty being starters on defense.

Go back another year to 2008, and you see that Chris Johnson, Tennessee’s best pick thus far of the Mike Reinfeldt era, is most of what the Titans have to show for that year.

Besides CJ, solid tight end Craig Stevens and bit player Lavelle Hawkins are all that remain on the Tennessee roster.

Further evidence of mistakes made shows that there are just as many players drafted by the Titans that year who are playing and producing at various levels elsewhere: Jason Jones for Seattle, William Hayes in St. Louis and Cary Williams in Baltimore.

The draft is an inexact science. Finnegan, for example, a seventh-rounder in ’06, is still in the league, while Young and second-rounder LenDale White are gone.

But no team can afford too many misses with first, second and third-round picks if it wants to stay competitive for the long haul. Mistakes like Chris Henry and Paul Williams, taken in the second and third rounds, respectively, in 2007 usually come home to roost.

And that can’t be ignored in trying to figure out why the Titans have been laying so many eggs of late.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com and is the AFC blogger for National Football Post.

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