With only six draft picks, a trade netting extra selections might be the best move general manager Ruston Webster can make.
“It’s a good, deep first round,” Webster said. “It is one where I think you have a chance to drop back and find a similar player to the player you may take at 11. Obviously, you’ve got to have a partner to do that.
“Really, you’re at everybody else’s mercy. It is a deep draft, and there will be really good players taken in the 20s that will help a football team.”
The biggest questions are whether the Titans draft a quarterback and how high. Both Webster and new coach Ken Whisenhunt have endorsed Jake Locker as their starter, but he’s in the final year of his rookie contract, having missed 14 of his first 32 starts because of injuries.
“At this point in time, I wouldn’t shut the door on anything,” Webster said.
New boss Tommy Smith, who took over when founder Bud Adams died last October, oversaw sweeping changes this offseason that only started with the firing of coach Mike Munchak after a 7-9 record. Fan interest is waning, and the pressure to end a five-year playoff drought is higher than ever for a franchise whose last winning record was in 2008.
The Titans have been reaching out to fans for months trying to woo them back. But no marketing campaign works better than simply winning, which is why they hired Whisenhunt, who took Arizona to the 2009 Super Bowl. He brought in 13 new assistant coaches.
The roster makeover started in March as the Titans signed 14 players, including right tackle Michael Oher and linebackers Shaun Phillips and Wesley Woodyard. That group included re-signing key veterans such as safety Bernard Pollard and end Ropati Pitoitua.
They also released veteran kicker Rob Bironas and right tackle David Stewart. The biggest move was in April with the release of Chris Johnson, their top running back the past six seasons.
Here are five things to know about the Titans for the draft:
Quarterback time again? For all the endorsements of Locker, the Titans did not pick up the quarterback’s fifth-year option for 2015. Now Locker is recovering from surgery to fix his latest injury, his right foot, while learning his third offense in his fourth season.
The Titans switched up Locker’s backup, cutting Ryan Fitzpatrick and signing Charlie Whitehurst to help teach Whisenhunt’s offense. Tyler Wilson was signed last December. Drafting a quarterback makes sense, with the biggest question how high do the Titans make such a move?
Running backs: Johnson no longer is in Tennessee. The Titans signed Dexter McCluster as their first free agent in March, and they call him a running back. They also have Shonn Greene, who hurt his knee in the opener and was disappointing in the first season of a three-year deal. Jackie Battle and returner Leon Washington also are listed as running backs. But it’s a position the Titans are expected to address in the draft.
Hybrid 3-4 defense: Coordinator Ray Horton will be running what the Titans call a “hybrid” 3-4 as they transition from the 4-3 the team ran for years to a 3-4. The Titans signed veteran linebackers Phillips and Woodyard, reworked Kamerion Wimbley’s deal and now call him an end/linebacker. But linebacker Anthony Barr of UCLA could be too much to pass over if they pick at No. 11, with current linebackers coach Lou Spanos his coordinator in college.
receiver: The Titans appear to be in good shape with Kendall Wright, their top pick in 2012, and Justin Hunter, the receiver they traded this year’s third-round pick to select in the second round last year. Veteran Nate Washington brings his experience, but is in the final year of his contract. They just added Brian Robiskie on a one-year deal.
Draft picks:The Titans haven’t had as few as six selections since 2003. This is a franchise that ranks second only to Green Bay (87) and Philadelphia (86) for the most draft picks in the NFL between 2005 and 2013 with 82.