August 13, 2020

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Grading the Titans draft history: 1997-present

Grading the Titans draft history: 1997-present

Thursday night marks the 20th draft of the Tennessee Titans franchise since it relocated from Houston.

The franchise came to town in 1997 as the rechristened Tennessee Oilers and spent two years with that name before being reincarnated as the Titans with their move into a new stadium and with a uniform change to go along with it as well.

With two decades of players having played in Tennessee now, let’s go back and grade all the 19 previous drafts, beginning in 1997 up through last season’s draft.

1997

Best pick: Derrick Mason, WR, Michigan State (fourth round)

Worst pick: Joey Kent, WR, Tennessee (second round).

Then Titans general manager Floyd Reese found moderate success in this draft with one eventual star in Mason and some serviceable role players in first-round defensive end Kenny Holmes, third-round cornerback Denard Walker and fifth-round tackle Scott Sanderson. There were a couple of bad misses, but other than Kent (13 career receptions), they at least came in the later rounds. Grade: B.

1998

Best pick: Samari Rolle CB, Florida State (second round)

Worst pick: Lee Wiggins, DB, South Carolina (sixth round)

Reese and the Titans were roundly criticized for passing on Randy Moss (character issues) in round one in favor of Kevin Dyson, who had a few solid seasons and two of the franchise’s most memorable moments, but didn’t come close to Moss’ Hall of Fame credentials. Reese redeemed himself with the pick of Rolle in the second round, as he turned out to be the best cornerback the team has had during the Titans’ existence. Reese found other nice hits on CB Dainion Sidney, defensive tackle Joe Salave’a and offensive linemen Benji Olson and Kevin Long, all contributors on the Titans Super Bowl team a year later. As for Wiggins, NFL.com didn’t even have a position listed for him. We looked it up – he was a defensive back. Grade: B.

1999

Best pick: Jevon Kearse, DE, Florida (first round)

Worst pick: Brad Ware, S, Auburn (fourth round)

Kearse put the Titans over the top with his speed rushing skills as a rookie. His 14 sacks helped propel Tennessee to the Super Bowl, and he was a runaway choice as Defensive Rookie of the Year. There were other useful parts found in this draft as well, including second-round defensive tackle John Thornton, guard Zach Piller in the third round and nickelback Donald Mitchell in the fourth round. Some late misses kept this from being a perfect draft, but overall, the impact was tremendous. Grade: A.

2000

Best pick: Keith Bulluck, LB, Syracuse (first round)

Worst pick: Byron Frisch, DE, Brigham Young (third round)

It took Bulluck two years to break into the starting lineup, but once there, he became a fixture for nearly a decade. Other hits in this draft included tight end Erron Kinney (third-round), linebacker Peter Sirmon (fourth round) and a sixth-round gem in defensive tackle Robaire Smith. The draft was also pock-marked with a few misses as well, none more so than Frisch, who was overpowered at the point of attack as a pass rusher. Safety misses Bobby Myers and Aric Morris also came from this draft. Grade: B-minus.

2001

Best pick: Andre Dyson, CB, Utah (second round)

Worst pick: Shad Meier, TE, Kansas State (third-round)

The Titans traded their first-round pick that year for defensive end Kevin Carter, and their draft suffered greatly as a result. Dyson was a serviceable, but small cornerback. Meier hung on for a couple of years, but never really made much impact as a receiving tight end. In hindsight, he was drafted far too high in the third round. The Titans got some mileage out of fourth-round receiver Justin McCareins, but not much in the way of contributions beyond him and Dyson. Grade: D

2002

Best pick: Albert Haynesworth, DT, Tennessee (first round)

Worst pick: Mike Echols, CB, Wisconsin (fourth round)

Haynesworth was the most dominant defensive lineman in the NFL at times, though his temperment was at times a major distraction. Beyond him, the Titans found a couple of short-term starters in safety Tank Williams (second round) and center Justin Hartwig (sixth-round). Rocky Boiman and Tony Beckham, both fourth-round choices, were both adequate role players, but some of the misses here are noticeable with Rocky Calmus, Mike Echols and Jake Schifino all washing out at least in part due to injuries. Grade: C

2003

Best pick: Tie: Chris Brown, RB, Colorado (third round), Donnie Nickey, S, Ohio State (fifth-round)

Worst pick: Andre Woolfolk, CB, Oklahoma (first-round)

The selection of Woolfolk started a downward run of first-round misses by the Titans, and the injuries that derailed second-rounder Tyrone Calico didn’t help either. Brown was a serviceable back with some breakaway speed in the open field and had a couple of good years, while Nickey was a limited defensive player, but earned his keep on special teams for eight years. Grade: F

2004

Best pick: Randy Starks, DT, Maryland (third round)

Worst pick: Rich Gardner, CB, Penn State (third round)

No stars from this draft for the Titans, but a few players who made some short-term contributions. In terms of helping the Titans, seventh-round offensive lineman Eugene Amano was probably the best choice. But Starks was a rarity – a defensive lineman who blossomed after he left Tennessee, rather than under the tutelage of Jim Washburn. Starks was still playing in the NFL in 2015. Defensive ends Travis LaBoy and Antwan Odom had brief moments both with the Titans and other clubs, but there were a lot of misses beyond Gardner in this draft overall – Bo Schobel, Michael Waddell, Rob Reynolds and Troy Fleming just to name a few. Grade: D.

2005

Best pick: Michael Roos, T, Eastern Washington (second round)

Worst pick: Pacman Jones, CB, West Virginia (first round)

To be able to throw away the sixth pick in the draft on Pacman Jones and still come out with a passing grade is a testament to Reese’s overall work here. Urged by then-coach Jeff Fisher to select Jones, he was immediately more trouble off the field than his considerable talents were worth. Reese managed to rebound with the steady Roos, a day one starter and future left tackle in round two. The Titans also added key starters in right tackle David Stewart (fourth round), safety Vincent Fuller (fourth round) and tight end Bo Scaife (sixth round). There were some misses beyond Jones, however. Courtney Roby, though he found a niche as a return man for the Saints, never panned out for the Titans. Grade: C-plus (An A if not for the selection of Jones and his many distractions)

2006

Best pick: Cortland Finnegan, CB, Samford (seventh round)

Worst pick: Calvin Lowry, S, Penn State (third round)

This draft, of course, is mostly remembered for Bud Adams’ edict to draft Vince Young with the third overall pick. Handcuffed by the owner, Reese and Fisher did as they were told. The result was a short-term “I told you so” from Bud, accompanied by a lot of long-term heartache in setting the franchise back five years with a wasted pick on a failed quarterback. Second-round choice LenDale White had his moments of success, but not nearly as much as the Titans hoped. Lowry, the third-round choice, was the highest pick of a number of players who quickly went by the wayside, including Terna Nande, Spencer Toone and Jonathan Orr. Despite all of those failures, the Titans managed to make two good picks, snaring linebacker Stephen Tulloch (whom they should have re-signed rather than walking away in free agency) and future Pro Bowl cornerback Cortland Finnegan with a seventh-round flier. Grade: D

2007

Best pick: Michael Griffin, S, Texas (first round)

Worst pick: Tie, Chris Henry, RB, Arizona (second round); Paul Williams, WR, Fresno State (third round).

By this point, former Oilers safety Mike Reinfeldt had replaced Reese as GM, and with a strong influence from Fisher, the Titans set about a new course of action. With this draft, it was mostly a disaster. Griffin, despite his ups and downs, proved to be a decent choice in round one, but the Titans followed that up with arguably the two worst picks in their time here, as they got virtually nothing from Henry and Williams in rounds two and three. This draft also gave us such Titans immortals as Chris Davis, Ryan Smith and Joel Filani. Arguably the next best player behind Griffin in his draft, fifth-round defensive tackle Antonio “Mookie” Johnson, was lost to the rival Colts, who signed him off the Titans practice squad. Grade: F.

2008

Best pick: Chris Johnson, RB, East Carolina (first round)

Worst pick: Stanford Keglar, LB, Purdue (fourth round)

By far, this was Reinfeldt’s best draft as five of the seven players the Titans selected are still in the league. That’s the good news. The bad news? Tight end Craig Stevens (third round) is the only one still on the Titans roster. CJ2K made his mark with a super 2,006 yard rushing in 2009, but later wore out his welcome and was released. Still, he gave the Titans a home run threat when he was on the field, something they haven’t had much of since letting him go. Second-round pick Jason Jones is still a solid player, and late bloomers William Hayes (fourth round) and Cary Williams (seventh-round, lost as a practice squad signing) have both had nice NFL careers. Grade: A for drafting them; D-minus for not keeping more of them.

2009

Best pick: Jason McCourty, CB, Rutgers (sixth round)

Worst pick: Ryan Mouton, CB, Hawaii (third round)

McCourty has been a fine player almost from the moment the Titans grabbed him with the 209th overall pick in the draft. Aside from him, the best player the Titans took in this draft is another one they should have kept – defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks, taken in the second round. First-round choice Kenny Britt and third-round pick Jared Cook both teased with their talents, but never fully materialized into the type of weapons the Titans hoped they would be. But they at least have had better and longer careers than some of the big swings and misses here like Mouton, Gerald McRath (fourth round) and Troy Kropog (fourth round). Grade: C.

2010

Best pick: Derrick Morgan, DE/LB, Georgia Tech (first round)

Worst pick: Rennie Curran, LB, Georgia (third round)

Morgan hasn’t been a superstar, but he is still with the team. And though at times he hasn’t lived up to his draft position, he is a solid NFL starter who successfully transitioned from being a 4-3 to a 3-4 edge rusher. Only two other picks in this draft by the Titans panned out at all. Cornerback Alterraun Verner had a Pro Bowl season for the Titans in 2013 before jumping ship as a free agent, and Marc Mariani, a seventh-round afterthought, was a good return man, who overcame a serious leg injury and remains in the NFL, now with the Bears. On the other side of the ledger, the results are bad, beginning with Curran, but also including the likes of Robert Johnson, Myron Rolle and Rusty Smith (who was drafted ahead of Steelers star receiver Antonio Brown in the sixth round. Oops!) Grade: D

2011

Best pick: Jurrell Casey, DL, USC (third round)

Worst pick: Most of the others.

It would be easy for some to pile on Jake Locker here, as he was the Titans first-round pick, and like Young five years before him, didn’t solve the on-going quarterback issue. But Locker’s career was simply snakebit almost from the moment he became Tennessee’s starter in 2012. There were other hurtful swings and misses here too, like second-round pick Akeem Ayers, who was given away in 2014 to the Patriots, and Colin McCarthy, whose career followed a similar trajectory to Locker’s in that he could not stay healthy long enough to consistently contribute. Another fourth-rounder, Jamie Harpter, was invisible. Only Casey, a home run pick, and fellow defensive lineman Karl Klug (fifth round) kept this draft from being a complete whiff. Grade: D-plus

2012

Best pick: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor (first round)

Worst pick: Taylor Thompson, TE, SMU (fifth round)

This was Ruston Webster’s first official draft as the Titans general manager, though he had a heavy influence on the 2011 choices as well. Webster’s first pick in Wright was hit early on, and in the receiver’s second season, he caught 94 passes. Since then, Wright’s numbers have suffered. However, other than him, the Titans don’t have a lot to show for this draft on the roster. Some of that is related to the switch from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 the next season, causing players like Zach Brown and Mike Martin to no longer be fits in the system. But some of the picks simply didn’t live to expectations, like Thompson, the converted defensive end, whose athletic skills didn’t translate to tight end as the Titans had hoped. Grade: D (Wright has been OK, but not a lot else to show for this draft).

2013

Best pick: Chance Warmack, G, Alabama (first round)

Worst pick: Zaviar Gooden, LB, Missouri (third round)

Another draft where the Titans had high hopes for a number of players. Warmack has been OK at right guard, but hasn’t dominated the way he did in college. Second-round pick Justin Hunter and third-round cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson have contributed some, but have been disappointments, considering what was expected. Brian Schwenke would have been a nice pick in the fourth round, but he hasn’t been able to escape injuries. Gooden and late-round picks Lavar Edwards and Khalid Wooten are all already gone from the roster. Seventh-rounder Daimion Stafford has been one of the better picks from this class. Grade: C-minus

2014

Best pick: Avery Williamson, LB, Kentucky (fifth round)

Worst pick: Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington (second round)

This draft was better than the previous two for the Titans, despite some misses here too. First-rounder Taylor Lewan had a better rookie year than second season, but the Titans still believe he can be a building block. Williamson has emerged as one of the Titans best defenders in just two years, while DaQuan Jones is underrated at defensive end. Sankey was drafted for his versatility, but found his way into the coaching doghouse and now is relagated to backup status. Marqueston Huff and Zach Mettenberger are OK depth as late-round choices. Grade: C-plus

2015

Best pick: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon (first round)

Worst pick: Jalston Fowler, FB, Alabama (fourth round)

This was Ruston Webster’s final draft, and maybe his best. Yes, it is probably too early to assess last year’s draft class after just one season, but already you can get an idea of who will play what role. Mariota, if the Titans can keep him healthy, may have solved the quarterback issue once and for all, while Dorial Green-Beckham flashed some big-play potential at receiver, but needs to show it more often. Elsewhere in this draft, Angelo Blackson appears to have a future, and Deiontrez Mount looked to be a decent backup rush linebacker before a knee injury shelved him. In calling Fowler the worst pick, it has nothing to do with his talent, as he performed OK in his rookie season. This issue is that of spending a fourth-round choice on a fullback, who plays only a handful of offensive plays each week. Grade: B (but could become an A on Mariota alone if he becomes a franchise QB).

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