A Colts DT? A Titans WR? Not likely in Round 1
They are easy matches for mock drafters.
Give the Colts the best defensive tackle you can find at 27. Insert the top remaining wide receiver next to the Titans' line at 30.
But presuming those picks is a mistake on both counts, unless you are banking on those teams breaking from their staunch recent histories.
Indianapolis looks to draft the best player available early on, and after a couple top interior linemen go early, team president Bill Polian said defensive tackle value doesn't usually re-emerge until the later rounds.
And the Titans, who once passed on Randy Moss, haven't touched a receiver in the first round since they took Kevin Dyson ahead of Moss in 1998, giving off a vibe since that it's just too unpredictable a position to value so highly.
|Matthew Sharpe/Getty Images|
|The Colts would be bucking a trend by picking Ole Miss DT Peria Jerry in the first round.|
Indianapolis suffered on the interior defensive line last season, not because it had planned poorly, but because of two surprises: Quinn Pitcock, a fourth rounder out of Ohio State in 2007, decided to quit football before training camp last year. Ed Johnson, who'd been an impact player as an undrafted free agent in 2007, was on a zero tolerance policy, got in some trouble after one game in 2008 and was let go.
The Colts will add multiple interior linemen between now and training camp, but they will likely come with a pick or two later in the draft, and inevitably, with a potential diamond in the rough they don't even need to spend a pick on. Besides Pitcock, Polian hasn't drafted a defensive tackle since 2002, when Larry Triplett was a second rounder and David Pugh a sixth rounder. In 11 years, Polian's drafted five players at the position, only Triplett higher than the fourth round.
"I've always approached the draft as take the best player no matter what the position is," Polian said. "Don't worry about filling a need, you can do that later in the draft. Take the best player in the first two rounds, whoever he is."
So it's fair to say through much of his tenure he hasn't seen a lot of defensive tackles of value available with his highest picks?
"Yeah, that's probably correct," he said. "They go in the first 15 usually, then you see them resurface in the latter rounds -- five, six, seven."
The team has drafted 17 since the move from Houston in 1997. Only Derrick Mason (fourth round, 1997) turned into a top-flight pass catcher. The Titans haven't touched a first-round receiver since Dyson, and their two tries in the second round over the past 11 years -- Joey Kent and Tyrone Calico -- were flops.
|James Lang/US Presswire|
|If available, Florida's Percy Harvin could be an enticing choice for the Titans at No. 30.|
Still, coming off a 13-3 season that ended with a divisional round playoff loss, coach Jeff Fisher's comments about receivers made it sound as if the team would continue to regard the position as less important than a lot of others.
"I think Kerry [Collins'] play illustrated that you don't necessarily need what is referred to as a big-time weapon outside," he said. "[If] you get the ball off on time, people get to the right spots, you make plays."
Asked to elaborate on that, Fisher offered this: "In a lot of ways the quarterback is going to have a lot to do with the future of a wide receiver and the production. By no means did I mean we weren't interested in an impact player or a great player at the position. They are just hard to find."
Fisher expanded on the team's thinking about wide receivers in the draft earlier this week when he was on his way to Indianapolis for competition committee meetings and the scouting combine.
"It's not a philosophy, it's not that we have a philosophy that says don't take them [early]," he said. "It just hasn't been a situation where based on value and need in the draft that the right guy wasn't there at the right time. If there is a player we think can come in and help, can play to the value of a first-round pick at the position, then certainly we'll take him. By no means is it a philosophy not to take him."
Fisher says the Titans have thought the receiver pool was deep in a lot of drafts, allowing them to wait. But they've found no consistent contributors among the players they waited on: Lavelle Hawkins gets more time heading into his second season, but Paul Williams (third round, 2007) has dressed for five games in his first two seasons, with one catch. Chris Davis has done little. Joel Filani and Jonathan Orr are gone. And the three pack from 2005 -- Courtney Roby, Brandon Jones and Roydell Williams -- didn't pan out. Only Jones remains; he's a No. 3 at best and he's about to become a free agent.
The Titans' offense was transformed in 2008 by the speed of first-round pick Chris Johnson, a running back. Conventional wisdom now says if Tennessee could add a playmaker like him to the receiving corps, the offense could make another big leap.
Florida's Percy Harvin could fit that bill for the Titans. He is being compared to DeSean Jackson, who went to the Eagles 49th overall last year and was Philadelphia's leading receiver as a rookie.
Even if the Titans do
pluck a wideout in the first round, Fisher's teams have always moved quite slowly with first-year receivers.
"It depends on the specific player," Fisher said. "That's why we put the work in, to try to identify that specific player that can come in and do that. And if we feel he's not there compared to value of other positions in the first round, then you have options."
As they ready for the combine, the Colts expect to be better in the middle of their defensive line in 2009 and the Titans expect to be better on the perimeter on offense.
Perhaps, at Lucas Oil Stadium and the Indiana Convention Center this week, Polian and his scouts will fall in love with a tackle who will be around at No. 27. Perhaps Fisher and the Titans' brass finally meet their first-round match at receiver.
If they do and break a first-round trend, we'll have a guy to scrutinize and the expectations will be big. The safer speculation is the teams will look elsewhere early, trying to address the need later.