Best-player-available myth and the Titans

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31
12:29
PM ET
Keith BulluckRich Gabrielson/Icon SMIKeith Bulluck was a mainstay at linebacker for the Tennessee Titans.
In April 2000, coming off a Super Bowl season, the Tennessee Titans had a solid roster and were drafting 30th.

With Randall Godfrey, Eddie Robinson and Greg Favors on the roster, the Titans weren’t in need of immediate help at linebacker.

The Titans drafted Syracuse linebacker Keith Bulluck anyway.

And for two years, he was mostly a special-teams player, starting just four games while the team stuck with experienced guys in front of him.

For the seven seasons after that, Bulluck was a permanent fixture at right outside linebacker, and after 10 seasons with the Titans he ranked as the best linebacker the franchise has had since it came to Nashville.

For the Titans, Bulluck is the ultimate model of drafting the best player available.

But best player available is largely a fantasyland idea. If the best player available when a team goes on the clock is a guy who plays a position where said team just signed its star to a long term-deal, guess what? It’s drafting someone else or looking to trade back.

Best player available typically means best player available at a position of reasonable need.

Let’s look at the Titans' last 10 first-round picks and the level of need the team had at their positions.

2013 – Guard Chance Warmack (10th)

The Titans were coming off a year with major injuries on their offensive line, and interior line help was priority one.

2012 – Wide receiver Kendall Wright (20th)

Nate Washington and Damian Williams finished the 2011 season as the starters, with Kenny Britt gone after three games with a torn ACL. The other Titans receivers, Lavelle Hawkins and Marc Mariani, were bit players at best. Wright was a bit of a surprise, but receiver certainly qualified as a position where there was room for a weapon out of the slot.

2011 – Quarterback Jake Locker (eighth)

The Titans parted ways with Vince Young and moved on from Kerry Collins to Matt Hasselbeck. With a new coaching staff in place, the team needed a young quarterback to build around.

2010 – Defensive end Derrick Morgan (16th)

The team’s top pass-rusher, Kyle Vanden Bosch, had moved on to Detroit as a free agent. And the contract clocks were ticking on Jason Jones and William Hayes.

2009 – Wide receiver Kenny Britt (30th)

The team’s 2008 receiving corps was Brandon Jones, Justin McCareins, Justin Gage, Lavelle Hawkins, Chris Davis and Paul Williams. There was not a dynamic guy in the bunch. Jones had moved on to San Francisco as a free agent and McCareins wasn’t going to be back.

2008 – Running back Chris Johnson (24th)

The Titans were ready to move on from Chris Brown, who signed as a free agent with the Houston Texans. The Titans needed someone to go with LenDale White in the backfield.

2007 – Safety Michael Griffin (19th)

The Titans were, mercifully, done with Lamont Thompson, whose game has devolved. Despite the need for a free safety, the Titans put on an extensive charade where they pretended Griffin would be a cornerback. He started 10 games at free safety as a rookie.

2006 – Quarterback Vince Young (third)

The Titans were ready to move on from an aging Steve McNair and Billy Volek had lost stock. It was time for the Titans to try to find their next quarterback, and the top guys – Young, Jay Cutler and Matt Leinart -- were all highly regarded.

2005 – Cornerback Pacman Jones (sixth)

Samari Rolle and Andre Dyson were the starters in 2004. But Rolle was gone after the season as part of an unavoidable salary-cap purge and Dyson went to Seattle as a free agent. Tennessee had a big need at cornerback when it drafted Jones.

2004 – Traded out of first round

The Titans picked tight end Ben Troupe in the second round, 40th overall. Frank Wycheck retired after the 2003 season, Erron Kinney’s knees were a problem and Shad Meier had established he was going to be a bust.

If all those guys rated as the best player available on the Titans' board, then one of two things happened:

  • The stars regularly aligned where the guy they rated as the best guy and a significant need corresponded.
  • Their boards were heavily weighted toward need.

Best player available is a rare thing, like Bulluck was a rare player.

Best player available at a position of need is usually what it really means.

Paul Kuharsky | email

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter

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