Very few things about professional football involve more guesswork than the NFL Draft.
Therefore, grading the draft is often an inexact proposition because a team can appear to have filled its needs with a selection only to have that pick not fulfill lofty expectations. And that can send a franchise right back to the drawing board in a couple of years looking for different answers to the same problem.
One case in point: the Tennessee Titans and their never-ending quest to solve the receiver position.
Kenny Britt, welcome aboard.
Rutgers’ Britt is the 18th receiver the Titans have drafted since 1997, but only the second in the first round. And the tale of all the mid-round misses the Titans have had in that span are well documented, including the chapter on how the team passed up Randy Moss for Kevin Dyson, whose career — despite the roles he played in the Super Bowl and the Music City Miracle — was shortened by injuries.
So is Britt the answer at wide receiver? Not even Britt knows the answer to that yet.
It seems then that a letter grade attached to a draft class directly after the two-day affair is incredibly premature.
After his rookie season, nearly everyone would have said that the Titans had properly addressed their quarterback situation in 2006 with the selection of Vince Young. He was the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in ‘06.
Now, with a two-year backslide, that pick looks considerably different than it did just a few years ago.
Conversely, some rookies are late bloomers, but develop into stars. Keith Bulluck, for instance, needed three seasons before he cracked the starting lineup.
All a NFL Draft evaluator can do is simply grade it on whether the team in question — in this case the Titans — made moves to address their roster shortcomings. So let’s examine whether or not the Titans took care of business:
Round 1: Kenny Britt, WR, Rutgers
In Britt, the Titans do have a commodity the likes of which they have not had. He is big, relatively fast and has good hands.
In short, if he lives up to expectations, it will have solved Tennessee’s longest lingering issue of needing a potential big-play wide receiver. It is a bit of a concern that Britt was the sixth receiver off the board, but his production at Rutgers was excellent with 87 catches his final year there. Grade: A
Round 2: Sen’Derrick Marks, DT, Auburn
The Titans can’t expect any one player to replace what they lost in Albert Haynesworth. Haynesworth, when healthy and motivated, occupied double teams on nearly every play. The Titans won’t expect that from Marks, but they do compare his quickness off the ball and penetration ability to Haynesworth’s.
A solid pick that bolsters depth, and a guy who could be a future starter. Grade: B
Round 3: Jared Cook, TE, South Carolina
The Titans coaching staff loves using the tight end as an extra weapon, but ones that are truly dangerous as more than just an outlet receiver are hard to find. There have been a few in recent memory, such as Shannon Sharpe, Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates. The Titans once believed they had one in Ben Troupe, but he never panned out.
They are trying again with another solid physical specimen in Cook, whom they gave next year’s second-round pick to New England to get. A decent gamble and a year early regarding need at the position. For forward thinking, Grade: A-
Round 3: Ryan Mouton, CB, Hawaii
Local fans thought the Titans might nab Vanderbilt’s D.J. Moore with this pick. Mouton is perhaps a faster version of Chris Carr and will fill a similar role as a return man and a backup in the secondary, who can help in sub-packages and provide depth.
A need pick to be sure, and one that local fans will track alongside Moore’s development to see if it was the right call. Grade: B-
Round 4: Gerald McRath, LB, Southern Miss
The Titans believe they might have gotten a steal here as McRath is a sideline-to-sideline linebacker with speed who fits their system on the weak side. He will do his rookie tour of duty on special teams, but could be plugged into the defense in the future, if the Titans and Bulluck are unable to agree on an extension at season’s end. Grade: B+
Round 4: Troy Kropog, OT, Tulane
Tennessee had a high grade on Kropog — probably listed just a notch below the first-rounders who went on Saturday. Kropog fills a nice niche as well, serving as the third tackle behind starters Michael Roos and David Stewart, the role formerly held by Daniel Loper. Grade: B
Round 5: Javon Ringer, RB, Michigan State
If his production and play are anywhere near his college numbers, then this is the steal of the draft at pick No. 176. Chris Henry, you are officially on notice, and LenDale White, it might not be a good idea to get too comfortable just yet. Grade: A
Round 6: Jason McCourty, CB, Rutgers
Cornerbacks who can run fast, cover a little bit and play on special teams are always welcome with the Titans, and that will be McCourty’s job description as well. At least practice should be familiar to him, as he will continue to work opposite Britt. Grade: C+
Round 6: Dominique Edison, WR, Stephen F. Austin
The Titans haven’t had much luck in the past with late-round receivers, who usually end up on special teams or the street. Edison is a small-school prospect with both speed and production, so that gives him a chance to succeed. Grade: C
Round 7: Ryan Durand, G, Syracuse
Another project for Mike Munchak to work with. Munchak has had good success with late-rounders before. His latest success story is Eugene Amano, seventh-rounder from 2004. Durand is a smart guy with the size and now a solid coach, giving him a chance to blossom. Grade: B
Round 7: Nick Schommer, S, North Dakota State
Special teams is where Schommer’s chance to make the roster will come. It was a little puzzling to see the Titans leave a guy like LSU’s Ricky Jean-Francois on the board (He went two picks later to San Francisco.) this late, but they are already stocked at defensive tackle and a safety who can work on special teams was probably a better fit at this point. Grade: C
The Titans answered, at least on paper, their most pressing needs, getting depth at receiver and cornerback.
They chose only one linebacker, which was somewhat odd, but now don’t appear to have any gaping holes at any positions. If Britt, Marks or Cook turns out to be something special, or if one of the late picks (Ringer?) hits, then the draft could eventually earn an A grade.
But for now, we’ll take the filling of needs combined with the overall potential and give the Titans draft team a solid B.