Like most observers, Todd McShay sees defensive end as a primary area of need for the Tennessee Titans in the 2012 draft.
The ESPN draft analyst also sees a strong possibility for the Titans to address that need — if that’s what they want to do — with their first-round choice (20th overall) when the picks are made April 26-28.
“Obviously, when you finish 31st in sacks last year, you've got to find guys that can get to the quarterback, and there are,” McShay said Monday in a national conference call. “When you start to look at it though, I still wonder if [the Titans] are definitely going to go defensive end in the first round.”
The Titans had 28 sacks in 2011, when they went 9-7 and were eliminated from playoff contention in the final week of the regular season. Only Tampa Bay had fewer.
Since then, they hired former All-Pro defensive lineman Keith Millard as a pass rush coach and signed free agent defensive end Kamerion Wimbley.
Two years ago, they selected defensive end Derrick Morgan in the first round (16th overall). He played just four games as a rookie, though, before he sustained a season-ending knee injury and battled health issues off and on as he appeared in 15 games (10 starts) last season.
He has just four sacks thus far in his career and had a streak of 11 straight games without one last seson.
“I know it's still an area they want to address,” McShay said. “But when you look at what they've been able to do, bring in Kamerion Wimbley, you hope that Derrick Morgan can stay healthy and continue to play to the level that he should this next year, and maybe having a guy like Wimbley opposite him.”
“But if they do look to draft a corner or defensive end at 20, there is certainly depth there. This class is loaded with defensive ends in the back half of the first round through the third round. You've got some guys that can get after the quarterback.”
In particular he noted:
• Andre Branch out of Clemson, who had 10.5 sacks in 2011
• Whitney Mercilus out of Illinois, who had 16 sacks total and at least one in 11 of the 13 games he played last season
• Nick Perry from USC, a former teammate of one of last season’s most productive rookies, defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, who led the Pac-12 with 10 sacks in 2011
• Vinny Curry, the 2011 Conference USA defensive player of the year out of Marshall who had 23 sacks over the past two seasons.