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VOL. 40 | NO. 9 | Friday, February 26, 2016

New regime begins rebuild at NFL Combine

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Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey could play corner or safety for the Titans, who need help at both positions.Mark LoMoglio/Icon

-- Mark Lomoglio/Icon Sportswire Via Ap Images

The sports nation’s eyes are rarely fixed on the Tennessee Titans. The upcoming season will be the franchise’s 20th year in the state of Tennessee, and except for their Super Bowl run in 1999 and a couple of playoff years where they were the No. 1 seed, the Titans haven’t really commanded the full attention of the football world.

But that all changes – temporarily at least – this week at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, where the Titans will be shopping for the top overall pick in the 2016 draft, which will be held April 28-30.

Of course, the Titans won this prize by being the worst team in the league last year. But as they begin to rebuild from the rubble of the past few years with a new general manager, Jon Robinson, and a somewhat-new head coach in Mike Mularkey, all NFL eyes are on the Titans franchise to see if they’ll take that first pick or trade it.

A first overall pick often means drafting a quarterback to lead your franchise for the next decade or so. But that won’t be the case for the Titans, who solved that issue by selecting Marcus Mariota last season.

This draft pick will be about finding a player (or players if they can find a trade partner) who can be paired with Mariota and a few other talented holdovers to begin the process of getting this team back to respectability and eventually back into playoff contention.

So as the Titans begin the process of measuring everything from players’ height, weight, speed, strength and mental ability, there is one unique quality that Robinson says he is looking for that trumps all other qualities – players with a winning attitude.

“I think fundamentally what we’re looking for in players is selfless, not to be confused with selfish,” Robinson explains.

“Selfless players. The most important thing is the team. It’s not about how many catches this guy gets, or how many tackles this guy gets. It’s about how many wins we have at the end of the season.”

To Robinson’ way of thinking, finding team-first players is the key to success. He should know.

He spent the first dozen years of his professional career with the New England Patriots, a place where even noted “me” guys like Corey Dillon and Randy Moss checked their egos at the door in order for the team to have success.

“It’s about finding guys that buy into that philosophy, the greater good of the team is the most important thing. It’s setting aside some of your own personal goals so that the team can get a win,” Robinson adds. “That’s the mindset of the type of player we’re looking for.

“All 32 teams are looking for big, fast, strong, tough. Those are attributes we’re looking for in players, but I think it’s the mindset of a player that we’re really trying to hone in and find guys that are going to fit the type of program that we’re going to be.”

Robinson also says he is a firm believer that such an attitude must be fostered through the draft with free agency only used to sprinkle in needed talent in areas that might be deficient. Using the draft to replenish the roster has many benefits.

One, of course, is that those players in their rookie contracts are cheaper, which allows salary cap money to be managed much easier.

Next, younger players are generally healthier, he says, with less wear and tear on their bodies than guys who have been through eight or nine seasons of pro football.

And finally, Robinson points out, draft classes arrive and form a bond that creates a positive, healthy atmosphere in the locker room.

“A draft class is kind of like a recruiting class,” he explains. “In college, they just finished up recruiting, and those 20 to 25 guys they signed are going to come in and bond with each other and lean on each other.

“We’ve got to do that with our draft picks and our rookie free agents. They’re going to come in as a draft class, and we need those guys to bond with each other. And then next year, we’ve got another group that’s bonded together.

“Before you know it, we’ve got 53 guys on the active roster and we’ve got 10 guys on the practice squad that are locked arm in arm, and they’re not going to be broken.”

Titans at No. 1

What should the Titans do with the No. 1 overall pick?

Many believe they should trade the top overall pick for a bundle of picks to help replenish the roster at a number of positions.

That probably would be the best option, but it also requires a trading partner willing to come up and part with what the Titans would demand in return.

Working against the Titans in that scenario is the lack of a sure-fire franchise quarterback in this draft the way there was last year with Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston.

In time, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Paxton Lynch or Connor Cook might become top-notch quarterbacks, but it does appear to be more of a gamble than in 2015.

So assuming the Titans stay at No. 1, what are their options? Let’s look at a few of the possibilities.

1. Laremy Tunsil, offensive tackle, Ole Miss: Offensive line has been a major problem for the Titans, and Tunsil is regarded as a top left tackle prospect. The only issue is they already have a left tackle in Taylor Lewan. Lewan could shift to the right side, but he is left-handed so the shift wouldn’t necessarily be an easy transition.

2. Jalen Ramsey, defensive back, Florida State: A favorite for a couple of reasons. First, he is a local product who prepped at Brentwood Academy. Second, he is regarded as probably the top defensive back in the draft and can play either cornerback or safety, both of which are Titans needs. It would be unusual to see a defensive back go first overall, but if Ramsey turns into a shutdown corner or a ballhawking safety, then the Titans shouldn’t let that dissuade them.

3. Joey Bosa, defensive end, Ohio State: Many early mock drafts matched the Titans with Bosa, who has a high motor and has drawn comparisons as a pass rusher to J.J. Watt and Jared Allen. In the Titans’ 3-4 system, there has been some question as to whether Bosa would fit better as an outside linebacker (where he wouldn’t necessarily start right away with Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan there) or as a five-technique end playing opposite Jurrell Casey.

4. DeForest Buckner, defensive end, Oregon: Probably a longer shot to be the first overall pick, but still could go in the top five in what is shaping up to be a defense-heavy first round. Buckner would be similar to Bosa in that the Titans would have to determine what kind of fit he would be on their defense. But he has the strength and power to be a solid pass rusher.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com

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