Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: Defensive end

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William Hayes and Jevon Kearse wore each others' jerseys in practice one day. Photo by Andrew Strickert for Total Titans.

Continuing our offseason positional analyses, we now take a look at the defensive ends. The Titans started the 2009 season with five DEs and finished with six on the roster. Three of the six are free agents who will more than likely not be back in two-tone blue this season and another is an untested commodity.

That leaves only two who are certain to be on the roster in September so this position group should have more turnover than any other for the Titans this offseason.

Here’s a look at the status of the defensive ends, after the jump.

William Hayes, who took over as the starter at LDE in Week Five, is signed through 2011. A solid run defender, Hayes still needs improvement as a pass rusher, but if he hasn’t developed into one yet, it’s hard to imagine he will ever become top shelf material in that facet. You can pencil him in as the starter again this year. Hayes will be the one constant in the position group amid the turnover within the rest of the group.

Jacob Ford is the other DE who will be back this season and should assume the position of the frontrunner to be the starter at RDE, for the time being at least. A backup for his first three seasons, Ford has shown the ability to be a productive edge rusher but he can be run at and run over. In my opinion, he is most effective as a situational pass rusher and should continue to be utilized in that manner, meaning someone else should man the position on first down and obvious running downs. 2010 is the final year on Ford’s contract.

Kyle Vanden Bosch had a substandard season last year and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. KVB, an eight-year veteran who will be 32 years old in November, believes he’ll be calling somewhere else home this year, as Drexel wrote about here. My heart hopes he’ll be re-signed for another season and that he’ll regain his old form. My head says the Titans need a younger, more effective player as the starter. Perhaps KVB will return as a backup simply to provide depth in the rotation and leadership. I try not to put too much importance on veteran leadership – I think it’s overblown far too often – but I believe in KVB’s case, it’s a warranted issue. Anyone who’s watched the man on the practice field can understand why. Jeff Fisher recently said the Titans still have an interest in KVB, so we’ll see what happens in the next month.

Jevon Kearse, thanks for the memories. The Freak lost his starting job to Hayes in Week Five and appeared in only two games since. He’ll be 34 years old and will definitely not be a Tennessee Titan when the season starts.

Dave Ball is another DE headed for unrestricted free agency. He did not provide any dividends in 2009, as he did in 2008, and I wonder if his offseason back surgery a year ago had any effect on that.

Eric Bakhtiari rounds out the position group. As I mentioned in my special teams report card, he should compete for a job in training camp this summer. A former 3-4 linebacker for the Chargers, Bakhtiari was on the Titans practice squad before being activated late in the season. I don’t know what kind of DE he is but do know he’s got decent speed for a man of his size.

The lack of a reliable, consistent outside pass rush was one of the Titans’ biggest problems last year. Couple that with the impending loss of several players and you have a double whammy. Because of these two reasons, defensive end is the number one priority the Titans need to address this offseason, either through free agency, the draft, or possibly both. (Also see Drexel’s post on whether DE is the Titans biggest offseason need.)

The biggest name among the free agents to be is Julius Peppers, who should be the most expensive. He’ll also be 34 He’s also 30 years old and for those two reasons, shouldn’t be a Titan.

Two other big names are Richard Seymour and Adewale Ogunlewe but they will be 31 and 33 years old this season. As with Peppers, signing either of them would be a very short-term solution and they are all at the stage in their careers when they will want one more big payday, a four-year deal with most of the money guaranteed.

I just don’t see throwing big money at an older player who may have only a year left at his current level of play.

I’d rather go with a younger guy such as the Vikings’ Ray Edwards, who’s 26, and is a budding star. (I commented last month on Edwards in Drexel’s DE article.) Several teams ought to be very interested in obtaining him and he should be expensive but if you’re going to pay big money for a player, I’d rather spend it on someone under the age of 30.

I’d also rather have Edwards than a first-round draft pick but that may be wishful thinking. It’s hard for me to get excited about a rookie-to-be when you could get a proven veteran who’s still improving. Ask Jaguars fans how Jacksonville’s first-round selection of Derrick Harvey, an eighth-overall pick two years ago, worked out.

Still, if the issue isn’t resolved through free agency, I believe the Titans should use their first-round draft pick on a defensive end. If there’s a player available with enough value to justify using that pick, of course.

The top three prospects are Derrick Morgan (Georgia Tech), Carlos Dunlap (Florida) and Jason Pierre-Paul (South Florida). Morgan is projected to be a top ten pick but the other two may be available when Tennessee is on the clock in Round One.

We’ll continue to take a look at these prospects, and others, in the coming weeks.

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4 Responses to “Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: Defensive end”

  1. Shawn Smith Says:

    I also think DE is a priority for the Titans after getting a veteran starting CB. There isn’t any good option in free agency at the DE position (Julius Peppers is 30 by the way not 34) as Ray Edwards will probably be a restricted FA due to no CBA contract, so I think we need to look at the draft. One option I have been thinking about is selecting a DT in the first round, such as Dan Williams or Brian Price, then moving Jason Jones over to DE. Jason Jones was a DE in college and has the athleticism to play on the edge and would be better run support than Jacob Ford.

    As for the DEs in the draft, I don’t like the options you have listed. Derrick Morgan will probably be gone by the 16/17th pick. Carlos Dunlap is physically talented but takes plays off and has some off-field baggage. Jason Pierre-Paul is really, really raw and probably won’t be an instant contributor…plus, he only really played 1 year of college ball so it’s a risk taking him. Two DEs I like coming out of college are Everson Griffen and Brandom Graham. Both are polished pass rushers and productive college players…however, I would probably rate Dan Williams and Brian Price ahead of them.

  2. Andrew Strickert Says:

    Thanks for the correction, Shawn. I don’t know how I managed to age Peppers four extra years and don’t want to wimp out by pleading it was a typo. As you said, Edwards will be a RFA, which is why I’m so interested in seeing what the Vikes do with him. Would they possibly tender him at a level at which the Titans would be willing to try to sign him to an offer sheet? One can only hope.

    Bear in mind, as I stated in the comments to Drexel’s referenced article last month, the Vikes also have Tarvaris Jackson and Chester Taylor to take care of. The uncertainty of Favre’s future enhances TJack’s importance. Then they also have their stadium issue looming over them so even with the likelihood of an uncapped season, they’ll still need to practice fiscal responsibility. I know that Vikes owner Zygi Wilf has been purchasing land as a possible location for a new stadium.

    Right now, only three DEs are in the top 17 among the rankings on the top draft sites. As we know, those rankings are extremely fluid and will no doubt have a lot of changes with the combine and players’ pro days.

    Thanks again for reading and taking the time to comment.

  3. Scott Says:

    It looks like only Hayes, Ford and Ball will be in the mix for DE next season. I don’t see Bakhtiari as anything more than special teams player. While it possible that KVB will be back, I suspect that some other team will make him an offer he can’t refuse and that the Titans won’t make a serious attempt to match it. I would love for KVB to be back in a Titans unifrom, but I just don’t see it happening now (despite Fisher’s comments on the subject this week). As for Kearse, I agree his career in the NFL is now over.

    There is no doubt that the Titans need to improve their pass rush off the edge. But I agree with Shawn that they also badly need to upgrade the middle of their defensive line. This is a significant issue for the Titans this year because they probably won’t be able to do both in the draft (given that the Titans have only one pick in the top 75). And there will be slim pickings in the free agent market at both the DT and DE positions – unless the Titans do the unthinkable and break the bank for someone like Aaron Kampman (who, by the way, would be a perfect fit for the 4-3 defence the Titans run).

    Despite my view that DT should be a top priority in the draft, I suspect the Titans will look to select a DE with their first pick in the draft. The Titans have invested two second round picks on DTs (Jones and Marks) in the past two drafts, signed Haye to a longer-term deal last year and will be able to keep Brown as a RFA this year. Unless they are absolutely overwhelmed by the upside of DTs like Dan Williams, Brian Price or Jared Odrick, I think the Titans will go DE in the first round of the draft.

    There should be a number of top-ranked defensive ends available in the middle of the first round, which could include Dunlap, Griffen, Graham, Hughes and Pierre-Paul. Of those, the guy who worries me the most is Pierre-Paul. Sure he looks the part, but to me, he is a one-year wonder. And even then, his production was not great considering that George Selvie was coming off the edge on the other side of the line in Central Florida. Hughes had great numbers, but the more I see and hear about him, I think he might be more suited for an OLB role in a 3-4 defence. I also have concerns about Dunlap and Griffen in terms of their desire to be the best players at their position and to constantly play at a high level. So that leaves me hoping for Graham to be the Titans first round pick. I think he is stout enough (at more than 260 lbs) to play end in a 4-3 defence and certainly has proven to be a geat pass rusher.

  4. 2010 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: DT « Total Titans Says:

    [...] Total Titans Selected as the best Tennessee Titans site on the web. Enjoy what Deadspin calls 'a good read.' « Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: Defensive end [...]

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