Barring a huge upset, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will select Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston with the first pick of the NFL Draft.
After that, all bets are off because nobody knows what the Tennessee Titans will do with the second pick. The fates of several teams as well as the futures of several of the top available players are riding on what happens at pick No. 2.
Right now the Titans essentially own the draft rights to Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, which puts them in a very valuable position.
There are three ways the Titans can go with the pick and none of them would be surprising.
1. The Titans trade the pick to a team desperate for a quarterback.
Ultimately, this may be the smartest decision business-wise, no matter what the team thinks about Mariota.
There are eight or nine teams that need a quarterback and after the Bucs (presumably) take Winston off the board, Mariota will be one player left that’s viewed by most as a potential franchise-making quarterback.
We have already seen how valuable the second pick can be in a two-quarterback draft when the St. Louis Rams traded away a chance to draft Robert Griffin III in 2012 and turned that pick into eight players, including four future starters. Even if Mariota is not deemed worthy of giving up so many picks, it only takes one team to feel that they are just a quarterback away from being a contender.
In other words, any package the Titans receive in return will almost certainly be more valuable than the potential of Mariota.
Trading the pick makes even more sense if you believe the reports that the Titans are committed to second-year quarterback Zach Mettenberger. According to David Climer of The Tennessean, head coach Ken Whisenhunt and general manager Ruston Webster “think they pulled the steal of the 2014 draft” when they nabbed Metternberger in the sixth round.
2. The Titans could very easily draft Marcus Mariota.
The early thoughts were that the Titans would be much more willing to draft Winston, a player who fits their style of play, than Mariota. But, if you have a chance to draft a player you think can be a franchise quarterback conventional wisdom says you don’t pass up the opportunity whether you already have a good quarterback or not and no matter what system you run.
Peter King of theMMQB.com raised this scenario, writing that he thinks the Titans will draft Mariota if they don’t receive a trade offer they like, noting that the team has scouted Mariota heavily.
“The Titans were all over Mariota all through the college season, and beyond,” wrote King. “One Oregon source told me the Tennessee scouts were the most fervent of all teams during and after the season investigating Mariota.”
Of course, the Titans could be feigning interest in Mariota to boost the trade value of the pick. But if both Mettenberger and Winston turn out to be franchise-level QBs, the Titans can simply trade one later to fill other holes. If not, at the very least, the Titans would now have two shots at a very good future.
3. The Titans could draft somebody else entirely.
This may be the biggest wild card. But because of how the first-round is shaped, it also might make the most sense.
In theory, if the Titans do trade away the No. 2 pick, the best pick they will get in return would be the No. 6 pick from the New York Jets, who are believed to be interested in Mariota.
But what if the Titans really want USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams or Florida linebacker Dante Fowler, the two players regularly labelled as the top prospects in the draft? When we recently surveyed the mock drafts of ten NFL Draft experts, only one still had one of those players on the board with the sixth pick.
The Titans would be in a much better position if the Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 3 pick) or the Oakland Raiders (No. 4 pick) were looking to draft Mariota. In those cases, the Titans could move down and still get one of the two best defensive players available. But that won’t happen at No. 6 or lower.
The experts are all over the board.
Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN predicts Mariota will be taken with the second pick and that “it could be Tennessee, but it could be a handful of other teams.”
Todd McShay of ESPN feels the Titans will trade the pick and that “a team will move up to take [Mariota] at No. 2.”
Don Banks of SI.com also thinks a trade is possible but feels it is very possible that the Titans will draft Mariota, noting that “when you consider that only the largely untested Zach Mettenberger might be all that stands in the way of Whisenhunt perhaps losing his second and final NFL head coaching job with another poor season in Nashville, Mariota makes plenty of sense.”
Peter Schrager of FoxSports.com has the Titans taking Williams because he gets the feeling the Titans are not crazy about Mariota.
Of course, all of this becomes even more complicated if the Bucs draft Mariota. But until that happens, the most important pick in the first round will be at No. 2 and it is still very much up in the air.
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