When Andrew wrote up the selection of Missouri linebacker Zaviar Gooden with the Titans' third-round compensatory pick, 97th overall, his reaction was a common one. Gooden is a weakside linebacker. The Titans already have a starting weakside linebacker, Zach Brown, whom they drafted in the second round last year. Brown has plenty of room for improvement, but looked pretty good at times last year and is not about to be replaced.
The real key to the pick of Gooden, though, is found in the Titans' media release before the draft. While the depth chart included in there is unofficial, one thing in particular stood out: Zach Brown was the only player listed at weakside linebacker. Brown is coming off offseason shoulder surgery. Offseason surgery is not a big deal until it becomes a big deal. Both Ruston Webster and Mike Munchak noted Brown's surgery as a reason for drafting Gooden in radio interviews after the draft, and Munchak indicated he may be limited until training camp. Backup weakside linebacker was on my list of team needs, but it was somewhat lower down and a position I thought would be most likely filled by a veteran, especially considering the overall youth of the starting linebackers. If there was the right veteran who fit their needs there and was willing to be a backup, though, they'd already have signed him.
So did the Titans really just draft a backup whom injury may force into the lineup in the third round? Well, mostly. There are situations in which Gooden could see the field on defense-this isn't drafting a backup offensive linemen or quarterback, whom you hope plays 0 snaps at all. In the right scheme, you could play him and Brown at the same time. That would most likely be in some sort of sub package. After last offseason's Akeem Ayers speculation that basically never panned out, though, I'm reluctant to suddenly declare the Titans will do a lot of exotic or particularly interesting things with their linebackers. Even when linebackers coach Chet Parlavecchio talked about playing them together, he said "you could see that develop into a situation where both of them are on the field at the same time." To me, that says it's something you could see in the future, but it's not necessarily in the immediate plan for Gooden. Further, aside from some brief and ill-advised moments with Gerald McRath, the Titans' nickel linebackers have been linebackers who played in base personnel. It just makes a lot more sense to do things that way.
Is drafting a backup a good use of a third round pick, even one in the compensatory part of the round? Well, it's not that unusual of a situation. Expectations for picks there are relatively modest. When I wrote about the 2007 draft, I noted Leroy Harris, who went half a round later and didn't become a starter until his fourth season, was about average. The expectations for Gooden are slightly higher than that, but not by that much. It speaks to a certain, well, lack of ambition, but that's not exactly a new criticism from me when it comes to how the Titans have used later picks. In a "win in 2013 or get fired' world, Gooden fills an immediate need that may be bigger than we all thought.
As far as who Gooden is as a player, he's a weakside linebacker, a fairly pure run-and-chase player who struggles in the box and when asked to take on players. The upside of a player like that is Zach Brown. Gooden tested really well at the Combine, but whereas Brown at times really flashed dominant athleticism, watching Gooden was similarly at times exasperating and not nearly as impressive an experience. At least when talking about the corners, the Titans have indicated they may be playing more man coverage. Gooden would be a better fit there, I think, than as a zone defender. With a young Brown's inattention to his responsibilities and without Brown's athleticism and recovery speed, Gooden's tape portends NFL difficulties without big improvement. But he should be really good on special teams.