Happy New Year, everybody. I'll start my postseason awards series tomorrow, but, for the holiday and because I'm a bit under the weather, will kick this year's posts off with some non-original content.
I recently read Nicholas Dawidoff's Collision Low Crossers, on spending the 2011 season embedded with the New York Jets (mini-review in this post). One of the thing Dawidoff had a chance to do was be with the team during the pre-draft process, and the comments that made it into the book included ones on the first two Titans draft picks, Jake Locker and Akeem Ayers. With Mark Sanchez two years into his career and with two trips to the AFC Championship Game under his belt, the Jets weren't looking for a new quarterback, but they still had their opinions of Locker. From p. 129:
[Head coach Rex] Ryan, Tannenbaum, [scout Joey] Clinscales, [consultant Terry] Bradway, and the others watched their competitors make picks on TV and offered commentary. They grew most animated when other teams' choices wildly diverged from the Jets' assessment of the player, such as Tennessee's drafting of quarterback Jake Locker.
With their own pick, 30th overall, the Jets were ideally looking for an impact pass-rusher. They ended up drafting defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson, not a pass-rusher but still a guy who has turned into an excellent player for them. Ayers, whom the Titans ended up taking ten picks later, was one of the players the Jets considered at least at some point in their process. Not every member of the Jets would have been on board had they selected Ayers. From p.123-24:
Then [Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff] brought up Akeem Ayers. "I'll be shocked if this guy makes it," he volunteered, before describing how docile Ayers had been during a drill at the Combine. "Is this a guy we'd consider with the thirtieth pick?" he wanted to know. [GM Mike] Tannenbaum confirmed the possibility. Disbelief crossed Westhoff's face. He got to his feet. "I'm gonna take a shower," he said. Then he thought better of it and sat down again. "He's not a demon," he said of Ayers.
Some of the Jets had a bit of a disdain for UCLA players in general, viewing them as soft, though Westhoff's comments do seem to have been animated by that particular drill performance.
I should stress that I am presenting these excerpts because I found them interesting, not because I believe the Jets are anything close to an unimpeachable fountain of wisdom. As both Ayers and Locker head into crucial fourth seasons, the final ones of their rookie deals, coming off disappointing third seasons, though, I thought these comments were worth noting. The only current Titans player discussed in any detail in Collision Low Crossers was Ryan Fitzpatrick, then the quarterback at Buffalo, who drew derision for playing at Harvard (untalented) and marrying his Harvard girlfriend, but that Fitzpatrick is not the most physically talented player in the league and a backup for a reason is news to nobody.
And let's not forget that the Jets traded up to the fifth spot in the 2009 NFL draft to select Mark Sanchez. The Jets ability to accurately assess QBs coming out of college is therefore questionable at best. In my view, Locker has more upside than Sanchez, and yet the Jets took Sanchez at 5 (and paid a huge ransom to do so), while the Titans picked Locker at 8 in 2011 without paying a huge ransom.
I would also point out that the 2011 NFL draft was different from every other draft before or after. The draft was held before free agency, so a number of teams (including the Titans) didn't have the opportunity to shore up their QB depth chart before the draft. That certainly contributed to some teams' decisions to draft a QB early.
I guess they're some interesting quotes. Locker opened up a can on the Jets this season before Wilkerson knocked him out of the game. Their assessment of Ayers was pretty spot on. He just doesn't have his head in the game all the time and doesn't consistently tackle well - he lays "glory hits" way too much. No - he's not a "demon."