On the Titans, top guards and the 10th pick

INDIANAPOLIS -- Since the turn of the century, the NFL hasn’t seen a guard drafted higher than 17th.

The buzz at this year’s NFL scouting combine is that two prospects -- Chance Warmack from Alabama and Jonathan Cooper from North Carolina -- are both worthy of being selected higher than that.

“On film, there's no doubt,” said Mike Munchak, the Titans coach who’s a Hall of Fame guard drafted eighth overall by the Oilers in 1982.

The Jaguars and Colts need offensive line help. But Jacksonville seems unlikley to go guard all the way up at No. 2, and Warmack and Cooper will likely be gone by the time the Colts are on the clock at No. 24. Tennessee drafts 10th and has pledged to upgrade the interior of its offensive line. Whether those moves come through free agency, the draft, or both remains to be seen.

But Warmack is from Atlanta and played at Alabama, and indications are if he were picking a team instead of a team picking him, it could be the Titans.

Mike Mayock of NFL Network rates Warmack as something bigger than the draft’s best guard. He ranks him the draft’s best player.

“It’s widely known that guards aren’t drafted that high,” Warmack said. “If that did happen, that would be an honor as a player that plays guard. I’m not thinking about that right now.”

Said Cooper of Warmack: “He is a big guy. I’m glad I got to see him in person and see that he is a human [chuckles]. After all that I heard about him, I mean, they just make him seem unstoppable.”

Munchak has talked in the past about how guards have been devalued in the draft.

He’s been with the organization as a player or coach since 1982, and since then the team has drafted 11 players classified as guards coming out of college.

Bruce Matthews, Munchak’s closest friend and the Titans' offensive line coach and another Hall of Famer, was a first rounder in 1983.

The breakdown of the rest: One second-rounder, one third-rounder, two fourth-rounders, two fifth-rounders, one sixth-rounder, one seventh-rounder, one 10th rounder and one 11th-rounder.

Munchak offered his reasoning for why line value in the draft has shifted dramatically to tackle.

“I think what's changed is the defensive ends changing in stature,” he said. “You've got guys that are 255 pounds that can rush the quarterback the way they can now. They're great athletes. Back when I played in the '80s, maybe even earlier, the ends were bigger guys and you had more tackles available that can probably match up. I think it became a matchup problem for the left tackles. They're hard to find.

“It's hard to find [big ends] that are 255 pounds and can rush. So the supply and demand is lessened, and I think the demand for tackles became more valuable, especially a left tackle. For that reason, you have guards, there are more of them and you push that back a little bit.

“But if you have someone that is special, someone that is really good, that kind of gets thrown out the window. So you have to decide where you want to pick a guy like that.”

While the Titans/Oilers haven’t invested many quality draft picks at the position, they haven’t spent a lot in free agency, either. The two of note were relatively recent: Jake Scott in 2008 and Steve Hutchinson in 2012.

While Warmack was listed by the Crimson Tide as 6-foot-3 and 320 pounds, Cooper measured in at the combine as “only” 6-2½ and 312.

They are the top two guys at the position, but hardly the only guys projected to be solid pros. Pro Football Weekly gives the guard group an A-plus.

“I know there are a bunch of great guards in this draft,” Cooper said. “If we all get drafted high and I’m not the first guard taken, I’m not mad at all. I mean, I’m a competitor. I love to compete. So if I am drafted first out of the guards I’ll be ecstatic. If I’m drafted high and I’m not the first, I’ll be OK just the same.”