Titans hope ‘Big Play’ gamble pays off as defensive jackpot
By: By TERESA M. WALKER, AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE (AP) — The news was almost more than William Hayes could take.
The Tennessee Titans had traded up in the fourth round Sunday to draft the defensive end from Winston Salem State, a small school with so little talent that he had to take part in a pro day at another college.
“It feels too good right now. I am really happy. That’s where I want to be. I feel like I am at home now,” Hayes said.
The Titans lost defensive ends Antwan Odom and Travis LaBoy in free agency and had lured back Jevon Kearse. They already had drafted end Jason Jones from Eastern Michigan in the second round to add depth to a line that was a key reason Tennessee ranked fifth in yards allowed in the NFL in 2007 and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
But coach Jeff Fisher said the player nicknamed “Big Play” had been rising up draft boards, and the Titans didn’t want to miss out in a draft where they used their seven picks to fill a couple of holes and build some depth.
So Tennessee made its second trade of the week but with not quite the splash of sending suspended cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones to Dallas. The Titans swapped their fourth-round pick at No. 124 and their fifth-rounder to Washington for the chance to move up to the 103rd pick overall and grab Hayes.
“We had William in, looked at William,” Fisher said. “The entire scouting staff looked at William over the last couple of days and the coaches … We feel like William can come in and help us immediately at the end position. Despite the fact that he came from a smaller school, he has some skills that are rare.”
Scout Cole Proctor first noticed the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Hayes during two-a-days last July when it was 113 degrees in Winston-Salem. He returned in October and was given three games on DVD. The only DVD that worked showed Hayes in one game against Florida A&M.
“It was one of his best games. So I definitely had to get back and look at some more. … I don’t care what level he played on,” Proctor said.
The Titans came into this draft determined to add offensive playmakers to help Vince Young, and that would be their top pick in running back Chris Johnson, the fastest player at the combine with a 4.24-second 40-yard dash.
Johnson said he noticed how Adrian Peterson had a big impact as a rookie and hopes to emulate that himself.
Fisher said the offensive staff will be drawing up plays to use Johnson in different ways, while he pictured one scenario that could scare defensive coaches.
“We needed a change-up, a unique changeup. With Vince in the shotgun and Chris maybe potentially in the shotgun with him, there’s potentially some problems,” Fisher said.
The lone receiver drafted was Lavelle Hawkins, their third pick in the fourth, who was overshadowed by DeSean Jackson at California but had 72 catches in 2007.
“All in all, we filled holes,” Fisher said of their draft. “We had a need on the defensive line. We have two players we feel are going to play very early.”
That would be second-round defensive end Jason Jones and Hayes.
Tight end Craig Stevens, their third-round pick, also is fast enough Fisher believes he can help stretch the field as well as run block. Linebacker Stanford Keglar of Purdue, the third of three fourth-round selections, will play on special teams along with seventh-rounder Cary Williams of Division II Washburn.
But Hayes wasn’t invited to the combine. He had to work out for scouts at nearby Wake Forest, and that’s where Proctor said Hayes had scouts pulling out their cell phones once the end ran the 40 in 4.61 seconds.
“I had a chip on my shoulder. I had to go out and prove that I could compete and that I could play just as good as anybody in the nation,” Hayes said.
The end might have been higher on draft boards if not for grades that forced him to head to first Barber-Scotia College in Concord, N.C., before moving to Winston Salem State.
He had visited Clemson, North Carolina and Notre Dame while in high school, and he even attended a camp where he got to work out with Kearse.
Hayes said that made him love Kearse even more determined to play like the end nicknamed the “Freak.”
“Always go hard and play the next down like it is your last one,” Hayes said.
And now he’ll be teammates with Kearse?
“It’s crazy right now. I can’t even tell you how I’m feeling,”