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Thompson Looks to Make his Mark as a Tight End in NFL

Posted Apr 28, 2012

Taylor Thompson primarily played defensive end at SMU, but will look to make his living as a tight end in the NFL.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Taylor Thompson decided he was going to enter the NFL draft as a tight end, didn't matter that he hadn't caught a single pass during a game in college while playing defensive end most of his career at SMU.

A big gamble for the 6-foot-6, 259-pound Thompson.

The Tennessee Titans rolled the draft dice, trading up to take a player they hope turns into the next Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham or Antonio Gates - impact tight ends with similar size and athletic ability.

The Titans traded with Miami on Saturday, sending their 155th pick in the fifth round along with the No. 227 selection in the seventh to move up 10 spots and take the 6-foot-6, 259-pound Thompson. A three-year starter at defensive end at SMU, Thompson had seven sacks as a senior and could have been drafted at that spot. But he was timed at 4.58 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

Offensive coordinator Chris Palmer said Thompson may be a raw at the position.

"Mom, dad and God gave him size, speed and athletic ability,'' Palmer said. "For us to get him where we got him, I mean there's a reason he took 10 visits. It's not like we're the only one that saw the acorn.''

Thompson was timed at 4.58 seconds in the 40-yard dash, and the Titans weren't alone in being interested in the converted tight end. Along with the Titans, Thompson visited Baltimore, Jacksonville, Oakland, Chicago, Green Bay, Cincinnati and Philadelphia. He dropped about 20 pounds as the season ended and spent extra time during SMU's bowl practice catching balls prepping for the draft.

Thompson knows there are plenty of questions about someone who played only at the Players All-Star Classic with 10 workouts as a tight end along with his pro day.

"I think there was just enough film on me to make me a draftable prospect, but that was definitely one of the things holding me down.''

The Titans had two scouts at that all-star game watching him run routes and catch balls in practice. In the game, Palmer said Thompson showed fluid skills making a catch on a seam route in a play similar to what Tennessee asks of its tight ends. Coach Mike Munchak said they didn't want to risk missing out on Thompson, prompting the trade up.

"We feel he has a chance obviously to come in and make the football team,'' Munchak said. "A lot of times in the fifth round, it's hard to bank on that.''

The trade left Tennessee with six picks, the team's fewest since the Titans also had six in 2003. The Titans started the final day of the draft focused on defense by taking Clemson cornerback Coty Sensabaugh at No. 115 overall in the fourth round. The Titans are trying to boost a defense that ranked eighth in the NFL in points allowed but gave up yards in bunches.

The Titans started the draft by picking Baylor receiver Kendall Wright in the first round before going defense with three straight picks. They added North Carolina linebacker Zach Brown in the second round and tackle Mike Martin of Michigan in the third.

The Titans let cornerback Cortland Finnegan leave as a free agent for St. Louis, so they needed more depth at cornerback Saturday with four picks remaining. Sensabaugh will join a group competing to fill that spot as a starter.

"When we lose some players like we did this year, we didn't panic and jump out and try to fill it by signing a free agent and replace a guy because we lost a guy,'' Munchak said. "I think our philosophy was that we thought we were happy with what we had in house ... We just felt this is a guy that would come in right away and help us in a lot of ways.''

Sensabaugh is a native of Kingsport, Tenn. The 6-foot, 185-pound Sensabaugh had 87 tackles and four interceptions along with two quarterback pressures and 18 pass breakups over 52 career games. The cornerback graduated last May and had a team-high 13 pass breakups in 14 starts. He played a school record 993 snaps as a defensive player last season.

He's also second-cousin to Dallas safety Gerald Sensabaugh, growing up on the same street together. Titans secondary coach Brett Maxie coached Gerald with the Cowboys and sees similarities between the men in their intelligence, football knowledge and speed. The Titans' new cornerback was timed at 4.42-seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, but he said he was timed at 4.31 seconds at Clemson.

"He taught me everything I needed to know about this process,'' Sensabaugh said of his cousin, Gerald. "He gave me a lot of advice and walked me through everything step-by-step. He and my agent and my friends who are in the NFL. I got a lot of help from a lot of people.''

The Titans return Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner, and both have started games over the past two seasons. Ryan Mouton is coming back after tearing his right Achilles tendon in training camp last year, while the Titans also like Chris Hawkins and Tommie Campbell, a seventh-round pick last year who stuck on the roster.

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