What started as a theory quickly grew into an all-out hunt for information regarding the play and more specifically the rosters of the two professional teams in Nashville. At the beginning of both their respective seasons, the Nashville Predators and Tennessee Titans got off to unique and inconsistent starts. The Titans, after defeating a Manning-less Colts squad, have a record of 4-3 while the Predators, dropping an OT thriller last night to Chicago, have a record of 5-4-2.
The records for each team propose the usual sentiment that was expressed by the pundits and number crunchers at the beginning of the season. Yet in Nashville, the records aren’t the only similarity between the two clubs.
When teams are lacking in general funds due to shallow pocket ownership or less-than-stellar T.V. contracts to pay their players such as the Tennessee Titans and Nashville Predators, they have to rely on the farm system of draft picks to get the most out of their players for the least amount of money possible.
The Titans cannot spend to the gills like Dallas, Philadelphia, or the NY Giants or Jets. Lucrative T.V. contracts and large market income allows for these teams to pick the market clean of it’s free agents and set-up teams to become as a former Titan said “a dream team.” The same can be said about hockey where teams like the Philadelphia Flyers, NY Rangers, Washington Capitals, and now Buffalo Sabres can throw ridiculous amounts of money to either keep their stars or bring in top tier free agent talent.
The Titans and the Predators do not have this luxury. In fact, the Titans and the Predators have made it a David vs. Goliath battle to attempt to make the playoffs and prove the soothsayers of the NFL and NHL wrong year after year by building a heart and soul team from within the organization. Nothing shows the resiliency of these two teams quite like the way each of them draft and promote players into top performing roles.
The Titans (outside of Special Teams) have on roster 22 offensive players and 22 defensive players. Out of the 44 active roster players, excluding special teams, the Titans have 26 players that were acquired through the draft. A few key players, such as Chris Johnson, Kenny Britt, and Michael Griffin, have lived up to the expectations of being a first round pick. However, some of the overachievers, like Mark Mariani (Pro Bowl 2010) and Cortland Finnegan (Pro Bowl 2008), are both 7th round picks.
The percentage of Titans used on the weekly roster from draft picks comes in at around 59%, making over half the team home grown talent; a much needed asset in the fight against unlimited payroll possibilities employed by other NFL teams. (Interesting side note: Ahmard Hall or “The Big Marine” has been exceptional in the development of Chris Johnson as an elite running threat. As the fullback of the Tennessee Titans, he was acquired as an un-drafted free agent 6 years ago.)
The Predators have been equally successful in drafting and developing talent and much like the Titans have found some diamonds in the later round picks. While only one draft pick, as of last season, has made the All Star game (Weber-2010), nearly every draft pick to play a regular season game for the Predats has become a huge contributor to Nashville and their perennial playoff appearances.
Players such as Pekka Rinne (8th round draft pick in 2004, runner-up for the Vezina trophy last season), Patric Hornqvist (one of only four Predators to ever score 30 goals and final pick of the 2005 Entry Draft) and Martin Erat (7th round pick in 1999, led the Predators with 50 points last season) have become productive staples on the roster.
The Nashville Predators have made the playoffs six out of the last seven seasons and have been able to do so without going much higher than the salary cap mid-point. With 15 franchise-drafted players on the active roster of 23, the Predators enjoy a healthy 65% of the team being drafted and eased into larger, more important roles on the teams in large part to the front offices’ ability to scout well and develop the on-ice talent.
Aside from not having the budget to compete fairly, which was noted in a previous 3 part series involving Poile and his use of “Moneyball” techniques to field a competitive team, the Predators and the Titans have each found a way to stay realistically in the hunt for the playoffs year in and year out.
As far as how things are growing in the South, being close to harvest season and judging from the almanac of years past, this crop of Titans and Predators can assuredly surprise many and be hanging around come late January (Titans) and early April (Predators) to blossom into yet another postseason appearance.