NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The timing couldn't be more perfect for the Tennessee Titans to take a risk the franchise hasn't tried since 1998.
Draft a wide receiver in the first round.
The Titans, coming off an NFL-best 13-3 record, don't have a gaping hole at any starting spot that must be filled with the 30th pick overall. They have 10 picks combined to add depth at cornerback and linebacker, but wide receiver is the position where help is most needed even with the free agent signing of Nate Washington.
Their recent strategy of drafting batches of receivers in the third round or later produced only Brandon Jones, who left for San Francisco as a free agent in March. Tyrone Calico, the last receiver taken higher than the third round in 2003, was a bust.
Mix that with a draft top heavy with quality receivers and the Titans could use their first round pick Saturday on a wideout for the first time since Kevin Dyson in 1998 -- and for only the third time in franchise history.
General manager Mike Reinfeldt cautioned 29 players will go off the board before the Titans pick, barring any trade up.
"That's something that could lead to help us," Reinfeldt said.
The Titans certainly have studied the receivers available in this draft. They have visited with Darrius Heyward-Bey of Maryland, Hakeem Nicks of North Carolina, Kenny Britt of Rutgers and Florida's Percy Harvin. Mohamed Massaquoi of Georgia and Nashville native Patrick Turner of USC are receivers who could be targets in the second or third rounds.
The need is there.
Coach Jeff Fisher promised after an AFC wild-card loss in January 2008 to improve his offense. The Titans used their top pick in 2008 on running back Chris Johnson, and he used his speed to earn a Pro Bowl spot. Tennessee started 10-0 and earned the AFC's No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
But statistically, the offense didn't budge. The Titans ranked 21st in total offense and 27th in passing yards -- exactly where they finished 2007 despite the change from Vince Young to veteran Kerry Collins as the starting quarterback. The Titans set a franchise record and tied for the NFL lead allowing only 12 sacks, and they ranked third with only nine interceptions.
Tight end Bo Scaife and Johnson were the Titans' leading receivers with 58 and 43 catches respectively. The Titans met with veteran receiver Torry Holt only to watch him sign with Jacksonville.
Collins likes Justin Gage, whose 10 catches for 135 yards was overlooked in Tennessee's 13-10 divisional loss to Baltimore, and thinks Washington is a great addition. Collins threw for 2,676 yards in 2008 but had only 21 passes go 25 yards or longer.
"I just kind of wait and see who they pick, and hopefully there's a receiver or two in the mix," Collins said.
Tennessee has the ammunition with 10 picks to boost the offense by trade, say for a receiver like Anquan Boldin of Arizona. Reinfeldt declined to discuss Boldin because he's under contract with the Cardinals.
"It gives us the opportunity to either package those picks to move up a little bit or take them to get a veteran player at a position where you want to add some experienced depth. It gives you the opportunity to do that," Reinfeldt said.
Tennessee did lose two-time All Pro defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth in free agency, which could hurt a unit that ranked second in points allowed. But the Titans don't have to use their top pick at that spot thanks to Jason Jones, their second-round pick of 2008, and the free agent signing of Jovan Haye.
The Titans have studied linebackers and cornerbacks closely this offseason, so the team could opt to look to the future if any of the trio of linebackers -- Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews or Rey Maualuga -- from USC are available. Keith Bulluck, the franchise's last pick at No. 30 in 2000, is going into his 10th NFL season and last of his current contract despite having missed only one game since being drafted.
Cornerback Nick Harper, 34, is going into the final year of his Titans' contract as well. That could make Vontae Davis of Illinois or Alphonso Smith of Wake Forest options at No. 30.
Receiver was a need in 2007 when the Titans, in Reinfeldt's first season as general manager, drafted safety Michael Griffin with the top pick. Griffin worked into the starting lineup during his rookie season and became a Pro Bowler in 2008.
"You're always balancing this year versus future years, and I think we'll be fortunate enough that we can kind of balance the two of those together," Reinfeldt said. "If we see a player of exceptional value or talent that you think wouldn't be there later at linebacker or cornerback, it gives you the opportunity to jump in and take that guy."