Jon Robinson had a stellar first draft with the Tennessee Titans, but what does he have in store for an encore in 2017?
What’s Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson going to do for an encore? With the 2017 NFL draft just over one month away, Robinson is closing in on his second opportunity to add young talent to a roster that just missed the playoffs in 2016.
Robinson’s first draft in Tennessee produced a lot of hits and few misses, providing some of the groundwork to help the team improve by six wins. Acquiring running back DeMarco Murray didn’t hurt, but so did a draft that produced an All-Pro offensive tackle in first-round pick Jack Conklin.
Conklin wasn’t the lone hit for the Titans, though the stud right tackle was a great place to start with the eighth-overall pick. Let’s then take a look at the hits and misses (or the to-be-determineds, rather) from the 2016 draft to see the act Robinson has to follow.
Conklin became an immediate starter for the Titans and took to offensive line coach Russ Grimm’s simplistic style of teaching. Grimm isn’t heavy on trying to over coach players, allowing their natural ability to shine through. Conklin is only going to continue to get better. With former first-round pick Taylor Lewan on the other side, the duo should form the cornerstones of a solid offensive line for years to come.
Austin Johnson, the second of the team’s three second-round picks, came out of the gates slowly but finished strong. The big nose tackle served as the backup to Al Woods. With free agent acquisition Sylvester Williams on board, Johnson will continue to be counted on as a backup, but a solid one.
The Titans doubled down at the running back position with their third second-round pick, taking Alabama’s Derrick Henry. The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner failed to disappoint. Henry gained 495 yards on 110 carries with five touchdowns. He combined with Murray to former perhaps the league’s best one-two running back punch.
Third-round pick Kevin Byard, a safety out of Middle Tennessee State, appeared in all 16 games, starting seven. He played fine, recording 53 tackles and a sack, but had just four pass defenses and no interceptions. Still, Byard emerged from last year’s rotation at safety as a solid player. He’ll pair with free agent signing Jonathan Cyprien to hold down the back end of the team’s defense this season.
The hype on fifth-round pick Tajae Sharpe grew throughout the preseason to the point where the receiver went from fantasy sleeper to overrated. There wasn’t much chance of the former UMass star living up to the lofty expectations placed on him. As expected from rookies, his production was inconsistent. But he should be much more reliable this season.
Fifth-round cornerback LaShaun Sims provided good value for a late draft pick. Sims should be counted on more this season. Linebacker Aaron Wallace, a seventh-round selection, was a valuable special teams player. They were all part of a solid haul and there’s some reason to have even greater expectations for the 2016 draft class this season.
Jury’s Still Out
Linebacker Kevin Dodd, another second-round pick, lost most of his rookie season to a foot injury that landed him in IR. The former Clemson star should rebound this season to provide, at the very least, a solid backup to starters Derrick Morgan and Brian Orapko.
Sebastian Tretola, a sixth-round pick, was inactive for all but one game last season. But the team liked his potential enough not keep him on the 53-man roster. Grimm has a long track record of turning late-round draft picks and rookie free agents into solid starters. Tretola could be Grimm’s next great project.
The Titans have two picks in the first round of the draft this year, including the fifth-overall selection thanks to a savvy trade with the quarterback-hungry Rams. They also have two in the third round, giving Robinson the ammo again to bring in players who can make an impact on this year’s roster. If, that is, Robinson can repeat his magic of 2016.