NFL Draft Retrospective, Tennessee Titans

Tennessee Titans 2016 NFL Draft Retrospective

How does the Tennessee Titans 2016 NFL Draft class look three years later?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times for the Tennessee Titans heading into the 2016 NFL Draft. After a brutal year in 2014, the Titans actually looked much better in 2015 after adding franchise QB Marcus Mariota. However, he, Taylor Lewan, and the amazing diamond in the rough Delanie Walker were all Tennessee had to speak of offensively.

Fans knew that the Titans couldn’t keep letting the quarterback get taken out like this after Mariota was sacked 38 times. This, combined with a running game that was only hurting the team, meant that something had to be done. Everyone thought Laremy Tunsil was destined to be the first overall pick. Then we found out why Jon Robinson would be one of the most fascinating GMs in the NFL.

Original Grade

Sports Illustrated: B+

“We’ll never know if the Titans actually needed to trade back up to No. 8 to land Conklin, but he should grab the starting right tackle job and run with it. Dodd was one of many potential first-round prospects who slid to Day 2. He’s also 24 years old and will have to learn a 3–4 scheme, so TBD on that one.

The Titans definitely grew their physical presence, via Henry, defensive tackle Austin Johnson and O-lineman Sebastian Tretola. They’ll like Byard quite a bit, too, if they are patient in allowing him to crack the lineup. GM Jon Robinson waited until pick 157 to address the CB spot, then found a rising talent in LeShaun Sims. He also put Mr. Irrelevant to good use, taking sleeper corner Kalan Reed from Southern Miss. This was not the type of draft that necessarily thrills anyone, but it clearly pushes along the process of making a bad team more competitive.” – Chris Burke

FanSided: B

“This grade would be a touch higher if not for Derrick Henry in the second round. When you are the Titans, you have bigger needs than a complement to DeMarco Murray. That said, Tennessee did well to land Jack Conklin in the first, giving it a nice tackle duo with Taylor Lewan. The Titans also took defensive end Kevin Dodd and nose tackle Austin Johnson in the second, nabbing a pair of starters.”  – Matt Verderame

Draft Class

Round 1 (No. 8)

Jack Conklin

OT, Michigan State

Current Team: Tennessee Titans

The Titans had to do gymnastics to get to this pick. Having the worst record in the NFL ended up having plenty of benefits, as new GM Jon Robinson ultimately turned that pick into the 8th overall pick, two second-round picks and a future first and third-round pick in 2017.

Focusing specifically on this pick, Jack Conklin made the Tennessee Titans much better than almost any other pick in this draft could have. People forget, but at the time the general consensus was that the Titans should move future Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan, over the right side and draft Laremy Tunsil with the first overall pick.

Looking back, the Titans are so much better with Lewan and Conklin as their bookends and when healthy they put themselves in the conversation for the best young tandem in the NFL.

Round 2 (No. 33)

Kevin Dodd

LB, Clemson

Current Team: Free Agent

If Conklin was the perfect pick to start the Jon Robinson era in Tennessee, then Kevin Dodd was an immediate speed bump.

After all we have seen from Jon Robinson in his career at Tennessee, Dodd remains an outlier as a player that just doesn’t seem to fit anything he looks for in a player. The classic one year wonder with a big game bias, Dodd was just a guy, and after injuries and low confidence plagued his career he ended up being waived and then quietly exiting the league.

Career stats: 12 tackles, 1 sack

Who should they have drafted: Michael Thomas WR, Ohio State

Round 2 (No. 43)

Austin Johnson

OT, Penn State

Current Team: Tennessee Titans

Johnson was a much better idea of what a Jon Robinson “miss” should look like. He was very productive in college and looked like the rare 1-tech that could make a difference in the NFL. While he wasn’t athletic in college, he did improve every year and looked like a solid compliment to Jurrell Casey.

Looking back now there are a few players the Titans would have been better off with, but Johnson has turned into a serviceable backup caliber defensive lineman. Not what you want out of a top-50 pick, but not a Kevin Dodd level bust either.

Who should they have drafted: Tyler Boyd WR, Pitt.

Round 2 (No. 45)

Derrick Henry

RB, Alabama

 

Current Team: Tennessee Titans

This is more like it. While I didn’t love it at the time, I was cautiously optimistic that he would be great for the new run-heavy offense that was expected in Tennessee. The pick has worked out better than I could have ever hoped as he has become the Titans de facto “Jaguar killer” after being their kryptonite since entering the league.

After a slow start this year he seems to have gotten his legs under him finishing with over 600 yards in December alone last year. If he takes another leap or even if he is just consistent the Titans could have a 1,500-yard rusher and a legitimately scary weapon on offense.

Round 3 (No. 64) 

Kevin Byard

S, MTSU

Current Team: Tennessee Titans

You know in movies when something unbelievable happens and everyone just stands in awe until someone starts the “slow clap”? This is the slow clap moment for Jon Robinson, because this is where Robinson’s prowess for finding diamonds in the rough became clear.

Byard was a relative unknown after being snubbed by the combine, but his production and athleticism screamed stardom. It turns out that Jon Robinson heard that loud and clear as he selected Byard who ultimately ended up tied for the league lead in interceptions in 2017 and has quickly cemented himself as one of the best young safeties in the NFL if not the best.

Round 5 (No. 140)

Tajae Sharpe

WR, UMass

Current Team: Tennessee Titans

It is hard to find anyone outside of the top-100 picks that make a true impact on your team. What you are left with most years is lottery tickets or players you believe can be solid backup/rotational players for your team.

Sharpe is a really solid player who has come through in the clutch for the Titans more often than he gets credit for, but his career in Tennessee will be that of a WR3/4 who makes the team better but isn’t a huge threat.

Round 5 (No. 157)

LeShaun Sims

CB, Southern Utah

Current Team: Tennessee Titans

This is a weird pick to grade. He is a long CB that no one knew anything about, but Robinson found him and he has been very good as a CB4. The issue is this: how high do you grade a career backup at CB who has only started nine games for you, but in two of those contests he had game-winning interceptions?

The Titans are lucky to have him and a team should really try to make him a starter because of his length and ability to make game-changing plays, but he will never get his due in Tennessee with the three-headed monster of Adoree Jackson, Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler in place at CB.

Round 6 (No. 193)

Sebastian Tretola

OG, Arkansas

Current Team: Free Agent

Robinson almost found another one here. Tretola was a wide-bodied guard who fit what the Titans wanted to do, but he needed time to develop into a starter and refine some of his game. During the offseason, he got in trouble off the field and was released.

Who they should have drafted: Robby Anderson WR, Temple

Round 7 (No. 222)

Aaron Wallace

LB, UCLA

Current Team: Denver Broncos

Wallace was having a nice career not only as a speed rusher but also as a special teams player and an off the ball LB that could cover sideline to sideline. Unfortunately, a nagging back injury has hampered his development and he is no longer with the team.

Who should they have drafted: Mike Hilton CB, Ole Miss

Round 7 (No. 253)

Kalan Reed

CB, Southern Miss

Current Team: Seattle Seahawks

A talented and athletic zone corner that could develop fast enough, but who was solid as a backup.

Who should they have drafted: Corey Littleton LB, Washington

Retrospective Grade

When you look at a draft class, I believe that if you find three players who are at least average starters throughout the class then you have beaten the league average. The Titans hit three landing Jack Conklin, Derrick Henry, and Kevin Byard but they got so much more than just average. In those picks, they landed two players who have already received All-Pro honors, as well as a truly unique running back that has given a division rival problems for the last three years.

Not only that, but they would receive the picks that eventually got them Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith. I believe Davis will be outstanding in the NFL and if Smith becomes a starter when Delanie Walker leaves then that will be five starters total, three of which who are true difference makers.

Was it perfect? No, but if the Titans had nailed the 33rd pick and taken someone like Michael Thomas over Kevin Dodd this team would have gone deep into the playoffs the past two years.

Jon Robinson stepped on a boat with a mediocre captain and holes everywhere he looked. This draft and the other offseason moves were so good that the team tripled their win total from 2015.

The Titans have continued to build around this core group of players since then, and now it seems like they have nearly enough talent to compete with anyone in the NFL. These moves not only added talent to the roster but showed discipline by Jon Robinson to trust in Taylor Lewan at left tackle and to trust his gut on a guy like Kevin Byard. It also taught him to ignore outside noise when it came to picks on the first two days of the draft. All of those lessons have shaped the Titans and made them better, and you can trace it all back to the hits and misses of this draft.

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