As the 2017 season comes to a close, let’s examine how Titans General Manager and Executive Vice President of Football Operations Jon Robinson fared in his second draft.
After taking over as General Manager for the Titans in 2016, Jon Robinson has reshaped this team into a middling contender from the perennial basement dwellers they had become under former GM Ruston Webster. Stripped of talent, Robinson went to work on a roster that was one of the worst in the league. A 9-7 season showed that Robinson had improved the talent level tremendously through an effective draft. Bringing in players like Jack Conklin, Kevin Byard, Derrick Henry and Leshaun Sims. Although the picks of Kevin Dodd, Austin Johnson and Tajae Sharpe are still up in the air in terms of value, 2016 was a big hit for a first-year GM. Most of these players took on huge roles in changing the culture of the team and locker room.
By any measure, Robinson’s first season at the helm was a success. Improving the team’s win total by six games is quite the accomplishment. However, as the end of season two of the Jon Robinson Experience approaches, it is important we take a step back and check on this year’s crop of players. It is easy to heap non-stop praise on Robinson for what he had done in just one season, but for the Titans to take the next step, some areas of concern needed to be addressed. The secondary was a major issue all of 2016 with the Titans routinely being carved up by average opponents. This included the coverage skills(or lack thereof)at the linebacker position. Pass rush depth is always needed and interior line depth on offense would be helpful. A pass-catching running back with speed was also missing from the roster. Were these holes filled? Did the selections used to fill those holes pan out? To answer these questions, we will comb over the 2017 draft to see if those areas were indeed addressed.
Armed with two first round picks, the Titans were in prime position to add critical pieces to an already improving group of players. In theory, hitting on Receiver and Cornerback with the first two picks was a smart move. Those two positions have been pain points for the Titans for a long time. Unfortunately, Corey Davis has been plagued most of the season by hamstring injuries and a vanilla scheme with coaches unable to access his talent. It is still up in the air as to whether this pick will end up being the value we had hoped. The second first round pick, Adoree Jackson, has been up and down during the season. Struggling early on, Jackson has stepped up his play of late typically being placed on the top wideout from the opposing team. With his much-needed contribution on special teams(728 total return yards), offensive ability(5 rushes, 55 yards) and his increased confidence on defense(65 tackles, two forced fumbles and 14 pass deflections) it appears, on this trajectory, that Jackson will be exactly what Robinson had hoped. Third round picks Taywan Taylor and Jonnu Smith have flashed potential, but have been either puzzlingly under-used or used in a manner not conducive to his style of play, respectively. Both may have a long-term value greater than their draft position but will need a new offensive coaching staff to do so. Fifth-round selection Jayon Brown has been a solid value and a personal favorite. Jayon has played the majority of his snaps in nickel and dime packages when more defensive backs take the field and Brown comes in for his coverage-inept counterpart Avery Williamson.
As with all rookies, Brown has had some struggles but he has been a much better coverage linebacker than Williamson and routinely made plays in pass coverage that helped the team. Brown is a role player, but has played very well in that role. The remaining four selections are obvious dart throws attempting to fill the previously mentioned holes. Corey Levin, Khalfani Muhammad and Josh Carraway have been fixtures on the practice squad. While Brad Seaton is no longer with the organization. The holes discussed have not been filled by these darts. Interior offensive line has regressed and no adequate competition at the position has hurt the run game. Recently the pass rush has come along, but with one injury to Derrick Morgan reveals the lack of quality depth(Looking at you, Dodd). The greatest need could be a pass-catching back. Demarco Murray is the default third down back, but with how often he is banged up and a lack of speed due to age, Murray does not fill this role effectively enough. It is possible any of these late round picks could make a leap in year two, make the roster full time and contribute next season. Those outcomes would be a pleasant surprise at this point so it is fair to evaluate the class using their current standing with the team.
Overall, you would have hoped to get more out of 3 of your top four picks. While Davis, Taylor and Smith have immense potential, they have not produced quite as much as the fan base, staff and Robinson would have hoped. As suggested prior, it is my opinion that a possible coaching change could unlock the potential of these players. It is no coincidence that the two best rookies have been on defense. Jackson and Brown have played up to or above their draft position. Competent coaching can do wonders, especially for rookies. While there is still hope that this class can be a franchise changer down the road, at this time, we cannot say it has lived up to expectations.
Robinson and the Titans will need a great 2018 class, major improvements from the 2017 rookies and, most likely, a coaching change to get this team back on the right path to continued growth and consistent contention.