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VOL. 40 | NO. 19 | Friday, May 6, 2016

Pass on Tunsil less about video, more about Conklin

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Jack Conklin, the Titans’ first-round draft pick, here with Tennessee GM Jon Robinson, was the second offensive lineman chosen after Laremy Tunsil’s dreams of going No. 1 went up in smoke.

-- Andrew Hancock/Titansonline.Com

There have been players who have dropped before in the NFL Draft. But Laremy Tunsil’s free fall might be the first-ever to be born of social media.

Just in case you didn’t know, a video of Tunsil putting on a gas mask attached to a bong surfaced on the Ole Miss lineman’s Twitter account about 10 minutes before the draft began.

And thus began a slide of monstrous proportions for a player who had strongly been considered a potential No. 1 overall pick, especially when the Tennessee Titans held that choice prior to dealing it away to the Rams.

Tunsil eventually landed with the Miami Dolphins at No. 13 after speculation that both the San Diego Chargers and Baltimore Ravens might have steered clear of Tunsil altogether after the widespread panic from the video set in.

And what of the Titans, who were in the market for a tackle and wound up trading back up to No. 8 overall to select Jack Conklin after being at No. 15 following the trade with Los Angeles?

From what I have been told from sources, and directly from General Manager Jon Robinson, Conklin was Tennessee’s guy.

Somewhere along the way, even before the Tunsil video surfaced, Tennessee and Robinson began to steer clear of Tunsil and his festering problems.

Yes, the Titans already knew of the video’s existence even before Tunsil’s Twitter account was hacked and the video made its way to the public domain via Twitter.

They also had already zeroed in on Conklin, who many people had going in the middle of the round.

When I conversed with someone from the Conklin camp before the draft began, that person said the Titans seemed to like the Michigan State tackle but believed they would have to move up in order to secure him, as he would never last till their pick at 15.

That’s exactly what Robinson did, making a trade with the Browns to ensure Conklin became a Titan, became the team’s starter at right tackle and a foundational piece to change the team both on the field and off.

Conklin being a Titan tells me two things about the new regime in Tennessee:

Robinson and Coach Mike Mularkey are setting out to build an identity with tough-minded, character-driven players like Conklin. And they are willing to do what they have to do to get the players they believe fit that.

The old Titans, who in years past seemed more than willing to cast aside character questions in the name of talent, are gone. No longer will they go on talent alone, as they’ve done in the past with high draft picks such as Pacman Jones or Kenny Britt.

To his credit, Robinson steered clear of Tunsil. He didn’t want to have any explaining to do regarding the very first draft pick of his tenure.

If Conklin fails on the field, it will be because of injury or lack of ability, but it won’t be because of draft day character questions.

And it’s the right move for a young GM trying to re-establish a new culture. Robinson realizes the foundation must be built with the right types of guys – Marcus Mariota, Delanie Walker, Jurrell Casey and others – who are part of the team-first, high-character variety.

Once the culture is established, then a character risk or two might be worth a gamble in a later round. When there are enough high-quality players doing things the right way, the Titans can roll the dice that the positive influences can keep a questionable character in line.

Second round draft pick Derrick Henry, last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, was a puzzling choice since the Titans had just traded for running back DeMarco Murray.

-- Ben Liebenberg Via Ap

But until that culture exists, choosing talent over character is simply not a road Robinson and the Titans could afford to go down.

Building for the long haul

There seems to be three parts to the NFL Draft.

First, there is all the speculation leading up to the draft, all the mock drafts and things that keep Mel Kiper, Todd McShay and others gainfully employed.

Then, there is the draft itself, which almost never unfolds the way the prognosticators believe it will, especially after the first handful of picks.

And finally, there is the grading and Monday morning quarterbacking of each team’s draft.

When it comes to evaluating the Tennessee Titans draft, most of Jon Robinson’s choices have been given a passing grade, though there are critics who have questioned why a team that has won just five games in two years didn’t go for more bona fide starters, especially in rounds two and three on Friday night.

Of the four players the Titans chose in those rounds, none are guaranteed to be Day 1 starters, though all are likely to be a part of situational packages and see playing time right away in some form or another.

Perhaps the most puzzling pick of all was the choice of Heisman Trophy winning running back Derrick Henry with the 45th overall pick. After all, the Titans had just traded for DeMarco Murray to be their bell cow back only a month before.

Plus, Robinson waited until the later rounds to address obvious needs like cornerback and wide receiver – all with smaller college players on the draft’s final day.

But the criticism might be short-sighted. Do the Titans need upgrades at receiver and in the secondary? Absolutely, a thousand times yes.

But Robinson has talked in terms of building a foundation that will last.

“We want to build for perennial success,” Robinson said just before the draft began. “If the need matches the fit then that is great, but in the end we just want to make the decision of who fits us best and who is going to be the type of Titan that we are looking for.”

It would seem to be the right approach for a Titans team that has gone off the rails with just five wins in two years.

Sure, drafting for need might pay more dividends in 2016, but realistically how close is this team to being a playoff contender right now?

The smarter move is to find the better fit and the higher upside and find some role for that player until he is ready to start.

For Robinson, the draft – and free agency – is more about finding the right fits for the long haul than just plugging a hole here and there.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com

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