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VOL. 40 | NO. 20 | Friday, May 13, 2016

A to C-: Only time will tell how well Titans drafted

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Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it will take more than a three-day draft to rebuild the Tennessee Titans.

Jon Robinson understands that. It’s why he focused on the long term instead of quick fixes in the recent NFL draft and in other personnel moves. He’s looking down the road, not around the corner.

Smart man.

With a grand total of five victories in the last two combined seasons, this franchise has hit a historic low. The race to get back into playoff contention is a marathon, not a sprint. It is Robinson’s job to make the Titans relevant again, and it’s going to take some time.

Robinson took a long-range view of prospects. He evaluated a given player on how he projected in his second NFL season and beyond, not in his rookie year.

“We were going to make whatever moves we needed to, to get the guys that were going to play our brand of football here,” he says.

That’s why this draft focused on character guys with strong work ethics. It was less about style and more about substance.

The jury is still out, of course. Robinson is a first-time general manager and this was the first draft on his watch. He may have had input in previous NFL stops at New England and Tampa Bay, but his was not the final word on those drafts. This one has his fingerprints all over it.

Robinson isn’t one of those people who was born on third base and assumed he had hit a triple, as the saying goes.

He worked his way up the ranks – from assistant coach at Southeast Missouri State then at Nicholls State, to regional scout for the Patriots, to director of college scouting for New England, to director of player personnel at Tampa Bay, to G.M. with the Titans.

He believes in diligence, perseverance and teamwork. He drafted accordingly.

“I think it went fairly smoothly in the war room,” Robinson adds. “I’m not a big draft grade person. I just want to see those guys go on out and perform on the field at a level that we evaluated them.”

As for the grades, Robinson’s draft class is all over the board. Chad Reuter of NFL.com gave it an A. Mel Kiper of ESPN checked in with an A-. On the other hand, Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com gave it a C- and was especially critical of the selection of running back Derrick Henry in the second round.

Time will tell.

It’s clear that Robinson’s draft board didn’t remotely resemble any of those mock drafts generated by so many alleged NFL “insiders.” For one thing, he had Michigan State offensive tackle Jack Conklin rated ahead of Laremy Tunsil even before Tunsil’s bizarre gas-mask bong-smoking video surfaced on the day of the draft.

Robinson got his man. Armed with a load of picks after he traded the No. 1 slot to the Los Angeles Rams, Robinson moved from No. 15 to No. 8 and selected Conklin, who will be stationed at right tackle.

In his introductory press conference in Nashville, Conklin said something that must have been music to Robinson’s ears:

“When I think of football, I think of putting people on the ground.”

Of course, it should be noted that the two 2015 acquisitions that were supposed to fill a vacancy at right tackle – free-agent signee Byron Bell and third-round draft pick Jeremiah Poutasi – both finished last season at guard.

Bill Polian of ESPN, who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his body of work as an NFL general manager, thinks Conklin ultimately could wind up at guard. Obviously, Robinson sees him as a tackle.

Robinson has a vision for how he wants the organization to operate, and he’s already made some changes in the scouting department, including the hiring of Ryan Cowden as director of player personnel and the release of two scouts.

The scouting overhaul was long overdue. The Titans’ evaluation of college players dropped off when long-time director of scouting C.O. Brocato began to deal with declining health several years ago. Brocato died last September after a long battle with bladder cancer.

Robinson is not afraid to step on toes. Over the years, the Titans have been too loyal to their draft picks. It was as if the organization didn’t want to admit its mistakes. You get the impression that’s not going to happen with Robinson.

He chose not to re-sign safety Michael Griffin, whose best football is in the rearview mirror. Robinson has made it clear that few starting positions are guaranteed.

He and coach Mike Mularkey indicated they hoped the arrival of Conklin would bring out the best in Chance Warmack, a former first-round draft pick (No. 10 overall) who has underachieved at right guard.

Sixth-round pick Sebastian Tretola, a guard out of Arkansas, is an intriguing prospect with a mean streak that Warmack has not shown.

It is telling that the Titans chose not to pick up the fifth-year option on Warmack’s contract. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re giving up on him. What it does mean, though, is that Warmack will have to up his game in order for the Titans to offer him a long-term contract.

Others are on alert because of the draft and free-agent acquisitions.

The influx of talent at running back with the trade for DeMarco Murray and the drafting of Henry likely means the days are numbered for Bishop Sankey, the team’s second-round pick and the first running back selected in the 2014 draft. Sankey has been a major disappointment in his two seasons with the Titans.

Dexter McCluster could stick around as a change-up back and an option in the return game, but Antonio Andrews and David Cobb may be competing for a roster spot.

It remains to be seen what, if any, role will fall to fullback Jalston Fowler, a fourth-round pick in 2015.

Clearly, more changes are forthcoming at Titans Central. Jon Robinson knows it is his mess to clean up. When the hand you’re dealt produced just five wins in the last two seasons, it’s time to get some new cards.

Shuffle up and deal.

Reach David Climer at dclimer1018@yahoo.com and on Twitter @DavidClimer.

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