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VOL. 41 | NO. 18 | Friday, May 05, 2017

Titans draft about more than physical skills

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It’s easy to look at the Tennessee Titans’ 2017 draft and conclude General Manager Jon Robinson drafted for need.

After all, he took two wide receivers, a tight end and a cornerback among his first four picks. And all of those players will have better-than-average opportunities to earn early playing time.

But Robinson and the Titans didn’t necessarily draft for need. His philosophy is to draft for fit, to identify a certain type of player who fits the Titans’ profile on the field, in the locker room and in the community.

It’s a process of building the foundation and adding to it with the right players each year, he explains.

“I am just excited about the players we were able to add to another year in the process here and just excited about the direction of our football team from a player’s standpoint, and then from a coaching and personnel standpoint, another round of us working together to identify prospects that fit our football team and our philosophy,” Robinson says.

Realistically, it is way too early to grade the 2017 draft class because none of them have even put on an NFL uniform or played a single snap. But from the standpoint of where these players fit on the roster, let’s evaluate and grade them.

First round, No. 5 overall: WR Corey Davis, Western Michigan

Most analysts had Davis pegged as a first-round pick, and one of three receivers with a first-round grade. What wasn’t expected was that Davis, who played in the Mid-American Conference, would go as high as No. 5.

Turns out Robinson might have sensed there would be an earlier run on receivers than many expected. Mike Williams went to the Chargers at seven, and John Ross to the Bengals at nine.

There was also no question that the Titans had a need at receiver, and Robinson was sold on Davis as his guy to fill that spot.

Can Davis make the jump to NFL success and overcome the Titans wide receiver curse that has stretched from Tyrone Calico to Kenny Britt on through Justin Hunter, Dorial Green-Beckham and Kendall Wright? Stay tuned. Grade: B-plus.

First round, No. 18 overall: CB Adoree’ Jackson, USC

Anyone who watched the 2016 Titans knows they needed help at cornerback, and Jackson is regarded as one of the best cover corners available this year. His speed and ball skills will make him valuable.

The only question will be – at 5-10, 188 pounds – his ability to take the physical punishment of the NFL.

Jackson also has outstanding punt return skills and can even play offense if needed. Grade: A

Third round, No. 72 overall: WR Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky

The Titans liked Taylor enough that they traded up 11 spots to reel him in. He is shifty and is a deep threat having scored 34 receiving touchdowns and 184 catches for the Hilltoppers in the past two seasons.

The Titans will ticket him for the slot position and hope he can use his quick twitch moves to get open in the middle of the field. Another smaller school gamble based on production and a team-first attitude. Grade: B

Third round, No. 100 overall: TE Jonnu Smith, Florida International

Smith is a remarkable story, having come back from an ugly incident that made national headlines in which his pregnant girlfriend threw boiling water on him during an argument.

Smith impressed Robinson and the Titans with his attitude, approach and ability to overcome adversity, as he also had a knee injury that cost him part of the 2015 season. Fits the hard work and character mold the Titans seeking.

Yet another smaller school player who will have something to prove on this level. Grade: B.

Fifth round, No. 155, LB Jayon Brown, UCLA

The Titans take a UCLA linebacker (they chose Aaron Wallace last year) for the second consecutive year, using linebackers coach Lou Spanos’ familiarity as a former Bruins coach to their advantage.

Brown figures to be a key player on special teams and also could wind up playing as a nickel linebacker, another need area filled by Robinson. Grade: B.

Sixth round, No. 217, G/T Corey Levin, Chattanooga

The Titans go semi-local, staying in-state for an offensive line prospect with versatility, having played both guard and tackle in college with some experience at center in practice. Offensive line was not a need area for the Titans, but it never hurts to add some developmental players to that group so the cupboard doesn’t get bare as it did in previous years. Grade: C

Seventh round, No. 227, OLB Josh Carraway, Texas Christian

Carraway is a decent prospect as a pass rusher, and his presence in this draft class is due in part to the fact that 2016 second-round pick Kevin Dodd is still experiencing pain in his surgically-repaired right foot.

Carraway has the speed and pass rush ability to be effective as a situational rusher, and should also help on special teams. Not a bad gamble this late in the draft, especially when it comes to a player who knows how to get to the quarterback: Grade: B-plus

Seventh round, Brad Seaton, No. 236, OT, Villanova

Villanova, despite producing Hall of Famer Howie Long, isn’t exactly a football factory. But Seaton is a massive human being, standing 6-8 and weighing 330 pounds. He will need some work on his technique and some patience, but the size is certainly there. Grade: B-minus

Seventh round, Khalfani Muhammad, No. 241 overall, RB California

Mumammad’s game is speed, as he was clocked at 4.34 in the 40-yard dash. The Titans don’t really have many snaps left at running back behind DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, but the diminutive Muhammad (5-7, 174) gives Tennessee an element it didn’t previously possess. Could be a good pickup if he can parlay that small size and speed package into a Darren Sproles-type career. But that certainly remains to be seen. Grade: C-plus.

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