Paul Kuharsky breaks down the 2016 Tennessee Titans draft class.
My take: General manager Jon Robinson said the team's first selection will be a tone-setter in more ways than one. The rest of the locker room will now look at Conklin and say, "That's the kind of guy they want here." He's a tough-minded, tough player, and the Titans don't have enough of those. Their hope is that his attitude can be contagious for the offensive line and the whole team.
Not cheap: The Titans gave up their first-round pick (No. 15) and a third-rounder (No. 76) plus a 2017 second-round pick in exchange for Nos. 8 and 176 (in the sixth round). That’s a pretty steep price, but the Titans gained a great deal of capital when they traded the No. 1 overall pick to the Rams and still have picks Nos. 33, 43, 45, 64, 140, 176 and 222 on Friday and Saturday.
Split opinions: Conklin’s critics aren’t sure he’ll pan out as an NFL right tackle and think he could wind up as a guard. Those analysts include ESPN’s Bill Polian, a Pro Football Hall of Famer, and Greg Cosell of NFL Films. But one high-ranking personnel man with another team told me earlier this week that Conklin is the “best OL in the draft” and said his “traits are rare.”
*Acquired in trade with Rams and Browns
My take: The Titans rushed well early in the season, with 15 sacks in their first five games. But as Derrick Morgan dealt with a shoulder injury that knocked him out for the final half of the season, things dropped off terribly. The Titans had just eight sacks in their final six games. Depth was a serious issue, and while Bass made some plays in spot duty, once he was the second starter things were not the same. Dodd should help cure the problem, as he’s coming off a 12-sack season for Clemson.
One-sided? Pro Football Focus points out that Dodd played exclusively on the defensive left, facing right defensive tackles as part of a stacked Tigers line. Morgan plays on the left for the Titans. “I feel like I can play both, I have played both,” Dodd said. “[Bills first-rounder] Shaq Lawson felt comfortable at right, I felt comfortable at left so that’s the way we played.”
Patience: Dodd said he knew the Titans liked him and that they need depth at outside linebacker. He had a big final year at Clemson with 12 sacks, but played as a reserve in two seasons before that. He worked on his craft while waiting on his opportunity and said his best is yet to come and he will simply look to be part of the chain gang. He was in Chicago for the first round, expecting to be drafted, but went home to Taylors, S.C., and worked out on Friday.
My take: The Titans have a starting trio on the defensive line they seem happy with: DaQuan Jones and Jurrell Casey at ends and Al Woods at nose tackle. Though they should rotate a lot, will Johnson break into that group? There is less room for a starting candidate on the defensive line than at a lot of positions the Titans went through the first two rounds and four picks without addressing. Johnson said he can play end and nose. To prove a second-round value, he’ll need to be one of those in base and a top candidate to work with Casey inside in the nickel package, when the outside linebackers creep up and effectively play ends with two linemen between them.
PFF’s review: Pro Football Focus says Johnson has “quick, strong hands; wins often on first contact” and has a feel for where blocks are coming from. Those are nice traits for a team looking to win more often in the trenches, one that needs to win on the line of scrimmage more and didn’t do well enough stopping the run with the group that is returning. If Johnson can help there, his contribution can be significant.
New guy to shape him: Nick Eason worked as an assistant to Giff Smith on the defensive line for the past two seasons. As Mike Mularkey shaped his staff, Smith went to San Diego and Mularkey promoted Eason, who played nine years with Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Arizona. Now he’s got a guy in Johnson he’s starting from scratch with. Johnson will be reliant on Eason to develop him quickly into an NFL contributor.
My take: There is no cause for any level of faith in the Titans running backs beyond Murray. Bishop Sankey is a bust of a 2014 second-rounder, David Cobb did little in 2015 as a rookie, Antonio Andrews is super slow and Dexter McCluster has been miscast. Still, the 45th pick in the draft should produce a clear-cut starter for a team coming off a 3-13 season, and Henry will be second on a depth chart that still has plenty of needs still unfilled on the first team. The Titans emphasized they will be a balanced offense and that Henry will be a factor in the passing game. But the sort of factors Marcus Mariota needs in the pass game have to line up wide and make plays down the field. Henry became the fourth back drafted by the Titans since 2014, the most of any team in the league. And that doesn’t include Murray, who arrived in a trade. In a passing league, are the Titans spending too much capital on retro concepts?
Chip on shoulder: Henry said he expected to go in the first round and was disappointed that he didn’t. But he’s been underestimated before and said with his dream of being drafted fulfilled, he will use his second-round status as fuel, working hard to prove he belongs. I don’t doubt he will fit the Titans' push to fill the roster with guys who love football, know what it takes to win and represent their core feelings well.
Who carries when? Having two good players at one position is fine, but if they are both healthy it can lead to a constant storyline about who’s getting the ball when, and why. Jon Robinson said the team now has two workhorse backs. The Titans may have created a constant controversy. Henry is automatically the second-best back on the team. That the Titans felt they needed another back is a further indictment of the acquisitions at the position that came before Robinson and Mike Mularkey came to power. Hopefully we’ve seen the end of any significant work for Bishop Sankey and Antonio Andrews. And while McCluster now has more to change up from, it’ll be hard to justify many touches for him.
*Acquired in trade with Rams
Round 3, pick 64: Kevin Byard, S, Middle Tennessee
My take: Byard recorded 19 interceptions in four years at MTSU, which is 37 miles southeast of the Titans' facility. Titans general manager Jon Robinson said he’s got a friend on the team’s staff who’s been urging him to look at Byard for a couple years. The Titans recently spent two hours with him, and were extremely impressed with his attitude and football knowledge. After a short installation period, Byard was easily recalling the Titans' terminology and making calls as he watched tape of Alabama with execs, Robinson said. Byard might not burst into the lineup from the start, as the Titans signed veteran Rashad Johnson from Arizona. But Johnson only got a one-year deal, and if Byard isn’t the starting free safety in 2016, he certainly should be in 2017.
Playmaker: Byard ran a 4.44 at his pro day, but ESPN.com’s Steve Muench says Byard doesn't seem that fast on game tape. “He's still one of the most underrated safety prospects in this class,” Muench wrote. “He's a playmaker with above-average instincts and the production to prove it; he finished his college career with 19 interceptions. He's also a good tackler and reliable run defender.” Robinson said the Titans will reshape the way Byard tackles a bit, allowing him to be sure and aggressive.
Confident:Byard has a bubbly personality and will quickly be a fan and media favorite. He said he doesn’t have a favorite player, but that, “I’m my favorite NFL player now.” His plan is to make an immediate impact on special teams and to fight for a starting job.
My take: The Titans have a lot of wide receivers on their roster. None of the incumbents are coming off great years. They have high hopes for Dorial Green-Beckham in his second season. He needs to more reliably get where they need him to be and find the ball. Kendall Wright might be in his final season with the team and has regressed. Justin Hunter has never blossomed. Harry Douglas wasn’t particularly good in his first season with the team. Free-agent addition Rishard Matthews should help. But there is room for a guy like Sharpe, who played a great deal for the Minutemen and had an exceptionally productive senior year.
Big production: Sharpe led FBS teams with 111 receptions in 2015. Pro Football Focus says the 6-foot-2, 194-pound receiver has good hands and footwork, and uses his big frame well to get in position to make catches. The questions are about the competition he faced and his ability to separate, as he ran a 4.55 and doesn’t have a big vertical jump compared to other receivers in this draft.
My take: Analysts like his size -- 6-foot, 203 pounds -- and toughness. He started out playing eight-man high school football and was an unheralded recruit. Titans GM Jon Robinson likes guys who’ve had to work for things, and Sims certainly appears to fit that mold. The Titans need cornerbacks with ball skills. Sims had 25 pass breakups and eight interceptions, but only two of those picks came in the last two seasons. He rates well in run support and intangibles. To get him, the Titans traded up with the Broncos. The Titans gave up this year’s sixth-round pick, 176th, and next year’s sixth in exchange for the pick they used on Sims (157) and the final pick of this draft, 253rd.
Cover skills review: Per ESPN.com’s scouting report: “Press-CB who is at his best in bump and run technique where he can use his size, strength and speed to his advantage. Turns easy at the LOS and has the range to carry receivers down the field. Displays some tightness in off-man or zone coverage. Will lose momentum when forced to make a sudden change of direction and often takes an extra false step or two with gather when breaking forward. Shows a very good closing burst once pointed in the right direction to make up ground when the ball is in the air.”
*Acquired from Jets through Broncos
My take: The Titans have an unsolved puzzle at left guard, and Tretola now gives them an additional piece. If he plays well from the start, he could get in front of last year’s third-rounder Jeremiah Poutasi, veteran Byron Bell and second-year undrafted Qunton Spain. Tretola continues the Titans trend of drafting size and strength in Jon Robinson’s first class as the decision-maker.
Destructive power: Pro Football Focus says Tretola has "Destructive power," a feature Robinson, coach Mike Mularkey, offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie and offensive line coach Russ Grimm surely love. PFF also says "Few linemen in this class relish pancaking opponents as much" as Tretola. Conklin also spoke of his delight at finishing off blockers in such a fashion. The Titans have three new offensive linemen in veteran center Ben Jones, Conklin and Tretola and all three are cut from similar cloth, a fact that should do a lot for a team trying to create a new attitude.
*Acquired from Falcons
Round 7, pick 222: Aaron Wallace, LB, UCLA
My take: Wallace is a one-year starter from UCLA who's played behind a couple super-talented linebackers -- Anthony Barr, who was a first-rounder for Minnesota in 2014, and Miles Jack, who went in the second round of this draft to Jacksonville. Going into his senior year, Wallace thought about graduating and playing elsewhere immediately with San Diego State a potential destination. He'll come to Nashville with a big connection. Lou Spanos was the Bruins defensive coordinator in 2012-13, Wallace's first two years. Spanos is now the Titans linebackers coach.
Instinct development: Asked what he needs to work on the most to have a chance to excel at the next level, Wallace said: "Probably developing my football instincts, being able to speed up my reactions and my feel for what's going on around me." He said he expects his initial chance for impact will come on special teams. Dan Brugler of CBS says Wallace is "unimaginative as a pass rusher and spends too much time setting up his rush." He'll get a chance to show he can do that when he gets to Tennessee to work with Spanos again.
Round 7, pick 253*: Kalan Reed, CB, Southern Mississippi
My take: The Titans got the Mr. Irrelevant pick from the Broncos as part of a trade in the fifth round, when the Titans moved up to get Southern Utah cornerback LeShaun Sims. Reed recorded an interception or pass breakup on 20.2 percent of the passes on which he was targeted, one of the highest rates in the nation, according to Pro Football Focus. At 5-foot-11, 195 pounds and with a pro day 4.38 in the 40-yard dash, the Titans got reasonably good size and excellent speed in a last-pick cornerback.
Strong review: PFF’s scouting report says many of the players that PFF grades well don’t fit the size and speed profile the NFL covets and don’t get the consideration they may deserve. “Reed is different,” PFF wrote. “He ticks every box from a physical standpoint, and this past season he had tape to rival any corner in this class. He may have some competition questions to answer having played at Southern Mississippi, but you can only play what’s in front of you, and this season Reed allowed only 48.3 percent of passes thrown his way to be caught.”
*Acquired from the Broncos