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How two trades helped catapult the Titans to the AFC title game

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Rewind to 2016, when the Tennessee Titans hired general manager Jon Robinson, who inherited a roster that had finished with the worst record (3-13) in the league. Robinson faced a total rebuild, but he had the draft's first overall pick at his disposal -- he just had to decide how to use it.

"When we took over here, we knew that there were several areas on the team roster-wise that needed to be addressed," Robinson told ESPN. "We had the first overall pick; there were several players worthy of using that pick on, but we felt that getting draft capital by trading the pick was the best thing for our team. We found a trade partner in the [Los Angeles] Rams, did the deal, then set out to bolster the roster."

As the Titans prepare to face the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday (3:05 p.m. ET, CBS), here's a closer look at the two trades that helped transform them from basement-dwellers to title contenders in the four seasons since Robinson took over.

Trade No. 1: The blockbuster

Titans gave up: No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft (used on Rams QB Jared Goff), along with their fourth-round pick (No. 113, traded to Bears, who took LB Nick Kwiatkoski) and sixth-round pick (No. 177, used on TE Temarrick Hemingway)

Titans received: Los Angeles Rams' 2016 first-round pick (No. 15, used to trade up to No. 8 to take OT Jack Conklin), two 2016 second-round selections (Nos. 43 and 45, used on DT Austin Johnson and RB Derrick Henry), 2016 third-round pick (No. 76, used in Conklin trade), 2017 first- and third-round picks (Nos. 5 and 100, used on WR Corey Davis and TE Jonnu Smith)

What this trade meant to the Titans' playoff run: Robinson got four 2019 starters in the haul from the Rams who helped form the core of the NFL's hottest running game. Henry's latest tear has been historic, as he has become the first player to gain more than 180 rushing yards rushing in three consecutive games. The regular-season rushing leader has carried the team in the playoffs, finishing with 182 rushing yards against the New England Patriots in the wild-card win and 195 yards against the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round.

Henry's 406 scrimmage yards account for 69% of the Titans' total of 585 in two postseason games, according to Elias. He's on pace to surpass former Rams running back Eric Dickerson, who accounted for 64% of his team's offense.

Conklin, their starting right tackle, has been an integral part of the offensive line that has paved the way for Henry's production. He was a first-team All-Pro as a rookie in 2016, and this season his 93% pass block win rate ranked eighth among 65 qualified offensive tackles.

Davis hasn't put up great stats, but his downfield blocking plays a factor in Henry's longer runs. Davis has shown flashes of the playmaking ability that made him the first receiver selected in the 2017 draft.

Smith is also a contributor as a blocker in the run game. He stepped into the starting role when veteran tight end Delanie Walker went down and has become a viable option in the passing game, catching a touchdown against the Ravens. The third-year tight end has become one of quarterback Ryan Tannehill's favorite pass-catchers, with Smith accruing 35 receptions for 439 yards and three touchdowns on the season.

Trade No. 2: The steal

Titans gave up: 2019 seventh-round pick (No. 233, used on FB Chandler Cox) and a 2020 fourth-round pick

Titans received: Tannehill and Miami Dolphins' 2019 sixth-round pick (No. 188, used on LB David Long)

What this trade meant to the Titans' playoff run: Acquiring Tannehill, a 2012 first-round pick and six-season starter in Miami, and having the Dolphins pay him $5 million of his $7 million in guarantees was a brilliant move by Robinson. It gave the Titans an insurance policy at quarterback, which they cashed in on when Tannehill replaced Marcus Mariota as the starter in Week 7.

"[Tannehill] came in here and has done everything you can expect a pro quarterback to do," offensive coordinator Arthur Smith said. "He accepted a new role and still was competitive. When he got his opportunity, he did an outstanding job. I appreciate the professionalism from him."

Meanwhile, Long -- the other player the Titans got through this trade -- filled in for starter Jayon Brown in the Titans' Week 10 win over the Chiefs and had a forced fumble that resulted in a 53-yard touchdown return. Long again stepped in when Brown went down in the Titans' playoff win over the Patriots. The rookie linebacker started against the Ravens and chipped in with six tackles.

But it's Tannehill's resurgence that has changed the course of Tennessee's season. His accomplishments since being cast away by the Dolphins are remarkable:

  • Helped Tennessee post a 7-3 record after the team started 2-4.

  • The Titans' red zone touchdown scoring percentage has gone from 19th when Tannehill took over to No. 1 in the NFL. Tennessee has scored touchdowns on each of its five trips to the red zone in the playoffs -- two of those five red zone scores came on passes from Tannehill. The Titans haven't even attempted a field goal in the past four games. His tight-window throw to Anthony Firkser in the Titans' 20-13 wild-card win over the Patriots was an example of his excellence in the red zone.

  • Tannehill became the third quarterback since 1991 to finish the regular season with an overall and red zone completion percentage of over 70%. (The others were New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees with 74.4% in 2018 and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young with 70.3% in 1994.)

  • The Titans' offense finished third in the NFL in points (30.4) and yards per game (406.2) from Week 7, when Tannehill took over, through the end of the regular season.

  • Tannehill finished the regular season with the highest passer rating (117.5) in the league.

  • After taking over as starting quarterback in Week 7, he has thrown at least one touchdown pass in every game -- including the postseason.

The Titans haven't needed much from Tannehill so far in the playoffs thanks to Henry's dominance. But if they are to punch their ticket to the Super Bowl, the Titans might need more from their quarterback to keep pace with Kansas City's dynamic offense and Patrick Mahomes, who had five touchdown passes in Sunday's comeback win over the Texans.