New Tennessee Titan GM Jon Robinson has been a significant part of talent evaluation in the NFL for the last 8 years. With both the New England Patriots and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, all signs point to him having a loud voice in the war room on draft day, so it is safe to assume that he agreed or signed off on most of, if not all of the first and second round picks in those early drafts and that he had a say in all of the picks in Tampa Bay.
With the Titans having a crucial draft ahead of them immediately, let's look at some of the trends he has had in the past in terms of draft strategy. It is important to remember that all of these situations were similar because except for his time in Tampa Bay where they didn't have a franchise quarterback until last year.
These are the first two picks not necessarily picks in the first and second round.
1. Jerod Mayo LB, Tennessee
Maybe the best draft pick in the class, Mayo was the DROY in New England and has gone on to have a great career. He has accolades including being on the 2010 All-Pro team and being a two-time Pro Bowl player.
2. Terrance Wheatley CB, Colorado
A great athlete, Wheatley a nice college career but with injuries he never turned into a real NFL player.
Preface: This was a weird year. The Pats traded out of the first round by trading down twice and the picks they acquired in these moves ended up being used next year to trade up to draft Rob Gronkowski in 2010 so really no matter what with that value they won.
1. Patrick Chung S, Oregon
Chung has been very good as a role player in New England and when he has been with that team he has been very good.
2. Ron Brace DT, Boston College
He was the backup for Vince Wilfork and did a good job, but conditioning issues led to him ultimately being a bust.
Another year with a lot of trades that ended up with future value.
1. Devin McCourty S, Rutgers
Maybe one of the top three safeties in the league even with Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed dominating that position for a long time. All-Pro player who makes a huge difference on that team.
2. Rob Gronkowski TE, Arizona
Most of you might not know him, but this guy is actually a sneaky good TE.
1. Nate Solder OT, Colorado
Solder hasn't been great, but he has developed nicely into a top-10 left tackle in this league. When you see the absolute garbage at OT in that class, he was easily the best pick.
2. Ras-I Dowling CB, Virginia
A 2nd round bust that had a lot of draft hype.
1. Chandler Jones DE, Syracuse
Jones is just another great pick. He already has 36 career sacks and two defensive touchdowns in just four years. He has two 10+ sack seasons and has never had less than 6.
2. Dont'a Hightower LB, Alabama
Even though he doesn't have the accolades of some of the other players on that defense he is absolutely crucial. He is a playmaker and the captain of that defense.
1. Jamie Collins LB, Southern Miss
Another year with a trade down and the Patriots got an All-Pro type player in round two. Another example of finding great value in the draft.
2. Aaron Dobson WR, Marshall
Dobson is not a complete bust, but he isn't really a hit either.
Preface: Alright, now he has a promotion and is with the Bucs, so he had a huge say in all the picks. I am just going to point out the notable names.
1st round- Mike Evans WR, TAMU
Just a great wide receiver who has over 2,200 yards receiving and 15 touchdowns in just two years, which is amazing.
2nd round- Austin Safarian-Jenkins TE, Washington
A very nice looking TE that has been a weapon when healthy.
3rd round- Charles Sims RB, WVU
Took a while to get going but this year he had over 100 carries and averaged 4.9 YPC, which is basically twice every Titans RB.
So, hits on all three of their first picks which were all huge going into their second year.
1st round- Jameis Winston QB, FSU
Second best quarterback in the drat.
2nd round- Donovan Smith OT, Penn State
After getting decimated by the Titans, he rebounded nicely and had a very good season.
2nd round- Ali Marpet G, Hobart
Traded up to grab Marpet who was probably their best offensive lineman last year.
4th round- Kwon Alexander LB, LSU
One of the potential DROY this year until he was busted for PEDs late in the season.
So what does it mean?
Here is what I read into all of that. Aside from the one quarterback pick, it seems like the strategy is very clear. Draft talent over need 9 times out of 10. Taking players like Jamie Collins when you already have a great LB group, Devin McCourty when you were set on defensive backs, Charles Sims when you had Doug Martin, and Kwon Alexander when you had bigger needs at other position are all examples of this.
It is hard to see looking back because they all just look like good players, but at the time some of them were odd picks because of what they had to replace. But, could you imagine the Patriots without Gronkowski and Jamie Collins, even though Collins didn't even really start until his second season?
He built the foundation of that team that just won the Super Bowl before he left and you can bet that unless there is a tie on the board, he won't even look at needs when selecting players. He will draft the best player available and put the responsibility on the coach to find a way to optimize that roster. Which is the right way to build a team.