After the Titans selected Tajae Sharpe with their first pick on day three of the 2016 NFL Draft, it hit me. Every single draft pick to that point had at least one thing in common.
They were not the work-out warriors that we are used to seeing Ruston Webster take. They were mostly all big, powerful athletes that flat produced at the collegiate level. It was an almost refreshing way to go after seeing years Ruston Webster "upside" picks. Let's take a look at the numbers and accolades.
OT Jack Conklin
All-American left tackle, All Big Ten first and second team honors. Constant praise for his leadership and toughness. Former walk-on that had nothing handed to him. Started 13 of 14 games as a redshirt freshman, just a year removed from his walk-on status.
EDGE Kevin Dodd
Late bloomer. Only appeared in five games in 2014. Full time player in 2015. Registered 46 pressures (1st in NCAA) and notched 12.5 sacks (4th in NCAA). 24 tackles for loss (2nd in NCAA). Honorable mention on the All ACC squad.
NT/5T Austin Johnson
78 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, six sacks in 2015. 2nd team All Big Ten.
RB Derrick Henry
395 carries, 2219 yards, 28 TDs in 2015. Heisman winner. All American, All SEC.
FS Kevin Byard
19 career interceptions. Four time all conference selection in both the Sun Belt and C-USA.
WR Tajae Sharpe
Career 277 receptions, 3486 yards, 16 TDs. Two-time All MAC, 2nd team All American.
CB LeShaun Sims
Physical perimeter player. 220 career tackles, eight career interceptions. 25 career pass break-ups. All Big-Sky selection.
OG Sebastian Tretola
Two year starter at Arkansas in a tough, physical system. All SEC performer as a senior.
EDGE Aaron Wallace
Another late bloomer on the edge. Wallace started 11 games for UCLA, but put up seven sacks in 2015 alone. Honorable mention All Pac 12.
CB Kalan Reed
2015: School record 23 pass break-ups. Four interceptions. First team All Conference-USA.
Every single draft pick produced big numbers in at least one full season of play. There were a couple of guys like Dodd and Wallace that didn't have great career production, but had outstanding 2015 seasons. Every single selection was an all conference performer outside of Dodd and Wallace, who were named honorable mentions.
Both offensive line selections are considered to be some of the most physical players in the entire draft class. Both made their money blowing out lanes in the run game. Getting big dudes that can play power football on both sides of the ball was key for Jon Robinson.
"My background is mostly in New England, obviously, for 12 years and we were a big football team," Robinson said after the end of Round 3. "We always had big, strong backs, whether it was Corey Dillon or Laurence Maroney or LeGarrette Blount. On the offensive line we had Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder and Logan Mankins for a long time, all bigger guys. And then on defense, we had Vince Wilfork and, back in the day, Willie McGinest and Mike Vrabel. We won a lot of football games with those big guys."
It's pretty clear that Robinson wanted pure football players. He wanted guys that produced and led their respective teams. He wanted guys that would fit into a locker room and that could build a winning culture. He mentioned over and over that he valued team first guys that were tough and loved the game. I think that's exactly what he got with this group. Maybe once a base group is built, the locker room could support a more supreme talent that may not have been a choir boy or team leader.
Robinson also threw us completely off during the pre-draft process. He kept several meetings and workouts under wraps and threw smoke at us with guys like Braxton Miller and Mackensie Alexander. It was clear that he believes in production over pure athletic ability. That's something to keep in mind for next year as we try to figure out guys that might fit his criteria. It was a complete change-up from the Webster era, who often telegraphed his picks with facility visits.
The day two picks threw everyone off guard, but each selection was made with a specific role in mind. They likely aren't immediate starters, but each will play roles in 2016 and look to be in line to start down the road. Look for Derrick Henry to slowly move into that Michael Turner bell-cow role for Mike Mularkey. Austin Johnson could play immediately at nose tackle. Kevin Dodd will give the defense a much needed depth rusher behind Orakpo and Morgan. Kevin Byard will learn the system behind one year signee Rashad Johnson and has a shot to start next season.
It's important to remember that an additional first round pick along with another third round pick should be included in this haul. It's an easy thing to forget, but those two firsts could pay huge dividends next season. I fully expect Jon Robinson to stick to his Patriot guns and trade out of one of those firsts to recoup that second round pick that he dealt for Jack Conklin.
In a league that's placed value on quickness and speed over the past five seasons, Jon Robinson went with girth and power. It's a fascinating philosophy that he clearly believes in from his quote above. It's a bit of a throwback approach, but it's a sustainable approach. He wants to control the football and wear people down, much like Titans teams of the early 2000s did.
I don't know how this class pans out, but I do know that Jon Robinson and his crew has brought a totally new (and welcomed) approach to the draft process. They want to punch you in the mouth and steamroll their way to wins. I'm a big proponent of ball control and this certainly fits that bill. It's becoming a seemingly extinct approach in today's NFL, but if you can run the ball and play defense, you'll win a lot of games. Those two things go hand in hand. Sustaining offense was something the Titans struggled with last season, which in turn kept the defense on the field and ran them out of gas.
Jon Robinson and Mike Mularkey have a crystal clear plan for this roster. It may be straight out of the the 1970s, but I like going out on a limb and being different from a copycat league.