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Traits of Jon Robinson’s First Draft Class: A Refresher

What did we learn in 2016 that we can use to evaluate players for 2017?

NFL: 2016 NFL Draft
Jack Conklin is selected by the Tennessee Titans in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

2017 draft season is in full swing. The college all-star games are finished, mock drafts abound, and 30 of 32 NFL teams have set their sights on the upcoming events.

The combine is still a ways away (February 28 – March 6, 2017). Until then, there will likely be hundreds of debates and discussions centering on what players would and would not be targets of Tennessee Titans General Manager, Jon Robinson.

Our own Terry Lambert wrote a fantastic review of the 2016 draft class last year.

Jon Robinson has said repeatedly that the Titans are looking for players who are tough, team-first, and dependable. Those will be the three most important traits a player can have. In fact, these traits are so important to the DNA of the team Robinson envisions that he had them turned into wall graphics in Saint Thomas Sports Park.

A hallway in the Titans practice facility at St. Thomas Sports Park. Pillars down the right wall contain reinforcement words of the team’s identity: “Tough,” “Dependable,” and “Team-First”.
Photo by Gary Glenn

“Tough” can have many definitions. It could mean physical on-the-field play. It could mean the desire and ability to play through minor injuries. It could mean mental toughness - how do you react when things don’t go your way? “Tough” players also embody a thick-skinned and resilient attitude.

“Dependable” is another word for “consistent.” Robinson is looking for players they can count on to consistently do their job on each and every play. The hallmark of a good football team is consistency. In a game where flukey bounces and a difference of inches can decide the outcome, the teams that execute most consistently win the most often, and it starts with the individuals.

“Dependable” has a secondary component, as well. This refers to how players behave outside of live game action. Robinson and Mularkey are looking for players who they can depend on to come to work every day with a strong desire to work hard and better their craft.

“Team-first” is partially an extension of the first two traits. Team-first players will put the team above their own well-being and will strive to be dependable for the players around them. But “team-first” is also a mindset that cannot be taught: players who will fill whatever role they are asked to fill, and who care more about getting a “W” then about money or personal accolades.

Another important quality that Robinson valued in 2016 was college production. Terry’s article elaborates on this quite a bit, so I’ll just highlight a couple of points:

  • Every single draft pick in 2016 produced big numbers in at least one full season of play. There were a couple of guys (like 2nd-rounder Kevin Dodd and 7th-rounder Aaron Wallace) who didn't have great career numbers but still managed extremely productive 2015 seasons.
  • Every single selection was an All-Conference performer outside of Dodd and Wallace (and even those two received “honorable mentions”).

I think these are important qualities to consider when evaluating prospects for the 2017 Titans.

As the rumor mill churns, many reports and opinions about draft prospects will come out from scouts, media members, college coaches, and so on. Pay closer attention to reports that highlight a player’s toughness or team-first attitude. And maybe think twice about prospects with questions regarding their dependability and work ethic.

Obviously, there are no hard-and-fast rules. Robinson is very secretive in how he evaluates players, and there is no telling if the 2017 draft class will resemble its 2016 counterpart.

Additionally, some of these qualities might not even manifest themselves outside of player interviews and individual workouts, meaning that Robinson and co. will be privy to information that armchair-evaluators will not.

It is impossible to know what Robinson will do before this year’s free agency and with only one draft class to reference, but as you fall in and out of love with various prospects leading up to the draft, keep these traits in the back of your mind, as they may signal which way Robinson is leaning.