The NFL’s season long awards are all based regular season action so I don’t expect Titans GM Jon Robinson to end up getting much consideration. Teams that go from 9-7 to... 9-7 don’t typically grab the attention of voters. However, Robinson should have the attention of the entire NFL world right now, even if he doesn’t get any hardware for it.
Let’s take a quick stroll through what he’s done this season before we get into his impact on this franchise on a broader level.
- Traded a 2020 4th round pick and a 2019 7th round pick for Ryan Tannehill and a 2019 6th round pick. Tannehill led the NFL in both passer rating and yards per attempt during the regular season and the Titans are 9-3 since he took over as starter. No offseason move influenced the NFL playoffs as much as this one.
- Traded a 2020 7th round pick to Green Bay for Reggie Gilbert. Gilbert was just OK, but provided important depth as an edge rusher.
- Traded Taywan Taylor to the Browns for a 2020 7th round pick. This move wasn’t as much about what the Titans got back as it was about what it made room for. Rather than clinging to the struggling former 3rd round pick, Robinson dealt him to make room on the initial 53-man roster for Kalif Raymond, an undrafted journeyman who had bounced around four different practice squads prior to this year. Raymond had a great camp, earned a job, and played a huge roll in wins over the Chiefs, Colts, and Ravens this year. He ended up being released and then re-signed early in the season as part of the roster shuffle as guys got injured, but the Titans willingness to look at performance instead of draft status or contract has been notable under Robinson.
- Signed Rodger Saffold at left guard. After a slow start, Saffold has settled in next to Taylor Lewan and been an absolute MAULER blocking for Derrick Henry. One of the best guards in the league, he’s helped take this offensive line to the next level.
- Signed edge rusher Cameron Wake. Wake was knocked out for the season with a knee injury during the Jaguars game, but prior to that he was one of the most effective edge rushers in the NFL on a per snap basis according to PFF charting.
- Signed wide receiver Adam Humphries. Humphries has been out for six weeks with an ankle injury, but he was an effective third down converter in the slot prior to that. He also scored the go ahead touchdown in the win over the Chiefs in Week 10.
- The team also brought back a few of their own, re-upping with Kenny Vaccaro, Ben Jones, and Brett Kern among others. All three of those deals look like bargains based on their 2019 performances.
- Jeffery Simmons (1st Round, 19th Overall) only missed six games total after tearing his ACL in February. The recovery was incredible and Simmons wasted no time making an impact. He hasn’t piled up a ton of stats, but he saved the win against the Chargers with multiple massive pushes backed up against his own end zone. He was key in the Titans goal line stand against the Patriots last week and the two 4th down stops against the Ravens this week. Expect him to continue to trend up as he gets healthier and more experienced.
- A.J. Brown (2nd Round, 51st Overall) was the NFL’s best rookie receiver this year, posting 1,051 yards and 8 touchdowns during the regular season. He was the league’s best receiver — full stop — over the final six weeks.
- Nate Davis (3rd Round, 82nd Overall) started slow after being pressed into starting duty at right guard, but he’s been really solid over the last month. Rookie offensive lineman almost always struggle out of the gates, but Davis’ development during the season is really encouraging for his long term outlook. He has the natural power and athleticism to be one of the better guards in the game if he can continue to refine his technique.
- Amani Hooker (4th Round, 116th Overall) has played in all 18 games (regular season and playoffs) as a key special teamer and a regular rotation player on defense. He earned the trust of the coaching staff right away and is a high quality backup with upside to be a long term starter.
- D’Andre Walker (5th Round, 168th Overall) is the one member of the 2019 draft class that hasn’t made a significant contribution to the playoff run. Walker was injured during training camp and shut down for the year. We will see what the Georgia edge rusher has next year.
- David Long (6th Round, 188th Overall) has been called upon in some big spots and he’s come through for this team. He made a huge tackle on the first 4th and 1 try against the Ravens and should be expected to be the Titans third linebacker behind Rashaan Evans and Jayon Brown next year. Also, it’s worth noting that Long is here, in part, because Robinson got the 6th-7th pick swap back in the Tannehill trade. The Dolphins took fullback Chandler Cox with the 7th round pick Tennessee sent them in that deal.
Robinson has picked five players in the first round over his four seasons as Titans GM, and all five of them contributed in a big way to last night’s huge win. Jack Conklin (8th overall, 2016) helped pave the way for Derrick Henry’s dominant night, Corey Davis (5th overall, 2017) had a touchdown catch, Adoree’ Jackson (18th overall, 2017) had three spectacular pass breakups, Rashaan Evans (22nd overall, 2018) finished with six tackles and was active all over the field, and Jeffery Simmons (19th overall, 2019) had a fumble recovery and was a key part of the two 4th and 1 stops.
While Robinson hasn’t busted on any of his first round picks — you can argue Davis hasn’t lived up to his draft billing and that’s fair, but he’s still a good receiver — his home runs have mostly come between the 2nd and 5th rounds. The NFL’s 2019 rushing champ Derrick Henry in the 2nd round in 2016, All-Pro safety Kevin Byard in the 3rd round in 2016, Jayon Brown in the 5th round in 2017, Harold Landry in the 2nd round in 2018, and A.J. Brown in the 2nd round in 2019. Jonnu Smith in the 3rd round of 2017 is looking pretty strong right now as well.
Robinson has also done a great job of finding value in players the league has otherwise ignored. Kenny Vaccaro was sitting at home in August 2018 when Johnathan Cyprien got hurt in training camp. Robinson scooped him up and 17 months later Vaccaro is making huge plays to carry the Titans into the AFC Championship Game.
Kalif Raymond and Anthony Firkser were undrafted journeymen who has bounced around practice squads before landing in Tennessee and becoming contributors to a top five NFL offense. Khari Blasingame was stashed on the Vikings practice squad before being given a roster spot here and giving Henry a true fullback to work with. Kamalei Correa was acquired for a 6th round pick and picked up a sack against his former team last night. Tramaine Brock was claimed off waivers from the Cardinals and has been lights out opposite Adoree’ Jackson the last two weeks.
Perhaps most importantly, Robinson was instrumental in landing Mike Vrabel. The second year head coach has just gone on the road and knocked off two of the NFL’s winningest active coaches in back to back weeks. Bill Belichick and John Harbaugh are 1st and 4th among current head coaches in career playoff wins. Vrabel was hired to get the Titans over the proverbial hump and I’d say reaching the NFL’s final four in your second year as a head coach qualifies as clearing the hump.
In four years at the helm of this franchise, Jon Robinson has taken the Titans from a team that went 5-27 in the two years before his arrival to four straight winning seasons, a 39-29 overall record (regular season and postseason combined), three playoff wins, and an AFC Championship appearance. He’s done that while completely reforming the roster into a tough, physical football team with excellent depth. Just six players on the current active roster are leftover from the pre-Robinson era (Jurrell Casey, Taylor Lewan, DaQuan Jones, Marcus Mariota, Brett Kern, and Beau Brinkley). All six of those players have received contract extensions from Robinson — a fifth year option pickup in the case of Mariota — so in a sense, this is a 100% Robinson built roster at this point.
Jon Robinson has turned this franchise into a winner on the field while Amy Adams-Strunk has helped bring the Titans into the 21st century off the field. The GM will have some big decisions ahead of him this offseason with Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry, Jack Conklin, and Logan Ryan all due for new contracts, but it’s hard not to feel confident that Robinson will make the right calls and continue to push this franchise towards being a perennial contender. The present and future are extremely bright in Tennessee.