All eyes on Robinson as 2017 draft approaches

Friday, February 3, 2017, Vol. 41, No. 5

With the Super Bowl putting the finishing touches on the 2016 NFL season, it’s time to concentrate on next season.

That means much of the focus around the National Football League for the next three months – and, locally, with the Tennessee Titans – will be centered on the draft.

Yes, free agency gets its run in the spotlight first, but nothing captivates the imagination of football fans quite like the spectacle of the draft. Free agency doesn’t provide year-round employment for people like Mel Kiper and Todd McShay or year-round obsession for football junkies with blogs. The draft does.

And face it, even if the Titans make a big splash in free agency

The Titans’ 2017 draft promises to be another opportunity for general manager Jon Robinson to build on what he did last season in helping turn Tennessee from doormat to the threshold of contention.

Having two first-round picks – including the fifth overall courtesy of last year’s fleecing of the Los Angeles Rams – Robinson will have plenty of “draft capital” with which to maneuver when draft weekend arrives April 27.

Much of the draft attention directed the Titans’ way in the coming months will focus on what Robinson intends to do with the choice acquired from the Rams and his own first-rounder, No. 18.

There already is speculation that the Titans would – or should – consider taking Clemson receiver Mike Williams, LSU safety Jamal Adams or Alabama linebacker Ruben Foster with the first of those picks, and then address a need at cornerback or elsewhere with the No. 18 pick.

Speculation at this juncture, of course, is just that – pure conjecture from armchair general managers.

Last year at this time, when the Titans had the No. 1 overall pick that they eventually gave to the Rams for a package of picks, many draft pundits had already married the Titans to Ole Miss tackle Laremy Tunsil.

Robinson, however, eventually zeroed in on another tackle, Michigan State’s Jack Conklin. In his first go-around as a GM, Robinson played his hand masterfully, swapping the first choice to the Rams a couple of weeks before the draft, then trading back up from No. 15 to No. 8 to ensure that he would get Conklin, who far outplayed Tunsil in his rookie season, earning first-team All-Pro honors in the process.

But Robinson’s deft plays on draft day didn’t stop there. All 10 picks selected by the Titans wound up on the 53-man roster. Several, like running back Derrick Henry, safety Kevin Byard and receiver Tajae Sharpe, look like cornerstone pieces for years to come.

The biggest question now is what will Robinson do for an encore? If last year is any indication, he will continue to address the Titans’ need areas with more plug-and-play players and use the rest of the picks to find quality depth.

It promises to be worth watching and even worth handicapping, but just know that Robinson already appears ahead of the game.