VOL. 132 | NO. 90 | Friday, May 5, 2017
Robinson Gives Mariota Weapons for Success
BY DAVID CLIMER, Nashville Sports Correspondent
Just when we think we’ve figured out Titans G.M. Jon Robinson, he reinvents himself.
On the first night of the recent NFL Draft, we assumed Robinson would play it safe, trading the No. 5 overall pick to acquire more draft capital.
And if he couldn’t find a trade partner, he almost certainly would reach into that deep reservoir of defensive talent and find an immediate starter at cornerback, inside linebacker or even defensive end.
So, what did Robinson do? He blew the top off every mock draft and went against conventional wisdom by selecting Corey Davis, a wide receiver from Western Michigan, with the No. 5 pick.
The reviews were mixed. Chad Reuter of NFL.com gave the pick an A-, but then again NFL.com likes every pick.
Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com gave it a B+ and called Davis “the best receiver in this draft.” On the other hand, Mel Kiper of ESPN had Davis as the second-best receiver and didn’t think he would go until the 16th spot. Yahoo! Sports gave the pick a B-.
Personally, I value Robinson’s opinion above all these. In his 16 months on the job at Titans Central, he has rewritten the roster with deft free agent moves and draft picks. He charts his own course.
Besides, Robinson understands that you can’t maximize the talent of your quarterback unless you give him protection and weapons. Moving forward, the Titans are going to live or die with Marcus Mariota. With that in mind, the pick of Davis was a present to the third-year quarterback.
But Robinson was far from done. He doubled down on the position, trading up in the third round to get Taywan Taylor from Western Kentucky with the No. 72 overall pick.
Last year, Robinson used his first pick on right tackle Jack Conklin, who proceeded to have an All-Pro rookie season at a position that had been lacking in the previous couple of years. Robinson also upgraded the running back position to take pressure off Mariota.
Now he is attempting to give Mariota what he most needs – a No. 1 wide receiver. If Davis plays up to his draft status, he will be the gift that keeps on giving, a go-to receiver that can get deep as well as turn short throws into big gains.
It’s been years since the Titans have had a true No. 1 wideout. Kenny Britt had his moments, but he was wildly inconsistent on and off the field.
The closest thing was Nate Washington in 2011 when he caught 74 passes for 1,023 yards and seven touchdowns. But Washington didn’t demand the type of double-team coverage that gives other receivers room to roam.
This has long been a position of need. The Titans have had some adequate role players on the perimeter but never a true game-changer. A telling statistic: In six of the previous 10 seasons, a tight end or running back has either led the team in receptions or tied for the team lead. That doesn’t happen on teams with talent and depth at wide receiver.
When the Titans drafted Davis at No. 5, it started a mini-run on wide receivers. Mike Williams of Clemson went to the Chargers with the seventh pick. John Ross of Washington went to the Bengals at No. 9.
Clearly, the Titans weren’t the only team that believed the top receivers in this draft were worth a high pick.
Yes, it’s a bit of a crapshoot. Wide receiver may be the toughest position to predict college-to-NFL success. Last year, no wide receiver was drafted until the No. 15 pick – Corey Coleman of Baylor, by Cleveland.
Teams with high draft picks normally steer clear of wide receivers. In the previous 10 drafts, only five wideouts have gone in the top five. But that group includes Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green and Amari Cooper.
It’s no secret that the Titans have struggled to find answers at the position. In the five years prior to Robinson’s arrival, the Titans drafted four wide receivers, including one in the first round (Kendall Wright) and two in the second round (Dorial Green-Beckham and Justin Hunter).
Yet, only one of those draft picks is still on the roster – Tre McBride, a seventh-round selection in 2015.
Granted, Wright caught a total of 280 passes for the Titans and had a big 2013 season (94 receptions, 1,079 yards), but his production fell off in the last two seasons and he was not offered a contract extension. He’s now with Chicago.
As for Davis, he certainly looks the part at 6-foot-3 and 209 pounds. Although he did not run the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine due to an ankle injury, he looks like a sub-4.5 second guy, which means he is fast enough.
While some might have been concerned by the lack of measurables because he failed to run drills at the Combine, Robinson seems more interested in on-field production in college than times on a stopwatch. Davis is the all-time leader in receiving yards in major college football with 5,285.
Likewise, Robinson is unconcerned about the level of competition Davis faced in the Mid-American Conference. Three of the Titans’ first four draft picks played at non-Power 5 schools. Bottom line: If you can play, you can play.
For the record, the Titans were one of only four teams that did not draft a player from the talent-rich Southeastern Conference. The others: Kansas City, Los Angeles Chargers and Minnesota.
In Robinson’s view, it doesn’t hurt to have a chip on your shoulder. Davis had only one major college scholarship offer out of high school. Conklin, last year’s first-round pick, was a walk-on at Michigan State.
“We have said it a million times: We love competition, competitive guys, guys that will fight,” Robinson says.
“I think that was evident last year when we took Jack, a former walk-on that scratched and clawed his way and ended up being a first-round pick. Corey did the same thing there at Western Michigan – had one offer and turned himself into a top 10 pick.”
It is a high-risk/high-reward pick, particularly given this franchise’s difficulty at the position. In time, we will find out if Jon Robinson has cracked the code on drafting wide receivers.
Reach David Climer at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @DavidClimer.