Tennessee Titans Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State – Round 1
I personally think the Titans made a mistake by passing on Laremy Tunsil for Conklin. Tunsil is the far-better prospect, and he would have given Marcus Mariota a true franchise left tackle with Taylor Lewan being a potential fantastic right tackle. However, I could be wrong about this and Tennessee could be proven astute to pass on Tunsil if his off-the-field issues keep him from realizing his potential. Conklin, on the other hand, is solid off the field and looks like a safe player to develop into a quality contributor.

As a pass protector, Conklin is good at sustaining blocks once he gets his hands on defenders. Taking on defensive ends with decent but not great speed, Conklin has enough quickness and footwork to cut off the corner. He can hold up well in the bull rush unless he is going against a powerful defender, as that type of player can give him some trouble. I think Conklin could struggle with fast edge rushers at the next level.

NFL sources have said that a team could get away with Conklin at left tackle for a time, but ultimately, the team would want someone quicker and more athletic to block speed rushers. Multiple team sources say they think Conklin would be best as a right tackle or guard. At one of those spots, he could be part of a quality offensive line.

The Titans will play Conklin at right tackle, and I think he will a solid pro there. However, I think he could be a Pro Bowl-caliber guard if moved to the inside. Either way, he should be a steady pro for Tennessee.

Most Likely To Bust

Kevin Dodd, DE, Clemson – Round 2
There was risk to Dodd because he was a 1-year wonder in college with the majority of his production coming late in his final season of college football. With the lack of experience, Dodd is going to need development.

Physically, Dodd has the skill set to be a starter in the NFL. He has size and length at the point of attack. Around the edge, Dodd has some quickness and uses his hands at the same time to shed blocks. He is thick and a little tight, thus he isn’t a burner speed rusher around the corner. Dodd has a nice burst to close on the quarterback though and fights hard to get coverage sacks.

However, I’m not confident that Dodd fits the Titans’ 3-4 defense well. For the NFL, he would be a better fit as a base end in a 4-3 defense and isn’t a good fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Teams feel Dodd is not the ideal specimen to be a standup edge defender. They say he is an above-average athlete, but not special or very athletic. Thus, they don’t project him to play in space or drop into coverage like 3-4 linebackers are required to do. Dodd probably will be a five-technique defensive end, and he is underweight for that role. To me, Dodd looks like a tweener in the Titans’ scheme.

Tennessee had a ton of picks on the first two days of the 2016 NFL Draft, and of them all, I think Dodd has the most bust potential.

Potential Boom Pick

Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama – Round 2
The Titans traded for DeMarco Murray this offseason in hopes of establishing a smash-mouth rushing offense to go with quarterback Marcus Mariota. To double down on that offensive identity, the Titans drafted Henry in the second round, and I think he could be the true bell cow for Tennessee’s offense as soon as this season. Henry is a physically imposing back with rare speed to take runs the distance.

While Henry is not a shifty runner, he is a physical beast. Henry runs through defenders and breaks tackles routinely. He powers through defenders and picks up lots of yards after contact. The large Henry finishes his runs well and is tough in short-yardage. He also gets better as the game progresses. Henry beats up defenses and is at his best in the second half. What is really rare about Henry is the second gear of speed to run away from defenses. He isn’t just a plodding power back. Last season, Henry had a number of surprising runs where he simply bolted downfield and surprisingly ran away from defensive backs, who are generally the fastest players on the field.

I think Henry will be a boom pick for Tennessee based on one condition – the offensive line. The Titans have to let Henry run downhill. If he has to redirect in his first four steps, he isn’t nearly as effective. Henry needs to build up a head of steam, but then he can be devastating. If the Titans field a good blocking front, I think Henry could be a dominant runner for Tennessee.

Future Depth Player

Tajae Sharpe, WR, Massachusetts – Round 5
Sharpe was a steal for the Titans in the fifth round, and he could end up exceeding this projection. Sharpe has a nice mix of size, speed, hands and route-running. There were a lot of teams around the league that really liked him. Tennessee is hoping that Kendall Wright and Dorial Green-Beckham will be its feature receivers, but it wouldn’t surprise me if in a year or two Sharpe is key contributor in their offense. Wright may not be re-signed, Justin Hunter has disappointed, and Green-Beckham also has had some issues. I think at the very least the 6-foot-2, 194-pound Sharpe will be a good third or fourth receiver to rotate into the game.

Walt’s 2016 NFL Draft Grades:

8. Jack Conklin, OT/G, Michigan State B- Grade
I’m usually not a fan of teams trading up, but the Titans had tons of resources to do so. It would’ve been ridiculous for them to keep all of their picks, so moving up for a player they weren’t going to obtain at No. 15 made a ton of sense. Right tackle was a huge need, and that has been filled with Conklin.

What’s interesting is that the Titans passed on Laremy Tunsil. It’s crazy that one of the top two players in the draft continues to fall, and teams that need him are passing on him.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

33. Kevin Dodd, DE, Clemson B- Grade
This pick makes sense. Kevin Dodd was projected to go somewhere in the 30-35 range. Thus, the range is right, though I’d like this pick a lot more if Myles Jack wasn’t on the board. At any rate, I wonder where the Titans will play Dodd. He can play both five-technique and outside linebacker. His versatility is definitely intriguing, and he should be a solid player for Tennessee.

43. Austin Johnson, NT, Penn State B Grade
Austin Johnson tested very poorly at the Combine, so it’s nice to see that he didn’t slip at all, as this was his natural range. Johnson is a very skilled player, and Tennessee’s defensive line will definitely be better with him in the mix. Help was needed up front, so this pick makes a ton of sense.

45. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama C+ Grade
The Titans could afford to take a luxury with three selections in the second round, so this isn’t the worst decision. However, I’m not a big fan of it. Alabama running backs have a dubious history in the NFL, as Nick Saban constantly runs them into the ground (or they’re products of the offensive line). Teams were concerned about Henry for that reason, and I thought it was possible that he would drop to the end of the second frame. I would’ve preferred the Titans to fill a big need in their secondary rather than select someone who will just play behind DeMarco Murray – though it is nice that they’ll have insurance behind such an injury-prone runner.

64. Kevin Byard, S, Middle Tennessee State C Grade
Delanie Walker said that this was made in the 2006 NFL Draft, so does this pick really count? The Titans better hope so, as they desperately needed help in their secondary. Kevin Byard is a decent prospect, but could’ve been taken about a round later than this. It seems like there were better safeties available, but I don’t think this is a horrible selection.

140. Tajae Sharpe, WR, UMass B+ Grade
It seems like we’ve mocked Tajae Sharpe to the Titans at this spot for months. It’s made too much sense, as Tennessee needed a receiver and Sharpe is exactly what it was looking for. Sharpe’s athleticism is lacking, but that may not matter because of his elite route-running skills. It wouldn’t surprise me if Sharpe eventually emerges as a solid starter.

157. LeShaun Sims, CB, Southern Utah C Grade
It took longer than expected for the Titans to find some cornerback help, given that they would’ve chosen Jalen Ramsey had they kept the No. 1 pick. That’s fine, but Tennessee moved up for LeShaun Sims, surrendering a 2017 sixth-rounder in the process. I don’t like that, as the Titans could’ve obtained him or someone equal at No. 176. An average athlete, Sims played very well at Southern Utah, but the level of competition is obviously questionable.

193. Sebastian Tretola, G, Arkansas A- Grade
The bad news is that Sebastian Tretola was the second-worst overall athlete at the Combine, trailing only North Carolina’s Landon Turner. The good news is that Sebastian Tretola is a great fit for what the Titans want to do. Mike Mularkey talked about establishing a strong running game, and Tretola will help in that regard, thanks to his power blocking. He probably should’ve gone a round earlier than this.

222. Aaron Wallace, DE/OLB, UCLA B- Grade
This pick is all upside. Aaron Wallace barely saw any action at UCLA, but he caught Tennessee’s eye during his Pro Day, where he tested extremely well. It never hurts to add a talented pass-rusher.

253. Kalan Reed, CB, Southern Miss B Grade
This year’s Mr. Irrelevant is a solid prospect for a seventh-rounder. Kalan Reed has enjoyed a productive career at Southern Miss, and he also possesses above-average athleticism. The Titans are in desperate need of corner help, so Reed might just be able to make the final roster.

2016 NFL Draft Team Grade: b+ . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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