Like most NFL teams, the Tennessee Titans’ successes (and failures) on the field have been directly correlated to the draft…particularly their hits and misses in the first round.
When the Titans put together a string of hits, it usually correlates to playoff runs. When they don’t they fall back into the abyss of obscurity.
Tennessee had several first round hits in the mid to late 90’s, and what followed was a magical debut in Nashville that included several playoff appearances and a trip to the Super Bowl…
1995: Steve McNair
1996: Eddie George
1999: Javon Kearse
2000: Keith Bullock
Four of the best players in franchise history.
When that run ended the Titans selected quarterback Vince Young number three overall in the 2006 draft. He went on to become Rookie of the Year. In 2007 the Titans selected safety and fellow Texas Longhorn Michael Griffin…who went on to become a multiple Pro Bowl participant.
In 2008 the Titans selected running back Chris Johnson, who went on to rush for over 2000 yards in his second season while becoming the NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 2009.
What do they all have in common? They all participated in playoff games for the boys in two-tone blue.
A new regime took over the front office shortly thereafter, and the team went on a downward spiral.
When you take a look at some of those first round picks you’ll see why…
2011: Jake Locker
2012: Kendall Wright
2013: Chance Warmack
What do these player have in common? Not only did they fail to reach the playoffs, they are no longer with the team.
Quarterback Jake Locker never seemed comfortable at the NFL level. The Titans were in desperate need of a qb when things ran afoul with Young, and reached for him in the first round. Injuries and inconsistency plagued his career…a career that never even reached a second contract. Locker abruptly retired while under his rookie deal.
Kendall Wright had declined each season after a successful first two years in Tennessee. Also plagued by injuries and inconsistency, Wright was not re-signed by the Titans this offseason. He is now with the Chicago Bears.
Chance Warmack never lived up to his lofty first round draft status, and sealed his fate when he elected to have season-ending surgery instead of playing through a hand injury last season. The Titans chose not to excercise Warmack’s fifth-year option.
That’s a “franchise” quarterback, a “number one” wide receiver, and an elite collegiate offensive lineman. All busts, all selected back to back to back.
It’s no wonder that Tennessee’s offense was subsequently one of the worst in the league from 2014-2016.
It seems, however, that the Titans are back on the right track in the war room. Their last three first round picks have all been hits.
2014: Taylor Lewan
2015: Marcus Mariota
2016: Jack Conklin
After two years of growing pains, left tackle Taylor Lewan finally matured into the physical force that earned him the eleventh overall pick of the 2014 draft. His proficiency as both a run and pass blocker led to his first Pro Bowl season last year.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota cemented himself as the unquestioned face of the franchise after a stellar sophomore campaign last season. If not for a freak injury last Christmas Eve, Mariota would have undoubtedly joined Lewan at the Pro Bowl.
The Titans are still patting themselves on the back for trading up in last year’s draft to nab right tackle Jack Conklin. He only rewarded their leap of faith with an All Pro season.
No, like literally, Conklin made the All Pro team as a rookie.
That’s young and talented bookend tackles to protect a young and upcoming franchise quarterback. And it’s no coincidence that Tennessee has improved their record each season since 2014.
Which brings us to this year’s draft…
Second year general manager Jon Robinson owns the 5th and 18th pick, and if the Titans can continue their string of hits then you could be looking at a divisional champion and playoff participant this season.