INDIANAPOLIS — The 2022 Scouting Combine is the most normal football has felt in awhile, for a variety of reasons. Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson knows NFL offseasons are anything but routine.
Let the Underwear Olympics begin.
Professional football in Tennessee has improved exponentially under Robinson and coach Mike Vrabel in the last four years. The Titans, however, are now at a critical juncture in their competitive timeline. A roster reformed over Robinson’s six-year tenure is built to win now. As Tennessee attempts to keep pace in the AFC arms race, instant impact is needed.
The Titans need exactly that from their upcoming 2022 draft class.
Titans cannot afford to slow play 2022 rookies
NFL draft prospects and their successes or failures at the pro level are unique.
Drafting is a deeply imperfect science for all of the time and resources dumped into the process. For a team in Tennessee’s position, nailing one draft class (five starters in six 2019 picks) can buy you time if you largely swing and miss on the next. Robinson’s problem with the 2020 and 2021 rookie classes is not that they have been busts, but that precious few have been able to immediately contribute.
Of the 14 Titans draft picks in the last two years, only corners Kristian Fulton and Elijah Molden have proven to be more than role players. Only four of those selections, including Fulton and Molden have contributed truly meaningful snaps. Considerable scrutiny will come with this year’s first round pick, given how little the last two contributed for different reasons.
Tackle Isaiah Wilson (2020) played a total of three offensive snaps (victory formation) and one on special teams. Corner Caleb Farley (2021) had his season cut short due to an ACL tear and saw 60 total defensive plays and 14 on special teams.
“I think when you talk about that first round pick,” Robinson said on my 104.5 The Zone radio show. “Ideally, you would love for it to be clean. You’d love for them to come in and be a premium starter, but you never know in the first round were those guys come.”
Robinson has obvious draft success stories
Defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons is certainly one of them.
Tennessee drafted Simmons 19th overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. The Mississippi State product was viewed as the highest risk/reward prospect of that year’s first round. Simmons had (and has) all the traits scouts covet in a defensive lineman, but had torn his ACL in a pre-draft workout. Additionally, the video of Simmons hitting a woman in 2016 was also a point of serious discussion around any team that might take him.
Once Robinson, Vrabel and controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk felt comfortable enough in vetting Simmons’ character, the conversation immediately pivoted to future availability. Could a team looking to break through the Marcus Mariota ceiling at the time really afford a top draft choice who would not immediately contribute?
Simmons missed the first six games of the 2019 season, but debuted with four tackles and a sack in a 23-20 season-saving Week 7 win. He played a total of nine games during the regular season and all three games in the playoffs en route the AFC Championship game.
In the case of Farley, that remains to be seen but progress has been good through the rehabilitation process.
“I think when we talk scouting terms, you’ve certainly got, grade-wise, guys that will come in and be Day 1 impact players” said Robinson. “Those guys are typically gone before we pick, because we typically pick in the back of the round. But then you’ve got guys that you’re really looking at Year 2.”
Titans fans will surely appreciate their draft slot is the result of consistent winning. But when a Super Bowl window is on the line, that gratitude only extends so far.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.