Tennessee Titans 2017 Season Review: Draft Picks

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 27: (L-R) Adoree Jackson of USC poses with Commissioner of the National Football League Roger Goodell after being picked
PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 27: (L-R) Adoree Jackson of USC poses with Commissioner of the National Football League Roger Goodell after being picked /

We will be taking a look back at different aspects of the 2017 season and how the Tennessee Titans performed. Today, we review the Titans’ 2017 draft class.

The draft process has quickly become one of the most entertaining aspects of NFL fandom. With increased coverage, endless mocks, and message board bickering, it is a great way to keep fans engaged while their team is off the field. In 2017, Titans fans were spoiled with two first round picks, thanks to GM Jon Robinson’s wheeling and dealing. The rest of the draft was equally entertaining, with Robinson adding weapons for Marcus Mariota and addressing other key positions.

Robinson initially got high marks for his draft class, but did his picks live up to expectations in 2017? Instead of grading the rookies on an arbitrary scale, I decided to just group them into “Good” and “Bad”. This was difficult, because some of the draft picks could have gone either way. But I used the reasoning that “Good” players helped their team, and “Bad” players were either inconsequential or actively hurt the team. So with the rating scale all set, let’s take a look at the 2017 draft class.

The Good

Adoree’ Jackson

I’ll be the first to admit that I was critical of Robinson for drafting Jackson at #18. I worried the Titans were too enamored with his return skills, and that his slight frame would be easily overpowered by NFL receivers. But Jackson proved me and other doubters wrong with an impressive rookie season. He didn’t grab any interceptions, but scored a solid PFF score of 82.3 and showed a knack for pass deflections and blanket coverage. He also managed to have the fifth-lowest catch rate of any CB. Jackson still experienced rookie growing pains, but, overall, he probably had the best season of any Titans corner since Alterraun Verner. Jackson didn’t capitalize on any kick or punt returns like fans had hoped, but his solid CB play more than made up for it. It was a great pick by Robinson, and Jackson should only continue to get better.

Taywan Taylor

I went back and forth about where to put Taylor, because getting almost 300 yards out of a third round pick is a decent return on investment. The only issue is that about 25% of his production came on just one play. But at the end of the day, Taylor was the fourth receiver on the depth chart and produced adequate yardage (274 total yards) based on his opportunities. Other third round receivers, such as Cooper Kupp, Chris Godwin, and Kenny Golladay, had better seasons, but they all had the benefit of being in top 10 passing offenses. Taylor was stuck being a role player in the 23rd-ranked passing attack. But he ended up helping his team by being perhaps the only speed option on the entire offense.

Tennessee Titans
Tennessee Titans /

Tennessee Titans

I think the hesitation to mark him as a “Good” pick is because he showed so much promise early on, but didn’t make an impact on a game-to-game basis. He seems to be a perfect slot receiver, with excellent quickness and RAC ability. But the Titans were determined to use him more as a gadget player, featuring him on different sweeps and screens designed to get him in open space. I am hopeful that new OC Matt LaFleur sees him as a talented WR, not just the “exotic” element in “exotic smashmouth”.

The Bad

Corey Davis

Titans fans had high hopes for Davis, as the organization has been missing a true #1 receiver for, well, ever. Davis fit the bill on paper, with his good size, solid route running, and playmaking ability. But injuries derailed his rookie season before it even started, and he didn’t play a snap until Week 5. It would be hard enough for a rookie WR from the MAC to adjust to the NFL; it was even harder to do so while coming back from injury. Davis only notched 34 receptions for 375 yards and no TDs. Even though he missed five games, at the rate he was going, he would have only had around 550 yards in a 16-game season.

There had been five WRs drafted in the top five in the previous 10 drafts (Amari Cooper, Sammy Watkins, Justin Blackmon, A.J. Green, and Calvin Johnson), and they all averaged almost 950 yards receiving and six TDs (Calvin actually brought down the average!). That is the level of production you expect from a WR drafted that high, and Davis fell far short of those numbers. Teams expect their #5 overall draft pick to be an impact player early on, no matter what position they play. Davis was not. He still has a bright future, and showed us what he can do with an impressive two-TD performance against the New England Patriots in the playoffs. I expect him to have a better sophomore season playing in LaFleur’s offense, but I would bet he wants to forget his rookie year.

Jonnu Smith

Smith was drafted essentially to replace Anthony Fasano, which was a misread of his skillset. He didn’t possess Fasano’s blocking talent, and was often abused at the line of scrimmage. His struggles in blocking are most likely what led to him earning a dreadful PFF score of 41.1. He did show some ability as a receiver, but still only mustered 157 yards and one TD. For a TE that was on the field for 54% of the offensive snaps, that low receiving total was not enough to offset his blocking liability. But, like Taylor, I expect the new coaching staff to have a better read on his abilities and utilize his athleticism in the passing game. His season spent as a blocking TE may serve him well going forward, but it was tough to watch.

Jayon Brown

This was another tough call, because, on the surface, getting 45% of defensive snaps from a fifth round pick is a great return on investment. The only problem is that the majority of those were not quality snaps. The Tennessee linebackers were terrible in coverage in 2016, and Brown was supposed to be the answer in regards to covering TEs and RBs out of the backfield. In terms of DVOA, the 2016 Titans ranked eighth against TEs and 30th against RBs in pass defense. With Brown in the mix, the 2017 Titans defense against TEs dropped to 24th and to dead-last against RBs.

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Brown had a dismal 46.2 PFF score and did not force any turnovers. He did have a couple of big plays in terms of pass deflections, which might be why so many among the Titans fanbase are fans of his. But in the end, I think they like the idea of Brown more than his actual play. With an aging Wesley Woodyard, Avery Williamson entering free agency, and Brown having a lackluster rookie campaign, the Titans’ linebacker corps might be the weakest group on the team.

Final Notes

As you can see, the return that Robinson got for his 2017 draft was not very impressive. One could surmise that it is one of the reasons he wanted to part ways with Mike Mularkey. Mularkey did not do much to elevate his younger players, and leaned heavily on veterans during his tenure. But the key to success in the NFL is having good, cheap talent in the form of younger players, and Robinson surely stands by his scouting reports on the rookies. Mularkey couldn’t get much out of them, but the flashes of talent are there. Hopefully new coach Mike Vrabel and his staff can figure out how to get these young guys to play to their potential.