Tennessee Titans NFL draft theory: Quality or Quantity

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 15: Ed Oliver #10 of the Houston Cougars watches players warm up before the game against the Tulane Green Wave at TDECU Stadium on November 15, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 15: Ed Oliver #10 of the Houston Cougars watches players warm up before the game against the Tulane Green Wave at TDECU Stadium on November 15, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

What should the Tennessee Titans be aiming for in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Tennessee Titans GM Jon Robinson has been very methodical in his draft evaluation over his three years in Nashville.

There are some GMs who believe that the draft is about collecting as many lottery tickets (draft picks) as possible as long as the total value of the picks is roughly the same.

Others believe that there are really only three or four rounds in the draft that require any actual precision. That means that Day 3 of the draft is ultimately a crap shoot.

Despite having 19 picks in his first two drafts, I believe that the Jon Robinson we saw last year was a lot closer to what we will get this year. Meaning that I think Robinson is more along the lines of the second GM archetype.

The biggest indicator of this is his constant willingness to trade 4th round picks. Robinson has yet to make a 4th round selection in any draft and he has already traded his 2020 4th round pick.

My guess is that he believes these picks are overvalued around the NFL and that he thinks they are worth about the same as a 5th or 6th to him. Actually, a lot of people believe that or at least they should.

As Justis Mosqueda always says, the draft is really only four rounds long, and this chart from Benjamin Allbright provides validity to that:

Looking at that chart, the drop off in hit rate from the 1st round to 2nd round is massive. After that the drop off from 2nd to 3rd is much smaller (remember compensatory picks make the 3rd round longer so the percentage is actually a few points smaller).

After that though, it is really a free for all from 4-7 with UDFA’s actually making up nearly a third of NFL rosters.

It is no wonder why we only saw the Titans make two picks in the first 150 picks last year. But was the hit rate really that bad? At the end of the day, they actually had seven players from the 2018 draft class on the December roster if you include UDFAs:

(the highlighted players are rookies that either started a game or made a big contribution as a rotational/special teams player)

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1. Rashaan Evans LB

2. Harold Landry EDGE

3. Dane Cruikshank S

4. Sharif Finch EDGE

5. Aaron Stinnie OL

6. Cam Batson WR

7. Matt Dickerson

So, even with four draft picks the Titans ended up finding four extra contributors in UDFA. I thought it would be fun to look at that compared to the Baltimore Ravens class (they had the most picks in the draft).

According to Pro Football Reference, only 5 of their 12 draft picks started a game and only two of those started three or more games. To compare, the Titans also had two that started three or more games, despite having 8 fewer picks than the Ravens.

It is a very specific example, but all of this information makes me believe that Jon Robinson thinks it is much more important to identify the 25-40 players in a given draft that he thinks can make the Tennessee Titans better.

From there he has to figure out what the league thinks about them to get an idea on where he needs to move up or trade down to so that he can acquire as many of those players as possible.

Finally, can they make an immediate impact based on the incumbent starter at the position. So while Devin Bush would be an impact player for this roster, unless they move Rashaan Evans to EDGE full time, he is going to need a massive fall to end up with the Titans.

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It is a lot to think about when you are trying to get into Jon Robinson’s mind. While ideally everyone wants BOTH quality and quantity, you just can’t have both. I think that over the past three offseasons he has spent the majority of time valuing quantity in some sense in order to set the Titans up to go with quality players once the roster had been filled out

He did this by drafting and signing players who are league average at their position to be the depth of this team. Players like Tajae Sharpe, LeShaun Sims, Austin Johnson, Corey Levin, Jonnu Smith, and Dane Cruikshank, they all are players that you wouldn’t be in love with as starters at the time they were drafted, but they have developed into solid role players and potential starters.

Some will ascend to starting jobs, others will remain quality backups. But the point is, depth really isn’t an issue on this team right now. The issue is impact players at the top and Robinson knows that.

These are the thoughts and facts that keep coming to my mind when people dismiss the idea that the Tennessee Titans could trade up in the 2019 NFL Draft. Not only could the move up, but I think there is a good chance they should and will.

I would much rather give up a 4th and a 6th round pick to move up a few spots and grab Ed Oliver and Erik McCoy, instead of sitting back and waiting for guys like Christian Wilkins and Elgton Jenkins.

That isn’t a knock on either Wilkins or Jenkins, the point is that the cost of moving up for better players and better scheme fits is more about the perceived value of those picks rather than what they would actually do for the Tennessee Titans roster.

Titans fans shouldn’t be worried about the number of picks they make, but rather getting picks that will matter. That is the difference between a 9-7 team and an 11-5 team, and that is the mission this offseason. Being great means taking risks and it is time for this team to take a risk.