When Dorial Green-Beckham was packing earlier this week in a trade to Philadelphia, a clear message – intentionally or not – was sent by the Tennessee Titans going forward.
Those who are not ready to contribute consistently and immediately to bettering the team will not be on the team. The Titans showed they were no longer willing to wait for DGB to harness his physical skills. In other words, GM Jon Robinson made good on something he said from the outset of getting the job – the days of the Titans drafting project players and hoping to coach them up to contribute down the road are over.
“You’re hope with your early picks, you’re going to pick some guys that are going to play quite a bit. You’re hoping that your first pick and your second pick are going to be starters or at least big contributors to your team,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “I’m excited about all our draft picks, to be honest. There’s not one that hasn’t shown that he’s capable of playing.”
Consider this: Already two members of the 2016 draft class – right tackle Jack Conklin (first round) and receiver Tajae Sharpe (fifth round) – are bonafide starters, while Derrick Henry (second round) might as well be listed as one too, given that he will split time in the backfield with veteran DeMarco Murray.
Beyond that, safety Kevin Byard is nipping at the starters and pushing for playing time, while Kevin Dodd (just back from injury), Austin Johnson and undrafted Antwaun Woods are all battling for roles on the defense, either in a rotation or as key backups. Seventh-round linebacker Aaron Wallace was impressing before he hurt his ankle.
Late-round defensive backs LeShaun Sims and Kalen Reed are poised to get longer looks now in the preseason. Sims will run with the second team on Saturday against Carolina. Reed, as well as Byard, will work as kick returners vs. the Panthers.
“I’m anxious to see some of that, but they’ve all held their own,” Mularkey said.
What it means is that the Class of 2016 is one that has hit the ground running in terms of contributing beyond just covering kicks on special teams.
In recent years, with so many coaching and general manager changes, the Titans have been lucky to have more than one player in any draft survive long enough to pan out and become a consistent starter. In fact, other than 2011, where two players still remain (Jurrell Casey and Karl Klug), only one player each remains from the draft classes of 2008-12.
Even last year’s class has only quarterback Marcus Mariota, defensive lineman Angelo Blackson and fullback Jalston Fowler, who are guaranteed to figure into this year’s plans for the Titans. DGB has already moved on, and the other members of last year’s draft class are all in a battle to stay on the 53-man roster.
Sure, the most recent crop of rookies is going to get the benefit of the doubt from the regime that drafted them. But with the way players like Conklin, Sharpe and Henry are stepping in right away to show they belong, it gives off a feel that maybe this group has more staying power than some of the previous ones.