Jack Conklin Was a Surprising Pick for the Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans pulled the trigger on a trade with the Cleveland Browns to move up to eighth overall in the NFL Draft, but instead of taking who many believed was the top ranked offensive tackle, Laremy Tunsil, the Titans brought in former Michigan State offensive tackle Jack Conklin.
According to NFL.com, the Titans traded away a third-round pick in this year's draft and a second-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft in order to move up seven spots from 15th overall.
Conklin, a former walk-on at Michigan State, started 38 of his 39 career games (35 at left tackle; three at right tackle) throughout his three-year career with the Spartans. In 2015, he was named first team All-American by USA Today, and he earned second team honors by CBS Sports, the Football Writers Association of America, and the Associated Press.
“I love putting people on the ground,” Conklin told former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah . “If a guy’s weight is going a certain way, I‘m going to take him and go with it and put him on his back.”
Conklin registered 235 knockdowns during his time at Michigan State.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. loves his technique and his ability to impact both as a run blocker and in pass protection, but he most admires the fact that Conklin plays with a tough, aggressive demeanor. Kiper discussed the level of physicality Conklin brings to the table on ESPN’s First Draft podcast on Monday.
“He does one thing that nobody does,” Kiper said. “Everybody catches; he attacks, and these lineman just catch, catch, catch. He’s an attacker. This is a guy that could have played in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and been great.”
Conklin’s aggressive style is put on display here against DeForest Buckner of Oregon in Michigan State’s matchup against the Ducks in 2015.
NFL.com’s draft analyst Lance Zierlein compares Conklin to former Philadelphia Eagles tackle Jon Runyan, a former Pro Bowler who played for 14 seasons in the NFL after being drafted in the fourth round of the 1996 NFL Draft.
“[Conklin] possesses top flight size and strength at the tackle position and has the technique and recovery athleticism to make up for his average foot quickness,” according to Zierlein. “Conklin went from solid in 2014 to very good in 2015 and teams must now decide whether or not they want to give him a chance at left tackle or plug him in on the right side where he should be able to step in right away and become a quality starter. Conklin has some physical limitations, but he’s got solid technique and exactly the field demeanor that offensive line coaches will be looking for."
By avoiding Tunsil, the Titans will have an opportunity to keep 2014 first-round pick Taylor Lewan at left tackle, for Conklin best projects as an elite right tackle early in his career because of his adept run blocking ability. With that being said, Conklin will (hopefully) no longer need to develop his skill on the right side prior to making an eventual switch to left tackle because, if all things go according to plan, Tennessee could keep Lewan and Conklin on the left and right side of their offensive line for quite some time given their youth.
After getting sacked 39 times in 2015, Titans sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota should prepare to have better protection with Conklin now inserted into the starting lineup. According to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics, Mariota had just the 25th-ranked Passing NEP (27.58) in 2015, while he finished eighth in Rushing NEP (16.36) among quarterbacks.
Though Conklin might not make as significant of an impact as another talented receiver would, look for Mariota to improve with a more solidified offensive line.
Other than Mariota, newly acquired running back DeMarco Murray should also benefit from the addition of Conklin, as the Titans’ run game struggled to get anything going on the ground with a committee of backs in 2015. Tennessee ranked 25th in schedule-adjusted Rushing NEP per play last season.