AFC South rookie grades: Titans rising under GM Jon Robinson


Missing their starting left tackle didn’t slow the Titans. Running back DeMarco Murray tossed a touchdown pass to Delanie Walker six plays after Lewan was disqualified.

It was part of a wild start for the Titans, who attempted an onside kick to open the game and watched Murray go untouched for a 75-yard touchdown on Tennessee’s first offensive snap.

This was a game of missed opportunities for the . They were stuffed twice on the goal line in the first half, including a fourth-down try by Spencer Ware. Alex Smith’s awful third quarter interception in the end zone helped turn the game around. After a fantastic first half by Smith, the offense was scoreless after halftime.

After Smith’s pick, the Chiefs picked up a total of 30 yards in their next three drives. When push came to shove, needing three yards to ice the game late, Reid called for an option run by Smith rather than a throw. It was a safe call and safe didn’t work against the Titans.

Both teams will be historically beholden to the first major move both general managers made. Sashi Brown and Paul Depodesta of Cleveland traded the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 draft to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for the eighth overall pick, a 2016 third-round pick (77), a 2016 fourth-round pick (100), a 2017 first-round pick (12) and a 2018 second-round pick (TBD).

Titans general manager Jon Robinson, meanwhile, dealt the 2016 No. 1 overall pick for the Rams’ 2016 first-round pick (15), two second-round picks (43, 45), a third-round pick (76) and first and third-round picks in 2017. They also took pick No. 176 — a sweetener from the Browns’ trade-down for Michigan State offensive tackle — and spun that into 157 and 253 via a deal with the Broncos.

This was general manager Ryan Grigson’s final draft and he started out with a bang. Center Ryan Kelly should be a 10-year starter for this organization; Andrew Luck’s version of Jeff Saturday. From there, the 2016 draft depended on your ability to be optimistic. Fifth-round pick Joe Haeg had to play a lot of football in Year 1 and did so at a solid level. The former North Dakota State standout was on the field for almost 1,000 snaps (behind only and Kelly among O-linemen). Third-round pick Le’Raven Clark did not come on until the end of the season and seems more like a long-term project for this coaching staff — something Luck obviously doesn’t need happening live in front of him right now. The Colts always seemed like a team where the ideas of the general manager did not mesh with the philosophy of the coaching staff, which makes a draft like this incredibly hard to grade. Still, there are teams that whiffed altogether on the first-round pick, and Indianapolis did not do so. Grade: C

This team needs a better front seven. The Colts need to upgrade at defensive tackle, defensive end and linebacker in the worst way. The release of D’Qwell Jackson leaves the cupboard bare, but maybe this is the chance for head coach Chuck Pagano to get his type of linebacker in the rotation. The 2016 Colts gave up a robust 4.7 rushing yards per attempt, ranking 30th. In his initial mock draft, Daniel Jeremiah had Indianapolis taking defensive end Derek Barnett out of Tennessee. The free agency class is peppered with some solid linebackers coming off their rookie deals and, obviously, some marquee players like Dont’a Hightower are available and worth spending money on.

If Tennessee’s success on the ground is a surprise, their approach isn’t: the Titans were blue-ribboned as the NFL’s most-improved backfield by colleague Chris Wesseling, who wrote way back in May about the team’s desire to attack today’s smaller, quicker defenses with a blistering whirlwind of big-bodied linemen and powerful runners.

It’s been years since this was the case, but the Titans are suddenly must-watch TV for NFL fans. Tennessee’s ground game going up against Carolina’s Super Bowl defense is the sexiest battle on Saturday’s slate — a showdown that will tell us plenty about how the Titans match up against one of the league’s rubber-stamped super powers.

The Green Bay defense entered the week allowing a league-low 75.8 rushing yards per game. DeMarco Murray almost equaled that total on his first tote. The running back took the Titans first play from scrimmage 75 yards untouched for a touchdown. On the next drive, Murray threw a touchdown pass to Delanie Walker. Murray finished with 17 carries for 127 rushing yards, a touchdown, two receptions for 33 yards and the 10-yard TD pass. The fresh running back easily outflanked a limp, injured Packers defense. Murray and Walker (nine receptions for 124 yards, TD) destroyed Green Bay’s will Sunday.

Davante Adams was the only Packers player on fire from the start. The unfairly maligned receiver gashed the Titans secondary, picking up chunk gains en route to a six-catch 156-yard day. Finally healthy after dealing with an ankle sprain all last season, Adams is able to create separation and has Rodgers trust on back-shoulder throws. Adams and Jordy Nelson (12 catches, 126 yards, TD) routinely torched corner Perrish Cox. Outside of those two, however, the Packers’ offense was unproductive and predictable.

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