How trading No. 1 pick in 2016 altered Titans franchise originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The Bears are set up for arguably the most exciting offseason in franchise history. They have the most cap space in the league by a large margin with over $100 million dollars to spend. They have the No. 1 pick in the draft. And they already have a quarterback in place who has shown he has the legitimate upside to lead a team to the promised land. That last point is particularly important, because the No. 1 pick is often used to select a franchise QB, and teams often mortgage their futures for an opportunity to select them.
For our purposes, let’s say the Bears have no intentions of trading Justin Fields and drafting a new quarterback. If so, Ryan Poles will work the phones to create a bidding war between QB-needy teams. The Texans, Colts, Panthers and Commanders immediately come to mind. The Lions, Seahawks, Raiders and Jets could also be interested depending on how their internal evaluations go, and how the free agent market shakes out. The Giants could come calling too, but the Bears probably won’t want to return the favor for the Justin Fields trade in 2021 since the Giants are picking all the way down in the back half of the first round. Again, for our purposes let’s say Poles gets a deal done and trades away that pick. It’s impossible to know exactly what package of picks Poles would receive in return since a lot would depend on how far back the Bears end up moving. One more time, for our purposes, let’s take a look at the last time a team traded away the No. 1 overall pick. It was 2016, when the Titans made a deal with the Rams so that the Rams could draft Jared Goff. The full terms: Tennessee sent the No. 1 overall pick, the No. 113 overall pick and the No. 177 overall pick to Los Angeles. In exchange Tennessee received the Nos. 15, 43, 45 and 76 picks in the 2016 draft, plus a 2017 first-rounder and a 2017 third-rounder.
On paper it looks like an absolute haul, but what did the Titans actually do with those picks? Was it a franchise altering series of acquisitions? Or was it much ado about nothing? And what can it tell us about what the Bears can accomplish this offseason? Let’s take a look.
NO. 15 OVERALL PICK → JACK CONKLIN (AT NO. 8)
The Titans weren’t done wheeling and dealing, and sent both the No. 15 overall pick and the No. 76 overall pick that they received from the Rams to move back up in the draft. They landed at No. 8 where they selected Jack Conklin, an immediate starter at right tackle, and the No. 176 overall pick. More on No. 176 later. Conklin was an instant success and elevated the play of the offensive line immensely. He was named a First-Team All-Pro as a rookie, but injuries derailed his career in Tennessee. The Titans declined his fifth-year option in 2020, and Conklin signed with the Browns. Turned out Conklin was ok, and he was named a First-Team All-Pro again in his first year with Cleveland. The Browns and Conklin agreed to terms on a four-year, $60 million extension two and half weeks ago. If the Bears got a player of Conklin’s caliber with their first pick in next year’s draft it would be an enormous win.
NO. 43 OVERALL PICK → AUSTIN JOHNSON
The Titans kept this pick to select Austin Johnson, a nose tackle out of Penn State. Johnson played four years in Tennessee, largely as a backup. He finished his Titans career with 2.5 sacks, four TFLs and five QB hits. The pick was a whiff.
NO. 45 OVERALL PICK → DERRICK HENRY
The Titans kept this pick, too, and used it to select the future face of their franchise: Derrick Henry. It took a couple of years for Henry to take over the backfield since he initially split carries with DeMarco Murray, then Dion Lewis. Everything changed at the end of the 2018 season when Henry seemed to find another gear. In 2019, Henry was the Titans bellcow and he’s been the team MVP since. Two rushing titles, three Pro Bowls and one Offensive Player of the Year award later, and it’s clear this pick was a home run for the Titans.
NO. 76 OVERALL PICK → JACK CONKLIN (AT NO. 8 OVERALL)
See pick No. 15.
NO. 176 OVERALL PICK → LESHAUN SIMS (AT NO. 157)
The Titans took their pick from trading up with the Browns and flipped it again. This time they sent the No. 176 plus a 2017 sixth-rounder to Denver for the No. 157 pick and the No. 253 overall pick. At 157, the Titans selected LeShaun Sims. He worked as both a starter and backup and showed good ball skills. Sims played four years in Tennessee, then one more year with the Bengals. During his time with the Titans, Sims played in 56 games and started 11 of them. He had two interceptions, one forced fumble and three fumble recoveries. A solid contributor as a fifth-round pick. He wasn’t flashy, but the Bears will need to get players who actually play with these bottom-half of the draft players, too.
NO. 253 → KALAN REED
Reed was Mr. Irrelevant in the 2016 draft: the last player picked. He was a practice squad player most of his career, but did play on Sunday seven games in his NFL career. Players drafted this late are a crapshoot, so can’t fault the Titans for missing here. If and when the Bears miss on their own seventh-rounders, we shouldn’t hold it against them either.
2017 FIRST-ROUND PICK → COREY DAVIS (AT NO. 5 OVERALL)
As we flipped the calendar to 2017, the Titans ended up with another top-five pick thanks to the Rams 4-12 record in 2016. It was an incredibly valuable pick and they used it on a wide receiver to bolster their anemic passing attack. Davis was a solid player for the Titans, but he wasn’t the explosive player that befits someone selected with the No. 5 overall pick. He only played four seasons in Tennessee, and his best season was his last when he caught 65 balls for 984 yards and five touchdowns. Meanwhile, the 10 players selected after Davis were Jamal Adams, Mike Williams, Christian McCaffery, John Ross, Patrick Mahomes, Marshon Lattimore, Deshaun Watson, Haason Reddick, Derek Barnett and Malik Hooker. Almost every single one of them would have been an upgrade over Davis. This was a missed opportunity and shows how important Poles’ evaluation will be when he gets the opportunity to pick a blue-chip player.
2017 THIRD-ROUNDER → JONNU SMITH
With their final pick from their blockbuster trade, the Titans selected Jonnu Smith, a tight end to complement Delanie Walker. Smith eventually took over as the team’s top TE and was a solid piece in their passing attack, but he didn’t return after his rookie deal expired. Over his four years with the Titans, Smith caught 114 passes for 1,302 yards and 16 touchdowns. Another solid pick considering the Titans got him in the third round. These are the types of picks Poles will need to hit on to fill out the Bears roster as the rebuild continues. Not every player will be a star or All-Pro like Henry and Conklin, but many will have to be reliable starters.
So what did we learn? The Titans got two high-end players from their big trade, and a couple other solid contributors. There were some whiffs, too. Picks like Conklin and Henry clearly helped the Titans turn around their franchise and reach the AFC Championship in 2019. Other picks like Johnson and Davis probably lowered their ceiling. No GM bats 1.000 in the draft, and Poles is sure to have some misses in 2023. But If he nails two or more picks from a hypothetical trade, it will go a long way to making the Bears contenders again.
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