HOUSTON — Jon Robinson helped the Titans make great strides in his first year as general manager, and his old friends and colleagues here at Super Bowl LI noticed.
The group includes Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who calls him "JR," and Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who said he valued Robinson's opinion as much as anyone in the organization during his time in New England. Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, formerly with the Patriots, also raved about Robinson.
"JR?,'' Belichick said from his podium at Super Bowl Opening Night when asked about Robinson. "Jon is a tireless worker, a great energy guy. He does a very good job of digging out information on players, and making great decisions. He knows what is important, and he is a great evaluator. He has a lot of experience.
"He beats the bushes through small schools and guys that don't play much, so he can really dig into the cracks and find players there's not a lot of information on. He also makes great decisions on evaluating guys there's a lot of film on.
"He did a tremendous job for us,'' Belichick continued, "and has done a great job for the Titans this year. I think he is a great general manager and a great evaluator of talent and he has a great career in front of him."
Robinson spent 12 seasons with the Patriots (2002-13), first as a scout and later as the team's director of college scouting (2009-13). He was hired by the Titans last January after spending two seasons as director of player personnel with the Buccaneers.
The Titans went 9-7 in 2016 – a six-game improvement in the win column compared to the previous season – following an offseason when Robinson made five trades, and a number of key moves in free agency and the draft to reshape the roster.
Kraft said Robinson, a Union City, Tenn., native who worked his way up from the college ranks to the NFL, has a keen eye for talent. He said he loved chatting with him when he was with the Patriots.
While Robinson was with the Patriots, the team drafted players like receiver Julian Edelman, tight end Rob Gronkowski, defensive back Devin McCourty, tackle Nate Solder and defensive end Chander Jones, among others.
"Jon is a terrific young man,'' Kraft said on Monday night. "We used to hook up in the lunch room, or different places, and whenever I wanted to know about a player, I would speak to him and he always gave it to me straight. And he was always spot on.
"I think Tennessee is very lucky to have him down there. I hated to see him leave us. He just didn't have the opportunity with us, but he's a very good man."
Patriots president Jonathan Kraft echoed his father's comments.
"I love Jon, so I am happy to talk about Jon," Jonathan Kraft said. "If you talked to Bill (Belichick) about him, you got everything you need to know. But I'll tell you Jon worked for us a real long time, and clearly he comes from great football lineage, so he understood at a young age what it was all about. He has a high IQ, a great work ethic and he loves football, and you put all that together with great people skills, then you have somebody who will be successful running an NFL franchise.
"Jon's success makes us very proud. He is family, and you want your family members to have success except when they are competing against you."
Last January, when Robinson was hired as general manager of the Titans, he vowed to work hard to build the team into a winner. Under his watch, working alongside head coach Mike Mularkey, the Titans got off to a nice start.
Earlier this month, Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk promoted Robinson to Executive Vice President/General Manager, less than a year after he was originally hired as GM. The promotion came on the heels of a season which saw the Titans triple their win total while producing the greatest turnaround in franchise history.
Dimitroff worked alongside Robinson when he was the Patriots college scouting director from 2003-07 before he left to join the Falcons in 2008. The Falcons are in the Super Bowl, and on Sunday they'll face a franchise that's been the NFL's most dominant for well over a decade. Dimitroff said the Patriots had a great influence on him, and he believes they did on Robinson as well.
"Jon has done a fantastic job," Dimitroff said. "He is a really good football man. He has been in coaching, he has been in scouting and he has a really good understanding of the type of players that play in this league. He is a good leader and he understands the importance of the right partnership with his head coach."
Among Robinson's biggest moves in the last year:
• Traded for running back DeMarco Murray, who led the AFC with 1,287 rushing yards in 2016. Robinson exchanged fourth-round draft picks with the Philadelphia Eagles to land Murray, who made it to the Pro Bowl.
• The Titans parted with the first overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, giving up three total picks and getting back six selections. Two of the picks they received—a first-rounder and a third-rounder— are for 2017. Another two picks were used on running back Derrick Henry and defensive lineman Austin Johnson, and the other two selections were shipped to Cleveland to get in position to draft right tackle Jack Conklin. Conklin started all 16 games for the Titans in 2016.
• The 2016 draft class played a key role in the team's success this fall. Titans rookies played 3,552 snaps in 2016, which ranked in the top 10. The NFL average was 2,675 snaps.
• Robinson landed several key players in free agency, including receiver Rishard Matthews and center Ben Jones. Matthews led the team in receptions (65), receiving yards (945) and touchdowns (9). Jones was a tone-setter on an offensive line that allowed just 28 sacks and paced the way for the NFL's third-ranked rushing attack.
• Robinson also claimed guard Josh Kline off waivers, and he ended up starting 14 games in 2016.
Along with Mularkey, Robinson also helped change the mindset of the team, and franchise.
Patriots safety Devin McCourty got a sense of that when he talked to his twin brother, Titans cornerback Jason McCourty, during the course of the season.
He can't help but wonder if Robinson is trying to do things the "Patriot Way" in Tennessee. And that, of course, wouldn't be a bad thing. The Patriots will become the first organization to play in nine Super Bowls on Sunday. It will be the franchise's seventh Super Bowl appearance under Belichick.
"I knew he would do a good job coming from New England," Devin McCourty said of Robinson. "The cool thing in talking to (Jason), once Jon got there and hearing the different messages he was delivering, I would tell Jason "that's the same thing we hear here on the daily.'
"Right from there Jason was excited that they were in a good place, that the organization was going down the right path with (Robinson). And he is a great guy from the time I got to know him in New England."