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Titans' Late-Round Picks Familiar with Underdog Role


NASHVILLE, Tenn. – He's been in charge of three straight Titans drafts now, so maybe we can start to pick up on a few trends regarding general manager Jon Robinson.

One, he enjoys wheeling and dealing, a trait made clear in his first few months on the job.

Second, he scours the small schools, evidenced by selections made from Southern Utah to Florida International and all places in between.

Third, he appreciates the value of a good linebacker, as Robinson has chosen five during his tenure.

But there's another noticeable element to many of Robinson's draft selections, one less tangible yet every bit as intriguing.

He likes the underdogs, the guys who've already had to overcome doubters on one level, very likely because it's a good blueprint of what they'll have to do on the NFL level as well.

Let's not forget Robinson's very first selection as Titans general manager was offensive lineman Jack Conklin, the big offensive lineman who had to walk on at Michigan State after not receiving a full scholarship offer from a single Division I school.

"I still think about it a lot," Conklin said during his All-Pro rookie season. "It's that chip-on-the-shoulder mentality. It's where I came from. I think about it every day, all the work I had to put in to earn that scholarship and get to this point."

We all know the story of safety Kevin Byard, who became a star at Middle Tennessee State only after the University of Kentucky pulled a scholarship offer from him at the last moment.

Then there was wide receiver Corey Davis, who received just a single scholarship offer – from Western Michigan. He turned it into an opportunity to earn All-American status, which led the Titans to select him with the fifth overall pick in 2017.

To that list of overachievers, the Titans added at least a couple more draft picks who've shown themselves capable of overcoming challenge.

Defensive back Dane Cruikshank, for instance, could have faded into oblivion at the end of high school, when he didn't have the grades to qualify for a four-year school. But he rebounded by attending junior college for two years, improving his academic standing enough to earn a scholarship to Arizona.

"It helped me grow up at the time," Cruikshank told the Arizona Star. "It made me see the bigger picture. Do I want to go to the NFL, or just sit at home on the couch eating chips all day?"

Three years later, Cruikshank is leaning on that same ability to overcome as the fifth-round pick makes the challenging transition from college to the NFL game.

"Definitely – it helps you (with) maturing and adjusting to things quicker," Cruikshank said last week, comparing the two experiences. "The speed of the game is a little bit faster here and the playbook is a little bigger. So it's an adjustment period, but that's what we're doing now."

Quarterback Luke Falk fits the mold as well.

The Titans' sixth-round draft pick earned three college scholarship offers during his high-school career, but each one wound up getting pulled. That's why Falk wound up heading to Washington State as a walk-on, even taking a job as a caterer during his freshman season to help pay tuition.

Falk began his collegiate career seventh on the Cougars' quarterback depth chart, but he worked his way into the starter's role by the end of his redshirt freshman season – then proceeded to throw for almost 15,000 yards before he was done.

So as daunting as it might be for Falk to earn a roster spot this season, he, like Cruikshank, can rely on valuable experience.

"I think what college helped me do is compete and you have to do that here every day," Falk said during the Titans rookie mini-camp. "Your job is on the line every day. You have to come out here and compete and constantly improve. That's one thing I'll take here (from college) and hopefully I can translate that on the field."

It's still far too early to know whether players like Cruikshank and Falk will succeed on the NFL level.

But this much we do know. Neither player will back down from the challenge.

-- Reach John Glennon at and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.


Titans rookies take part in Saturday's rookie minicamp at Saint Thomas Sports Park. (Photos: Donn Jones, Gary Glenn)


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