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What's next? Examining Titans 2016 Rookie Class


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The search for the 2017 rookie class is about to go into full swing for the Titans.

The Senior Bowl is next week, followed by the NFL Combine, pro days, pre-draft visits and the NFL Draft.

Today, let's take a look back at the 2016 draft picks, from how they performed as rookies, to what's ahead:


Player:**Jack Conklin, tackle

Pick: 1st round, 8th overall.

Rookie year: Conklin arrived with high expectations, and he exceeded them. He was named All-Pro as a rookie, when he started all 16 games. He allowed just two sacks and was part of an offensive line that finished the year ranked No.1 by Pro Football Focus.

What's next: Conklin is just going to keep getting better. He was sturdy and steady as a rookie. He never got flustered, even when going against some of the NFL's best pass rushers. He's a guy the team can count on moving forward. 


Player: Kevin Dodd, linebacker**

Pick:2nd round, 33rd overall.

Rookie year: Dodd suffered a foot injury during offseason work, had surgery, and missed a good chunk of training camp. He was back for the start of the season, and while he showed flashes, he was never quite right mentally and physically. He ended the season on Injured Reserve after playing in nine games. He finished with nine tackles and one sack.

What's next: The Titans still have high expectations for Dodd, who recorded 12 sacks in his final season at Clemson and had three in his final collegiate game. Dodd should benefit from working in OTAs and minicamp, and be in a better position to be successful at the start of the season. He'll be counted on to assist linebackers Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan in the rush to the quarterback.


Player: Austin Johnson, defensive line**

Pick: 2nd round, 43rd overall.

Rookie year: Johnson was inactive for six of the team's first nine games, but then ended up playing in the final seven games of the season. He finished the year with 15 tackles, a half sack, one quarterback pressure, and most importantly, momentum.

What's next: Johnson will benefit from his experience as a rookie. He was part of a defensive line rotation down the stretch, and coaches liked the way he finished the year. He's strong and athletic, and should make more of an impact in Year 2. 


Player: Derrick Henry, running back**

Pick: 2nd round, 45th overall.

Rookie year: After racking up 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns in his final college season at Alabama, Henry had to wait his turn as a rookie behind Pro Bowler DeMarco Murray. When he played, he performed well. Henry finished the year with 490 yards and five touchdowns, on 110 carries.

What's next: Titans coach Mike Mularkey said Henry's "time is coming," and coaches will try and find ways to get Henry more involved in his second NFL season. It will be interesting to see what the distribution in carries looks like, though. Murray ran for 1,287 yards, excelled as a pass catcher, and he's a tough guy to take off the field.  


Player: Kevin Byard, safety**

Pick: 3rd round, 64th overall.

Rookie year: Byard, who starred at MTSU, played in all 16 games in 2016. He was valuable in run support and in coverage, he blitzed, and pretty much did it all during his rookie season. Byard finished the year with 63 tackles, a sack, three passes defensed and five tackles for a loss in seven starts. 

What's next: Byard's playing time increased as the season went on, but he still played in a rotation with other safeties during his rookie year. I expect him to be on the field a lot more in 2017, and I also expect him to make more game-changing plays. After recording 19 interceptions in college, Byard didn't have a pick last year. His goal is to make the Pro Bowl in Year 2.


Player: Tajae Sharpe, receiver**

Pick: 5th round, 140th overall.

Rookie year: Sharpe surprised a lot of people during the offseason, when he surged past receivers like Dorial Green-Beckham and Justin Hunter on the depth chart. While those players ended up elsewhere, Sharpe started 10 games and finished the year with 41 catches for 522 yards and two touchdowns.

What's next: Sharpe exceeded expectations as a rookie, even though he had some quieter games down the stretch. The experience should help him. Sharpe was one of the team's most consistent route runners and pass catchers, and he's just going to keep getting better. Still, he should expect some newcomers around him at the position. 


Player: LeShaun Sims, cornerback**

Pick: 5th round, 157th overall.

Rookie year: Sims was inactive the first three weeks of the season, and he played primarily on special teams during the first half of the season. When the team parted ways with veteran Perrish Cox, Sims got his chance, and he showed plenty of promise. Sims finished the year with 18 tackles and an interception while making two starts.  

What's next: Sims has good size, with long arms and speed. He stepped up down the stretch, especially in games against the Broncos and Chiefs. There's plenty of uncertainty around him in the secondary heading into next season. The Titans will have to make decisions on others, and the team is expected to make additions in free agency and the draft. But Sims will be in the mix.


Player: Sebastian Tretota, guard**

Pick: 6th round, 193rd overall.

Rookie year: Tretota played in just one game during his rookie season – a handful of snaps late in the game against the Jaguars on October 27. He was inactive for 14 contests and didn't play in another game. He was a reserve behind starters Quinton Spain and Josh Kline at guard.

What's next: Tretola called the 2016 season a "learning experience" and his teammates and coaches raved about his progress. Tretola said he plans to fight for a starting spot in 2017, and he'll be thrown into the mix with a group of players, some of which might not currently be on the roster.


Player: Aaron Wallace, linebacker**  

Pick: 7th round, 222nd overall.

Rookie year: Wallace was slowed by a high ankle sprain during training camp, and it slowed his progress early. Wallace was inactive for six of the team's first 10 games. The former UCLA star contributed down the stretch, however, and finished the season with 15 tackles, one sack and five quarterback pressures.

What's next: Wallace will compete for roster spot in 2017, but he'll enter the offseason with experience, and the team liked what it saw from him in the last half of the season. Wallace is a savvy player with ability, and some nice pass rushing skills.


Player: Kalan Reed, cornerback** 

Pick: 7th round, 253rd overall.

Rookie year: Reed, "Mr. Irrelevant" in last year's draft, spent most of the season on the team's practice squad. He was promoted to the active roster in December, and played in four games to close out the season. Reed finished the season with a tackle on defense, and one on special teams. 

What's next: Reed will compete for a roster spot in 2017, but he should expect some new faces in the mix in the secondary by the time OTAs begin. The Titans liked Reed's attitude while working on the practice squad, and he's another guy who should benefit from having an entire NFL offseason to improve.

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