Rams fans would have been elated if somehow Les Snead had managed to secure tackle Isaiah Wilson in the draft last year. A 6’7, 350 lb 21-year-old out of Georgia who was expected to do no less than perfectly complement Derrick Henry’s right side in Tennessee, Wilson didn’t come close Snead’s first pick at 52. The Titans chose him to be Jack Conklin’s natural replacement at right tackle with the 29th pick in the first round and how could anyone have doubted Tennessee’s ability to choose and develop an offensive lineman?
After a disappointment with Chance Warmack in 2013, the Titans started with Taylor Lewan in 2014, then Conklin in 2016, then Nate Davis in 2019. Outside of their miss on guard Jeremiah Poutasi in the third round in 2015, that’s a good hit rate on the few offensive line choices they’ve made above the sixth round during those six drafts.
In 2020, Titans general manager Jon Robinson, who started on the job in 2016, was coming off of one of his best moments on the job with the class a year before: defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons in the first, receiver A.J. Brown in the second, Davis in the third. Three starters and two cornerstones to a team that reached the AFC Championship game in 2019 and won 11 games in 2020.
So we’d have no reason to suspect that Robinson would make a monumental mistake with his late first round pick in 2020 when they selected a highly-rated tackle prospect who was thought to have no negatives that “weren’t fixable.” The Titans received high marks for their selection of Wilson, with SI.com saying that he “is going to prove a franchise cornerstone.”
Rams fans would have been surrounding Sean McVay’s luxurious pad from a safe distance begging him to cut Rob Havenstein immediately if Wilson had somehow fallen into their laps.
And it turns out that might have been a mistake.
Wilson had two offseason incidents involving police, including being charged with a DUI in September, and he ended up only playing four snaps during his rookie season for a number of reasons:
Wilson played four snaps during a rookie season that featured a DUI arrest, a suspension for violating team rules, two stints on the COVID-19 reserve list, and a season-ending move to the non-football illness list to work on personal issues.
Comments from Robinson on Tuesday were not necessarily optimistic, but absolutely sounded realistic.
“We did a lot of work on him leading up to the draft. The player that was here in the fall was not the player we evaluated,” Robinson said.
Keep in mind that Robinson also did a lot of character homework on Jeffery Simmons, a player who he felt comfortable clearing from incidents in his past when they drafted him 19th overall in 2019. Simmons has had no issues during his two years with the Titans and looks to be a franchise player on their defensive line.
Wilson may be able to put this tragically bad rookie season behind him, but for now it doesn’t look good for Tennessee’s first round pick in 2020.
It’s a reminder that even good teams who spend good money on good scouts can still make bad picks in the first round. When you’re drafting in the late first, the odds are expected to be higher that a player will have potential for downfall.
Snead doesn’t have a lot of experience with drafting in the first round and he’s aimed to keep it that way with his recent trade for Matthew Stafford. The Rams aren’t scheduled to pick in the first round again until 2024. It makes it impossible to come away with one of the very talented NFL players who have been selected in the late-first, early-second range recently but also at bay from a higher probability.
Many picks between 25-40 are either complete wastes or immediately written off by the teams that selected them. This comment from Robinson that Wilson “was not the player we evaluated” must be a constant worry for GMs.
What other prospects in the 25-40 range may have given their GMs this thought?
2015: Breshad Perriman, Phillip Dorsett, Stephone Anthony, T.J. Yeldon, Devin Smith, Dorial Green-Beckham
2016: Artie Burns, Paxton Lynch, Joshua Garnett, Robert Nkemdiche, Kevin Dodd
2017: Takkarist McKinley, Taco Charlton, David Njoku, Reuben Foster, Malik McDowell, Zay Jones, Forrest Lamp
2018: Rashaad Penny, Taven Bryan, Mike Hughes, Austin Corbett, Will Hernandez
2019: Johnathan Abram, Jerry Tillery, L.J. Collier, DeAndre Baker, N’Keal Harry, Byron Murphy, Rock Ya-Sin, Greg Little
Wilson is obviously the standout from 2020 right now, but he’s not alone in having an underwhelming campaign from the rookies in the 25-40 range. I won’t name them because it is only one rookie season, but these types of rookie seasons are reminiscent of those from players listed above.
It’s another reason I don’t worry about future first round picks.