Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson seems to have a knack for finding quality talent in the fifth round of the NFL Draft. He has yet to make a fourth-round selection with the Titans, so his fifth rounders have all been his first picks on Day 3.
In 2016, his first year, Robinson selected Massachusetts receiver Tajaé Sharpe, who worked his way into the starting lineup by the start of his rookie season. Sharpe recorded over 40 receptions as a rookie and figures to have a big role in 2018, coming off of a season lost to injury.
Just last weekend, Robinson selected Arizona defensive back Dane Cruikshank, a player that several analysts thought would be long gone by the time he was actually selected. A versatile playmaker with great athleticism, Cruikshank is a good fit as a depth/rotational player behind Kevin Byard and Johnathan Cyprien.
Perhaps Robinson’s best fifth-round selection, though, has been UCLA linebacker Jayon Brown. As a rookie in 2017, he showed that he shouldn’t have stayed on the board as long as he did.
Tennessee Titans Corey Davis and Jayon Brown are signing autographs right now at Academy Sports and Outdoors in West Knoxville. pic.twitter.com/eGPw4hedh9
— Luke Slabaugh (@LukeSlabaugh) April 29, 2018
Brown fell to the fifth round because he is undersized and not the most overwhelming athlete in the world. However, in allowing him to fall that far, NFL teams overlooked other qualities that probably matter more.
In addition to being an energetic hard-worker, Brown is superb on special teams. His small stature also allows him to move more fluidly than bigger linebackers, making him very good in coverage.
As a rookie, Jayon Brown overcame his pre-draft negatives and proved to be a valuable member of a strong Titans defense. By season’s end, he was consistently taking snaps away from veteran LB Avery Williamson, who just signed a $22.5 million free agent contract with the New York Jets.
Brown’s charismatic personality endeared him to his teammates and coaches. His “lunch-pail” mentality propelled him to success, both on special teams and defense.
Despite all of the strides Brown made in his rookie season, his stake on the team is certainly being threatened. That is because the Titans drafted another linebacker, Rashaan Evans of Alabama, in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Titans lost Avery Williamson to the Jets. Rashaan Evans will compete with Will Compton and Jayon Brown for snaps next to 32 year old Wesley Woodyard.
— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) April 27, 2018
Unlike Williamson, who struggled in coverage and was basically a two-down linebacker, Evans has the ability to perform just about any task necessary for a linebacker in the modern NFL. He can tackle, he can blitz, he can rush, and he can cover.
Because of his immense talent, the times when Evans is standing on the sideline while the Titans are on defense will likely be few and far between. This means, of course, less playing time for Brown.
While Brown certainly will not be a starter this season barring injury, as Evans and Wesley Woodyard are superior players, he should still see the field plenty of times. He will likely have a very defined, and very important, role.
Before he began challenging Williamson for playing time as a rookie, Brown was mainly just a third-down specialist. He would come on the field in obvious passing situations for coverage purposes, and come off the field after the play was over.
In 2018, Brown’s role will likely be very similar to that. He will be a major contributor on special teams, provide relief to Evans and Woodyard, and be counted upon to cover—the very thing he is best at.
To say that the Titans’ decision to draft Rashaan Evans puts an end to Brown’s relevancy is absurd. He will have a role, and it will be a crucial one.
You won’t see Jayon Brown’s name in the starting lineup, but you will certainly be able to find it in the box score.