NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee has made it clear: Protecting quarterback Marcus Mariota is the fastest way to turn this franchise around. So the Titans selected offensive tackle Jack Conklin of Michigan State with the eighth pick overall after trading up with Cleveland.
The Titans made the trade and the pick in Thursday night's NFL draft, two weeks after trading the No. 1 pick overall to the Los Angeles Rams. New general manager Jon Robinson said the Browns reached out to Tennessee about 15 minutes before the draft started and they worked out the pieces of the trade for an offensive tackle they had wanted since he visited Nashville.
''It was a good marriage for us,'' Robinson said.
Tennessee gave up the 15th and the 76th overall pick, along with a second-round pick in 2017. The Titans also received the Browns' sixth-round pick, No. 176, and protected their three second-round picks in this draft leaving them with five selections within the first 64.
This is the third time in the past four drafts that Tennessee has taken an offensive lineman with its top draft pick. The Titans drafted right guard Chance Warmack with the 10th overall pick in 2013 and left tackle Taylor Lewan at No. 11 in 2014. Conklin brings size at 6-foot-6 and 325 pounds. A former walk-on, he started 35 games at left tackle and three at right tackle.
Robinson said Lewan remains their left tackle and he sees Conklin at tackle with the best five linemen starting.
Tennessee gave up the most sacks (54) in the NFL in Mariota's rookie season, and the quarterback missed a total of four games after spraining each knee.
Mariota, the No. 2 pick overall a year ago, set a flurry of team records as a rookie quarterback with 230 completions, 370 attempts, 2,818 yards passing and 19 touchdowns. His 91.5 passer rating as a rookie that ranked third all-time in franchise history behind only Steve McNair's co-MVP season in 2003 (100.4) and Hall of Famer Warren Moon's 1990 season (96.8).
The rookie was even better on the road with a 105.2 passer rating that ranked fourth in the NFL, and he had 10 TDs with only one interception away from home.
But Mariota started only 12 games last season, missing two games apiece as he sprained each knee when hit in the pocket. The Titans gave up a league-worst 54 sacks, which prompted Robinson to sign Houston center Ben Ford in free agency trying to anchor the offensive line.
Conklin thought he'd wind up in Tennessee after a great visit with the team. He's also happy to be playing with Mariota than against him as he did in college.
''To be able to block for him will make me sleep a lot better,'' Conklin said.
This draft marks the latest stage for the Titans' new general manager, who was hired in January to fix a franchise that has gone just 5-27 combined over the past two seasons. Tennessee has had one winning season since the franchise's last playoff berth in 2008.
Robinson also traded for running back DeMarco Murray, the 2014 NFL rushing leader, in a move with Philadelphia that cost him a move of only 13 spots in the fourth round. He has signed nine free agents working to revamp the roster and build around quarterback Marcus Mariota, the No. 2 pick out of Oregon a year ago.
Mike Mularkey finished off a 3-13 season last year after being promoted Nov. 3 when Ken Whisenhunt was fired.
Mularkey was given the job after a short search in January, and he has made it very clear he wants to run the ball much better in 2016 to help Mariota out. The Titans ranked 25th in rushing last season averaging 92.8 yards per game, and their lone 100-yard rushing game since the end of the 2013 season came Dec. 6 when Mariota needed an 87-yard touchdown run to reach 112 yards.
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