NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP/WOOD) — Plainwell native and former Michigan State Spartan Jack Conklin is headed to the Tennessee Titans, drafted to the NFL in the first round.
Conklin, who was drafted No. 8 overall, is the first Plainwell native to make it to the NFL.
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.
The Titans took him after trading up with the Cleveland Browns, giving up the 15th and 76th picks along with a second-round pick in 2017. They also received a sixth-round pick this year. They traded their No. 1 overall pick to the Los Angeles Rams two weeks ago.
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.
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.
Robinson said Lewan remains their left tackle and he sees Conklin at tackle with the best five linemen starting.
Selecting a lineman was not unexpected as Robinson has said his priority is protecting quarterback Marcus Mariota. 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.
Conklin brings size at 6-foot-6 and 325 pounds. Not a heavily recruited player out of high school, he joined the Spartans as a preferred walk-on. He went on to start 38 of 39 career games over three seasons — 35 at left tackle and three at right tackle. An All-Big Ten, All-American offensive tackle, he helped lead Michigan State to a combined record of 36-5, including victories in the 2014 Rose Bowl and 2015 Cotton Bowl Classic.
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.
The Rams’ No. 1 pick overall was quarterback Jared Goff.