How successful have the Tennessee Titans been at drafting and addressing Wide Receiver position?
The Tennessee Titans doubled-down at the Wide Receiver position in the 2017 NFL Draft. The Titans – seemingly lacking a true WR1 – not only spent their highest draft pick on the position of need, but spent two of their top three picks on speedsters that can help this offense fully develop. Just for kicks, the Titans also signed a handful of undrafted Free Agent receivers to add to the competition at the position.
With recent reports of Titans being a potential suitor for Free Agent Eric Decker circulating, the team may not be done adding competition. Harry Douglas – who recently restructured his deal – is probably not a fan of rumors connecting Decker to Tennessee. Douglas contributes a veteran presence in the locker room. He is familiar with the offense due to Falcons ties with the coaching staff. However, adding Decker to the fold may signal the end of Douglas in Titan’s two-toned blue.
Adding competition should never be frowned upon, in my opinion. Competition at the position ensures the best players will play. The better the talent, the better the competition. The addition of Decker to the team may or may not affect Douglas making the roster. One thing is for sure, it would not hurt the team.
Longevity at the Position
The Titans franchise has struggled in addressing the position of Wide Receiver consistently. Previous regimes had an influence over who was selected via the draft, who was pursued in Free Agency, and who was allowed to walk and secure a better deal (Derrick Mason). Nonetheless, Jon Robinson is now calling the shots and I have a hard time believing he would have spent high draft selections on receivers if he didn’t think they had a potential longevity with the team.
The Titans believe that Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor will have a significant impact on the future success of the franchise. Davis – one of the top three at his position prior to the draft – is a staggering prospect. He offers size, speed, physicality and confidence. Taylor – like Davis – offers speed, elusiveness, and crisp route running that allows for separation from defenders.
Route running – in my estimation – is trait that is associated with some of the best receivers to play the game. What they lacked in elite categories like physicality, size or speed, their route running made up the difference. Having the route-tree embedded in their minds enables a player to fit into an offense like Tennessee’s which is built by design.
Ron Jaworski identified in his book, “The Games that Changed the Game”, how coach Sid Gillman understood the importance of every inch on the field and how precise route running enabled for a better, smoother execution and utilization of the entire field. Davis and Taylor will bring their understanding and execution of route running to this offense, which will make for some exciting moments this fall.
As a top 5 pick, I believe Davis knows what he has to bring to the table. Based off his personality alone – as seen through interviews – he not only knows what he has to bring to the table, but he wants to build an additional table and bring some more! The fact that he was unable to compete at the NFL Combine (which I don’t consider as important as other analysts) due to ankle injury, he was probably the consensus number one Wide Out in the draft by most scouts and coaches. He is now receiving an increased workload heading into OTAs.
Taylor has been making some noise thus far. Reports have been nothing but positive regarding his production during the reps he has had thus far. His character reflects that of an individual that is going to work hard for all he earns. His efforts will not be in vain. I expect him to be a big time addition to the team and expect to hear his name early and often throughout the regular season.
Drafting Wide Receivers
This section will focus on the Titans history in addressing the position through the NFL draft since the team’s relocation to Tennessee. Below is a list that solely reflects players drafted and does not include any undrafted signees.
1997– Joey Kent (Round 2, 46th overall, Tennessee), Derrick Mason (4th, 98th overall, Michigan State)
Which one of these receivers were better? Simple, Derrick Mason. Mason eventually joined the Ravens where he posted some of his best numbers. The Titans lost Mason to the Ravens during Free Agency. Mason put up FOUR consecutive 1,000 yard seasons from 2001-2004. Mason was 2nd in the league in receiving yards in 2004. He contributed big time in the return game, also.
In 2000, Mason racked up 1,000 yards returning kickoffs. He also memorable kick return taken to the house during the AFC Championship in 1999. Mason was a phenomenal player for this team as he contributed not only from a receiving standpoint, but as a return specialist also. Up unto this point, he is easily the best Wide Receiver the team drafted (again, during the Tennessee era).
Sadly, he continued to build his resume by catching passes from another fellow Titan in a Raven uniform – the late Steve McNair. Mason racked up 3 more 1,000 yard seasons.
1998– Kevin Dyson (Round 1, 16th overall, Tennessee)
Dyson was the first Wide Receiver selected in the 1998 draft. The second – Randy Moss – taken by Minnesota at 21. When Titans fans remember Dyson, they think of his miraculous season saving play in the Music City, as well as the devastating final pass completion in Super Bowl 34 that fell one-yard short of the end zone. Randy Moss – well, he ended up being pretty good, right? Ironically, he eventually wore the Titans two tone blue – 12 years later – with his best years clearly behind him.
2001– Justin McCareins (Round 4, 124th overall, Northern Illinois), Eddie Berlin (5th, 159th overall, Northern Iowa)
McCareins spent two seasons in Nashville, took a 3 year vacation to New York, then returned for one additional season in 2008. He was somewhat impactful during his earlier year, and helped the team during their 2008 season. Berlin spent 3 seasons with the team before joining the Chicago Bears.
2002– Jake Schifino (Round 5, 152st overall, Akron), Darrell Hill (7th, 225th overall, Northern Illinois)
Schifino mainly played special teams as a return specialist, as did Hill. Neither had a significant role in the offense from a receiver perspective.
2003– Tyrone Calico (Round 2, 60th overall, Middle Tennessee State)
Calico – a local collegiate product – was a high selection and caught the attention of the Titans due to registering a 4.34 in the 40 yard dash. Recording 4 touchdowns during his rookie campaign, Calico seemed like he may have an impact on the team for years to come. Production slowed and a leg injury signaled the end of his time in Tennessee.
2005– Courtney Roby (Round 3, 68th overall, Indiana), Brandon Jones (3rd, 96th, Oklahoma), Roydell Williams (4th, 136th, Tulane)
The team spent 3 of 12 draft picks during the middle rounds on Wide
Receivers in 2005. Roby earned a Super Bowl Ring – with the Saints. Jones lasted 3 seasons with the team, but never broke 500 yards. Williams had a nice 2007 season, eclipsing 700 yards, but left the team for Washington.
2006-Jonathan Orr (6th, 172nd, Wisconsin)
Orr did not take any snaps for the team and was released. About what you expect from a 6th round pick.
2007– Paul Williams (Round 3, 90th overall, Fresno State), Chris Davis (4th, 128th, Florida State) Joel Filani (6th, 188th, Texas Tech)
Three Wide Receivers picked up in 2007, combined to put up a total of 87 yard.
80 belonged to Davis.
2008– Lavelle Hawkins (Round 4, 126th overall, California)
“Hawk” lasted 5 seasons with the team and tallied a little over 700 yards throughout his tenure. He had the speed and was a twitchy player, but never developed into a key piece of the offense. He made pit stops in New England, San Francisco, Tampa Bay, and San Diego before his time in the NFL came to a close.
2009– Kenny Britt(Round 1, 30th overall, Rutgers), Dominique Edison (7th, 206th, Stephen F. Austin St.)
Kenny Britt – at one point – caused Titan fans that had been waiting for a true WR1 to exhale. Britt showed tremendous promise during his first two seasons – going for over 700 yards back to back. After a monster game against the Eagles in 2010, the future was looking bright. The following season, Britt suffered a season ending leg injury (MCL/ACL tears) that moved him to injured reserve just three weeks into the 2011 season. Due to Britt having some concerns off the field, the Titans let him sign elsewhere. He went on to put up a 1,000 yard season in St. Louis under former coach Jeff Fisher. Today, Britt is still in the league and is trying to help the Browns return to relevancy. Edison never had any impact on the team.
2010– Damian Williams (Round 3, 77th overall, USC), Marc Mariani (7th, 222nd, Montana)
Williams joined the team – and after having been familiar with what he did during his time at USC and after watching a clip of his skillset on an episode of Sports Science – I was sold on Williams. However, Mariani had more of an overall impact for this draft class. Williams put up his best numbers in 2011 with 592 yards and 5 touchdowns. Mariani made the Pro Bowl as a kick returner and returned to the team last season to contribute in the return game.
2012– Kendall Wright (Round 1, 20th overall, Baylor)
Recently acquired by the Chicago Bears, Kendall Wright was also a high pick that showed some promising signs. Wright put up 1,000 yards in his sophomore season with the Titans. Nagging hamstring injuries continued to derail Wright’s progress. Wright had playmaking ability, but sometimes he tried to do too much that would result in losing yards he could have had. Although Wright was a chain mover, injuries and issues with route running made the Titans comfortable enough to allow him to pursue Free Agency.
2013– Justin Hunter (Round 2, 34th overall, Tennessee)
Another home state prospect, Hunter was billed as just the right weapon. Standing at 6 ‘3 he had the size and speed to become something special. He eventually became labeled as “Just Another Guy” by receivers coach Shawn Jefferson after failing to run the right routes. Hunter donned a jersey with “JAG.” Hunter’s most memorable moment as a Titans was against San Diego, in which he caught the game winning touchdown in the closing seconds. Hunter never eclipsed 500 yards during his time in Tennessee.
2015– Dorial Green-Beckham (Round 2, 40th overall, Oklahoma), Tre McBride (7th, 245th, William and Mary)
McBride remains on the team. Dorial Green-Beckham was traded just after one season for swing tackle Dennis Kelly. DGB had the build, but didn’t develop as planned. He put up nearly 600 yards in Tennessee. He looked to show what impact he could’ve had for the Titans in Philadelphia. After one season and nearly 400 yards, the Eagles decided to sign Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery.
For the remaining draft selections at receiver, it is important to note these picks received the Jon Robinson seal of approval. What that means? Not sure, exactly. Too early too tell.
2016– Tajae Sharpe (Round 5, 140th overall, Massachusetts)
After a promising preseason, the 5th round selection went on to put up 522 yards. Sharpe was selected based on college production and reliable hands. He remains on the team but has recently underwent foot surgery. Barring any major setbacks, free agent acquisitions, or pending legal issues, expect Sharpe to remain on the Receiver depth chart this fall.
2017– Corey Davis (Round 1, 5th overall, Western Michigan), Taywan Taylor (3rd, 72nd, Western Kentucky)
The evaluation of these two picks will come once the season starts. If they are as game changing as fans expect them to be, it will have been a long time coming.
How successful have the Titans been in addressing the position through the draft?
As mentioned above, Derrick Mason was head and shoulders above all other draft selection at the position of Wide Receiver. No other receiver selected since 1997 has had any statistics even remotely close to what Derrick Mason recording during his time in Tennessee.
Below ranks the Titan’s top 3 receivers drafted.
Derrick Mason – 8 years, 6,114 Receiving yards, 37 Receiving Touchdowns, 3,496 Kickoff Return Yards with 1 Kickoff Return Touchdown, 1,590 Punt Return Yards with 2 Punt Return Touchdowns
1st Round –
Kendall Wright – 5 years, 3,244 Receiving yards, 18 Receiving Touchdowns
Kenny Britt – 5 years, 2,450 Receiving yards, 19 Receiving Touchdowns
It’s not even close. Derrick Mason had such an impact for the Titan franchise. He is the benchmark – I believe – for what the Titans should consider a “hit” in drafting a Wide Receiver that was such an instrumental piece in the years of success the Titans had in the early 2000s. He was a reliable target, possessed big play ability, and contributed to Special Teams which was a bonus. Mason provided longevity to the team at the position and was a stable, consistent force. First round picks Wright, Britt, and Dyson just didn’t workout in the way you would expect them too.
So what is considered a success in addressing the position of Wide Receiver via the NFL Draft? For the Titans – Derrick Mason. How he fell to the 4th round unnoticed, who knows? Derrick Mason was the only Pro Bowl Wide Receiver to come out of the 1997 NFL Draft. In fact, excluding Mariani’s selection as a Kick Returner in 2010, he is the only Titan player at the Wide Receiver position to make a Pro Bowl. Again, this is since 1997 and does not include players selected prior during the Houston era.
In my next blog, I will look at the Titans Free Agency activity over the past 20 seasons.