When the Tennessee Titans talk problem areas, no position fits that bill more than wide receiver.
Consider this, in 21 seasons since leaving Houston, the Tennessee franchise has produced exactly five players who have recorded 1,000-yard receiving seasons with the club. Derrick Mason did four consecutive years from 2001-04. The others are Drew Bennett in ‘04, Nate Washington in ‘11, Kendall Wright in ’13 and tight end Delanie Walker in ‘15.
What seems to be worse than that is all the could haves, would haves and should haves who are not on this list. Other than Wright, a first-round pick who transformed into a journeyman after Mike Munchak and his staff were fired after 2013, the others on the list include a fourth-round pick in Mason, an undrafted player in Bennett and two free-agent acquisitions in Washington and Walker. It certainly does not include any of the players drafted with high picks who were supposed to solve the Titans’ wide receiver problems – be that Tyrone Calico, Paul Williams, Damian Williams, Kenny Britt, Justin Hunter or Dorial Green-Beckham.
As the Titan enter 2018, they are again counting on questions to be answered at the receiver position. Can Corey Davis stay healthy, improve his route-running and become something close to a No. 1 receiver? Can Rishard Matthews shake off his injuries from late last year and in the off-season to stay productive? What role will Taywan Taylor have, given that he is the closest thing the Titans have to a speed receiver? How much can Tajae Sharpe contribute after a year off and in a new offense? And finally, can any of the bargain free agents or undrafteds in camp show enough to help out beyond just camp and preseason?
As the Titans work to install a new offense, there appear to be far more questions than answers at receiver coming in. The lack of experience and injuries seem partly to blame for the offense’s sluggishness in off-season work. But in order to find the success that they need in the passing game, some of the questions above are going to need to be answered soon, and in a positive way. Because for as much can be contributed by Walker and new running back Dion Lewis as receiving options, nothing would make the offense hit on all cylinders than for one or two these receivers to emerge as genuine threats in the passing game.
Until that happens, the Titans offense will have to continue to look elsewhere in the passing game, something that could potentially limit its effectiveness. Davis is the real key to taking the Titans passing game to another level. He had 34 catches in an injury-plagued rookie season and at times, looked like a rookie who came from the lower tier of Division I football. But as the season progressed, he seemed to get better, including catching nine passes for 98 yards and two scores in the Titans’ two playoff games. How quickly he acclimates himself to Matt LaFleur’s offense is the key to improvement not only for himself, but also the offense as a whole.
Matthews is entering the final year of his three-year contract and tailed off last season due to a hamstring issue He also was held out of OTAs, but is expected to be ready for camp. The Titans have to hope they get more the 2016 version of Matthews (65 catches, 9 TDs) than the 2017 edition (53 catches, 4 TDs).
Beyond that, the Titans have to hope that either Taylor finds himself in the new system after being lost and forgotten at times in his rookie year, or that Sharpe bounces back from missing 2017 due to a foot injury. Elsewhere, major contributions from the likes of Michael Campanaro, Nick Williams, Darius Jennings or undrafted rookies like Deontay Burnett or Jordan Veazy would have to be considered a bonus.