The 2012 Tennessee Titans have a dilemma and it's a relative new one. With all of this wide receiver talent, just which line up will allow us to be most dangerous? Now we of course have the big 3, being Kenny Britt, Nate Washington and 1st round Draft pick Kendall Wright. So that leaves Damian Williams, Marc Mariani and of course this posters favorite, Lavelle Hawkins. Exactly where will Tennessee line these players up on Sunday to provide the biggest mismatch? I will be excluding practice squad and unproven players on the roster in this post.
Now before we begin, lets breakdown the talent,
- Kenny Britt: Britt is everything you want in a receiver. Great leaping ability with a 37 inch vertical and aggressive off the line of scrimmage. He plays with great confidence and attacks every ball. He plays alot faster than his 4.5 40 yard dash time, able to outrun defenders in space. One of Britts biggest positives is his size. At 6'3 215lbs Britt is a monster towering over cbs and unafraid to go across the middle of the field. Britt is undoubtedly the Titans #1 receiver.
- Nate Washington: Coming off of a season in which he posted a career high 1,023 yards and 7TDs. Nate Washington has shown he is more than a typical slot receiver. Despite his lean frame at 6'1 177lbs, Washington has displayed the ability to catch the ball in traffic and embrace big hits. The polar opposite of his first season with the team when he was quick to drop passes when hit and was unreliable in the games closing moments. Washingtons exceptional downfield speed and quick cuts allow him to be an excellent downfield threat as well as be a weapon in the middle of the field.
- Kendall Wright: The 2012 Draft pick is in the same position of Nate Washington. He has the speed and agility to be a dominant slot receiver, but also possesses the burst and big play ability to be a threat as a #2. One of Wrights biggest skill is his burst off the line. His quick first step allows him to bypass press coverage and at 190lbs, he is not a guy who expects to be pushed around.
- Damian Williams: Williams is an interesting player. 6'1 200 lbs with a 4.5 40, Williams is built to play pretty much any position. He has the size and big play ability to be a number 1 or 2 receiver, as well as the speed to work in the slot. Williams showed promise last season posting a career high 592 yards with 2 touchdowns. However Williams lacks the agility and run after catch skills to produce in the slot. He can disappear in games and has been inconsistent with his hands.
- Marc Mariani: Mariani is the Titans best return man since Derrick Mason, he's sure handed and shows great vision with the ball in his hands. But as a receiver, Mariani has shown no signs of life. He is easily pushed around at the line of scrimmage, and doesn't get separation from defenders. With 5 receptions for 24yds, Mariani is not expected to be a factor in the Titans pass game.
Lavelle Hawkins: The Hawk has been in the league for 4 years. He has shown flashes of his ability but mental lapses and lack of playing time has led to little to no production. With Kenny Britts injury, Hawkins was thrust into a bigger role with the Titans and he responded with 47 receiving yards and 1 touchdown. While still a relatively low number, Hawkins was a consistent threat, especially on 3rd down where he was one of Quarterback Matt Hasselbecks favorite targets. At 5'11 194lbs, Hawkins is the prototypical slot receiver. He is agile and shows great hands, catching most balls away from his body. His run after the catch ability has been fair as he typically escapes the first defender.
Kenny Britt is the teams obvious number 1 receiver and if healthy can make life easy for the other guys. Meanwhile Nate Washington and Kendall Wright both can play inside or out. Look for both receivers to show multiple looks and produce in the slot and on the outside, however expect Nate Washington to start on the outside with Wright doing most of his damage in the slot. His speed and route running should allow him to be most dangerous in the slot finding holes in the defense that will be preoccupied covering the dangerous Britt.
In 2011, Damian Williams showed promise as the number 2 receiver. But i expect him to show a large drop off this season as he will struggle to get on the field. His inability to be effective in the slot will prove to be his downfall. Meanwhile the agile Hawkins may get more looks if the Titans do decide to mix in a few 4 or 5 receiver sets. His production is also expected to drop off with the addition of Wright but after receiving a multi-year extension from the team, Hawkins is expected to provide reasonable depth. Mariani is on the bubble as Kendall Wright is said to be in play for returner. And due to the NFL kickoff rules and sudden boost in touchbacks, the need for a full time kick returner is low. If Mariani doesn't show up in the preseason, it's possible the Titans could look to trade or cut the receiver.
Wide Receiver is no longer a position of need for the Titans, in fact, it's one of the most over crowded positions on the team. In a perfect world, Every receiver could catch 7 touchdowns and have over 1,000 receiving yards. But realistically, expect the Titans to run the offense through the big 3 of Britt, Wright and Washington and a healthy dosage of Jared Cook. Chris Palmer has a fair shot at running one of the AFC's best passing game. Time really are changing in Tennessee.