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Kind of a strange first year for our first round pick, but there are definitely some encouraging things on the horizon.
When first we saw Kendall Wright with a Titans jersey in hand, he strutted up onto the stage, accepted his brand spankin' new duds, posed for a picture, and walked off with a haircut that I'm pretty sure comes with a free bowl of soup. My television informed me that, in short, he was fast, electric with the ball in his hands, and kind of homeless looking (afro for days, man). It's been almost nine months since that fateful day in April, I think it's time we talked about Kendall Wright.
Back at Baylor, he wasn't the guy who would pound it into the end zone by being so much more physically overwhelming than you, but trying to tackle him was basically like trying to catch a fly in a ziploc bag. He made his millions by being annoying. It a'int easy catching a man that fast, especially in an offense that basically puts you, as the defensive back, as far away from help as possible. Covering him man to man is a nightmare because he's small and slippery and downright unpleasant to try and follow around so you end up stumbling around like an idiot because he's cutting all over the place and your mind is moving too slow for your legs to do the right thing. Anyone who's ever played football knows the feeling of being embarrassed by this guy. It isn't fun because you know that if you could just get your hands on him that it would be over (like so). I mean hell, I think I weigh just about as much as Wright, I can imagine that most NFL linebackers have a moment where their eyes just light up when they see a guy that small lined up in the slot or coming across the middle on a short crossing route. But then he pulls some kind of crazy crap like this and you're just sitting there like "What the hell did I just watch and why is it happening to me?" Oh, and he's also crazy fast in a straight line too, so he can torch you over the top if he feels like it. Frustrating indeed.
This is what Kendall Wright brings to the team. We've seen guys like this before, heck we even have another one on the team right now! It's a neat type of player if you know how to use it. I know what you're thinking, a guy like Wright would be perfect in a system like the one that Chip Kelly runs at Oregon (I know, too soon), but the spread, for whatever reason, hasn't made it's way to the NFL yet so we're stuck with whatever our good friend Loggains can cook up. This is where Kendall Wright is heading. How about where he's been?
Wright was the third receiver off the board following the likes of Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon and Notre Dame's Michael Floyd. I think most draft pundits were satisfied with this. Despite the fact that he had run a slow 40 yard dash and thus, would never be a Raider, I think most people recognized that there was no way a guy who had outrun college defenses for his entire career could possibly be that slow and it was chalked up as a fluke. Not drafting based on the 40 time: good thinking! It seemed that Wright was a pretty polished product as far as college receivers go. He had good hands, speed, open field skills, and nothing to make us believe that he was running with a bad crew off the field. Despite the fact that he had been Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III's favorite college target, I feel like a lot of people on MCM dismissed this as not much of a "flashy" or "sexy" pick. It was unremarkable and a littler underwhelming for a lot of people. I'll be honest, my first reaction was kind of disappointed, I knew who Wright was and thought that he was a good college player, but when there were still prospects on the board like Chandler Jones, Whitney Mercilus, Harrison Smith, and MCM golden boy Dave Decastro, I was feeling a little awkward about this. It was also kinda funny that we were all so "bleh" about a receiver because of all of the arguments concerning the "flashy hood ornament theory" we had leading up to this pick. The sheer number of times that phrase, or some variation of that phrase appeared in threads across MCM would lead to me believe that there would either be elation or a riot with a pick like this. No such riot occurred. I'm disappointed in you, MCM.
Training camp was the usual:
"Jake Locker mentioned him by name for the first time today instead of 'the rookie with the famous college quarterback and the stupid haircut' so I think there's probably the potential for a Manning/Harrison type-connection here. We're seriously talking Montana/Rice in their prime here, people, bank on it." - A Guy On Twitter
It's safe to say we were struck with a major cause of LWSS-itis. We were all ready for Wright to come straight into the league and for Jake Locker to make him his favorite target immediately and for the whole offense to be kicking ass and taking names all year long because, seriously, Jake Locker has been surrounded with some serious weapons. Seriously.
But it didn't work out that way, Jake was hurt, but even when he wasn't he was uninspiring for the most part. It's kind of expected for a project QB who's still so young and relatively inexperienced compared to other members of his class (they can't all be Colin Kaepernicks, or rather Jim Harbaughs) and I kind of accepted that it's just not his time to shine quite yet. Something that excited me was how often Kendall Wright seemed to be targeted. In fact, he led the team with 104 targets and he managed to haul in 64 of those 104 targets. Sort of discouraging that 104 was only good for 41st in the league, but I blame the overall ineptitude of the offense more than Wright for this one. Point is, you would expect that he had a pretty productive year with the number of times he was thrown to, right? Well...
What I failed to mention was that somehow, the sneaky fast little gnat that was known for his open field skills and ability to pick up YAC as a member of Baylor's potent aerial attack in 2011 generated only 9.8 yards per catch. You guys, that's really, really not something you want to see out of a guy with Wright's skill set. Players who had a higher YPC than Kendall Wright this season include: John Kuhn, Mike Tolbert (the fullbacks, seriously), Daniel Thomas, Harry Douglas, Donald Brown, T.J. Graham, Ben Watson, and a whole 'nother mess of running backs that makes this list too upsetting for me to continue. His longest reception of the year was 38 yards. Something is wrong. Wright is not a possession receiver in the sense that he comes onto the field to get to a first down ball 10 yards down the field and basically fall down after catching it, he's supposed to get the ball in space and rip off huge chunks of yardage and be sent on deep crossing patterns and fades down the sideline. This type of under-utilization of potential really killed any chance he might have had of being loved in the advanced stats community as well despite the fact that he tied Justin Blackmon and his freaky yellow eyes for the most receptions of all rookie receivers. Football Outsiders has him ranked as about the 76th best receiver in football in terms of productiveness overall and productiveness per play. Blackmon, for reasons that escape me entirely, ranks behind him despite having more yards and touchdowns. Michael Floyd ranks barely higher at 72nd, and T.Y. Hilton ranks the highest of any rookie at 27th. This was kind of a rough year for rookie wide receivers in general. I mean, can you even name me five more rookie receivers that were drafted? I remember Alshon Jeffery and Stephen Hill, I know some guy named Brazill caught a pass against Baltimore for Indy in the playoff game last Saturday...maybe I just haven't watched enough football, but there seems to be just a serious lack of any great talent at the receiver position among this rookie class.
So what did Wright do better than anyone else from his class? Well, aside from record the most receptions, he also hauled in the highest percentage of his targets. 64/104 comes out to about 61.5% of the balls thrown his way being caught. When you consider the dumpster fire we had under center for most of the year that isn't too shabby. Now, part of this might have something to do with that under utilization of potential I talked about earlier, maybe if Wright were sent deep on more of his routes like T.Y. Hilton, his catch % would go down because, obviously, deep passes are harder to complete than stupid little bubble screens, five yard hitches, and slants, but in any case, Wright did what he was told to do and he did it pretty well given the situation surrounding him. What more can we ask for in a rookie receiver? Honestly, if he keeps on hauling in passes at a top 30 rate and starts to flash some more of that open field elusiveness that served him well at Baylor, I think we could have a star on our hands. However, I can't stress enough just how important that is in his development as a player unless Dowell Loggains plans to send him downfield more often. 9.8 yards per reception is simply not the mark of an impact player.