The Titans have completed their first off-season under new General Manager, Jon Robinson. While he made some big time moves, and has provided the fanbase with hope, we are all waiting on actual production. This summer, training camp will show whether or not we will actually see it. With not much time left, we will take a look at a different topic each remaining day, until things get started.
The Titans seem to be in a transitional phase at the wide receiver position. In recent years, under Ruston Webster, the position was not addressed in the form it should have been. As we all know, Webster's talent evaluation was at that bottom of the league. Though he tried to fix the state of the position, all he did was leave the team with a number of disappointing wide receivers. He loved raw, athletic freaks, and to this point, they have not really worked out yet. Now, as a number of the Webster-picked receivers are at the end of their contracts, the team is left with a hodgepodge of different types of receivers, hoping that something will stick.
It is hard to say that there is a definitive, "best" wide receiver on the roster. For years, Kendall Wright was considered that guy thanks to his 1,000 yard season under Dowell Loggains. However, we are far removed from those days. No longer "freelancing," Wright's production and reliability in the offense has dropped. Last season, though he did miss time with injury, he only finished with 408 yards receiving. While Ken Whisenhunt is no longer in the picture, Wright's freelancing will still be prohibited. New offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie said, "He won’t freelance. He ain’t got no more free (reign), that freelance is done." Since Loggains left and the freelancing was stopped, Wright has publicly complained multiple times. The fact is that a rogue wide receiver does not work well within an offensive system. The majority of coaches around the league would take the same approach. A truly talented wide receiver would show the ability to work within the system, and help keep the entire unit on schedule. Wright has the chance to do that under this regime. That being said, the past two years are not good indicators. He is entering his contract year, and absent a huge season, this could be his last year with the team. He needs to provide consistency and reliability. Dorial Green-Beckham is next on the list, entering his sophomore year. While he displayed some flashes last season, he too needs to bring consistency to the table. There were some games when he was an absolute non-factor. So far, the new coaching staff is doing everything that they can to motivate him. The fact that he reported to the facility out of shape, and got surpassed on the depth chart by 5th round draft pick Tajae Sharpe over the spring is extremely discouraging for Titans fans. At this point, his career trajectory seems similar to that of Justin Hunter's. If "DGB" can bring consistency and reach his potential, he can be a top receiver in the league, but going into this season, it looks like he has a long way to go. This year will be pivotal for him. The only other receiver that is all but guaranteed a roster spot right now is Rishard Matthews, who was just added on during the off-season. He truly shows the divide between Webster receivers and Robinson receivers, with niche being route running and catching the ball. He had a breakout season last year, and looks to be a starter in this offense. Due to his style of play, he could prove to be one of Marcus Mariota's favorite targets.
The rest of the receivers going into camp are Tajae Sharpe, Justin Hunter, Harry Douglas, and Tre McBride. They will be fighting over the remaining roster spots. During OTA's, Sharpe showed a lot, running crisp routes, catching the ball and proving his reliability as a target. As previously mentioned, he has passed Dorial Green-Beckham on the depth chart for now, and is currently a starter. Training camp and pre-season games will ultimately dictate his role in the offense. That being said, he is off to a great start. Justin Hunter has had an amazingly disappointing Titans career, and is going into his final year of his contract as well. Coming off of a serious injury, he may be even more tentative than before. His name has not been mentioned much in a positive light yet, so his play in camp will definitely be something to keep an eye on. His roster spot may be in danger. Harry Douglas has also been pushed very far down on the depth chart and could be in trouble. He does not provide much, and is not getting any younger. If others step up, he could be in trouble this summer. Finally, there is Tre McBride. He did not do much in his rookie year, but has a good opportunity this summer. He can contribute on special teams, but his role as a wide receiver is still very much in question. In order to make the roster, he will need to have a big camp.
Last year, wide receiver was one of the worst positions on the team. From an offensive perspective, their level of play brought the entire unit down. If receivers are not open, the quarterback has to hold onto the ball, which leads to sacks. Also, without a perimeter threat, defenses can zone in on the run. This is essentially what happened last year. While the room is not a finished product, with some Webster receivers and some Robinson receivers, there is a chance for some more consistency, which could really help the offense. If that happens, and Dorial Green-Beckham can turn things around, the offense has breakout potential. That being said, there are a lot of "ifs" in the equation. We will see how things start to unfold this summer during camp.