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Titans Free Agency 2017: Kenny Stills

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Why the Dolphins deep threat may be the best choice for the Titans to improve at wide receiver.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Miami Dolphins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

By most accounts wide receiver is the Titans weakest position group outside of cornerback heading in to the 2017 offseason. With Kendall Wright almost certainly moving on, the Titans will be down to just three wide receivers with significant NFL experience on the roster: Rishard Matthews, Tajae Sharpe, and Harry Douglas. They are all capable NFL wide receivers, but none of those guys strike fear into the hearts of opposing defensive coordinators. The biggest problems with this group are a lack of speed and poor run after catch ability as I outlined in the first half of this FanPost.

Most of the conversation so far has focused on which wide receivers may be options for the Titans high in the draft. Terry wrote three excellent breakdowns of the top wide receiver prospects in the draft: Mike Williams, Corey Davis, and John Ross. However, the Titans might also look to some free agent wide receivers for help this offseason as well.

There are several high profile options at wide receiver scheduled to hit free agency in March. The group is headlined by Alshon Jeffery, Terrelle Pryor, DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, and Kenny Britt. Yes, that Kenny Britt. With Terrelle Pryor likely to be re-signed by Cleveland (the Browns have loads of cap space, a desire to bring Pryor back, and the franchise tag to use as leverage), I believe the best realistic fit for the Titans is Kenny Stills.

The Stats

  • Age: 24
  • Height: 6’-0”
  • Weight: 195 lbs
  • College: Oklahoma
  • Experience: 4 years
  • Drafted in 5th round (#144 overall) of 2013 NFL draft by New Orleans

Dont'a Hightower Career Stats.csv

Year Team G Tkl Sck SFTY PDef Int
Year Team G Tkl Sck SFTY PDef Int
2016 New England Patriots 13 65 2.5 1 2 --
2015 New England Patriots 12 61 3.5 -- 2 --
2014 New England Patriots 12 89 6 -- 2 --
2013 New England Patriots 16 97 1 -- 3 --
2012 New England Patriots 14 60 4 0 3 --
TOTAL 67 372 17 1 12 0
NFL.com

In New Orleans Stills operated primarily as a 3rd option in the passing game behind Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston during his rookie season, but still managed to lead the NFL in yards per reception at 20.03 yards/catch. His second season saw his usage increase as he ended up leading the Saints in receiving yards with 931 yards and finishing 2nd on the team in catches behind Jimmy Graham. Stills was traded to the Dolphins during the 2015 offseason for linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and Miami’s 2015 3rd round draft pick. His first season in Miami was his worst season as a pro from a statistics standpoint as he was the 4th option in the passing game behind Jarvis Landry, Rishard Matthews, and DeVante Parker. With Matthews coming to Tennessee last offseason, Stills stepped up and put together a very good season in a complementary role behind Jarvis Landry, finishing 3rd in the NFL in yards per reception.

Draft Profile

Here is what NFL.com had to say about Stills going in to the 2013 NFL Draft:

Strengths

Good athlete. Good first step off of the line of scrimmage well and has the speed to get behind cornerbacks and the quickness to create separation out of his breaks. Tracks the deep ball very well. Good hands. Flexible, and can make the adjustment to reel in off-target throws. Shows body control and the ability to catch the football at the high point.

Weaknesses

Lacks great size for the position. Doesn't appear to have elite speed. Not overly physical. Bigger, physical corners will give him issues, especially at the line. Concentration lapses, will drop easy passes. Maturity will be in question due to off-the-field incidents.

NFL Comparison: Andre Roberts

Bottom Line

While Stills isn't the biggest or the fastest, he has a knack for finding ways to get open. He has the ability to track the football, and make some extremely difficult catches. Stills will likely be selected around the third round.

NOTE: The off-the-field incident referenced was a DUI he got in January 2011.

How Stills Fits the Titans

Stills is 3rd in the NFL in yards per reception and 2nd in the NFL in yards per target (minimum 100 receptions) since he entered the league in 2013 so he has proven himself as one of the premier deep threats in the league already. The Titans desperately need a wide receiver who can take the top off a defense. Last season the Titans were pretty successful throwing down the field to Rishard Matthews, but even Matthews himself has stated that the Titans could use a deep threat to help take the top off defenses and help open things up underneath for him, Walker, and Sharpe to operate. A deep threat also will help push safeties back out of the box and give DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry more room to run. Murray faced eight or more defenders in the box on over 40% of his non-redzone carries in 2016 which was among the top rates in the NFL and makes me wonder how much more effective he would have been with a more threatening passing game around him.

Stills ran a 4.38 second 40 yard dash at the combine in 2013 so he has the speed to get behind a defense that the current Titans receivers sorely lack (Sharpe ran a 4.55 and Matthews ran a 4.62 at their respective combines). Here is a good example of Stills using his pure speed to run right by his man against the Jets this past season on a simple deep post route.

He also shows excellent ball skills downfield. In the next play you will see him stop and fight back across his defender to catch an under thrown ball from Tannehill.

Stills’ game isn’t all speed though. He also brings good route running technique and feel to the table. In the play below you will see him run a crisp 10 yard out for a first down. You can see what the threat of his speed does to the corner on this play as he bails out before Stills is even within 5 yards of him.

A good 10 yard out sets up the next play below. Watch Stills sell the out and then break up the field to burn Justin Coleman from the Patriots.

Conclusion

Why Stills over guys like Jeffery, Pryor, and Jackson? Jeffery is a top 10 wide receiver when healthy, but he has had injury issues throughout his career including five different hamstring injuries over the past 5 seasons. His injuries seem to be getting more frequent as he gets older too causing him to miss 11 of the Bears last 32 games over the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Jeffery also picked up a 4 game suspension last season for PED use which means he’s one bad pee test from being banned for a year (or more potentially). When Jeffery is on the field he’s fantastic, but his injury and suspension uncertainty make him too risky for me to consider making a big money investment in him at age 27.

Pryor is a much simpler case. I would love for the Titans to be able to land Pryor, but its highly unlikely that he will be leaving Cleveland this offseason. The Browns have loads of cap space and have stated publicly that they are prioritizing re-signing him this spring. Now that they have locked Jamie Collins up to a long term extension the Browns hold all the leverage in contract talks with Pryor due to the franchise tag. If they aren’t able to reach a long term deal before free agency opens they will almost certainly tag Pryor to keep him in town. The only way I could see Pryor truly hitting the market would be if he threatens not to play under the franchise tag and tries to bully his way out of Cleveland, but its going to have to get really ugly there for that to happen. I think there is something like a 1% chance Pryor suits up in anything besides that rancid Browns uniform next year.

Jackson brings a some of the same skills as Stills, but he’s 30 and comes with a selfish, diva mentality that may not play well in the locker room and runs completely against what Jon Robinson says he wants in a football player. Jackson’s value is all tied up in his top end speed and if that starts to slip he will quickly become useless as an NFL receiver. Besides Jackson has already hinted pretty heavily at a possible return to Philadelphia which would make a lot of sense for both sides.

Stills on the other hand has only missed one game in his 4 year NFL career due to injury so injury history isn't a concern. There is also a good chance he will be available if the Titans are interested since the Dolphins will likely be giving Jarvis Landry a big money extension soon and also have 2015 1st round pick DeVante Parker and 2016 3rd round pick Leonte Carroo in the wide receiver room as well. The Dolphins have publicly said that they want to bring Stills back, but it wouldn't make sense for them to use the franchise tag on him so they don't really have any leverage if he wants to test the market. Most projections I've seen for Stills think he will get something around a 4-5 year deal worth $6-8M per year which is in line with what the Lions gave Marvin Jones last offseason. Are the Dolphins really willing to go that high for their 3rd wide receiver when they could use some help elsewhere on the roster? If Stills does reach the open market the Titans won't be the only team interested in his services. The Eagles and Panthers are also reportedly interested in signing Stills if he becomes available so I would expect his final price to end up closer to the top of that range. I still think he would be worth it.

Stills made new Dolphins coach Adam Gase a fan this season thanks to his attention to detail and his deep knowledge of the offense. He gave some pretty glowing reviews of Stills in some interviews over the course of the season. Here is one of those quotes:

“He’s getting vertical right away. He seems to get DBs that they get turned a lot of times, and he’s very quick at the top of his routes, and he’s catching the ball well. When you put all of those things together – and being as detailed as he is in this offense and probably knowing it as good as anybody besides the quarterback – he’s a guy that is really putting himself in position to win a lot of the times. He’s getting open and the quarterback is seeing him.” - Dolphins Head Coach, Adam Gase

Stills makes a ton of sense for the Titans. He is still only 24, but has 4 years worth of productive NFL experience. When Stills played with an accurate downfield thrower in New Orleans, he produced a catch rate of 71.4% while maintaining a yards per catch average of over 16.5 yards per game which is just insane efficiency for a deep threat wide receiver. Those numbers dropped off over the last couple years in Miami, but I think that can mainly be attributed to going from one of the best deep ball throwers in the NFL in Drew Brees to one of the worst in the league in Ryan Tannehill. With the improvements in Mariota’s deep passing in 2016 it seems to be reasonable to expect that Stills could excel in the Titans offense as it is currently built and bring a vertical element to the passing attack that will open up running lanes for Murray and Henry while freeing up Matthews and Walker to make plays over the middle. Signing Stills would also give the Titans the flexibility to go all defense with their two first round picks in the draft if they would like. Stills, to me, is the perfect fit for the Titans if they decide to address wide receiver via free agency.