clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Why Tajae Sharpe is Not Getting Cut by the Titans

The Titans would keep seven wide receivers before they cut Tajae Sharpe. Let me explain...

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Tajae Sharpe had a productive rookie year for the Tennessee Titans, finishing with 41 catches for 522 yards and 2 touchdowns. The fifth-round pick was named a starter early in training camp because of his precise route-running and attention to detail, as well as the general lack of talented receivers on the roster.

Sharpe had a great preseason, even catching a 60-yard pass against the Raiders in the third exhibition game. The coaching staff, media, and fanbase were all pleasantly surprised by the emergence of the late-round pick.

In the 2016 season opener against the Vikings, Sharpe was the team’s No. 1 wide receiver. He was given the starting nod over Rishard Matthews, alongside Andre Johnson, and recorded 7 catches for 76 yards on 11 targets.

Sharpe did a nice job fighting through physical, press coverage and showed off his ability to make contested catches all season. He had a few contested catch opportunities that he was unable to convert, but he was better than many past Titans at this skill.

Tajae Sharpe makes a nice catch with Trae Waynes in coverage (NFL Gamepass).

Just as he did in that preseason play against the Raiders, throughout last season, Sharpe showed an impressive knack for locating the ball and plucking it out of the air before defensive backs could get a hand on it.

Tajae Sharpe snatches the ball for a big gain in the 2-minute drill (NFL Gamepass).

He also displayed good footwork to make tough catches and help his quarterback when needed.

Sharpe manages to get both feet down for an impressive catch against the Indianapolis Colts (NFL Gamepass).

For a fifth-round rookie that was thrust into action right away, coming from a small school, Sharpe impressed overall. In Titans’ team history, of wide receivers drafted after the first round, Sharpe put together the most productive rookie season since before the team moved to Tennessee.

Titans Rookie Receivers - Stats

Player Round Year Games Played Games Started Targets Catches Yards YPC Touchdowns
Player Round Year Games Played Games Started Targets Catches Yards YPC Touchdowns
Kendall Wright 1 2012 15 5 104 64 626 9.8 4
Kenny Britt 1 2009 16 6 75 42 701 16.7 3
Tajae Sharpe 5 2016 16 10 83 41 522 12.7 2
Dorial Green-Beckham 2 2015 16 5 67 32 549 17.2 4
Brandon Jones 3 2005 10 8 47 23 299 13.0 2
Courtney Roby 3 2005 13 6 43 21 289 13.8 1
Justin Hunter 2 2013 14 0 42 18 354 19.7 4
Tyrone Calico 2 2003 14 2 43 18 297 16.5 4
Damian Williams 3 2010 16 1 28 16 219 13.7 0
Lavelle Hawkins 4 2008 13 1 12 7 68 9.7 0
Chris Davis 4 2007 12 0 9 5 38 7.6 0
Justin McCareins 4 2001 4 1 3 3 88 29.3 0
Eddie Berlin 5 2001 11 0 6 2 28 14.0 0
Tre McBride 7 2015 7 0 4 2 8 4.0 1
*Players who recorded 0 receptions in their rookie season were not included.

It’s true that Sharpe’s play was inconsistent at times in 2016. I won’t pretend he was the Titans’ best player in the passing game (Delanie Walker), or even the team’s best wide receiver (Rishard Matthews). But Sharpe fulfilled his role well, even if he did struggle at times last season.

Sharpe even had a nice Week 16 outing against the Jaguars when it seemed that the entire offense was having trouble executing.

Two instances of Tajae Sharpe beating Prince Amukamara in Week 16 (NFL Gamepass).

All in all, it was a solid debut season for Sharpe. The excitement surrounding his potential development was palpable, with some of the more optimistic members of the fan base hopeful that Sharpe would blossom into a true #1 WR. There were plenty of MCM comments at the time clamoring for the Titans to go defense in the first round and roll with the receivers from 2016 again, pointing to another year in the offense and another year of development by the rookie Sharpe as reasons that the team didn’t need to upgrade the wide receiver position...

Then came the offseason, when Mularkey told reporters that the team would be looking for better, more consistent play from the wide receivers this season. Offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie echoed that message.

And then the Titans drafted two shiny new receiving toys in April. And not just any receivers. Corey Davis, the fifth overall pick, was widely considered to be the top receiver in the draft (and certainly was according to MCM - “Corey Davis is a Perfect Fit for the Tennessee Titans”). Despite the hamstring injury that’s slowed him down in training camp, Davis is still expected to step in and become the team’s #1 receiving option.

Taywan Taylor, added in the third round, is no slouch himself, and has been receiving rave reviews from the coaching staff and press ever since OTAs started in May.

On top of all that, towards the very end of the offseason program, the Titans signed accomplished veteran Eric Decker, who (according to Pro Football Reference) ranks 3rd in the NFL for most touchdown catches among wide receivers between 2012 and 2015 with 41.

And while all of these exciting new weapons have received stellar write-ups from the media members attending training camp, each showing off their unique playmaking abilities, Tajae Sharpe has been standing on the sidelines recovering from an offseason foot surgery. Not since OTAs has Sharpe had a chance to get on the field and remind us all why we were so excited about him at the conclusion of last season.

Mix in the off-the-field incident, where Sharpe allegedly beat up a man outside a bar on draft night while Sebastian Tretola stood watch, and there is now talk that Sharpe could potentially be a cut candidate when it’s time to shape the final 53-man roster. While the police investigation into this matter has concluded, the civil case is still outstanding.

So in a few months time, Tajae Sharpe went from being a potential starter for the 2017 Titans (remember, it was argued that his presence meant that the Titans didn’t need to draft a receiver in the first round back in April) all the way to fifth-string relegation.

Screenshot this if you want to, but listen to me: Tajae Sharpe is not getting cut by the Tennessee Titans in the 2017 preseason. It’s simply not going to happen.

Of all the 2016 rookie receivers, Tajae Sharpe finished 5th in both receptions and receiving yards with with his 47-for-549 statline. That’s more receiving yards than rookie phenom Tyreek Hill. More receptions than Texans’ first-round pick Will Fuller.

Guys, Tajae Sharpe is, you know... good.

It’s okay to be excited for all the new toys. High draft picks. A productive veteran receiver. All great guys on and off the field. Davis, Taylor, and Decker could make a formidable trio of receivers even if Matthews and Sharpe were not around, or not available.

The Titans also brought in Eric Weems in the offseason. If we consider Matthews, Davis, Decker, and Taylor to be the team’s top 4 receivers, and locks to make the roster, the next grouping would surely include Tajae Sharpe, Weems, Harry Douglas, and Tre McBride.

Last season, the Titans kept six receivers. Most NFL teams keep six wide receivers. A handful of teams only keep five.

But every once in a while, a team will go off and do something kind of cRaZy and keep seven (!) wide receivers, like the Green Bay Packers did last year.

Eric Weems

Weems was brought in to be a return man and coverage specialist. Although technically listed as a wide receiver, he’s a career special teamer.

Harry Douglas

Douglas has been on the Titans’ roster since 2015. In his two seasons with the team, Douglas has started 14 games and recorded 51 catches for 221 yards and two touchdowns.

Douglas turns 33 in September. There isn’t a lot about him that’s exciting, but he is consistent and reliable. The coaching staff loves him - he is the one who has taken Taywan Taylor under his wing - and Mularkey recently called him “invaluable.”

To be fair though, Mularkey once named Dexter McCluster team captain before cutting him, so we’ll take that invaluable-ness with a grain a salt (sea salt though, because it’s more natural and therefore healthier).

Tre McBride

Tre McBride was Ruston Webster’s final draft selection as a General Manager. In his two seasons with the team, McBride has started 0 games. He saw 0 offensive snaps in 2016, and only 7 on special teams (according to Pro Football Reference).

McBride’s practice squad eligibility has run out, so either he makes the Titans’ final 53 or he’ll be looking for a new employer in September.

Could the Titans Keep Seven Receivers?

Tajae Sharpe was finally activated off the Physically Unable to Perform list on Monday. He hadn’t participated in a single training camp rep before that.

This allowed Harry Douglas a chance to remind the coaching staff why they love him so much (although we as fans are still searching for that reason). It allowed Tre McBride to start the Titans’ most recent preseason game, in which he doubled his career total for catches with 4, gaining a total of 73 yards. McBride looked pretty good overall, getting open and blocking downfield, but he dropped a sure 27-yard touchdown that bounced right out of his arms on a diving attempt.

Tre McBride can’t haul in the 27-yard touchdown catch from Matt Cassell (NFL Gamepass).

It’s not an easy catch, but if you can get your hands on the football, you’re expected to catch it. This one should’ve been caught.

Ranking the current Titans’ wide receiver depth chart is no task for the faint of heart, but if I had to take a stab, my list would be as follows:

  1. Rishard Matthews
  2. Eric Decker
  3. Corey Davis
  4. Taywan Taylor
  5. Tajae Sharpe
  6. Harry Douglas
  7. Tre McBride
  8. Eric Weems

Weems shouldn’t even be thought of as a wide receiver. We’re talking about a player who has 45 career targets in his 8 years in the league.

But although he’s at the bottom of my wide receiver ranks, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the first cut candidate.

If we go with the so-called “standard” roster of six wide receivers, to me, the decision is between Harry Douglas, Tre McBride, and Eric Weems.

That’s not to say that Tajae Sharpe should simply be handed a roster spot without having to earn it. He will have to get out there this week and next and show that his foot is fully healed and that he can be a contributor.

But it’s silly to think that one good preseason game would vault McBride over Sharpe on the depth chart.

The Wide Receiver Position

This may be confusing, but Tajae Sharpe and Harry Douglas don’t actually play the same position.

I mean, they both play receiver, obviously, but in terms of specific roles at receiver, they are very different.

Despite all the positional versatility on the Titans’ roster, and particularly at receiver, these two guys are pretty set where they play.

For the Titans, Sharpe plays the “X” receiver spot. Mularkey reiterated this point in his Sunday press conference (per Jim Wyatt):

(on how wide receiver Tajaé Sharpe will fit into the receiving corps if he’s activated off of PUP and all receivers are healthy)

He’ll just work in the rotation out of the X-receiver where he’s at. Again, that’s where (Eric) Decker is playing, so you’ve got another guy out there to take snaps out there. He’ll just rotate in. Again, we’re not going to go into a full practice with him taking a gazillion snaps. We’re going to make sure he’s ready to play Sunday when we play, but be smart about it.

Meanwhile, Harry Douglas is a slot receiver. He can occasionally line up on the outside, but he really makes his living running out of the slot.

Eric Decker, Rishard Matthews, and Corey Davis are players that can (and have been) utilized all over the formation. They have a lot more versatility in their receiver alignments than Sharpe and Douglas.

For this reason, I don’t see Sharpe and Douglas as direct competitors for a roster spot (though they are still competing with each other in the numbers game the same way that tight ends and fullbacks are competing, or that linebackers and D-linemen are competing).

So let’s break it down...

“X” Receivers:

  • Corey Davis
  • Eric Decker
  • Rishard Matthews
  • Tajae Sharpe
  • Tre McBride

“Z” Receivers:

  • Rishard Matthews
  • Corey Davis
  • Eric Decker
  • Taywan Taylor

“Slot” Receivers

  • Eric Decker
  • Taywan Taylor
  • Rishard Matthews
  • Harry Douglas

That’s my best guess for breaking down each receiver’s roles within the offense.

Eric Weems is a specialist, so he’s not listed above.

Assuming your three starters are Rishard Matthews, Corey Davis, and Eric Decker, then ideally, Tajae Sharpe is your first guy off the bench for the outside receiver roles, while Taywan Taylor is the first replacement for slot duties.

Harry Douglas’s most valuable asset is his knowledge and experience as a teacher in the film room and a coach on the practice field.

But Seven Receivers Though?

One reason I think they could stick with seven receivers is that they may classify Weems as a special teamer and not even count him in the wide receiver rotation.

A more likely path to seven receivers is derived from the current health status of the wide receiver room. While all are expected to be healthy by Week 1, currently Davis is out with a hamstring injury, Decker is still slowed by the twisted ankle, Rishard Matthews missed the last game for personal reasons, and Sharpe is working to come back from his foot surgery.

If they were to only keep six receivers, the team will have to choose two of Sharpe, Douglas, McBride, and Weems.

Give Sharpe a check for being a productive receiver who will be a contributor this season regardless of injuries at the position.

Weems gets a check for his ability not just as an emergency returner if Adoree’ Jackson can’t go, but also as a gunner and all-around special teams ace.

Douglas gets a check for his leadership abilities and knowledge of and experience in the offensive system.

McBride is the low man on the totem pole for me. He has showed some ability to develop in his time in Tennessee, and obviously looks much better now than he did as a rookie, but I think the group is too crowded to include him.

On a past Titans team with lesser receivers, I think there’s certainly room for McBride. But not in this scenario. Sadly, I think this is the year we bid Tre McBride farewell.

If it’s purely Sharpe vs. McBride for the reserve “X” role, Sharpe wins that battle, hands down, no question about it.

I think Sharpe is a lock to make it. I think the coaching staff will have a tough choice to make between Harry Douglas and Eric Weems. Perhaps they won’t want to make that choice and instead they’ll keep one less player at another position, thus giving them seven (or six plus one special teamer). They may pick a final receiver over a player with practice squad eligibility as a way to keep more guys they like with the team.


There are three “wildcard” scenarios that could change things.

Sharpe’s Lawsuit

The first is the obvious elephant in the room - if Sharpe is found guilty of assaulting the living snot out of his accuser, he might be cut instantly if for no reason other than to send a strong message to the team. I would like to clarify my declaration that Sharpe will not be cut with the disclaimer that if he is found guilty, then all bets are off.

McBride on Special Teams?

The second wildcard is simply Tre McBride himself. McBride could potentially make Eric Weems an expendable asset if his own special teams abilities can rival those of his rival Weems.

There is certainly a scenario where McBride, Sharpe, and Douglas all make the team and Weems is left in the cold.

Trade Market

And finally, a surprise trade could manifest itself with any of these players. It would be shocking to me if Robinson actually traded one of these receivers, but I was shocked when Dorial Green-Beckham was sent packing. If it’s happened before, it could happen again.

(Although - the legal incident not withstanding - I think it’s important to note that Tajae Sharpe has been a tough, team-first, hardworking pro since the team drafted him while DGB was not any of those things.)

Sharpe himself could be a trade candidate to a team like the Bills, 49ers, Cardinals, or some other wide receiver-needy team. I’m not sure what value McBride would bring in a trade, but perhaps a team would be willing to give up a late conditional pick to secure McBride’s rights without the risk of losing him to waivers.

Just last week we saw the Rams, Eagles, and Bills shake up the league with some big-name trades. Could the Titans be next?

Bottom Line

Regardless of how many receivers the Titans decide to keep, Tajae Sharpe will be one of them (unless the legal stuff is actually bad).

Sharpe was one of the most productive rookie receivers in Titans history, and he will continue to fill an important role as a rotational receiver with lots of developmental upside for the team in 2017 and beyond. Rishard Matthews is only secured with the team for two more years, and Eric Decker is on just a one year deal.

There’s a potential scenario where the team’s top three receivers in 2019 are Corey Davis and Tajae Sharpe on the outside with Taywan Taylor in the slot.

Right now, I’m hopeful that Matthews will be a Titan for the rest of his career, and I’m very much in favor of extending Eric Decker’s time with the team.

But you never know what could happen in the NFL. Before last season, people would’ve ranked the Cardinals receiving corps towards the top of the league-wide ranks. Look at them now.

It would be downright foolish to get rid of a talented receiver like Sharpe just because he’s not a starter anymore.