With the reviews of the running back and quarterback positions already in the books, we’ll proceed with our annual offseason positional analyses by examining the Tennessee Titans’ state of affairs at wide receiver.
Unlike the QB position; an area that’s plagued with the level of uncertainty you’d expect when you decide to release/trade your starting QB, the starting WR position is a pretty stable unit. On one side, you have your up-and-coming #1 target Kenny Britt and opposite of him is Nate Washington who, despite having an occasional case of the dropsies, is a capable deep threat who can make plays when he’s able to hold onto the football.
A deeper look at the starters and the guys that play behind them at the WR position…after the jump.
Kenny Britt turned his vast potential into production when he was healthy in 2010. After digging himself a deep hole thanks to an unproductive offseason, Kenny stepped up when it mattered the most as he distinguished himself as the team’s best WR since the days of Derrick Mason catching passes from Steve McNair during the early part of this century.
Britt’s still a young player and there’s certainly a chance he’ll experience another hiccup or two as he strives for consistency. However, there’s no denying that if he’s able to keep his head on straight and priorities in order, Britt’s going to be catching touchdown passes for a long time in the city of Nashville.
As I mentioned in the beginning of the article, starting opposite of Britt is Nate Washington, a speedy threat who can make big plays down the field. I liked what I saw from Nate in 2010, eliminating some of the drops that permeated his first season as a Titan and despite catching fewer passes (47 in ’09, 42 in ’10) he averaged more yards per catch last year (12.1 in ’09, 16.4 in ’10).
Knocking on the door
If Washington reverts back to his bumbling ways, second-year wideout Damian Williams could be ready to push for a starting job in 2011.
Drafted in the 3rd round as the team’s designated Chris Carr replacement at KR/PR, Damian ended up playing second-fiddle to unheralded 7th round draft pick Marc Mariani, who established himself as a more-than-capable returner en route to earning a spot on the AFC Pro Bowl roster.
With Mariani taking the opportunity to be the team’s return specialist and running with it, Williams had a few opportunities to showcase his wares at the WR position, as he caught 16 passes for 219 yards in 2010.
In limited chances, Williams displayed a good feel for playing the WR position while also demonstrating that he has a nice set of hands. In 2011, I see him stepping up as the team’s #3 WR, and moving forward, he certainly has the potential to combine with Britt to give the Titans a tall and talented starting WR duo for years to come.
The question marks
While these three guys are certainly talented WRs, in my opinion, their roles with the Titans are anything but secure in 2011.
As Tom mentioned in his most recent post, the Randy Moss experiment was anything but a failure. Serving mostly as a decoy and then eventually as a bench-warmer once Kenny Britt returned to the lineup, Randy’s impact on the Titans’ offense was minimal, to put it kindly.
Even though new sheriff in town Mike Munchak recently declined to say whether or not Moss (who is scheduled to be a free agent) will return, I’d be shocked if Randy continued his Hall of Fame career in the city of Nashville next year.
Justin Gage was once a great feel-good story who emerged from the free agency scrap heap to become a productive wide receiver for the Tennessee Titans. Unfortunately, his production has tailed off as of late, thanks to several injuries.
A favorite of Jeff Fisher, it remains to be seen if Gage has what it takes to stick around under the new coaching regime. With talented and younger receivers ahead of him, I think there’s a fair chance we won’t see Gage on the team’s roster in 2011.
Rounding out the question mark guys is “The Hawk” Lavelle Hawkins. Despite displaying his talents in training camp and on the practice field, he’s failed to step up as a fixture in the Titans’ passing game.
It’s going to be interesting to see how Hawkins responds to the new coaches. It could be a blessing in disguise, with Hawkins stepping up and finally emerging as a factor. Of course, there’s also the chance that Hawkins fails to impress, leading to Munchak/Palmer to make the decision that they’re better off drafting a guy in the mid-rounds who can take “The Hawk’s” place on the roster.
Will Mariani get a shot at WR?
Although he’s entrenched as the team’s return specialist, Marc Mariani is no stranger to the WR position. During his days at Montana, he was able to put up some great stats against lesser competition. After he was selected by the Titans in the 7th round of last year’s draft, there were certainly a lot of Wes Welker comparisons as Mariani proved he can catch the football during OTAs.
Sure, Mariani’s greatest value rests in his ability to return punts/kicks, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who has visions of him becoming an effective slot receiver in this league one day.
For once, I’m actually content with what the Titans have at WR and outside of maybe selecting a developmental prospect in the mid-to-latter portion of the draft, barring injuries, I’d have no complaints if no significant moves were made at this position.
Any thoughts on how the Titans stack up at WR? Feel free to provide your always-welcomed thoughts/opinions below.