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Is it time for change at WR?

In recent weeks, the Tennessee Titans have had to rely on the throwing arm of Kerry Collins to win ballgames. Constantly faced with 8 and sometimes 9 men in the box, the Titans have been forced to abandon their bread & butter, smash-mouth running game in favor of a more wide-open aerial attack.

Throwing the football on a more consistent basis has led to the emergence of the enigmatic Brandon Jones and rookie Lavelle Hawkins as viable weapons in the passing game. Meanwhile, the starting WRs a.k.a the Justin-duo, have struggled with inconsistency as of late.

Stealing a phrase from a recently successful political campaign slogan: Is it time for change at the wide receiver position?

Entering the season, I understood the rationale behind starting the Justin boys at WR.

Gage, who was signed off of the scrap heap as an unheralded free agent in 2007, emerged as a viable contributor in the passing game last year and as a token of appreciation, the Titans rewarded “12 Gage” with an offseason contract extension.

After the Jets said good riddance to him, the Titans decided to take a chance on McCareins, hoping that he would once again flourish under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger. Prior to the start of the season, It was “so far, so good” for McCareins as he took advantage of Roydell Williams’ bad ankle to emerge as one of the team’s starting wide outs.

Unfortunately, 2008 has been rough for Gage and McCareins. Injuries and dropped passes have been the downfall for Gage thus far, as evidenced by his paltry 17 receptions through 8 games. Mac has only accounted for 13 grabs in 8 games, while also suffering from the same inconsistency that has plagued the other Justin.

Meanwhile, Brandon Jones is finally beginning to turn potential into production. After being on the shelf due to a preseason ankle injury, “The Hawk” has begun to soar in recent weeks by making some plays in limited opportunities.

FFtoday, a popular destination for fantasy football aficionados, utilizes targets to determine how often receivers catch or miss passes that are thrown in their direction. 

Let’s compare the season totals for Gage, McCareins, Jones and Hawkins:

Gage- 41 targets, 17 catches= 41% 

Mac-   42 targets, 14 catches= 33%

BJ-     38 targets,  27 catches= 71%

Hawk-  9 targets,    6  catches= 66.7%  


Over the last 3 weeks:

Gage- 18 targets,  5 catches= 28%

Mac-   11 targets,  5 catches= 45%

BJ-      19 targets,16 catches= 84%

Hawk-   5 targets,  4 catches= 80%  


Of course, targets shouldn’t be regarded as the be-all and end-all of WR statistical measures.

However, it does serve as a means of validating what we’ve seen with our own eyes: Jones and Hawk have been effective at maximizing their opportunities, while the opposite can be said about Gage and McCareins.

The Titans are predominantly a run-oriented team, so maybe the Justins have held their own as run-blockers. However, in terms of catching the football, Jones and Hawkins have been much more successful.

Regardless of whether or not change actually takes place in the starting lineup, here’s hoping that Brandon and Lavelle continue to see their share of looks in the passing game.