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More on Kendall Wright’s potential role in the offense

I put off a discussion of Kendall Wright when I wrote about Greg Cosell’s comments on the Titans’ draft picks, but now it’s time to talk about those comments with a focus on what Wright might mean to the Titans’ offense.

First, Kenny Britt’s arrest inconveniently complicates matters. A passing offense with Britt, Wright, and Nate Washington looks and functions somewhat differently than one with Wright, Washington, and either Lavelle Hawkins or Damian Williams. As Palmer noted in offseason media sessions, Wright began practicing at the X (split end) position, but picked it up quickly enough he also spent some time learning the Z (flanker) and F (slot, roughly) positions before he got hurt and had to miss time. Before he got hurt last year, Britt customarily lined up at the X (which in Palmer’s playbook does not mean that he always lined up on the line of scrimmage), so when they’re on the field at the same time, it’ll be interesting to see how the Titans use both players.

One of the things Cosell noted in his conversation with my ex-FO colleague Doug Farrar is something I’m pretty sure I’ve said before, from earlier comments by Cosell: teams tell you what they want to do by their actions. The concept is known outside the football world as revealed preference. Now, obviously the message of the Wright pick is complicated; decisions are rarely absolutely clear and straightforward. Picking Wright over a David DeCastro may simply mean they’d rather spend money on the offensive line than draft picks, and Wright over a player like Chandler Jones may say more about their evaluation of Jones than it does of Wright or the relative importance of standout defensive players as compared to a wide receiver. We can’t even make a pronouncement like we could last year, where they chose Jake Locker of the generally more highly-touted Blaine Gabbert.

That said, and as I noted in my day-after post on Wright, I’m sure the Titans noticed the same thing I noticed, that without Britt there wasn’t a player sufficiently threatening and consistent that defenses had to worry about. We’ll see if Wright can be that player at the X in the NFL. The role I was envisioning for him, though, was similar to the one Victor Cruz played last year for the Giants. As Chris notes in the article, Cruz was the targeted player on the Switch, which I’ve written about before, and also the Choice play. One thing I noted about for Kenny Britt went out is the Titans’ use of the Choice or something very much like it, where Britt was isolated backside and Nate Washington did some damage on vertical seam routes. That’s a play tailor-made for Wright to improve production from the slot.

One of the things Greg noted, which Doug wrote up briefly, is in terms of the perception of Wright as “just” a slot player. We tend to characterize players in certain ways that are familiar to us, he says. That gets into one of the reasons I just wrote about Lavelle Hawkins; his numbers were awful, but he played a particular role in the offense. I assume based on his past history the Titans were probably frustrated with his play at times; I know I certainly was.

The reason the Titans re-signed Hawkins, though, is he has particular attributes that made him the player for a particular role in the offense. Thinking of him as the WR4 is, to my view, less helpful than thinking of him as a receiver who customarily lines up in the slot and runs a lot of short routes. So it will very likely be with Wright; whether at the X, F, or other positions, he’ll play a role and be productive (unless he’s terrible and/or his leg bones all spontaneously shatter into a million pieces each, but that’s not interesting to write about). Like prototype Wes Welker, that functionality and production, not “being a slot receiver,” will be what will define his measure of success in the NFL.

One thing Cosell mentioned I haven’t really thought much about is Wright’s vertical ability as a threat on bootleg passes. While Chris Johnson was only occasionally threatening on outside zone runs, play-action seems to attack defenders’ instincts, not their reasoned minds that tell them “he’s going to dive in the ground in two seconds.” (For more on this, see Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow on the distinction between what he calls System One and System Two.) One thing the Jaguars under Chris Palmer and Kevin Gilbride got a lot of mileage out of was Mark Brunell on the move. This doesn’t necessarily contradict at all with what I just wrote about Palmer keeping the quarterback in the pocket; the designed half-roll and the bootleg are different. I’m pretty sure the Titans were not a particularly heavy bootleg team in 2011, and the first bootleg they called went particularly unwell, but it might be a good way to get Locker on the move, where he tends to be throw accurately.

Anyway, we shall see how things play out when Wright is on the field.