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Titans morning after: More perspective on Kendall Wright

After last night’s knee-jerk negative reaction to the Tennessee Titans taking Kendall Wright with their own 20th pick in the first round of this year’s NFL draft, it’s time to expand those thoughts on how he fits in and what his acquisition means for the Titans.

A lot of people I respect have Wright ranked highly. My former Football Outsiders colleague Doug Farrar ranked him the 12th best player in the draft. Mike Mayock had him something like 16th. Nolan Nawrocki of Pro Football Weekly had him going to the Titans in the first round on his mock draft, though he wasn’t that high on PFW’s top 100. Per this story by Adam Caplan, a number of scouts said he had the best 2011 tape of any wideout in the draft. Josh Norris, who writes for Rotoworld and worked for the Rams, had him as the top receiver in the entire draft and his 12th player overall. New FO colleague and Titans fan Matt Waldman, who does extensive scouting of incoming rookies at fantasy football positions, had Wright the third-best receiver in the draft and declared him a great fit for any NFL system. Bob McGinn’s quotes from scouts on receivers included the note that Wright “plays faster than anybody in college football” and one comparison to a more explosive Greg Jennings.

Wright’s mediocre 4.61 40 at the Combine is a bad reason to rip on him. The Combine 40 time is more information to the puzzle. If a player doesn’t play fast and runs a slow 40, he’s probably slow. If a player plays slow and runs a fast 40, it’s time to take another look. Similarly if a player like Wright plays fast and runs a slow 40, it’s time to take a more in-depth look. With Wright, he did a poor job coming out of the blocks on the 40, which the electronic official time reflected. Hand timing, even at the Combine, was faster than that official time, apparently coming in between 4.49 and 4.54. That’s not as fast as many people thought he’d run, but it’s not slow either. He ran well at his Pro Day (4.41-4.46) and plays fast. Check out these three plays broken down by Matt Bowen of National Football Post.

Wright could be a returner, but he’s never been a returner. Waldman in his Rookie Scouting Portfolio noted Wright as one of the receivers who could be a good return man. I’ve seen comparisons to players like Steve Smith, DeSean Jackson, Santonio Holmes, and Derrick Mason, all of whom had some very good returns. He’s explosive after the catch in college and good at avoiding defenders. However, he only returned seven punts and two onside in his college career. To compare, Ryan Mouton had much more experience returning kicks in college, and we saw how that worked out. He could be back there returning punts and kicks for the Titans, but don’t count on it or even expect it.

He still sounds like a better version of Nate Washington to me, but that sounds worse than I mean it. Like Washington, Wright is a player at his best working the middle of the field with things like two-way gos and finding soft spots in zones. If you remember Nate Washington’s two touchdowns from Jake Locker against the Saints on vertical seam routes, that same route is where Wright amassed a good bit of his college production. The only difference was, Washington scored those touchdowns by running by linebackers (thanks, Gregg Williams, for your devotion to the blitz regardless of soundness!), while Wright has the speed to run past defensive backs.

Who’s going to get thrown the ball in the Titans’ offense this year? The Titans threw the ball 584 times last year. League-average was 544 times. Let’s say they throw the ball the same number of times this year. Kenny Britt is back and will eat into a number of targets other people received last year. Kendall Wright will eat up more targets. The Titans just agreed to pay Lavelle Hawkins $7.2 million dollars over three years, so he’s probably in the mix. I’ll write this post next week, but those targets are coming from somewhere. If my numbers are right, Nate Washington is due salaries of $3.4 million this season, $4.2 million in 2013, and $4.8 million in 2014. In addition, he has $1.8 million in signing bonus proration split between this season and next.