The Tennessee Titans once again enter into a season with uncertainty at the wide receiver position.
Over a year ago, Titans General Manager Jon Robinson used two draft picks on wide receivers. Both in the first three rounds in Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor. In the 2018 draft, however, the Titans elected to draft more defense heavy, using three of their only four picks on that side of the ball.
The Titans now look at their receiving core, who, for much of last year were banged up. In 2017, third year player Tájae Sharpe missed the entire season with a foot injury, Corey Davis missed significant time with a hamstring injury, and Taywan Taylor barely saw the field in Terry Robiskie’s stagnant offense.
One year removed and the same questions still linger. Head Coach Mike Vrabel has played injuries very close to the chest, unlike his predecessor, Mike Mularkey, so it is hard to get a sniff on any injuries. Corey Davis missed the Titans first preseason game against the Packers last Thursday night, as did Rishard Matthews, who has been on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list since the start of training camp. Davis is back to practicing, which is a promising sign, but much has been said about Matthews. It has been noted by a few media members that Matthews has been running routes before some practices, but still has not practiced during Training Camp.
Rishard Matthews out on fields watching today’s practice. Not practicing for @Titans— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) August 15, 2018
It seems as though new Offensive Coordinator Matt LaFleur knows the player he has in Taywan Taylor, as Taylor has played almost exclusively with the first team offense in camp. Tájae Sharpe has been impressive this camp as well, coming back from his injury. Davis, Sharpe, Taylor, and Matthews, provided he is healthy enough, are locks to make the 53-man roster.
So… who else makes the team? The candidates to join the current wideouts are Nick Williams, Darius Jennings, Michael Campanaro, Jordan Veasy, Deontay Burnett, and Cameron Batson. There are a few more wide receivers listed on the team’s roster, but the players listed here are, in my opinion, the ones fighting for the roster spots.
Let’s start with Nick Williams. Williams had a nice 38-yard reception from Marcus Mariota on the team’s opening drive against the Packers last week. Williams ran a quick slant on a third down and beat Quinten Rollins, as he dove to make a play on the ball, Williams had great position and reeled in the catch for the first down. That was Williams only catch of the game, but he has been working with the first team as well. Williams also set up the touchdown catch from Mariota to Jennings quite well with a nice pick that did not draw a flag from the officiating crew, a play that is deadly if run correctly.
Verdict: Makes the team
Darius Jennings is an interesting one. Jennings was the lone score for the Titans first team offense on a nicely set up play by LaFleur. That was Jennings only catch on the night, but counted immensely for the boys in blue.
Verdict: To be continued
Michael Campanaro didn’t play for the Titans last week. He was one of two players to not register a play in the Titans preseason game. Campanaro is a career special teamer with some flashes at wide receiver. He had a receiving touchdown last year with the Ravens as well as a punt return for a touchdown, but it is incredibly hard to tell where Campanaro stands with the Titans currently. It does not bode well for the fifth-year player that Adoree Jackson, Akrum Wadley and Dion Lewis all have significant experience as return men. In my opinion, Campanaro doesn’t provide enough upside on the offensive side of the ball with Jackson, Wadley, and Lewis looming in the special teams department.
Verdict: Doesn’t make the cut
I was surprised when Deontay Burnett wasn’t selected in this year’s draft. Burnett had over 1,000 yard receiving this past year, as well as nine touchdowns from third overall pick, Sam Darnold. Pair that with seven touchdowns and 622 yards as a sophomore, and it is surprising to me that he wasn’t selected out of such a high profile school as USC. Burnett has the raw talent to play in the NFL and even declared for the draft after his junior year last season. Per Jim Wyatt of TitansOnline.com, Burnett took first team reps against the Bucs in their first joint practice. Burnett had a solid outing, reeling in three receptions for 24 yards last week. Look for Burnett to play with Mariota this weekend.
Verdict: Practice Squad
Cameron Batson was the first Titan to return kicks last week. I don’t think this means Batson makes the team, because Wadley and even fourth string running back Dalyn Dawkins were available to return kicks. It should speak volumes that Batson was the returner last Thursday instead of some other guys with experience. No, Batson is not ahead of Adoree Jackson and Dion Lewis on the depth chart, both solid returners, but he seemed to be ahead of other notable players. Does Batson still get those returns if Campanaro plays? Batson did catch one pass for 17 yards, but I don’t expect the Texas Tech product to dress against the Dolphins in Week 1 or at all in 2018.
Verdict: Practice Squad