For the Tennessee Titans and Marcus Mariota to take the next step, they need to add another offensive weapon to the mix.
There were times last season when Rishard Matthews performed like a No. 1 receiver. There were times when Delanie Walker still performed like one of the top tight ends in the NFL. The problem for the passing game of the Tennessee Titans was that it didn’t happen consistently enough for the team to get over the top.
Acquiring another weapon to complement those two in the passing game is critical to the team’s success in 2017. Tennessee has perhaps the league’s most potent one-two punch at running back. But while that running game was very consistent, topping 100 yards in all but four games and gaining 97 or more in 13, the passing game failed to produce 225 or more yards in seven of the Titans’ games last season.
Yes, part of that was because the Titans did run the ball so much and were so effective with it. At the same time, the team was at its best offensively when it found balance. And the natural progression of quarterback Marcus Mariota in his third season should be to give him greater responsibility and ownership of the offense.
In order to accomplish that, the Titans need to get him another receiver in this year’s draft. The question is, who will that player be?
With Walker set to turn 33, there’s a good chance his best days might be behind him. So do the Titans try to take talented tight end O.J. Howard? To do so, the way things are looking, they would probably have to do so with the fifth pick in the first round.
And even that might not be good enough. Howard, considered the surest thing among the pass catchers in this year’s draft, could be gone when the Titans pick. A number of mock drafts have him going No. 4 to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Titans also could use that fifth-overall pick to pump up another need, the secondary.
So if not Howard, do the Titans go for a receiver? Certainly there are three good ones considered worthy of first-round consideration.
Speedy John Ross of Washington opened eyes at the combine by breaking former Titans’ running back Chris Johnson’s 40-yard dash record. His 4.22 speed shows up on tape as Ross creates plenty of separation, even in tight quarters.
He was equally as effective scoring in the red zone last season as he was from other spots on the field. He also averaged a healthy 24.1 yards per kick return in his career. The 5-11, 188-pound Ross is cut from the same cloth as Antonio Brown and T.Y. Hilton, which isn’t a bad thing. The Titans have shown interest in Ross, as well.
The same could be said of the other potential first-round receivers in this draft, Western Michigan’s Corey Davis and Clemson’s Mike Williams. While neither has the speed of Ross (who does?) they use their size to win downfield.
Davis might be the draft’s most complete receiver. He’s got decent size (6-3, 209 pounds), speed and ability and more of a sum of his parts than having any one distinguishing characteristic.
What he doesn’t offer is return ability—he was never asked to do it in college. But the Titans have free agent signee Eric Weems to handle those duties. Davis compares very favorably to Michael Thomas, who had a solid rookie season in 2016 for the Saints.
Williams, at 6-3 and 225 pounds, is a physical receiver who lacks great speed but seems to come down with every 50-50 ball and even some he shouldn’t come down with. He is comparable to Michael Floyd, without the baggage.
There’s a good chance Davis could be gone by the time the Titans make their second first-round pick at 18, but Ross and Williams are likely to be available. If it comes down to a choice between the three, the Titans should take Davis. If it comes down to a choice between Ross and Williams, Ross should be the pick.
Ross’ ability to get behind opposing defenses would not only pump up the Titans’ passing attack, but their running game, as well. Opposing safeties will have to be cognizant of where he is on the field at all times, keeping them out of the box.