Titans Seem More Intent on Solving WR Than Ever

INDIANAPOLIS – Mike Vrabel and Ran Carthon waved at the camera in the corner of the Titans’ draft room and laughed at the people on the other side.

The Titans had just selected tight end Josh Wylie in the fifth round. The widespread presumption about the coach and the GM’s reaction was they were laughing at the fans and media who were calling for receiver help.

Brian CallahanThe team went on to sign DeAndre Hopkins as a free agent in the summer, but it was still predictably insufficient at the position in 2023 as it has been for so often in 24 years as the Titans.

Change is afoot now, however. The team has just its second offensive-minded coach in Brian Callahan and Carthon both spoke as if they will be intentional about adding to Hopkins and an otherwise unthreatening receiving corps that includes oft-injured Treylon Burks and Kyle Philips, Colton Dowell who will be recovering from torn ACL repair, and fringe players Mason Kinsey, Kearis Jackson and Tre-Shaun Harrison.

I asked Ran Carthon if he was determined to address a position that has been so problematic for so long.

“We’ve got a young offensive coach who’s an offensive-minded coach who’s going to need weapons to bring his offense to life,” he said. “We have a responsibility in finding that. I think we were lucky to get a guy like DHop, we know DHop is a little older but he produced at a high level, had a 1,000-yard season, I think he had (seven) touchdowns, one of his highest yards-per-catch average in recent years."

We want to make sure that we are still explosive, that we can make plays down the football field, which we feel is going to help our offense and our young quarterback.”

The wide receiver class of 2024 is regarded as strong. LSU's Malik Nabers or Washington's Rome Odunze could be in play at No. 7 overall, though there is a giant need for a left tackle as well.

BryMakTwelve of the top 50 prospects on The Ringer’s big board are receivers while 19 of The Athletic’s consensus big board of 100 prospects play the position. 

“I think there's an element of explosiveness, of speed that we can add that would help us,” Callahan said. “This is a really fun class of players, really from the top part of the class, all the way down to the bottom. There's going to be good receivers, I think, you'll find that'll come off the board in the second, third and fourth rounds that I think will be contributors for some teams. So it's a deep class.

“There's really a lot of variations of player. There's guys that are good with the ball in their hands. There's guys that are really fast. There's guys that are big and strong. So there's a good mix of talent that fits and when you're building the receiver room, you're trying to collect a little bit of all of those things. And so, it's a fun class to evaluate, and hopefully, we can find a couple of guys that fit us.”

The Titans’ recent failures at the position are well documented.

They traded the best receiver of the Nashville era, A.J. Brown, to Philadelphia after just three seasons rather than finding a way to resolve a contract dispute as three other teams in similar situations did with their premier pass-catchers.

They used the first-round pick they got in the return package on Burks, who has missed 12 of 34 games with injuries, averaged 30 receiving yards a game and scored one touchdown. While he can be threatening and Callahan will likely better deploy him, he takes a good while to get to top speed.

Under Jon Robinson, the Titans drafted Tajae Sharpe, Corey Davis (in the first round), Taywan Taylor, Brown, Dez Fitzpatrick, Burks (first) and Philips. Last year after the fifth-round camera wave-and-laugh, Vrabel and Carthon waited until the seventh round before drafting a receiver in Dowell.

“I would just say my No. 1 thing is adding playmakers to our team, whether that's offensively, defensively,” Carthon said. “…If you look at where Cally comes from, you have three to four guys that are in there a lot and that are producers. The receiver room is where we're going to continue to look to add some playmakers. 

“…We need to have people that can put the ball in the paint and score points for us, and we need people that can take the ball away and create more opportunities for us to score.”

The third- and fourth-leading receivers for the Titans last year were Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, with 370 yards, and Treylon Burks, with 221. 

By comparison, the Bengals were without Joe Burrow for seven games and still got 656 yards out of Tee Higgins (in 12 games) and 316 out of Trenton Irwin.

Kuharsky megaphoneCincinnati got 381 more yards out of their third- and fourth-most productive wideouts in a down offensive year. In 2022 it was 518.

The Titans seem done pretending like they can make do with makeshift wideouts.

“When all things are equal,” Callahan said, “guys that can score touchdowns tend to make more of an impact.”

It sure doesn’t sound like they are going to laugh at you while they slow-play addressing the spot this time around.

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