Evaluating rookie WR Nick Westbrook-Ikhine’s skill set and fit in the Titans offense

Nick Westbrook-Ikhine was probably the undrafted rookie wide receiver that arrived with the least fanfare when the Titans announced their 2020 UDFA class shortly after the draft. He didn’t have the wild production of a Mason Kinsey or the ties to the GM’s alma mater like Kristian Wilkinson or the post-football M.D. aspirations of Kyle Williams. Westbrook flew under the radar, and when there were some reports of some drop issues at camp, he was largely dismissed by the fan base as an option for the practice squad, much less the 53-man roster.

However, it was Westbrook who the team chose to bring back to the practice squad after roster cutdown day and now he’s been promoted to the 53-man roster, essentially swapping spots with Cody Hollister. Considering the fact that the Titans currently have just five receivers on the 53 — and with reports that A.J. Brown is nursing a bone bruise in his knee and could miss some time — that makes Westbrook-Ikhine worth getting to know a little better.

A 3-star recruit out of Lake Mary, Florida, Westbrook chose Indiana over Boston College, Cal, and nearby Florida Atlantic. After a relatively quiet freshman season, he broke out as a sophomore in 2016, pulling down 54 catches for 995 yards and 6 touchdowns. At the time, he appeared to be tracking towards early entry into the 2018 NFL Draft.

Then tragedy struck. On the opening kickoff of his junior season, Westbrook — who was covering kicks despite being the Hoosiers star receiver on offense — feels his knee buckle and his ACL tear, ending his season on the spot. Rather than putting up more big numbers and getting drafted, Westbrook began a lengthy rehab process.

The 2018 season saw his numbers decline as he learned to trust his surgically repaired knee, dealt with shaky quarterback play, and had to share some of his targets with other talented receivers who had filled the void he left when he got hurt. Still, his 42-catch, 590-yard, 4-touchdown season featured some flashes of pro potential, highlighted by Westbrook’s 5-109-1 line against 2020 3rd overall pick Jeff Okudah that included this grab.

Originally tweeted by Glenn Naughton (@AceFan23) on April 15, 2020.

His final season produced a nearly identical stat line — 42 catches, 572 yards, and 5 touchdowns — to his previous season. Not bad, but also not the kind of production you’d want to see from a top prospect.

While the production is questionable, Westbrook’s character is not. The team captain and four-time Academic All-Conference was respected in the Indiana locker room and known for going above and beyond when it came to helping in the community.

However, the lack of production led to Westbrook going undrafted in May and ultimately landing in the Titans UDFA class despite an impressive showing at the East-West Shrine Game as Andy Fenelon of NFL.com noted:

“He had the best day of any receiver. Real crisp and clean with his routes and he caught the ball naturally. Speed might be an issue. I talked with him and he’s targeting the low 4.5s. If he can run that range, he has a chance to be a really good player. Speed is the only question on him.”

Westbrook sent workout videos out to teams, but doesn’t have an officially recorded 40-time due to Indiana’s pro day being cancelled due to COVID, but Matt Rhea — current Alabama Director of Sport Science and former performance coach at Indiana — had some high praise for Westbrook’s physical ability.

Based on the answer Westbrook gave our own Justin Melo in an interview earlier this offseason, it sounds like the Titans interest was piqued by the Shrine Bowl performance.

So what did the Titans see that has them intrigued?

The first thing that stands out is his size. Listed officially at 6’-2” and 211 pounds, Westbrook has a prototypical build for an outside receiver in the NFL. He uses that size and length extremely effectively and is certainly capable of the spectacular.

The penchant for making acrobatic catches showed up in camp at least once as well.

The highlight reel catches are fun, and they demonstrate outstanding body control for a player of his size, but Westbrook also brings some other attractive traits. Go ahead and roll your eyes if you must, but he’s an excellent blocker for a receiver. We know that the Titans — a team that loves to run, particularly on the edges — value that trait more than most. Westbrook also was very good on special teams during his college career, showing a willingness to throw his body around on kick coverage when called upon.

This isn’t me telling you that the Titans have found some hidden gem future All-Pro. Westbrook has plenty of shortcomings. The most glaring of which are his inconsistent hands — he particularly struggles on low throws that force him to drop his hands below his waist — and the fact that he’s a one speed runner. There is very little burst in and out of his breaks.

However, the fact that he’s not Jerry Rice doesn’t mean he can’t help the Titans in 2020. Jon Robinson and Mike Vrabel certainly seem to believe in him. They gave him a promotion to the 53-man roster from the practice squad and sent Hollister — who has a similar skill set to Westbrook, but with more NFL experience — down. Now the WR5 behind A.J. Brown, Corey Davis, Adam Humphries, and Kalif Raymond, Westbrook could see some snaps if Brown winds up missing time with the bone bruise.

If he does play, Westbrook will bring a skill set that stands out as different from the other Titans receivers on the roster. He’s at his best on vertical routes that allow him to use his physicality to beat smaller corners off the line and at the catch point. I could envision the Titans using him in early down work where his plus-blocking can be used in addition to sending him over the top on some play action shot looks.

You’re probably not going to see more than 10 to 20 snaps a game tops from Westbrook unless things go horribly wrong from an injury standpoint, but if Arthur Smith is selective in the way he deploys him, there is a skill set there to take advantage of.

Comments

    1. My guess is that they want some size here. With both Raymond and Batson being in that 5’9”, 175 lbs range, I think they’re wary of being too small at their WR depth spots.

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