The Titans are reportedly signing former Rams wide receiver Josh Reynolds to a one-year deal as the second wave of free agency begins to take shape.
The 6-3, 197-pound Reynolds was drafted in the 4th round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Rams and spent the first three years of his career working as a rotational receiver and special teams contributor behind the likes of Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins, and Brandin Cooks. With Cooks traded to Houston before the 2020 season, Reynolds finally got his chance to feature in the top three among Rams pass catchers and took advantage, posting career highs in catches (52) and yards (618) while adding a pair of touchdowns.
Reynolds is a good athlete for his size, running a 4.52 40 at the 2017 combine while posting strong numbers in the broad jump, vertical jump, and change of direction drills.
He’s a long strider who takes some time to get going, but offers above average top end speed and elite ball tracking skills. I expect him to be a factor on some of the deep post concepts that the Titans have loved to use in recent years.
Reynolds has sure hands — just nine drops in 210 career targets by PFF charting — and regularly shows the ability to make catches outside of his frame.
As we roll into the second week of free agency, the Tennessee Titans receiver room is now comprised of A.J. Brown, Josh Reynolds, Cameron Batson, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, Marcus Johnson, Chester Rogers, Cody Hollister, Rashard Davis, and Mason Kinsey. The tight end group is headlined by returning role players Anthony Firkser and Geoff Swaim with practice squaders Tommy Hudson, Parker Hesse, and Jared Pinkney filling in behind them.
Gone, of course, are Corey Davis, Jonnu Smith, Adam Humphries, and Kalif Raymond. That group represents four of the Titans top six receivers from 2020, producing 1,847 yards and 15 touchdowns through the air last season. Reynolds’ 2020 numbers would cover roughly a third of that production, but there is still a pretty large gap to fill.
Some of that likely comes from a fully healthy, year three version of A.J. Brown. Maybe some of it comes from increased roles for Firkser and Swaim at the tight end spot.
There is likely still some work to be done in this position group, but Reynolds is a quality addition that can at least replace some of the elements that Corey Davis provided in recent years.
How important is it to have an elite option across from A.J. Brown?
Obviously, having a better complementary supporting cast is always a good thing, but there is some evidence that spending top-of-the-market money on a WR2 might not be the best investment for this specific football team.
Let’s take a look back at the 2019 Titans with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback. Corey Davis was playing through a turf toe issue for much of the back half of the season and was largely unproductive. He produced just one game with more than 57 receiving yards from Week 7 on, a stretch in which the Tennessee offense was putting up over 30 points per game.
A.J. Brown was clearly the top dog with 842 yards and eight touchdowns in 10 games with Tannehill as the starter, but the Titans signal caller spread the ball around among his other targets with six other pass catchers — Corey Davis, Jonnu Smith, Tajae Sharpe, Anthony Firkser, Kalif Raymond, and Adam Humphries — gaining between 210 and 432 yards.
The 2020 season saw more balance between Brown and Davis as the latter emerged as a strong second option and soaked up some of the opportunity vacated by Sharpe’s departure and Humphries’ injury, but 2019 at least gives an outline of what a Titans passing attack with Brown and not much else might look like.
Looking around the NFL, having a highly successful offense centered around one dominant pass catcher is pretty common. Consider the Saints with Michael Thomas for most of the past five years. The Packers with Davante Adams, the Antonio Brown era Steelers, the 2020 Bills. There are plenty of examples of elite offenses that orbit around a single star wide receiver.
Going back to the 2019 Titans example… Corey Davis put up 601 yards and two touchdowns on 92 targets that season. Josh Reynolds put up 618 yards and two touchdowns on 81 targets last season. Whether Reynolds can make a leap like Davis did in 2020 remains to be seen, but we know that he can reproduce what the Titans were getting from CD in 2019, when they were still a top-10 offense.
Who’s next at wide receiver and tight end?
The Titans could still add another piece or two in free agency. A guy like Damiere Byrd with top end speed and experience working in the slot makes some sense. At tight end, a Delanie Walker reunion may be the best situation the Titans can hope for at this point.
However, expect the heavy lifting at both spots to be done in the draft. The Titans should be a team to watch closely at the wide receiver and tight end spots on day one and day two. The dream scenario may be to sit at 22 and see which of the Kyle Pitts (highly unlikely), Ja’Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, Rashod Bateman five-pack falls in their lap. This is another loaded draft class at the receiver position and it’s a spot where guys can produce early in the league. We saw eight rookie receivers post at least 600 yards receiving in 2020.
The tight end class is more of a mixed bag. Kyle Pitts is a star and will likely go in the top 10 picks, but Pat Freiermuth, Brevin Jordan, and Tommy Tremble represent a nice second tier of options that could be available on day two. I also like Tre’ McKitty and Shaun Beyer as potential day three choices, but expecting any of these guys — besides Pitts obviously — to come in and be the guy from day one is unrealistic. The Titans are likely looking at a platoon type deployment of their tight ends again in 2021.