S.W.O.T. Analysis: Wide Receiver

The legal tampering period of free agency starts Monday, March 14. It will be here in no time. So it’s time to take a look at the state of the Titans’s roster is currently at, and what could be in store for the future.

To do that we are going to use tried and true method of analysis used in business, a S.W.O.T. analysis. For those not familiar with this I will keep it simple a S.W.O.T. analysis analyzes the strength, weakness, opportunities, and threats to either a business, strategy, product, etc. 

For analyzing the Titans position groups, I will be selecting one thing to highlight under each category:

  • Strength: What is the main strength of the position group heading into 2022
  • Weakness: What is the biggest weakness of the position group heading into 2022
  • Opportunity: What’s an area of opportunity that the position group can improve upon, or an opportunity the team can exploit to improve
  • Threat: What is an external or internal threat to the position group that can bring them crashing down

Previous position groups covered:

Position Review

No position group was a bigger letdown than the wide receivers. Whether they were struggling with drops, injuries, or lack of talent, this group let down the offense the most on a consistent basis.

When the Titans had signed Josh Reynolds and then proceeded to trade for Julio Jones fans were looking at a loaded position group. In addition to those three veterans the Titans added Marcus Johnson, Chester Rogers, and Titans year two receiver, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, was making an impact.

On top of that, they then proceeded to draft Dez Fitzpatrick and Racey McMath. You can argue whether those picks were pointless at the time, but it’s evidence that shows the Titans were going to make the wide receiver group a position of importance and strength.

Then camp started and pretty much everything went off the rails. Jones was unable to build any kind of chemistry with Ryan Tannehill because they were being cautious with an injury. Fitzpatrick was unable to put anything together. Brown was spending most of his time watching from the sidelines as well.

Then there was the odd situation of Reynolds. He quickly fell out of favor with this staff, and for whatever reason even became a healthy scratch some weekends when the Titans needed help. He eventually found himself in Detroit making the plays h should’ve been making here.

Johnson, Rogers, and NWI were Tannehill’s main targets through much of camp and preseason and people did have reason to still be excited. Unfortunately, they proved to be the guys they’ve always been their whole career. Contrary to popular belief, St. Thomas Sports Park is not a rehab clinic for nobodies.

This bled into a disastrous year for wide receivers. Fitzpatrick was who smart people knew he was. A body catcher who doesn’t have a high football iq. McMath while really fast showed why he was never getting targets at LSU. NWI, while mostly dependable, is just a guy.

Rogers showed promise but fizzled out. Johnson has a frequent flyer card for the injury reserve list. Which leads us to the last two bastions of hope: Brown and Jones.

Neither could find the field consistently at the same time. It was a mess. Brown still showed he is a true WR1 in certain games, while Jones showed flashes of who he was, but not consistently, due to injuries and chemistry.

They even tried to turn back time and make Golden Tate relevant, but he never could get into football shape because he STINKS.

Position Preview

  • Positional Spending: $23,089,543 (14th)
  • Top Cap Hit: Julio Jones ($14,313,000)
  • Under Contract
    • Julio Jones – 2 yrs left
    • AJ Brown: Extension coming due
    • Josh Malone: Scrub
    • Cody Hollister: Scrub
    • Racey McMath: Scrub
    • Dez Fitzpatrick: Scrub
    • Mason Kinsey: He aight, but also, Scrub
  • Pending Free Agents
    • Marcus Johnson
    • Chester Rogers
    • Cameron Baston: RFA
    • Nick Westbrook-Ikhine: ERFA

If I were looking at this list and had to choose five to stay to compete with other free agents and the drafted wide receivers, it would be obviously Brown, Jones, NWI, Racey, & Dez.

The others are just guys who will do what they are known to do and just piddle around in the background all offseason and just be those guys that end up on the practice squad.

Obviously, the Titans have some work to do with this position group because two (Dez/Racey) of the five I listed above are losers who need to be shoved into the deepest corners of the abyss, so that they never see the field.

What they should not do is ever bring in Golden Tate ever again. That man STINKS.

Strength: WR1

There is no other strength, in my mind, concerning this position group other than the fact that A.J. Brown is a true WR1 in the NFL. It is now time for the team to take the next step and build around him, and let the offense flow through him, because there is absolutely no doubt about it. He is Tannhill’s favorite target:

  • Led the team with 32 targets on 3rd Down
  • Led the team with 32 targets when Tannehill was pressured
  • Led the team with 31 targets when Tannehill was blitzed
  • Led the team with 12 red zone targets

I am not going to bore you with too much more data, but the problem with Brown’s lack of targets is the consistency of getting them as the game goes on. The consistent theme is that in the 4th quarter the team tends to go away from targeting him in that final quarter.

I do want to bust a myth a little bit though. Brown was getting more targets per game under Todd Downing than he was with Art Smith. He also is slightly higher than Cooper Kupp on target percentage versus routes ran.

Two of the problems with Brown was his ability to stay on the field this year, and drop issues reared their had. Both things are cause for minor concern, but either way Brown is a WR1.

I will dive more into it in the threats portion below, but the other problem is the offensive mentality. The hope though is that with Tim Kelly being a passing game coordinator that will change.

Weakness: Contracts

This may seem like an odd weakness, but I do want to try and go different directions with these than the more obvious ones.

The Julio Jones contract did not look that bad on paper heading into 2021, but man it sure is looking a little rough right now. In my Free Agency 101 article, I dive into the Jones contract in great detail.

I am in the minority and do not see the Titans cutting Jones. Cutting Jones really does nothing for th cap until June 1st, and by then who are you replacing him with? The Titans need the cap money now, not when all the good to great wide receivers in free agency are off the board.

The Titans also traded away a 2nd round pick, and brought in a passing game coordinator, and now is the time people think they will cut a future hall of fame they brought in with winning a Super Bowl in mind? It just doesn’t make sense to me.

Logically it makes zero sense to cut Julio with a June 1st designation because it puts a lot of stuff on hold. The contract is a mess, but I did propose doing another restructure with Jones to make more space for the team. That would free up at least $7m dollars that would go towards the cap.

His contract isn’t the only weakness. Brown is due for an extension sooner rather than later. Above I said he was a bonafide WR1, but he has minor causes for concern with injuries and drops. Injuries is the bigger concern of the two.

How does the team put an appropriate extension in place this offseason without possibly overpaying a guy who can’t stay healthy? On the flip side, if they don’t do it this off-season, and he does blow up in his contract year, then they really put themselves in a bind.

Despite any reservations you may have about Brown’s health, the team really needs to get the extension sorted out in a way that benefits both sides sooner rather than later.

Opportunity: Change

The opportunity for this wide receiver room is the chance for change. The Titans currently have two ways to exploit this opportunity and they should take both seriously.

The first path to change is through new additions. This wide receiver room is realistically down to Julio Jones and AJ Brown. None of those other guys matter in the big scheme of the Super Bowl. So you build around that in two ways.

You get a proven third wide receiver. When I say wide receiver three its important to note I am not talking “a slot wide receiver”. Who gives a flying dingleberry if this particular wide receiver has x amount of slot snaps. Move the wide receivers around to create mismatch. Its 2022, y’all.

Jamison Crowder, Will Fuller, Russell Gage, and JuJu Smith-Schuster are veterans who I think would provide you great talent without having to break the bank.

There are young guys like DJ Chark, Christian Kirk, and Michael Gallup that are kind of a mystery on the free agent market. Has Chark shown enough to warrant a big deal coming off an injury? Gallup has shown enough, but he is coming off a surgery as well, which he put off for a mysterious reason. What does his market look like? Kirk has yet to get 1,000 yards receiving, but the question surrounding him, is he the product of a volume passing attack.

Then you have the really old guys who people will recognize their names. Emmanuel Sanders, AJ Green, & DeSean Jackson. None of these guys provide you with anything consistent, and Sanders is even wanting to retire.

Then of course you got the pipe dreams: Odell Beckham, Jr, Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin, and Davante Adams. Any of these guys would be awesome to have here, and would make this team infinitely better, but I am not holding my breath. The most attainable of the group is Allen Robinson, and it would make this electric to have him.

Mike Williams is a guy that just doesn’t fit this team. He is super inconsistent and he wouldn’t get enough targets. He is the classic, let someone else overpay him, guy.

Anyone else is either too old, too crappy, or unproven to be mentioned, but the Titans need to grab a known commodity for the WR3.

The next path to a third wide receiver is thinking of the future, and the means through the draft. Not trading up for a nobody like Dez Fitzpatrick when he would’ve been there in the 6th round or later, but actually drafting on of the top tier wide receivers in a loaded class.

They should in all reality draft two wide receivers, but there are a few holes currently that have to be addressed in the draft, so it may not be realistic. But you need to draft a top tier guy.

The Titans have had a chance the last two years to do this, but they dilly-dally and wait to draft them late and often times over draft. Break the trend. The reason you do this is to build around AJ for the foreseeable future, but also around the young quarterback that will eventually be your franchise qb.

Taking this opportunity and leaning fully into it will reap not only make your current Super Bowl window wider in 2022, but also keeps it open for beyond this coming season.

That’s one big path with many side paths. The other path is avoiding the threat.

Threat: Mike Vrabel

No, I don’t mean those ridiculous rumors where Mike Vrabel and Julio Jones were having a No Holds Barred street fight in the run down Stadium Inn. He isn’t a physical threat, though I won’t say that to his face, he’s a philosophical one.

I’ve come to the point where I am very concerned that Vrabel is like another NFL head coach named Mike. Mike Zimmer. Ultimately, Zimmer had every chance to bring an offense filled with talent into the 21st century, but decided to fire anyone who didn’t agree that running the ball was the way to win games.

This eventually led to his team underperforming every season and then to his eventual firing, only to be replaced by an offensive minded head coach. Let me be clear, Mike Vrabel is no where near the hot seat. His butt is sub zero cold.

What I am saying is, that not shifting your offensive philosophy from a run heavy, safe approach, could keep the Titans from ever getting to the Super Bowl. You can even look at this last Super Bowl and see that the run game was wholly ineffective for both teams.

The hiring of Tim Kelly could be the step in the right direction the Titans need, and a sign that Vrabel understands the way his passing game was constructed in 2021 was a major flaw. This could signal to a more independent run/passing offense for the Titans.

However, Vrabel needs to take a step back and let his coaches do his thing. As a head coach you definitely want to be aware and have input in how all sides of the game goes, but he needs to give the staff free reigns to design a passing game that works.

Vrabel’s influence is clear, mistake free football, through the run game and defense. The problem with this philosophy, is the same problem Zimmer saw with his tenure in Minnesota, it leaves the team a small margin of error.

The NFL is not a perfect game. There hasn’t been a perfect team since the Dolphins. Every team makes mistakes or loses games, you can’t let fear dictate your offense. The Bengals and Rams more often than not realize when the run game is sucking you have to start passing.

Vrabel often times realizes this too late and this is why in a lot of losses it looks like Tannehill is at fault cause he had to throw a lot of passes. The reality is if Vrabel wouldn’t let leads get out of hand by halftime because he wants to run, run, run, maybe some of those losses turn into wins.

Regardless, Vrabel has to take a step back and let this offense evolve for this team to compete in the current era of football being played.

Conclusion

Building around your strength is the best way for this team to come true contenders for a Super Bowl win. So the Titans need to take the opportunities in free agency and the draft to grab at least three wide receivers that can flip this offense around in one offseason, and also keep it afloat for the years with the new quarterback and AJ Brown.

The other step is getting away from the old school and quite dead mentality of playing conservative football. Doesn’t mean you forget about Derrick Henry, but it does mean you have to be aggressive and attack more in the air sooner in games.

When it comes to the running back room, what do you think the S.W.O.T.’s are? Leave a comment below!

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