Zach Lyons is a NFL Senior Contributor for Broadway Sports. He is also Co-Host of the wildly popular, award winning, and world renowned podcast, “A Football & Other F Words”, new episodes released every Wednesday wherever you get your podcasts.. He’s also a co-host for Nashville’s first ever football only show with a global reach, “A Football Show”. “A Football Show” airs LIVE every Monday and Thursday at 1p CST. Subscribe and turn on notifications here.
Welcome in to the third installment of “The Zach Attack”. This is where I get to say whatever I feel like about the Titans football world. This week we are going to be taking a look at the recently released depth chart, and why you should stop worrying about Caleb Farley and Treylon Burks’s spot on it.
A lot of emphasis is always placed on first round picks, and rightfully so. For the most part these picks are taken with the idea in mind to be big contributors. Newsflash, every pick is taken with the idea in mind they will contribute at some point.
I completely understand why most people feel like it’s time to hit a panic button. Farley has struggled with health, and Burks has had minor struggles with staying active in practice. On top of that, the Titans have had issues with getting a first round pick to that notorious fifth-year option plus second contract.
However, the amount of attention suddenly paid to these two guys and their place on the depth chart is a little overboard, and I am going to talk about why patience is needed with Burks, and why you should’ve worry about Roger McCreary over Farley.
Treylon Burks: Patience is a Virtue
Since being drafted, Treylon Burks has been called the following:
- AJ Brown 2.0
- Not Enough
- Third/Fourth/Fifth Stringer
- Never Open
- No Impact
The list could, and probably will go on, but at the end of the day Burks controls his own narrative with his on field play this regular season. After the team traded away AJ Brown, and then proceeded to draft Burks, its been a non-stop barrage of comparisons and complaints. Not all of it is Burks fault.
It’s hard for fans and media to not immediately compare what Burks can be, and what Brown was since they’re both wide receivers from the SEC, wearing two-tone blue, with similar skillsets coming out of college. However, the burden was instantly put on Burks to start and produce at a high level because that’s what Brown did. Is that fair? No. Is that the plan? Not completely. Did Brown start and produce right away? Sort of.
The offseason also didn’t start off great. Burks was surrounding by lengthy, and weird controversy right from the get go, because he wasn’t in NFL shape, and that exacerbated his asthma condition. This controversy went way too long, and it was weird because no one in the fan base or media knew what the purpose of an inhaler was. Because on the first day he left practice early he came back out with one, and everyone knew he had one, but I guess you have to have a PhD to know what its used for.
The amount of outcry and sky is falling tweets started to swirl everywhere. He’s lazy! Another Sam Pittman Special. He’s fat! How did the Titans not know? How does Burks not know how to be NFL ready? The AJ Brown Trade is a certifiable disaster and mistake!
It went on forever. Burks came back to training camp, and in a month’s time changed all that. Athletes that have the work ethic can do that fairly quickly. Since training camp started, by my count, and I admit I didn’t go back and count this is all from memory, I believe he left two practices early, and missed one completely.
Not the best of starts, but no real need to panic. Minor concern is warranted, but nothing like building a bomb shelter bad. Then came the depth chart, and oh my god, all hell breaks loose.
Burks can’t even beat out NWI? He’s never gonna see the field! What a bust!
Then preseason happened, and people started checking the box score, instead of actually watching the game, and the continued he’s a bust label followed.
But let’s look at things in a logical perspective. Burks was never going to “start” on this team, unless injuries occurred or he came in just at an All-Pro level from the get go. This team isn’t afraid to start rookies, but it all comes down to the position and what does “start” actually mean.
So here’s reason number one why Burks not getting the start doesn’t matter. He’s not as good a run blocker as Nick Westbrook-Ikihine. It’s a ridiculous thing to have to continue to put emphasis on, but that’s just, unfortunately, how this team operates. They are going to open game one with a run play, and they need the best blockers out there. Again, starting doesn’t really matter. It’s just a little notation or asterisk that is put on the stat sheet.
And look, he could wind up with the start, because the team may come out in a different package, and he may play in the slot, but that still doesn’t mean we should see his snap counts be extremely high.
Secondly, lets compare depth charts of 2019 and 2022. Specifically where rookie wide receivers ranked.
The first thing I notice, is a bunch of “who the hell” names. It was just 3 years ago, but I don’t remember Jalen Tolliver, Papi White, or Tanner McEvoy.
Secondly, these are the first unofficial August depth charts of their respective seasons, and look at where Burks is compared to where Brown was.
Reminder this was even after Inhaler-gate. Brown had his struggles in camp too. Most rookies do. Burks, however, is your WR3/WR4, while Brown is your WR6/7/8 depending on how you look at it.
This is why depth charts don’t truly matter, and there is very little you can ever take away from one of these so early in the season.
It’s hilarious how many people overreacted to the Burks placement versus what I remember was the initial reaction to the Brown placement. It was night and day. Now let’s look at the 2019/2022 versions of the depth chart released on Monday.
Burks is still in the same spot, but Brown has moved up. Even though Brown has moved up he’s still technically behind Corey Davis, Tajae Sharpe, Adam Humphries, Darius Jennings. Which is a worse pass catching group on paper than what Burks is involved in.
However, this still doesn’t matter, because Brown got the start in the home opener, even though he was WR5 on the depth chart.
However, let’s dive into that first start a little more. While Brown got the start, he only played 42% of the offensive snaps, which was behind both Davis (73%) and Sharpe (49%).
In fact that trend continues through the next 3 games. AJ Brown despite starting 3 of 4 games to start the 2019 season, never saw 50% or more of snaps in a game.
I know this is technically a lot of comparing Treylon Burks to AJ Brown, but it’s more about using it as a baseline for expectations of snap counts and usage, than what the production on the field will be. I think Burks will be involved regardless of where you see his name on the depth chart. It will also be a case where his role and snap counts grow over time. No need to panic that he’s not immediately an All-Pro and WR1.
Caleb Farley: A Victim of Circumstance
When the Titans drafted Farley in the first round, everyone knew it would probably be a wash year one. Well everyone with a functioning brain knew that year one would be a wash. Farley hadn’t played a meaningful football game since November of 2019. Injuries and a family first mentality during COVID were reasons for that.
So he was going to have to get up to not only football shape, but NFL football shape, and really take in a wealth of knowledge fast. It was a bumpy start to his rookie campaign, where he was dubbed “a walking hospital”, but the offseason has shown to do wonders to get Farley up to speed, both mentally and physically.
Then here comes Roger McCreary. A first round talent that fell into the second round, and in a league where passing is king, cornerbacks are needed in bunches. The Titans saw McCreary sitting there and went and got their guy.
For a team that uses a lot of 3+ CB defensive looks, it was a necessity. You saw several teams, in your own conference go and improve their passing attack drastically. It’s really the perfect counter-punch by the Titans.
We know how this story has unfolded quite well. McCreary comes in and shows he was worth the pick, by immediately making impact plays in all phases of the offseason. Really overshadowing Farley’s off-season. Of course, the label of a first round pick, and bust are both currently attached to Farley. Now with McCreary emerging and pushing for the starting spot, those labels became neon glowing signs.
This continued into the joint practices where Farley, and really a lot of the corners, were getting burned in drills by the wide receivers of Tampa Bay. This led to people wanting Farley traded, because he just isn’t going to play a role here.
Farley rebounded nicely the rest of the way stacking days, and having few rough outings at camp and in the preseason. Then the depth chart dropped yesterday, McCreary is “starting” opposite of Kristian Fulton, and then here comes that doubt about Farley creeping in again.
There is ample opportunity for every cornerback on the roster to see the field. Specifically, the top-3 of Fulton, McCreary, and Farley. This team is going to be match-up base like it was last year, and they have the opportunity to create better match-ups with the new look cornerback room.
In the image above, to the left, or below…however your browser is gonna show it…You can see that the defense used three or more cornerbacks 76% of the time. The Titans played 1,097 defensive snaps, so 834 of those featured at least three CBs.
And this is why I think overreacting to who has their name first on a piece of paper matters very little for this position group. All three are going to see the field significantly. Here are the snap counts of the top-three cornerbacks:
- Jackrabbit Jenkins: 862 snaps | 14 games
- Kristian Fulton: 738 snaps | 13 games
- Elijah Molden: 632 snaps | 15 games
So let’s say Farley stays healthy, and being that when he comes in, McCreary kicks inside, and he plays roughly 834 snaps. For rookies last year that would’ve been the 6th most defensive snaps.
To me, that’s a good healthy amount of snaps for a guy who hasn’t played a lot of football. Especially considering that in 2021, the Titans had the 9th lowest opponent’s plays allowed per game.
Now that the amount of snaps has been established, what you want to see from your first round pick, is again, on field production. What does Farley do when he’s on the field? Does the defense take a step back when McCreary moves inside, and Farley is inserted outside? These are the questions that matter, not where is Farley on the depth chart.
Another thing to think about is the opposing team’s offensive personnel, because this could be a simple matter of how they start the drive and Farley still amasses a “starter” asterisk for the box score.
When you look at the Giants specifically, their wide receiver group consists of a lazy, big guy in Kenny Golladay, and two smaller twitchy guys. The smaller, quicker than fast, wide receivers have shown to give even Fulton fits, and we know they give Farley problems as well, so it makes sense to have McCreary on them in two wide receivers sets.
This is why getting riled up over a piece of paper doesn’t matter. Just calm down and instead of trying to project doom and gloom, let’s just wait and see what happens. Your projections and tweets have no control over how the game is played or a player is used. No bearing on the result of the game. Just take a step back, and breath. It’s just a piece of paper that the team doesn’t even like to fill out.
@TresWinn: Favorite spice girl and why.
Ginger Spice has always been number one from the get go. Even though Posh Spice did make a push. I think Ginger Spice is the reason I ended up marrying a redhead and also why Becky Lynch is my favorite female wrestler.
@JacobSain: Who killed The Flex and will it ever come back?
We went out on top of our game and it was a four-way mutual decisions due to life circumstances. Please direct any complaints to email@example.com. Be warned, him attempting to open up an email could results in a city-wide power outage.
@JustThrifting: How ballsy would it be to take nick westbrook for week 1 drafts king money fantasy lineup or you think another receiver / the could the most work?
I think NWI will see a lot of work, and while $4,800 isn’t bad value, I would rather swing for George Pickens at $4,100 or Romeo Doubs at $3,000. Just make sure to put the flyers at their actual position, not the flex spot.
@dredd_garcia: How likely do you think we see a return to pro bowl level play from Lewan this season? There are some great edge rushers coming at the Titans this season but he seems singularly focused on a return to form.
I think its likely, he will be much, much better than 2021. I am not sure he will ever be All-Pro but he is a high profile name with his Podcast, and if Derrick Henry starts reaching that 2,000 yard level again, you could see his name near the tops in terms of votes for Pro Bowl.
@Sweatpantsjesus: Love your pod *handshake emoji* my question is are you cautiously optimistic about Josh Gordon like I am? I know it’s been like 2 days & 1 practice so a long way 2 go but something about the move just ‘fits.’ He looks healthy, motivated and I think Vrabel knows what buttons to press. Thoughts?
I liked what I saw from the clips shared by Titans Media on Monday’s practice. I am not going to get too heavily invested into Josh Gordon, but I am rooting for him. He looked smoother and quicker in the drills than I expected, and he definitely looks more ready than Golden Tate did last year, but I think your idea of cautious optimism is correct. You’re also correct in thinking that if any coach can get something out of Gordon, it’s Vrabel. Fully endorse that. If Gordon walks away with 300 yds and 2 TDs this year in a Titans uniform, that would exceed my expectations for a WR5, Pass Catcher 9 in this offense.
@PhilSpeed2: Outside of the obvious Division win and win a Super Bowl, what should be the titans biggest aims this season? What are the signs we should be looking for (other than wins and losses) that show progression Vs last season?
You want to see less mistakes by the offense, less pressure allowed by the offensive line, and a considerable jump in offensive production through the air. More explosive plays on offense, less explosive plays allowed on defense. Defense without Landry needs to maintain their level of production from 2021. These are things that you can point to outside wins and losses that would give you hope for 2023 if the team falls short of a Super Bowl.
See y’all next week.