For decades, the Titans seemed cursed at the wide receiver position. Despite regularly investing in free agency and early round draft picks, nothing seemed to pan out in Tennessee. The idea of the Titans adding one top-10 receiver seemed near impossible, much less the thought of having two.
But that’s exactly where the franchise is now according to ESPN’s poll of NFL executives and coaches. Julio Jones and A.J. Brown both made the cut as top-10 receivers with Jones checking in at No. 5 and Brown at No. 10.
Here’s what they had to say about each player:
5. Julio Jones
Jones dipped four spots, but teams say turn on the tape and you still see a unicorn.
“This is not an A.J. Green situation where the play clearly declined,” an AFC exec said. “He’s still that dude.”
We heard this similar assessment from several teams who looked into trading for Jones, whom Atlanta shipped to Tennessee for draft picks and a $15 million salary dump.
Despite missing seven games with hamstring issues last season , Jones still posted good numbers. His 11.2 yards per target was the best in the league, and he paced for nearly 1,400 yards over a 16-game slate. Nearly 32% of his receptions went for 20 or more yards.
“Still the best — injuries aren’t an issue,” an AFC scout said. “If they were contending last year, I think he would have played.”
And here are the comments on Brown:
10. A.J. Brown
Brown and Calvin Ridley required tiebreakers for the 10th spot, and execs tasked with breaking the tie preferred Brown’s explosion over Ridley’s smooth route running — barely.
Brown made the most of his routes, averaging 10.1 yards per target on his way to a second 1,000-yard season.
“After the catch, he’s as good as anybody,” said an NFC exec. “Looking for contact.”
Brown’s 159 yards after contact last year is more in line with what tight ends and running backs are producing. He averages 6.11 yards after catch per reception, tops among wide receivers with at least 80 targets.
“Similar to DK, but he’s more fluid,” an NFC scout said. “Not as polished a route runner as Calvin [Ridley] but could handle more than [the Tennessee] offense gives him. I could see them expanding the passing game this year with Julio and A.J.”
The last point is one that will be very intriguing as the Titans head into 2021. Will they continue to lean so heavily on Derrick Henry and one of the league’s best ground games? Or will they open up the passing game with two elite pass catchers and a red hot quarterback behind center? Offensive coordinator Todd Downing certainly has a lot of firepower to work with.