The Tennessee Titans are rock solid at the top three spots on their wide receiver depth chart. Spot No. 4, however, appears to be highly questionable.
The team seems intent on letting inexperienced players like Kalif Raymond, Cameron Batson and Rashard Davis battle it out during Training Camp for that spot, which became vacant upon Tajaé Sharpe’s departure in free agency.
“I think we’re going to have great competition there, the heart of your roster. Those guys did a great job as the season went on,” offensive coordinator Arthur Smith said.
“You want to constantly have competition and push it, and we’re excited to see what these rookie wideouts can do as well. It’ll be a good competition. It’ll be fun to watch that thing play out in those spots.”
While the concept of having a good old’ Training Camp competition and giving the job to a younger player might not seem like a bad idea on the surface, it ultimately could prove to be problematic.
Nobody does the cone drill quite like Kalif Raymond…. pic.twitter.com/6v0kcfM5Zf
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) November 27, 2019
One of the reasons it could be problematic is that, in 2019, the Titans relied heavily on their fourth wide receiver, and that probably won’t change much in 2020.
Sharpe, the Titans’ fourth receiver in 2019, played a big role in the team’s offense. For the first half of the season, he saw a lot of playing time as a rotational piece.
In the second half of the season, No. 3 receiver Adam Humphries missed a lot of time with an injury, and Sharpe stepped up to fill that void.
It wasn’t much of a surprise that Sharpe was able to deliver for the Titans when his load increased. While he isn’t an imposing athlete, he plays with good technique and is typically a pretty reliable problem for the quarterback.
That’s why it was somewhat alarming when, after Sharpe signed with the Vikings in 2020 free agency, the Titans did not make a single transaction geared toward filling that void. They didn’t draft a single receiver, and the only free agents at the position they have signed to this point have been undrafted rookies.
ASKING A LOT OF THE YOUNG GUYS
Smith on the 4th WR role left vacant: We’ll have a great competition there between Kalif Raymond, Cam Batson Cody Hollister and Rashard Davis
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) June 3, 2020
And, that’s why the Titans are in their current position. With Sharpe gone and no real experience at receiver outside of the top three, they’ll presumably rely heavily on unproven commodities.
The problem with that goes beyond the fact that the likes of Raymond, Batson, Davis and Cody Hollister are inexperienced. What should be at least somewhat alarming for Titans fans is that all of those players were undrafted and some of them, as recently as a year ago, were street free agents.
Of course undrafted players can contribute and play well. But, let’s call a spade a spade: the Titans, if they don’t add a veteran to the fold before the beginning of the season, are counting on players that nobody—including the Titans—wanted in the draft to fill the void left by Sharpe.
That’s dangerous for two reasons.
First, you just don’t know what you’re going to get from these guys. They’re all unproven in major roles. Some, like Raymond, have made a play here or there, but none of them have had received significant playing time.
There’s a major difference in being the fifth receiver and being the fourth.
Additionally, what happens if one of the Titans’ top three receivers (Humphries, Corey Davis and A.J. Brown) gets injured? The Titans likely wouldn’t be comfortable with anyone from that quartet of young receivers being the third guy.
It’s a nice thought to give the young guys a chance, but what if none of them are any good? The Titans were a game away from being in the Super Bowl in 2019, and, if they seriously want to get there in 2020, they can’t afford to take risks like that.
Having no depth behind Corey Davis, Brown and Humphries aside from the current crop of undrafted players would leave the Titans with a very volatile insurance policy should anything happen to the top three guys.
A POTENTIAL SOLUTION
The solution to this problem is simple.
While it’s obviously too late to go after top-tier free agents at wide receiver—and the Titans were probably wise to not do that in the first place—there are veterans available who, if nothing else, would make good Training Camp additions.
Paul Richardson, Taylor Gabriel, Chris Hogan, Jordan Matthews and Demaryius Thomas, all still free agents, would be much safer bets to play the fourth receiver spot than the players the Titans currently have on the roster.
There also would be very little risk in bringing one of them in. If they stink, or if one of the young guys is surprisingly good and beats them out for the job, the Titans could just cut them before the season started.
The risk would be in not bringing in a veteran.
Someone from the group of Rashard Davis, Hollister, Batson and Raymond may prove to be even better than Sharpe, but the Titans just don’t know whether that would happen.
They should construct a backup plan, just in case it doesn’t.
Cover image: Evan Habeeb & Christopher Hanewinckel / USA Today