Hit the Targets 2021: Tennessee Titans
In this series’ second instalment, ‘Hit the Targets’ looks at teams who have lost a lot of pass-catchers. This time, it’s the Titans’ turn.
TARGETS FROM THE TITANS
The Titans fell short in the 2020 playoffs after a relatively successful regular season. Not long after, Offensive Co-ordinator Arthur Smith left to become the new Falcons’ head coach.
During his tenure, Tennessee were big hitters – mainly due to their dominance in the rush game. After all, they had King Derrick Henry. The Running Back helped the Titans to second in rushing yards / game in 2020.
Stats weren’t as rosy in the receiving department. Many stats in this area, like receptions, yards and yards / game, the Titans ranked in the bottom half of the NFL. It is understandable. You’ve got a human wrecking ball-carrier (or should that be human wrecking ball carrier?). You’re not going to use the receivers as much.
But there could be scope for change. Arthur Smith, a ‘run first, ask questions later’ disciple, is gone. And, like Smith, there have been other significant departures from the offensive unit.
Why is this important for a pass-catching article? Because, in total, those players made up nearly half the passing targets in 2020.
As opposed to Detroit, our first focus team, any Running Back departures had no bearing on the targets.
Instead, it was departing Tight Ends and Wide Receivers who were entirely responsible. Chief among them was Corey Davis. The receiver ranked second in targets (92) receptions (65) and yards (984) last year. That made up just under 20% of 2020 team targets. With Davis now on a new-look Jets offense, that’s a big chunk of production going elsewhere.
Another preferred Ryan Tannehill target to leave was Jonnu Smith (13.89%) The Tight End was one place below Davis on the receiving list, with 41 of 65 for 448 yards. Smith joins the Tight End-needy Patriots – who will hope to see similar figures in 2021.
Behind the two big names, several more supporting players left the team. Slot receiver Adam Humphries (7.48%) joined Washington, while Wide Receiver Kalif Raymond (3.21%) and Tight End Mycole Pruitt (1.71%) also depart.
In total, that’s players who saw just over 45% of targets out of the door. That percentage is the second highest in the NFL. And, although Titans’ players saw amongst the fewest targets last year, the fact remains the same.
TOPPING UP TARGETS
So are there any veterans who can pick up the pieces? I believe there are some veterans who can benefit from the exodus…
Brown finished top of the list for 2020 targets, receptions, yards and touchdowns. And he could expand on that role even further.
As stated before, the number of Tennessee targets was quite low. Not only that, but they were also spread out a lot. The Titans had 18 targeted players in 2020 – ranked as joint 3rd in the NFL.
Even with a few minor skill players leaving, it would have been good news for the established starting players. The departure of well-targeted players like Smith and Davis is a big deal for Brown’s ceiling. He has the chance to mop up more attention from Tannehill, and see a big bump in returns.
One sight you can count on in 2020 is that Derrick Henry will be the Titans’ primary back. But something that may become more commonplace is watching the Running Back get regular targets.
Henry caught 19 of 31 targets for 114 yards in 2020. And off-season clips of him working on this aspect have been released. With a new offensive co-ordinator in place, utilising this development could be useful. Keeping opposing defenses on edge will be easier if it’s against a dual-threat back.
If this does happen, it could be bad news for incoming rookies, and other incumbent Running Backs like Darrynton Evans. But those who have rostered Henry would love this to come to fruition.
Jonnu Smith‘s trade to the Patriots (and Mycole Pruitt’s exit) will be great news for those remaining TIght Ends. One of the players at the position is Anthony Firkser. He actively competed with Smith for targets last year – getting 53 over the course of the year.
With Smith out of the team, he stands to benefit from extra looks. This will be especially apparent in the end zone – where Jonnu scored 8 receiving touchdowns last year.
The loss of Arthur Smith could also play a factor here too. The former offensive co-ordinator love using two-Tight End sets involving someone else in Firkser’s position. A transition to a one-Tight End setup might see a little extra bump for Firkser.
THE NEW TITANS
There could also be some rookies who can take advantage of the gaps. Here are some that could break ground in their first NFL year…
The Titans’ Wide Receiver group was already quite limited. Aside from AJ Brown and arriving former Ram, Josh Reynolds, the depth chart is looking very thin. And, with the decimation in the offseason, there is a chance for rookies to get involved here.
Primary among them is Fitzpatrick, who dropped to the Titans in the fourth round. The 6’2″ receiver saw good returns at Louisville last year. He caught 43 targets for 833 yards. The resulting average of 19.37 yards per catch showed off a good deep-threat ability. He looks likely to compete with Reynolds for a starting spot as the primary downfield option.
Reynolds has got the advantage of experience. But there is the question of attitude hanging over him. And he almost committed the error of the season against the Seahawks. With a little hard work, could there be a shot for Dez to wriggle in?
And, with Jonnu out of the door, there is an opportunity for a Tight End to step up and be counted. That could be Briley Moore, who recorded only one year of stats for Kansas State in 2020. That season had Moore get 338 yards and 3 touchdowns from 22 receptions.
Ordinarily, one year of Power 5 stats might be easy to overlook compared to others at the position. But, before he played for the Wildcats, Moore was a regular starter at the University of Northern Iowa.
The three years he racked up for the UNI Panthers had Moore as one of the team’s top receivers. This was especially apparent in 2017, where Moore’s 38 receptions picked up 494 yards. While he got no touchdowns that year, the next season saw him hit pay-dirt. As the Panthers’ top 2018 target, Moore’s 39 receptions went for 536 yards and 4 touchdowns. With two solid years behind him, 2019 was promising even more.
But an injury in his opening game ruled Moore out for the rest of the season. The next year, Kansas State came calling.
Moore brings a solid history of pass-catching to Tennessee. And, based on the 2020 stats, we know those targets get spread out . If history repeats itself, then Briley could be seeing a reasonable amount alongside Anthony Firkser.
Rumours are still persisting about the all time yards / game leader leaving the Falcons. Amongst potential teams, the Titans are up with the favourites.
If Julio does fly the nest and land in Tennessee, the pass-catching landscape changes. I can see Julio and AJ Brown as the main targets, with everyone relegated to a supporting role.
There’s life in Jones yet and he has a comfortable floor with this team. In fact, Tennessee’s situation makes them one of the only teams to have room for him to take a percentage.
In the third of the series, we look at a team who have picked up a new Quarterback. Can the new signing affect where the targets go?
Join me then, but until then…