When the Tennessee Titans hired Mike Vrabel, he mentioned a desire to open up the offense and introduce some of the concepts from Marcus Mariota’s days at Oregon on offense. However, there is a glaring issue with roster construction because they lack a true deep threat. Corey Davis is talented, but as the presumed No. 1 receiver going into next year, he’s going to face stiff competition. Those Oregon teams, and later Baylor as well, were exciting because they emphasized speed down the field. The whole concept of a spread offense is to expand the field horizontally, so the defense is weaker vertically. If you watched Baylor games when Art Briles was the coach, you will see a very high amount of throws down the field with go routes against one deep safety coverage. The idea is that the safety can’t cover both ends of the field, and the receiver has a one on one match up. The other aspect of the spread system is that it doesn’t rely heavily on one receiver, but rather relying on which player the defense decides to cover one on one. It’s why Kendall Wright out-performed Josh Gordon at Baylor. Also why a receiver like Devin Smith could out-perform Michael Thomas at Ohio State. Unfortunately for the Titans, they lack the speed element at wide receiver. Let’s take a look at possible receivers:
Corey Davis: He did not run at the combine, nor his pro-day, thanks to an injury. There isn’t a recorded time for his 40-yard dash that is reliable. There are reports of him being rumored to be running in the 4.45 to 4.50 range, but obviously can’t be confirmed. He is the No. 1 receiver on the Titans for next year (unless they sign Allen Robinson – a post I will make later in the off-season if he isn’t franchised) and shall be going up against the top corner backs in the league.
Rishard Matthews: He ran a 4.44 at his pro-day, although he ran near 4.62 at the combine for his 40-yard dash. I like Matthews as a second receiver but he’s not a 4.44 burner in the league right now. He runs good routes and is a reliable option for Mariota, but he doesn’t have the top end speed down the field to be a consistent threat.
Eric Decker: He is a free agent, and I don’t think the team is going to bring him back. He’s a possession receiver at this point of his career, and I think he’s one of the best route runners in the league. However, I think it’s a numbers crunch for the team and he most likely won’t be returning.
Taywan Taylor: He’s the in-house option as the speed guy because he ran a 4.45 at the combine last year, and according to Next Gen Stats, he had one of the fastest recorded speeds by a wide receiver this season.
Tajae Sharpe: He’s not a speed option, and coming off an injury at this point, so I’m not sure how reliable he would be as he’s recovering. He ran a 4.55 at the combine when he ran the 40 yard dash, and while he performed admirably for a rookie, he’s not the deep threat.
The team has a reliable option in Matthews as a possible secondary/third option, with potential in Corey Davis. However, Taylor is the only real speed option on the team and that might be too risky. Mariota is still under his rookie contract, and having a good QB on a cheap contract is the greatest competitive advantage for a team under the current financial climate.
So, who do I suggest the team sign this week?
Since most of you read the title before clicking, it’s Paul Richardson. He’s a free agent this year, and he’s still young.
Speed: He ran a 4.40 speed at the combine, and is still young enough to retain that speed during game play. The speed allows the Titans to put Davis/Matthews/Taylor/Richardson on the field and have the option of opting into two go routes on the outside if they catch the defense in a single high safety look.
Team Fit: Assume the offense goes to a 10 package (4 receivers, 1 running back), then the defense has to worry about speed across the board, thus shift to a two-deep safety look. However, the defense also needs to worry about an RPO option with Henry/Mariota, which brings in the linebackers. It would essentially open up the middle of the field for easier passes or allow better running lanes. The team also needs a deep threat because Mariota showed a drastic change in downfield efficiency from 2016 to 2017.
That is the link to Mariota’s chart from 2016.
That is the link to Mariota’s chart from 2017.
Notice how Mariota went from above league average on throws down the field to below average. The main issue here is spacing and the lack of down field threats. In 2016, a robust running game helped opened up options down the field, whereas 2017 allowed defenders to block passing lanes with the lesser threat of successful runs.
Fundamentals: I’ve had some trouble launching the site, unforeseen delays, which squashed certain articles I had planned. One of my primary suggestions included trying to get Kippy Brown out of retirement because I think he does a great job in developing receivers. I promise, it was going to be great, minds were going to be blown, but then the site was down during the critical phase and I scratched the idea. Richardson came in for his rookie year under Brown and has displayed some of the good fundamentals that Seattle receivers have shown in the past, with good hands, route running, and field recognition.
Notice the positioning of the body on this play, because he’s using his back to prevent the defender from making a play on the ball. He’s twisting his body for a “hands” catch, but also positioning himself for a clean path towards the ball. You see this plenty of times with the Seahawks’ receivers, especially Doug Baldwin. He shows good hands on this pass, as well as great body positioning and field awareness.
The ability to make plays while facing pass interference is of prime importance, especially in playoff series against the Patriots. He makes two great one-handed catches in these plays, although in both cases the defenders were called for penalties.
He also does a great job at high-pointing the ball, and stepping in front of the defender to take away the chances of a deflection.
These plays were recorded from this video
I know highlights make everyone look like stars, but I just wanted to highlight a couple of things of note from those videos. They are a year old, but the new highlights film only show limited plays.
This is against the Jaguars this year and notice the defensive formation. The team is showing single high safety, and Richardson is essentially double teamed on this play, yet still gets open down the field. The only reason this isn’t a touchdown is the bad throw from Wilson. These are the types of plays missing from the Titans offense because they rarely attacked down the field, which allowed defenses to be far more aggressive.
Notice how well he manipulates the hips of the deep safety on this play with his route, and then score the touchdown. Once again, showing up as the deep threat on the team, which allows the underneath game to thrive.
This is a play in which Richardson isn’t involved for the touchdown. However, the defensive formation should be familiar to Titans fans because the Patriots used it in the playoffs consistently. There is a deep safety, along with another safety playing closer to the linebackers. The whole idea of the play is to take away lanes in the intermediate area, while having help against screen passes and runs. How do the Seahawks attack it? They send Richardson and Tyler Lockett (another 4.40 runner at the combine) down the field and the deep safety bites towards Richardson. The Patriots used this defense consistently, yet the Titans offense refused to throw the ball down the field on a consistent basis.
Single high safety, so naturally the offense attacks deep. Richardson had over 100 yards in this game, with two touchdowns (as well as a negated touchdown thanks to a chop block penalty on Seattle), yet this is the play I wanted to highlight. Look at the respect given to Richardson on this play, on a 2nd and 2 situation because this is a free first down on any route besides a go route. The other thing to note is how wide he’s lined up, because watch how the linebacker reacts on this play. If Richardson is lined up close to the line of scrimmage, the linebacker can back up into coverage easily. However, since Richardson is lined up further away from the line of scrimmage, the linebacker is effectively taken out of pass defense, and has to concentrate on the running back. Spacing is another area of concern for the new coaching staff to address for the Titans.
Just another example of him running down the field, and manipulating the hips of the safety. The play also exemplifies his ability to high point the ball because the positioning of this throw actually helps the safety. Wilson can’t quite step into this throw, which allows it to float near midfield, but Richardson outjumps the safety to make the critical catch.
I mentioned Kippy Brown before and he coached the receivers in Seattle from 2010 to 2014, and they’ve had a couple of young receivers leave with potential from 2010 to 2017. Let’s take a look:
Golden Tate: In his last year with the Seahawks (Age 25 season), he caught 64 passes for 898 yards, 5 TDs on 99 targets with a catch percentage of 64%, and a yards per catch of 14.0. In Detroit, he has 4 straight seasons of 90+ receptions along with three seasons of eclipsing the 1000 yards mark, along with 1 Pro-Bowl. He made a significant leap in year 1 after leaving the Seattle attack, which is more based on spreading the ball around.
Jermaine Kearse: He’s fell out of favor in Seattle, partially because he didn’t set a good pick play on the infamous Super Bowl interception. He was traded as part of the Sheldon Richardson deal, and also enjoyed a career year. In his second to last season with Seattle (Age 26 season), he caught 41 passes for 510 yards, with 1 TD on 89 targets for a catch percentage of 46.1 on the year. He had a yards per catch of 12.4 for the Seahawks. In his first year with the Jets, he had career highs in yards (810), TDs (5), Targets (102), Receptions (65) and a catch rate of 63.7% on the year. It’s important to remember that he was on a Jets team that lacked talent on offense to an extreme length.
Disclaimer: Percy Harvin also left Seattle during his time, and it didn’t end quite so well. However, I believe the main culprit for him were injuries, so I decided to exclude him as the third option. Also, it rather helps my argument to not have him included.
I’m not saying Richardson is bound to improve on his numbers, but both Tate and Kearse have shown considerable improvement after finding new teams, and moving up on the pecking order. Tate became the No. 2 option at first alongside Calvin Johnson (actually out-performed him that year) while Kearse became the de-facto No. 1 receiver for the Jets last year.
On the Titans, Richardson would the 2nd or 3rd receiver (depending on your evaluation of Matthews) but adds an extremely important speed factor to the offense.
Contract: It’s hard to estimate at this point. Fieldgulls (An extremely well-run site for the Seahawks – which I highly recommend if you are a fan of football) ran an estimate of 5 years, $31-40 million contract. Here is the link
That website also has a great YouTube channel, and here is a video of Richardson prior to last year.
They have absolutely great breakdowns, and I can’t recommend them enough.
Overall, I believe Richardson is a great fit for the Titans. A receiving core of Davis/Richardson/Taylor with Matthews as the veteran and Sharpe as the wildcard bodes well for the future. The team lacked deep threats and the addition of Richardson will cause defenses to ease up on their aggressiveness at the line of scrimmage. I used examples from Jacksonville and Houston (since Vrabel got a close up look) to show that he’s somewhat under-rated on the open market.
Please check back in weekly for other articles on the website. I plan on doing some free agent targets as well as draft targets after the combine. After free agent signings and draft selections, I’ll write some scouting reports with breakdowns.
- How much would you pay Richardson? What is your reasoning for the number?
- Would you sign Richardson or focus elsewhere on the roster? If so, why?
Primarily, I work as a real estate agent at Keller Williams Realty in Franklin, Tennessee. I’ve lived in Nashville for almost a decade now, and my love for the city only grows deeper, like a 440 pothole. I follow the Titans closely, so I enjoy writing about the team and breaking down film. However, my main job consists of being a real estate agent, therefore if you need any kind of help with the sale/purchase of a home, I’d be happy to help you through the process. If you just want to talk about real estate, feel free to email me as well. I write a real estate blog as well, which I’ll leave a link to at the bottom of this section (as well as a few other places on the website) so please check it out.
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