NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Now that the Tennessee Titans have promoted tight ends coach Arthur Smith to be their offensive coordinator, adding playmakers for quarterback Marcus Mariota is the next priority.
It has been the ongoing narrative over the past couple of offseasons for the Titans, who picked up the fifth-year option on Mariota and have only the 2019 season remaining to decide whether they will sign him to a long-term extension.
Teams such as the Bears, Eagles, and Rams made it their mission to surround their young quarterbacks with weapons. Each of those teams added top receivers among other moves. The Bears signed former Jaguars receiver Allen Robinson. The Eagles added Alshon Jeffery via free agency, and the Rams traded for Brandin Cooks.
Titans general manager Jon Robinson traded up to the No. 5 pick in the 2017 draft to select receiver Corey Davis and used a third-round pick in that draft on wideout Taywan Taylor.
Davis made great strides in his second season, posting 65 receptions for 891 yards and four touchdowns. He also began to dictate coverage, demanding the attention of the opposing team’s top cornerback. One of Davis’ best games came against first-team All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore in the Titans’ 34-10 win against the Patriots, when the second-year receiver had seven receptions for 125 yards and a touchdown.
Davis made his biggest improvement in 2018 with route running. It became more detailed and made it easier for Mariota to trust him on timing throws, as they connected on several plays when Mariota would throw to a spot before Davis made his cut, knowing Davis would get there on time.
The supporting cast around Davis still has room for improvement. Taylor showed signs of promise as he caught deep passes from Mariota in wins against the Jets and Redskins. A foot injury kept Taylor from being a consistent threat, and he needs to make more of an impact next season.
Taylor finished second among Titans receivers with 37 receptions for 466 yards. If it wasn’t for a nagging ankle injury, third-year wideout Tajae Sharpe would have finished ahead of Taylor. Sharpe established himself as a reliable slot receiver before injuring his ankle in Week 9 against the Cowboys.
Even though he isn’t one of those smaller, shifty, quick slot receivers, Sharpe is the best option in the slot on the Titans’ roster and one of Mariota’s favorite targets on third down.
“He’s got great body language in and out of his routes. When you have a guy that does that and creates separation, it makes it easy for you on third down to look to him, and find ways for him to get the ball,” Mariota said of Sharpe.
Added former offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur: “Marcus knows that Tajae is going to be in the right spot at the right time. He’s a good route runner and has good hands. [Mariota] has a comfort level with him.”
The back end of Tennessee’s receiver group features kick returner Darius Jennings and undrafted free agent Cameron Batson. There is room for the group to get better.
The 2019 Senior Bowl offers some pass-catching options for Tennessee to consider in the draft. Here are a few names to watch:
Deebo Samuel — South Carolina
Samuel was a dynamic player as both a kick returner and wideout. He can play the slot or line up on the outside and will generate plenty of yards after the catch.
Anthony Johnson — Buffalo
Johnson is another yards-after-the-catch specialist, but he can make contested catches like a power forward collecting a rebound. How well he levels up to the competition during the Senior Bowl could really strengthen Johnson’s case coming from a small school.
Hunter Renfrow — Clemson
Consistency is the one word that comes up when watching Renfrow. He’s not a big or fast wideout, but Renfrow is a quick and reliable pass-catcher who can cause opposing defenses nightmares when running choice routes from the slot. His most significant impact would be on third downs when his team needs a completion to move the chains.