The NFL's most elite receiving corps include that of the Arizona Cardinals, with Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, and up-and-coming slot receiver Steve Breaston. You would also consider the Green Bay Packers, with Donald Driver and Greg Jennings. Maybe the New England Patriots with Randy Moss and Wes Welker, or the Buffalo Bills with Lee Evans and Terrell Owens.
However, one of the most fun to watch receiving corps in the 2009 season will undoubtedly feature the Tennessee Titans.
Last year, the Titans finished an abysmal 28th in the league in average receiving yards per game, with a mere 181.4. Only six teams averaged under 200 yards receiving, some including the Oakland Raiders and the Cleveland Browns. Tennessee also finished 28th in receiving touchdowns, and 26th in receptions. However, if you watched Tennessee's last four games and have paid any attention to their offseason, you would notice that the numbers will almost certainly rise.
In the 2008 NFL season, Justin Gage was crippled with a knee injury. Therefore, his numbers were condensed to only 34 receptions, 651 yards, and six touchdowns during the regular season. Gage didn't records statistics in five of the Titans' seventeen regular season and postseason games. The 28-year old Gage showed what he was truly capable of though, nearly carrying the offense in the playoff game versus the Baltimore Ravens by recording 10 catches for 135 yards.
Gage plays a different style than most of the receivers on Tennessee's roster, or even the NFL for that matter. Gage uses his height at 6-4 and weight at 212 pounds to bully cornerbacks. Most receivers prefer a finesse, speed game, but Gage brings different abilities to the table.
Gage's biggest problems include his health and consistency. He has missed at least 15 games due to injuries, and no one still believes Gage can get it done. He figures to be the Titans' number one option heading into 2009 with a lot to prove, but he has the ability to do it.
A free agent Tennessee picked up this offseason is Nate Washington. Formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington thrived with 40 receptions for 631 yards, and three touchdowns despite the circumstances. Such drawbacks were the fact that he was behind tight end Heath Miller, a four-time Pro Bowl selection at wideout in Hines Ward, and Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes. Throw in a quarterback running from his life behind a sub-par offensive line and you've got yourself a situation in which you have to work hard.
Washington was one of the team's deep threats, which is exactly the type of receiver Tennessee lacked. Washington is averaging 16.4 yards per reception for his three-year career, more than any other Tennessee receiver. Washington's biggest problem is size. He is only 6-1 and 185 pounds, and has taken some hard hits during his career. However, Washington can play, and is just beginning to hit his stride.
Another physical receiver on Tennessee's roster is rookie Kenny Britt. Britt was drafted as a junior out of Rutgers who showed tremendous ability in the Big East. In his junior season, he recorded 87 receptions for 1,371 yards and seven touchdowns. He was often regarded as a physical threat with the Scarlet Knights, but has had several criticisms. Some don't like his hands, and say he is too inconsistent. Some don't like his attitude.
However, those close to Britt, such as head coach Greg Schiano and teammate Tiquan Underwood state that the questions about Britt's personality are irrelevant. Schiano calls him one of the hardest workers he's ever coached. Britt, like Gage, has a tough style of receiving. He uses his size (6-3, 218 pounds) and speed (4.4 40 yard-dash times) well together. He is also the only first-round talent (on draft day, that is) on the Titans' roster. He figures to be solidly in the top four receiver rotation.
While Tennessee's wide receivers don't run much deeper, (perhaps you could consider Lavelle Hawkins) the tight end group in Nashville figures to be one of the best in the NFL. Some of the tight ends include Bo Scaife, Alge Crumpler, Craig Stevens, and Jared Cook.
Scaife has always been a solid tight end for Tennessee. Since his entry into the league in 2005, Scaife has not recorded fewer than 29 catches. Last season was his breakout, when he recorded a team-leading 58 receptions for 561 yards and a pair of scores. Scaife is definitely a possesion receiver, as he averages just 9.6 yards per catch. However, Scaife was relied on early by Kerry Collins and Vince Young this season.
Scaife truly is underrated, and is ready for another strong season in 2009. However, the fact that he is only 6-3 and 250 pounds don't compute very well together. Scaife relies on pure strength for yardage and touchdowns. He figures to be the top tight end on the depth chart for next season.
Jared Cook, the rookie from South Carolina, could easily be next on the depth chart. Cook is very agile and a strong receiver. He is 6-5 and 240 pounds, and is ready to catch passes. He can be streaky, but even some of the greatest receivers would be with quarterbacks like Chris Smelley and freshman Stephen Garcia. The wisdom of Collins should allow Cook for more offensive production than what he had with the Gamecocks.
Cook left South Carolina as a junior and recorded 37 receptions for 573 yards and three touchdowns. Cook needs to improve his blocking ability, so he will need to probably put on some muscle and be more versatile. However, don't underestimate Cook. He truly was one of the best in one of the strongest group of tight end draftees in a while.
Crumpler and Stevens will most likely fight for the third spot. Crumpler's experience gives him an edge, but Stevens' youth and great blocking ability are better than that of the aging Crumpler. It seems unlikely that Tennessee will keep all four tight ends, so it is likely that at least one of the two is cut or traded by season's beginning.
Though, with the five man rotation of Gage-Washington-Scaife-Britt-Cook, Tennessee seems much better off than last year's Crumpler-Gage-Jones-Scaife-McCareins. Tennessee has added youth and speed to there other wise group of bruising receivers. Expect the Titans to boost themselves from 28th to the top half of the league. This group of receivers' potential is endless.
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