The Tennessee Titans have methodically built the wide receiver position into a solid one on their roster, and a stable quarterback situation may be the only thing keeping this unit from breaking out.
There are a few spots up for grabs in training camp, but the top three spots are pretty set in stone. This unit is still very young overall but loaded with a lot of upside.
The losses of Kenny Britt and Damien Williams also have to be accounted for. Britt was a loss that will ultimately benefit the Titans, but the Williams loss stings a bit. He had become a reliable complementary receiver that will have to be replaced.
The Titans will most likely take no more than five wide receivers to the regular season, with Dexter McCluster in the mix as a guy that will bounce between wide receiver and running back. If you count McCluster, then the Titans will seemingly have six wide receivers on the Week 1 roster.
This receiving corps could actually be set for a breakout season. That’s something we haven’t been accustomed to since the Titans came to Tennessee.
If the Titans are going to make the jump into the playoffs, then the wide receiver position will have to show a healthy balance from top to bottom. Here’s my breakdown of the position.
No.5: Marc Mariani
None of the undrafted wide receivers are currently standing out this offseason for the Titans, so it’s safe to pencil in Marc Mariani as a fifth receiver for now.
That’s not to say that his roster position is safe. Simply being a respectable kick returner is not enough to reserve a roster spot.
However, Mariani’s kick-returning abilities make him versatile, but his limited experience as a receiver hurts him. His nasty leg injury was a major setback to his development as a NFL wide receiver.
This training camp is extremely critical for Mariani. He has a lot to prove to a coaching staff that has no ties to him like previous staff. Mariani has to show that he can be the route-runner and reliable slot receiver that he will have to fit in as to make the team.
Mariani’s major competition will be the physically gifted Michael Preston, but I think there is room for both of them to round out the depth behind Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter and Nate Washington.
No. 4: Michael Preston
This is Michael Preston’s year to not only make the final roster in training camp, but also to make an impact on Sundays during the regular season.
Preston has a ton of talent, and we’ve seen small glimpses of that. He’s also always been an impressive practice player.
Now he has to translate that into being basically what Damien Williams was for the Titans in the past few years. He needs to prove that he can be that complementary player that can chip in with big catches when needed.
I expect Preston to get that final wide receiver spot, assuming the Titans keep just five receivers on the 53-man roster. He’ll have to beat out several undrafted free agents and may also have to beat out Marc Mariani.
No. 3: Nate Washington
Nate Washington has been the model of consistency since joining the Titans, and he’ll be leaned on in 2014 to remain that same player.
Washington is probably locked in as the third option at wide receiver.
You can’t forget that Washington nearly had a 1,000-yard season in 2013 along with Kendall Wright. That’s despite not having a stable quarterback situation.
Washington is worth the $4.8 million he’s owed this season thanks to his reliability and veteran leadership. This receiving corp needs at least one veteran leader that can make the clutch receptions in big moments.
Don’t be surprised at all if Washington leads the team in receiving in 2014.
No. 2: Justin Hunter
It was a very promising rookie season for Justin Hunter, as he chipped in 354 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
He will be the main touchdown threat for the Titans this upcoming season. His combination of size and speed makes him a prime candidate to become a big-time NFL receiver
Hunter is seen as being one of the players that can make the leap in 2014; however the main concern about Hunter is his shaky hands.
The types of problems that Hunter saw last season were consistent with many rookie receivers. He made his fair share of mental mistakes, but there is no doubting his physical upside. I think he will be a very solid No. 2 target for Jake Locker or whoever ends up lining up under center for the Titans.
Hunter is probably a season or two away from reaching the 1,000-yard plateau, but I love him as a guy that could snag five or six touchdowns.
No. 1: Kendall Wright
Kendall Wright just keeps getting better, and I expect him to be on the brink of a Pro Bowl year in 2014. He has a couple other AFC receivers that have better quarterback situations than him at the moment, but Wright continues to be a reception machine.
It’s almost hard to believe Wright is only entering his third season.
Wright’s 94 receptions from last season are very impressive. He’ll be in the mix to get around that total again in 2014, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he surpasses 100 receptions. He’s going to have his fingerprints all over the pass offense.
The tuochdown total is what needs to improve for Wright, and that will happen if Locker can show improvement under offensive-minded Ken Whisenhunt.
Wright is going to be targeted early and often. He will be leaned on heavily to pile on the yards after the catch, as this offense still isn’t a very vertical one.
More big plays is something that Wright wants to see more of out of himself.
If Wright improves on his touchdown total, then a Pro Bowl berth is very likely. He’s solidly this team’s No. 1 receiver.