The Tennessee Titans are a long shot to draft another wide receiver in the 1st round, but there could be troubling thoughts brewing in GM Ruston Webster’s head. As Britt enters his contract year and Washington pouts after being mentioned in trade rumors, the organization is faced with several questions at the receiver position. Kendall Wright certainly proved his value as a rookie, but neither Damian Williams nor Lavelle Hawkins is a starting-caliber option at this time.
Until the situation with Nate Washington is resolved, it’s difficult to fully assess the draft strategy. The recent signing of WR Kevin Walter may help to clarify the situation, providing a slot receiver with experience in the event Washington is released or traded. Regardless, they will be looking to add a promising rookie to the receiving core, providing depth and insurance. The 2013 draft class has several intriguing prospects at receiver, and the Titans will consider adding one of the following talented players:
1. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
If I told you that a wide receiver, having only played one season at the FBS level, is being considered as a top-10 pick, would you call me crazy? In his one season at the University of Tennessee, Patterson scored ten touchdowns in four different ways: receiving, rushing, and both kick and punt returns. He averaged 16.9 yards per catch and 12.3 yards per rush, creating big gains from nothing. He has all the athletic talent to go with incredible field vision, effortlessly cutting and weaving through defenders. For proof please view: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odURBHfLj0A
Patterson’s lofty draft status reflects his immense potential more than his limited production, and he is still an unpolished receiver in many respects. He often uses his body when catching, but that being said, he is truly a special talent. He has great instincts with the ball in his hands, gliding between tacklers with incredible ease for a man his size (6’2”, 216 lbs). Patterson can easily separate in man coverage, as well as find the soft spots in zone coverage. He is also very physical, never shying away from contact when fighting for extra yards.
Patterson has been linked with Buffalo (8th) in several mock drafts, and I’m sure the Bills would like to add a player like him opposite of Stevie Johnson. The Jets (9th) could also be possible suitors, realizing that Sanchez’s weapons are almost as terrible as him. However, it’s likely that Patterson will still be on the board when the Titans pick at 10th. That could possibly persuade another team to trade up and snag him before the run on wide receivers. In this scenario, the Titans could move back a few spots, acquire at least another pick, and still draft a player that they would have taken at 10th anyways.
2. Keenan Allen, WR, Cal
Keenan Allen is roughly the same size (6’2”, 206) as Patterson, but he has a much different game. Allen performed admirably for three seasons at Cal, amassing 17 TDs and more than 200 receptions. He is a polished route runner at all levels, and his long stride allows him to separate from defenders despite his lack of elite speed. He also attacks the ball at its highest point, displaying natural timing and strong hands in contested situations.
Many NFL teams have Allen rated above Patterson for his natural receiving ability. If Patterson is a poor man’s Julio Jones, then Allen is a poor man’s A.J. Green (no disrespect to either Patterson or Allen). He will likely be drafted somewhere in the middle of the 1st round, possibly to St. Louis at 16th. Unless the Titans trade back, I do not see a scenario where Allen becomes a Titan.
3. Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Wow! That’s the response you’ll have after watching just a sliver of Tavon Austin’s highlights at West Virginia: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uon7_yw-fKU. His small stature (5’8”, 174 lbs) seems comparable to DeSean Jackson, but he plays more aggressively, similar to Percy Harvin. Austin proved his elite speed at the NFL combine, blazing a ridiculous 4.34. More importantly, he displayed his soft hands and savvy route running in the position drills.
Austin will undoubtedly be a 1st round pick, especially considering the value that teams are placing on versatile playmakers. Austin can and has scored from anywhere on the field, and his speed and vision will surprise defenders even at the NFL-level. The Dolphins could draft him as high as 12th overall, although it’s less likely seeing that they acquired Mike Wallace through free agency. The Titans already have a shifty receiver in Kendall Wright, but they could possibly be looking to replace Washington in the slot. However, this seems highly unlikely, and I imagine the Titans instead drafting a bigger receiver as an insurance policy for Britt.
4. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
The previous three receivers have all received a lot of attention heading into the 2013 draft, but Clemson standout DeAndre Hopkins has largely flown under the radar. That’s especially surprising considering his 2012 statistics: 82 receptions for 1405 yards and 18 TDs. Hopkins (6’1”, 214 lbs) has the size and length to be an outside receiver, and has adequate speed to create separation on deep routes. He is a solid route-runner with strong hands, favorably comparative to Roddy White.
If Hopkins was 2” taller, he would be considered a definitive 1st round pick. Teams can obsess over measurables, sometimes losing sight of a player’s true potential. Back in the 2005 Draft, there were four receivers taken before Roddy White: Braylon Edwards (3rd), Troy Williamson (7th), Mike Williams (10th), and Mark Clayton (22nd). Scouts saw White as a slightly undersized receiver from a small school (UAB), but he has exceeded all expectations in his illustrious Falcons career. Hopkins could be drafted late in the 1st round by a team like the Texans, and I think the Titans would consider him early in the 2nd round if possible.
5. Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
Although Cordarrelle Patterson received most of the recognition last season at Tennessee, Justin Hunter was actually QB Tyler Bray’s preferred option. Hunter (6’4”, 196 lbs) has the ideal frame for an NFL wideout, with long arms and big hands. He also possesses excellent striding speed and explosive leaping ability, recording a 40” vertical and 136” broad jump at the combine. His size, speed, and athleticism will intrigue many NFL teams on draft day.
Hunter missed most of 2011 with a torn ACL, so he still has limited production at the collegiate level. He’s certainly not a polished route runner yet, but he has soft hands and immense potential. The Titans are concerned about Kenny Britt’s health and troubles, and rightfully so. Hunter could provide a similar big-bodied receiver in case things don’t work out with Britt after 2013. Unfortunately, many teams will be considering him as early as the 1st round, so he may not be available when the Titans pick in the 2nd.
Honorable Mention: Robert Woods, WR, USC
Robert Woods put up gaudy statistics for three seasons at USC, catching 32 TDs for nearly 3,000 yards. He was clearly QB Matt Barkley’s first option due to his savvy route-running and trusty hands. While Woods excels in short to intermediate patterns, he also has the speed to get behind defenders. Scouts love his production at USC, but they question his size and overall athleticism. His stature (6’0”, 201 lbs) and polished game make him comparable to Reggie Wayne, who was drafted late in the 1st round in 2001.
Woods could potentially fall into the 3rd round, unless there’s a big run on wide receivers in the 2nd. Other prospects with more “upside” will entice teams hoping to hit the jackpot. If Woods continues to fall into the 3rd round, the Titans would be wise to consider him. He may not be the most exciting prospect, but his polished game will translate to success in the NFL.
Conclusion: Heading into the 2013 offseason, the Titans have been adamant about adding weapons around young QB Jake Locker. They have vastly improved the offensive line with Levitre, and will continue to do so in the draft. With help also needed on the defense, the front office may not value receiver as an immediate need.
But questions surrounding Washington and Britt continue to persist. Is Washington going to be traded, or if need be, released? Also, will the Titans be willing to sign Britt to a long-term deal? His track record doesn’t inspire confidence, and the organization has been timid in resigning troubled players in the past. More than likely, the Titans will be aiming to add depth to the position in the middle rounds. However, if there’s a player they really love in the 2nd, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them pull the trigger.
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