First round WR Corey Davis fits the Tennessee Titans in several ways.
When Mike Mularkey was named the new head coach of the Tennessee Titans in January of 2016, the decision was met with mild outrage by fans and media members alike. Instead of bringing in Josh McDaniels, a modern offensive mastermind who has a previous relationship with Jon Robinson, the Adams family settled on an old-fashioned, technique drill sergeant who had failed miserably in two previous head coaching endeavors with the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars.
As it turned out, the fans were wrong and the football people knew what they were doing (it’s a shocker, I know). In just his first year as head coach, Mularkey transformed the Titans from a group of lollygaggers who couldn’t have cared less whether a game yielded a win or a loss into one of the toughest, most physically imposing teams in the NFL.
However, the Titans’ changes on offense undoubtedly were the most impactful. Taking a unit that struggled in 2015 to rush for more than 70 yards in a game to the success we saw last season took more than just adding better players to the roster, such as Pro Bowl RB DeMarco Murray and All-Pro RT Jack Conklin. It was all about a change in mentality.
The Titans’ regime prior to Mularkey and Robinson was very random with everything they did. It was always difficult to fully grasp what they valued, and that led to poor performances on Sundays. Mularkey and Robinson instantly set out to fix this problem by establishing an identity as a tough, hard-nosed football team. On offense, this mentality manifested itself in a scheme that’s been repeatedly dubbed “exotic smashmouth”.
Mularkey and offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie’s smashmouth offense is built around a simple concept: run the football and confuse the defense. In their first year running the system, there was much more of the former than the latter, leading to some offensive difficulties. One of the reasons for the inefficiency in confusing opposing defenses was a lack of quality play at wide receiver.
Several times in postgame pressers, Mularkey called his receivers sloppy and noted that their lack of precision hindered quarterback Marcus Mariota’s ability to throw with anticipation. Clearly in an effort to aid this problem, the Titans used the fifth overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft to select Western Michigan WR Corey Davis. Davis might not be as fast as Randy Moss, as big as Calvin Johnson, or as quick as Antonio Brown, but he is nonetheless the ideal receiver for the Titans’ offense.
Robinson likes to draft players who had quality production at the college level, and Davis is certainly no exception to this principle. In four years at Western Michigan, Davis amassed a whopping 5,278 receiving yards on 331 catches, all to go along with a stellar total of 52 touchdowns, making him perhaps the most prolific receiver in FBS history.
To learn a little more about Davis, specifically whether or not he’ll be a fit in the Titans’ offense, I spoke with his position coach from Western Michigan, Matt Simon (who has since moved on to the University of Minnesota). Simon spoke of Davis as passionately as you could imagine and has no doubts that Davis will be able to translate his playmaking ability to the next level.
In addition to the aforementioned issues with route precision and attention to detail, Titans wideouts struggled in 2016 to stretch the field, leading to way-too-predictable shallow concepts and aggressive press coverage. At Western Michigan, one of Corey Davis’ specialties was in this area, consistently abusing inferior talent downfield. However, due to an injury, he was unable to run a forty yard dash during the pre-draft process, leaving a big question mark in the speed department. According to Coach Simon, that won’t be an issue at all.
"“He definitely can translate, and he plays fast enough. Watch all the game-tape you want on him; I can’t say that there’s a time where I can remember him being caught from behind. I know he didn’t run a forty, and to be honest I can’t tell you what he would run, but, as I said, he’s never been caught from behind, so he’ll certainly be able to translate his ability to the NFL.”"
Coach Simon also added a note about the forty yard dash in general, and why teams shouldn’t put so much emphasis on the time.
"“Outside of a go-route, very rarely are you going to run forty yards down the field. There’s no question that there’s some translation, but, at the same time, you have to be able to play at that speed. Some guy may be able to run a 4.4 or 4.3, but they aren’t able to play receiver at that speed. I think there’s two completely different mindsets when that happens, and Corey is one of those guys where he might run a 4.5, but he actually plays at a 4.5.”"
As all Titans fans know, building a roster is more to Robinson than just production and talent. He wants a roster of 53 guys who are tough, coachable, and who have team-first attitudes. There was perhaps no prospect selected in the 2017 NFL Draft that manifests these traits more than Davis, making him more than just a fit for the Titans between the white lines, but off the field as well.
In regards to Davis’ character, Coach Simon spoke more highly of him than I have ever heard any coach speak of one of their players.
"“He would be the one making sure that he hung on every word of coaching, he was always the guy in the room that everyone listened to and respected, and he was a guy that never took offense to coaching; he was always hungry to get better and always wanted to be coached and get better. He’s one of those guys that goes about his business, and has since he was a true freshman, in a very professional way. He takes a lot of pride in what he does, and he does it with a lot of passion. He’s a special, special human being.”"
Downfield threat? Check. High character? Check. All that’s left is whether or not Davis will be able to fit the mantra of being a technician at the receiver position and consistently hit the proper depths on his routes. In NFL.com’s scouting report of Davis, an unnamed scout from an AFC North team referred to Davis’ ability to break on routes as making him a “man amongst boys.” Coach Simon would agree.
"“At Western, we said that offense is a game of detail, and that’s exactly what he’s been accustomed to the last four years of his career. Those are the things at which, in his game, he’s incredibly efficient. There’s not a lot of wasted time or wasted movement in his steps, and he’s been trained more or less like an NFL receiver since he walked in the door. With his break points, with his releases, with all the different finer points of his game, I think he does an incredible job, and he’s an incredible technician when it comes to that kind of stuff. He’s very fundamentally based.”"
When asked a few days before the draft what he looks for in receivers, Jon Robinson comically answered that he likes players who can get open, catch, and block. Corey Davis clearly checks all three of those boxes, but his value to the Titans is in more areas than just that. Davis’ character, tendency and will to dominate, and schematic fit (like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle) into the Titans’ offense make him clearly the correct choice with the fifth overall pick.
Kevin Dyson was never even close to being as good as the later-drafted Randy Moss, Kenny Britt struggled with drops and injuries, and Kendall Wright struggled to understand the ins and outs of an NFL offense. Titans fans certainly hope that the newest first round two-tone blue wideout will change the narrative. It surely seems like that will indeed be the case.