WR Corey Davis has been out for several weeks with a hamstring injury. His absence has been felt by the Tennessee Titans.
When the 2016 season came to an end, fans of the Tennessee Titans were left with two major feelings.
The first was one of “what could’ve been.” If the Titans had been able to knock off divisional foe Jacksonville in Week 16, a team that finished with only three wins, they would have won the AFC South and earned a playoff berth. Instead, the Titans were blown out by the Jaguars, forcing them to watch the postseason from home.
The other feeling was one of great hope. Under rookie GM Jon Robinson and first-year HC Mike Mularkey, the Titans won nine games, the franchise’s first winning season since 2011. QB Marcus Mariota proved to have the skills necessary to be a franchise quarterback, and the “exotic smashmouth” running game was the most dominant in the NFL.
After only five games in 2017, those feelings of hope have begun to dwindle. Tennessee started the season 2-1 after back-to-back dominating victories against the Seattle Seahawks and Jacksonville Jaguars, but have now fallen to 2-3 after two disappointing losses to the Houstin Texans and Miami Dolphins.
Against Houston, the Titans were putrid in every phase. It could be argued that the 57-14 final score was not indicative of how one-sided the game was.
Against Miami, with Matt Cassel replacing an injured Mariota at QB, the Titans had a historically bad offensive showing. Brett Kern punted the ball ten times, and the offense converted only two of 13 third downs.
As is common in sports, the two embarrassing losses prompted many fans to point fingers. In fact, if it were up to some fans, the entirety of the Titans’ coaching staff would have been fired by now.
Terry Robiskie’s play-calling has been bizarre at times, and Dick LeBeau’s once magical 3-4 scheme seems to now be easily beatable. However, the biggest issue for the Titans is not what’s being said over the headsets during games.
Their most plaguing issue, rather, is the team’s inability to get off to fast starts. Even in the Titans’ two wins, the offense didn’t have much success until the second half. This is not a new issue for the Titans, as it plagued them for most of last season.
In an effort to get off to faster starts, the Titans spent most of their offseason looking for speed and help on the perimeter. This approach led to the signings of CB Logan Ryan and WR Eric Decker, and the drafting of speedy CB Adoree’ Jackson, WR Taywan Taylor, and TE Jonnu Smith.
All five of those players have made positive impacts. Ryan has very solidly manned the slot corner position, Decker has shown that he’s still a quality chain-mover, Jackson has already established himself as one of the league’s best punt returners, Taylor has proved to be an effective player in space when used creatively, and Smith has been highly utilized as the Titans’ #2 tight end.
But the crown jewel of the Titans’ offseason acquisitions, WR Corey Davis, has hardly made any impact. He’s played just a game and a half due to a hamstring injury. He likely will not play until after the team’s BYE in Week 8, which would put him at a grand total of five missed games.
The fifth overall pick in the NFL Draft, where the Titans selected Davis, is premium capital. The previous four players selected in that spot were shutdown CB Jalen Ramsey, Pro Bowl guard Brandon Scherff, All-Pro linebacker Khalil Mack, and Pro Bowl pass rusher Ezekiel Ansah.
By selecting Davis at that spot, the Titans showed how they feel about his potential to be a true #1 receiver in the NFL. College football’s all-time leading receiver certainly has the physical tools to succeed, as his size and speed resemble that of Dallas Cowboys star Dez Bryant.
You cannot expect any rookie receiver to be one of the best in the league (unless you’re a freak like A.J. Green or Odell Beckham Jr.), but that isn’t what the Titans need from Davis. Merely his presence would greatly aid the Titans’ offense and help them get off to faster starts, even if he isn’t catching ten passes per game.
On his weekly show with Titans Radio, Mike Mularkey spoke to this very point. Mularkey was asked if a healthy Corey Davis could provide the offense with a spark upon his return. He said it “absolutely” could.
“I think there’s a lot of good things he can do. We’re struggling on third down right now, I think he’d be a big factor on third down.”
The presence of Davis could also serve as an immediate boost to other Titans targets. Some, like WR Rishard Matthews and TE Delanie Walker have struggled with consistency. As Mularkey said:
“As far as a redzone body, he can get down in there with that big body and really strong hands to complement Decker and Rishard. He definitely will help us. We’ve missed him– there’s no question about that.”
The biggest criticism of the Titans’ offense in 2016 was their lack of big-play ability. Without Davis, the guy who was brought in to fix that problem, the issue has arguably gotten worse. It’s made the unit even more predictable and pretty easy to defend. His presence could cure those problems, and give Mariota something he has never had: a consistent deep threat.
Davis could end up becoming an All-Pro, and that would certainly be the kind of production a team expects from a top-five draft pick. However, he does not need to be that this year to help the Titans. His size, speed, soft hands, and route-running ability could instantly transform the Titans when he returns.
Priority number one should be to get Davis fully healthy, because he will never be of any use with a lingering hamstring issue. Once Davis has reached that point, he could and should become a focal point of the offense.