With the Tennessee Titans needing pass-catching help, an unlikely player has stepped up to help out Marcus Mariota and the offense.
A prominent theme throughout this season for the Tennessee Titans has been the team’s lack of pass-catching weapons. Early in the season, the team’s two leading receivers over the last few years — TE Delanie Walker and WR Rishard Matthews — were lost to injury and disgruntlement. That left QB Marcus Mariota and the offense with a core of young pass-catchers who didn’t have enough experience and needed to learn on the fly.
Though Corey Davis has quickly turned into one of the better receivers in the league, the rest of the Titans’ receivers have had their ups and downs. Both Tajae Sharpe and Taywan Taylor have dealt with nagging injuries, and the latter has committed his fair share of mistakes throughout the year. Darius Jennings and Cameron Batson are smaller-framed gadget guys who can’t consistently make an impact through the air outside of specific routes and play calls.
At tight end, Jonnu Smith overcame a rough start to the season and has improved nearly every week, particularly since the bye week. Luke Stocker is best known for a botched fourth down handoff. MyCole Pruitt is a project.
With the majority of the Titans’ pass-catchers failing to make an impact, the team has turned to an unlikely source for receiving production over the last two weeks and it has paid off. The protagonist? TE Anthony Firkser.
Firkser was undrafted in 2017 out of Harvard University, where he played for three years and accumulated 99 catches, 1559 yards and 14 touchdowns. At his Pro Day, Firkser ran a 4.79 40-yard dash. Thought not athletic at all by NFL standards, Firkser was a huge part of his college offense and broke out at a young age — two predictors that translate to success at the next level.
After a short period with the New York jets and Kansas City Chiefs last year, Firkser signed with the Titans in May of this year. Firkser caught 10 passes for 108 yards during the preseason and impressed the coaching staff so much that they decided to keep him on the 53-man roster after cuts. Though he was waived and re-signed to the practice squad early in the season, Firkser has been on the active roster since Week 6.
Firkser caught two passes for 25 yards in a Week 6 loss against the Baltimore Ravens, but wasn’t truly heard from again until Week 11 against the Indianapolis Colts, when he caught three passes for 44 yards and was Tennessee’s leading receiver. The following week, the Titans attacked the Houston Texans’ weak tight end defense with both Smith and Firkser. Smith caught a 61-yard touchdown, while Firkser racked up 52 yards on four receptions.
During this past week’s comeback win over the New York Jets, Firkser was once again featured a good amount. On Tennessee’s first touchdown drive, Firkser caught a five-yard pass on a first down near midfield and followed it up by capping the drive with a 12-yard touchdown catch, where he found a pocket of space and barreled into the end zone to give the Titans some life and cut a 16-point lead to 10. Later in the game, with the Titans trailing by three points and the clock winding down, Mariota hit Firkser in stride for a 25-yard gain down the middle. Firkser dusted the defensive back that was matched up on him, and the Titans went on to win the game.
In addition to good route running and soft hands, Firkser has a very good catch radius, which was fully on display in the Los Angeles Chargers game and in the preseason. When Walker went down, Smith was expected to take over his role. He has done that and he looks like a very solid tight end (no one can be Walker); in turn, Firkser has taken over Smith’s old role and performed admirably when called upon. With snap counts of 22.2%/23.6%/26.5% over the last three weeks and the Titans’ still clamoring for pass-catching weapons, Firkser is here to stay. And his role is sure to keep growing.