Tennessee Titans need Robert Woods to break the mold as their top receiver

Tennessee Titans Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Tennessee Titans Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /

The Tennessee Titans dropped a bombshell in the 2022 NFL Draft’s first round when they traded A.J. Brown to the Philadelphia Eagles to move up to #18 and select Treylon Burks.

Regardless of how that transaction ultimately works out, Burks joins a WR room that includes Robert Woods, acquired last month in a trade with the Los Angeles Rams.

Woods is a crafty veteran with 570 career receptions for 7,077 yards and 35 TDs. While he’s expected to make a significant impact, it can’t be overlooked that he’s a 10th-year veteran who just turned 30.  Not only is he older, but he is coming off a torn ACL sustained in Week 10 of last season against the San Francisco 49ers.

Since Mike Vrabel isn’t going to expect a rookie to be his WR1, that title now falls to the veteran.

Given this new role for Woods, let’s look back on the Tennessee Titans’ history with veteran wide receivers and see how they fared in Titan Blue. This list will include only those players added during the Titans era.

Tennessee Titans mixed bag at receiver over the years

Yancey Thigpen was a star with the Steelers when the Titans lured him to Nashville in 1998. He was fresh off a 79-catch season that netted 1,398 yards, 7 TDs, and his second Pro Bowl appearance.

During his career in Pittsburgh, he posted 222 receptions for 3,651 yards and 21 scores. Thigpen struggled with injuries during his time in Nashville. He caught just 38 passes for 493 yards and 3 TDs in 9 games in his first campaign. He spent three seasons with the Tennessee Titans and totaled 91 catches for 1,430 yards and 9 TDs.

Carl Pickens was a two-time Pro Bowler and former Offensive Rookie of the Year when the Titans snared him as a free agent from Cincinnati in 2000. His production was in decline when the Titans signed him; he caught only 57 passes for 737 yards and 6 scores the previous season. However, it was thought he would add veteran savvy and add some pop on the field.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. He managed just 10 receptions for the Titans in his lone season in Nashville, totaling 242 yards and no scores, a mere shadow of the dominant force who posted 530 receptions, 6,887 yards, and 63 TDs in Cincy.

The next time the Titans swung for the fences at the position was with David Givens in 2006. A favorite target of Tom Brady’s in New England and winner of 2 Super Bowls during his time with the team, he was signed to bring that championship swagger to the Titans’ roster.

He caught 59 passes for 738 yards the season before with 2 TDs. Givens played just 10 games with the Titans before a knee injury ended his career. His time as a Titan saw him post just 8 catches for 104 yards and no TDs. He later sued the team for $25 million, saying they hid a knee defect from him during his physical. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit.

The Titans signed Eric Moulds the following year. He was known for his dominance as a receiver with the Buffalo Bills. He played in Houston the previous season, where he caught 57 balls for 557 yards and a TD. Moulds spent just one season in Tennessee, totaling 32 passes for 342 yards and no TDs before retiring.

In 2010, future Hall of Famer Randy Moss was added during the season when the Titans claimed him off waivers after his second stint as a Viking. The previous season as a Patriot, he racked up 83 catches for 1,264 yards and a league-leading 13 receiving TDs. Moss played in 8 games for the Titans, starting only 4. Of his 982 career receptions, just 6 came as a Titan, netting just 80 yards and 0 TDs.

The Titans shied away from the big-name veterans for several years but dipped their toe in the water again in 2016 with Andre Johnson. Johnson was a former thorn in the side of Titans fans and a Houston Texans legend. Who can forget him humiliating Cortland Finnegan when the Titans’ corner pushed Johnson a little too far with his incessant jawing? Johnson spent the previous season with the Colts and compiled 41 catches for 503 and 4 TDs in Indy.

Again, the Tennessee Titans got a stud receiver’s last hurrah, with Johnson catching 9 passes for 85 yards. He did flash the form that made him a threat as a goal-line receiver, nabbing 2 TDs in that limited body of work.

Adam Humphries spent four productive years in Tampa Bay as one of the league’s premier slot receivers before the Titans signed him as a free agent in 2019. In his last season as a Buccaneer, Humphries grabbed 76 passes for 816 yards and 5 TDs. Injuries prevented him from breaking out with the Titans, although he was effective when on the field.

The concussion he sustained in a 2020 loss to the Bengals was particularly troubling. Humphries missed 4 games afterward. He tried to return but was placed on injured reserve the following week due to a setback. He never played for the team again. Humphries totaled 60 catches for 602 yards and 4 TDs as a Titan.

Robinson brought in Julio Jones last year via a trade with the Falcons. The Tennessee Titans surrendered a 2nd round draft pick in exchange for his services. Early indications aroused suspicions that Jones was no longer the receiver that terrorized NFL secondaries during the prior decade. He struggled to stay healthy in training camp and never developed chemistry with Ryan Tannehill. The pinball numbers were absent even in his final season in Atlanta. He caught only 51 catches for 771 yards and 3 TDs in his final season as a Falcon. He slipped further with the Titans, catching just 31 balls for 343 yards and a TD in a season that saw him in and out of the lineup due to injuries. He was released in the off-season and remains a free agent.

The Titans seem to have better luck with receivers who weren’t superstars. Nate Washington was Pittsburgh’s third or fourth option but became the Titans’ de facto #1. He enjoyed a decent career in two-tone blue when it was tough to be a Titan, catching 307 passes for 4,591 yards and 28 TDs in Nashville.

Rishard Matthews was Miami’s #3 receiver but carved out an essential role with the Titans for a couple of seasons, totaling 121 receptions for 1,751 yards and 13 TDs. He led the team in receptions and yards in his first season. Signed in 2016, the same year as Andre Johnson, Matthews requested a release from the Titans in 2018 due to reduced playing time. He bounced around with both the Jets and Saints before retiring in 2019.

In his time with both the Broncos and Jets, Eric Decker was known for being one of the better slot receivers in the game. Between 2012 and 2015, he posted 4 consecutive seasons of 70 or more catches with three 1,000 yards seasons and 41 TDs. Peyton Manning pulled the trigger for those big numbers.

The Tennessee Titans hoped he would provide Marcus Mariota a similar, dependable outlet underneath. Decker did just that for the most part, catching 54 passes for 563 yards and a TD. He grabbed the winning TD pass in the playoff upset of Kansas City. Decker also played only one year for the Titans.

What does all this mean for Bobby Trees? It’s hard to say. The Titans’ track record with mercenary wide receivers is poor, but most of those who have failed were on the backside of 30 and coming off injuries.

Uh oh.

The Tennessee Titans now find themselves in the unenviable position of a passing game in flux. Woods was to provide Tannehill a legitimate #2 option behind A.J. Brown.

The thinking was that he wouldn’t have to be “the guy”, particularly if the Titans added a young wideout that would give them three legitimate targets. It’s hard to say what the team’s strategy is now, beyond not paying Brown.

Do they rely on the aging Woods as their #1 with him coming off an injury, or does that role fall to the rookie? At best, they’re right back where they were before the draft, and that is if Burks can step in and be A.J. Brown. Otherwise, they’ve taken a step back at the receiver position.