After rookie minicamp, there should be some quiet optimism about the Tennessee Titans’ pass-catching options coming into the 2022 season.
While they don’t have A.J. Brown, they do seem to have a much deeper group than they did before. Comparing the depth charts side by side, look at the top-6 pass-catching options that the Tennessee Titans had going into 2021 and compare them to the 2022 group.
WR1: A.J. Brown
WR2: Julio Jones
WR3: Josh Reynolds
TE1: Anthony Firkser
WR4: Nick Westbrook-Ikhine
TE2: Geoff Swaim
WR1: Robert Woods
WR2: Treylon Burks
TE1: Austin Hooper
WR3: Kyle Philips
WR4: Nick Westbook-Ikhine
TE2: Chig Okonkwo
You can make an argument that it is an upgrade from the second position all the way down if you factor in the injuries from last season. That is an argument for later because I want to put the focus on the players that come after the top-two receivers.
Specifically Austin Hooper and why he is such a huge signing for Tennessee.
Why Austin Hooper could be huge for the Tennessee Titans.
I’m not going to go too deep down this rabbit hole, but trust me when I say that Austin Hooper is one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL. He can block as an inline tight end on the play side or on the backside, he can block from the slot, he can double-team up to the second level, and he can do it all.
The only reason I even bring it up is to point out that the last time the Titans had someone who could do all of those things was Jonnu Smith in 2020. Had he not gotten injured (and played through it), he would have had a much higher snap count and made an even bigger impact.
If everyone stays healthy, it wouldn’t surprise me if Hooper ended up playing more snaps in 2022 than any other skill position player. Given his skill set and how often the Titans love to give their receivers rest, he seems like someone who will never leave the field.
The question is whether or not the Titans will look at him as a receiving option frequently enough. In his Pro Bowl years with the Atlanta Falcons, Hooper spent about 45% of his snaps in the slot or out wide and the rest of his snaps inline as a blocker.
When he got to Cleveland, the Browns clearly didn’t know how to use him correctly and forced him to stay inline more (about 75% of his snaps came inline). He still put up decent numbers, but nothing like he was doing in Atlanta.
If the Titans can try to split his snaps evenly between the slot and inline, he could 50 yards-per-game type of player that helped bring the Falcons’ offense to the next level and he could rack up a monster season in Tennessee.
Even if the Tennessee Titans want to use him more as a blocker first that acts as a safety blanket, he is still a guy who catches nearly 75% of his targets, averages 7.4 yards per target, and who has converted more than half of his receptions into first downs over the course of his career.
Last year the Titans would have killed for someone with that level of consistency who didn’t have to constantly come off of the field. This year they have it and they have an exciting mix of young prospects and veteran leadership, and the odds are that they will make another addition before the season starts.
It is alright to be sad about A.J. Brown leaving but optimistic about the skill position in general. In fact, I think that is exactly how Tennessee Titans fans should feel at this point.