The Tennessee Titans have sent mixed messages about how they view their pass catchers, but like Delanie Walker before him, Chig Okonkwo is the wildcard that can make the whole thing work.
It has been hard to forget about Chig Okonkwo this offseason because he and Treylon Burks are essentially the faces of the present and the future for the Tennessee Titans. Sure, Pro Bowlers like Kevin Byard, Harold Landry, and Jeffery Simmons are crucial to the success of this team, but all eyes are on the pass catchers right now.
No matter how suffocating the defense is, when you lose a game 17-13 no one is talking about how well your defense did in a loss. The old adage goes, "You are what your record says you are." and right now the Tennessee Titans are a team that is still riding a seven-game losing streak. To break that streak, they are going to need the defense to continue to perform at a high level and they are going to need to create more explosive plays on offense.
Unless Ran Carthon and Mike Vrabel pull off a miracle, Treylon Burks is going to have to deal with the attention that comes with being a WR1 in the NFL. While I'm confident that he can do that, that also means that Chig Okonkwo is going to be in the perfect position to get a lot of targets in the passing game.
I'm not the first to make the comparison, but when it comes to the architecture of this team and the distribution of touches, I can't stop thinking about the parallels between this team and the 2016 Tennessee Titans team.
It is 2016 all over again for the Tennessee Titans
That team had a new GM that built an offense around a veteran running back that still had a year or two left in his prime. He prioritized building the offensive line with the free agent addition of Ben Jones at center and the first-round draft pick used on Jack Conklin.
They poured resources into building the running game and protecting the quarterback, which meant pushing back the addition of a wide receiver to the next draft. That meant that Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker would have to pick up the slack as the only real passing threats on offense.
When Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker were the driving force in the passing game, they split the market share of the targets nearly 50-50. The two combined for 45% of the targets on offense, which I think is very close to how heavily the Tennessee Titans will lean on the duo of Treylon Burks and Chig Okonkwo this season.
Last season with inconsistent quarterback play and one of the worst OCs in the NFL, Burks still managed to average 13.5 yards per reception while Okonkwo averaged 14.1 yards per reception. Even if you assume that those numbers will drop a little bit with the added attention and volume, they still stack up very well with the 14.5 from Matthews and the 12.3 from Walker.
The blueprint is there for the team to turn it around and have a winning season again, but the Tennessee Titans need to feature these two heavily and hope that Mike Vrabel can coach and adapt better than Mike Mularkey did seven years ago. If he can, then maybe this Tennessee Titans team can surprise just like that team did.