Is it time for change at WR?

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In recent weeks, the Tennessee Titans have had to rely on the throwing arm of Kerry Collins to win ballgames. Constantly faced with 8 and sometimes 9 men in the box, the Titans have been forced to abandon their bread & butter, smash-mouth running game in favor of a more wide-open aerial attack.

Throwing the football on a more consistent basis has led to the emergence of the enigmatic Brandon Jones and rookie Lavelle Hawkins as viable weapons in the passing game. Meanwhile, the starting WRs a.k.a the Justin-duo, have struggled with inconsistency as of late.

Stealing a phrase from a recently successful political campaign slogan: Is it time for change at the wide receiver position?

Entering the season, I understood the rationale behind starting the Justin boys at WR.

Gage, who was signed off of the scrap heap as an unheralded free agent in 2007, emerged as a viable contributor in the passing game last year and as a token of appreciation, the Titans rewarded “12 Gage” with an offseason contract extension.

After the Jets said good riddance to him, the Titans decided to take a chance on McCareins, hoping that he would once again flourish under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger. Prior to the start of the season, It was “so far, so good” for McCareins as he took advantage of Roydell Williams’ bad ankle to emerge as one of the team’s starting wide outs.

Unfortunately, 2008 has been rough for Gage and McCareins. Injuries and dropped passes have been the downfall for Gage thus far, as evidenced by his paltry 17 receptions through 8 games. Mac has only accounted for 13 grabs in 8 games, while also suffering from the same inconsistency that has plagued the other Justin.

Meanwhile, Brandon Jones is finally beginning to turn potential into production. After being on the shelf due to a preseason ankle injury, “The Hawk” has begun to soar in recent weeks by making some plays in limited opportunities.

FFtoday, a popular destination for fantasy football aficionados, utilizes targets to determine how often receivers catch or miss passes that are thrown in their direction. 

Let’s compare the season totals for Gage, McCareins, Jones and Hawkins:

Gage- 41 targets, 17 catches= 41% 

Mac-   42 targets, 14 catches= 33%

BJ-     38 targets,  27 catches= 71%

Hawk-  9 targets,    6  catches= 66.7%  

 

Over the last 3 weeks:

Gage- 18 targets,  5 catches= 28%

Mac-   11 targets,  5 catches= 45%

BJ-      19 targets,16 catches= 84%

Hawk-   5 targets,  4 catches= 80%  

 

Of course, targets shouldn’t be regarded as the be-all and end-all of WR statistical measures.

However, it does serve as a means of validating what we’ve seen with our own eyes: Jones and Hawk have been effective at maximizing their opportunities, while the opposite can be said about Gage and McCareins.

The Titans are predominantly a run-oriented team, so maybe the Justins have held their own as run-blockers. However, in terms of catching the football, Jones and Hawkins have been much more successful.

Regardless of whether or not change actually takes place in the starting lineup, here’s hoping that Brandon and Lavelle continue to see their share of looks in the passing game.

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8 Responses to “Is it time for change at WR?”

  1. Tanner Says:

    It’s about time Jones started to produce. Hopefully, he finally develops into the kind of WR we were always told he was gonna be.
    Hawkins is a rookie WR so anything we get outta him is a bonus. It seems that almost all rookie WRs don’t do much their first year or so. I would love to see a Titan WR develop sooner rather than later.
    It’s nice to see the WRs getting used more. I realize that Tennessee is (for the most part) a running team. But obviously you have to pass now & then and for a while now teams have concentrated on covering the TEs and RBs on passing downs. They know that those are the guys the Titan QBs are going to look to throw to first. The WR position had to finally step up.
    Anyways, it is nice to see some of the young WRs finally show something. Let’s hope there’s more of this to come…

  2. bobcomu Says:

    To answer your question, yes. If Jones can stay healthy, and that may be a big if, he will be by far their best wideout down the stretch. And with defenses stacking the box like they have been lately his emergence couldn’t come at a better time.

  3. Kevin G Says:

    I have a few thoughts.
    I do not think that heimerdinger trusts hawkins enough to elevate him above a third reciever, which would typicaly be the slot, but the problem with a slot reciever is that they have to make lots of catches over the middle, and lavelle is undersised to be making catches over the middle all game (lavelle is listed at 5-11, 190, and I do not know how many shots he can take from a linebacker).
    I have already said that BJ should replace j mac as the #2, but I do not think Gage moves this season, he has been down as of late, but he was money in the beginning of the season, j mac has been off all season, and has yet to justify his starting position.

  4. questionmark Says:

    It is absolutely time for a change at WR. There is no reason to activate McCareins any more. I agree that Hawkins will not likely start this year, but I would like to see Jones and Gage start, with Hawkins and Davis getting some playing time. If Gage continues to drop passes left and right, Davis should start with Jones.

  5. Billy Joe Says:

    It was great to see us get the passing game going after the running attack was shut down. The Bears secondary is a little weak though, so we are going to have to have someone step up as a consistent, big threat receiver. I’m feeling pretty good about Brandon Jones and Hawk. Also, I think we should look at utilizing CJ more creatively in the passing game as well. That will draw D’s up and open it up a little downfield for our receivers to make plays, thus freeing up the running game once again. Balance is critical if we’re going to make a run at the show.

  6. Drexel Perry Says:

    As always, thanks for your input guys.
    Billy Joe,
    Balance is definitely going to be crucial in the weeks ahead. Against a potential playoff foe such as the Steelers, who are great against the run, it’s gonna be crucial for the Titans to make plays in the passing game.
    Kevin G,
    In terms of Lavelle, he should be used more as a deep threat. We saw his ability to get downfield during the preseason with his long TD reception against the Raiders.
    I’d love to see the Hawk get a deep throw or two in his direction in the coming weeks.

  7. Alvin Mullins Says:

    There won’t be a change until Jones and Hawkins block down field like the Justins. This is a running team 1st and 2nd if not third. You also have to remember because the Titans run so many 2 TE sets there is one less WR on the field much of the time.

  8. questionmark Says:

    If the Titans had reached an injury settlement with Roydell rather than cutting him outright, they might be in position to bring him back in place of McCareins. Leave it to the Titans to end things on a sour note.

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