NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Through six offensive coordinators/play-callers, six position coaches, four head coaches and three general managers, the Tennessee Titans have struggled to find and develop wide receivers.
Kendall Wright was a promising first-round pick in 2012, and he still could be a big player for the Titans. But he’s gone backwards since a promising second year.
They've spent high picks (nine in the third round or higher) and spent multiple picks in a draft (three in 2007 and 2005), and they've consistently failed to see guys pan out.
Plenty of teams have similar issues at a position. How does a team get in a long-term rut at one spot? More importantly, how does it get out?
The Rams struggle at wide receiver. The Jets have a hard time at tight end. The Cowboys find it difficult to find safeties. The Dolphins can’t cure their offensive line. The Saints don’t match up at weakside linebacker. And the Browns (24 starters since 1999) and Bills (recently deemed “quarterback purgatory” by their general manager) have long-term issues at the most important position.
In the late stages of Bill Polian’s time in Indianapolis and with Ryan Grigson as GM, the Colts have been unable to find sufficient answers on the offensive line.
“The only way out of it is to change,”Grigson said at the Senior Bowl, speaking broadly about a team with a long-term problem at one position. “You have to embrace it. Take risks. Shake things up. Think outside the box. You have to be aware of the old line about the definition of insanity being ‘doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result.’”
Grigson's new counterpart in Tennessee, Jon Robinson, said he's not certain how to alter course in such a situation.
“I don’t know that I have a really good answer for that, how to get out of that funk if you will, at specific positions,” Robinson said.
He does however, know precisely what he wants in a receiver: Dependability heads the list, and he can’t have questions about a prospect's ability to catch the ball consistently.
Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell has helped the Jaguars get out of a similar, if shorter, drought at receiver. He said teams with such an issue sometimes can compound it by forcing moves in an attempt to address the glaring hole.
Receiver is simply a black hole of a position for the Titans. Their poor drafting was supplemented some by six solid years by free agent Nate Washington but not without a corresponding free-agent disappointment in David Givens, who suffered a bad injury early on.
Derrick Mason, drafted in 1997 by the Tennessee Oilers, needed a few years to get going but became a significant, reliable player. From 2001-04 he put up 1,000-yard seasons before he was a salary-cap casualty.
Drew Bennett, undrafted out of UCLA in 2004, had a 1,247-yard season in 2004 and over six years he averaged 14.3 yards a catch and scored 25 touchdowns.
In all, since they played in Super Bowl XXXIV in January of 2000, the Titans have drafted 21 wide receivers, nine in the third round or higher. Of the 21, none were signed to a second contract when their first expired. Some didn't even make it that far.
Since they played in Super Bowl XXXIV in January of 2000, the Titans have drafted 21 receivers. Of those, four -- Wright, Justin Hunter, Dorial Green-Beckham and Tre McBride are currently on the roster. Of the other 17, only one got second contract when his rookie deal expired. And that contract for Lavelle Hawkins was baffling, as he produced only one additional year in Tennessee.
The Jaguars' poor stretch at receiver started after Jimmy Smith retired in 2007. They broke out of it with home-run picks -- Allen Robinson (1,400 yards, 14 TDs in 2015) and Allen Hurns (1,031 and 10) -- in 2014.
“It is strange when you hit that kind of rut,” Caldwell said. “A lot of people in the media felt like there was a curse or something like that. I just think you have to have good fortune, you have to have good people to evaluate, and our coaches have done a great job developing guys too.”
“You have to give a lot of credit to the players,” he said, listing four others who rank behind Robinson and Hurns on the depth chart as well. “Those guys are top-tier workers, and it means a lot to them. If you select the right kind of person, you’ve got a chance. Then you just hope for the best of luck after that.”