AFC South reporter
There’s no question the Tennessee Titans could use free-agent receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
On paper, they have one of the worst wide receiver rooms in the NFL going into 2023, after having one of the worst wide receiver rooms last season. They haven’t made any significant improvements at the position this offseason (Robert Woods was cut as a salary-cap low, while veteran Chris Moore and a seventh-round rookie were added).
And just how bad was the Titans’ fourth wide receiver in 2022? He ranked in the bottom three in the league in receptions (130), receiving yards (1,590), reception rate (56.8%) and yards after reception (501). Titans wide receivers averaged 2.6 yards from the nearest defender upon arrival of a pitch, tied for worst in the NFL, according to Next Gen Stats. They were considered “wide” (the closest defender was more than three yards away when the pass came through) only 32.2% of the time, third-worst in the league, according to NGS. More than a quarter of the passes to them last season (25.4%) were considered “narrow window” throws (where the separation between the target and the nearest defender is less than a yard), next to last in the league, according to NGS.
What the presence of the 31-year-old Hopkins, a three-time All-Pro receiver, could mean for second-year pro Treylon Burks, the Titans’ new No. 1 receiver, should also be tempting for Tennessee. The mentoring and guidance he would provide. The pressure he would take off Burks. How all the offense would reap the rewards.
But while the Titans are in the mix for the services of the 31-year-old Hopkins, they’re one of two teams known to have visited, there’s too much uncertainty with their offense, and the team as a whole, to say he would. be a needle mover for Tennessee against the AFC powerhouses.
It should be noted that a Titans offense that was terrible last season — next to last in red zone attempts (42), fifth-worst in points per game (17.5), 23rd in third-down conversion rate (36.5%) — has experienced what appear to be positive changes. New offensive coordinator Tim Kelly has placed a greater emphasis on speed and rhythm. Game call verbiage has been reduced to one word, allowing players to play faster without thinking too much. The running game could be more exotic, with versatile third-round rookie Tyjae Spears offering a change of pace to Derrick Henry. The offense, Kelly has said, is geared toward being as efficient as possible.
But there are still major questions surrounding the offensive line, which could affect the team’s ability to maximize Hopkins in the passing game.
Tennessee allowed a 39% rush rate last season, the worst in the league, according to Next Gen Stats. Whether the Titans’ youth and improved athleticism early on will improve that result remains to be seen. The offensive line will have three new starters (expected to be first-round rookie Peter Skoronski, Andre Dillard and Daniel Brunskill). Of the two returning, one (Aaron Brewer) is moving from left guard to center and the other (right tack Nicholas Petit-Frere) has been suspended for the first six games of the season for violating the league’s wagering policy. Tennessee’s offensive tackle depth is thin.
D-Hop in demand
The Bills are interested in WR DeAndre Hopkins but are ‘not going to pay,’ according to a report.
The way the Titans are built, they may have to rely heavily on their defense, which doesn’t have the depth it has had in previous seasons. The return of standout outside linebacker Harold Landry III, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, should provide a big boost to the front four, but there’s a sharp drop off in talent and experience outside of the headlines inside. defensive line. The only Tennessee inside linebackers to have started more than 10 career games are Azeez Al-Shaair and Ben Niemann, neither of whom were on the team last year. The team’s top choice at No. 3 safety right now is Elijah Molden, who has played primarily as a nickel player and missed 15 games last season.
With no defensive players drafted this year, the Titans have little room for error on defense. And this is a team that used a league-leading 86 players last season, a year after using 96 players, an NFL record for a strike-free season. Injuries have been a major problem.
Hopkins, as much as he has left in the tank, can’t remove those concerns from a team that seems to need its defense to play at an elite level to have any chance of making noise in the AFC.
However, what could he do? Help close the Titans’ gap to the Jaguars in the AFC South.
It may not be as big as NFL observers think. It took a Tennessee collapse late last season, a relentless streak of injuries — the longest losing streak of the Mike Vrabel era — to set up the AFC South title showdown in Week 18, for Jacksonville will reach the playoffs for the first time. in five years.
With Hopkins coupled with better team health, Tennessee could be equipped to challenge Jacksonville in the AFC South. And winning your division, of course, gets you to the playoffs. And in the playoffs anything can happen.
The Titans just need that opportunity.
In a way, Hopkins represents him.
Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean / USA TODAY Network, where he was the writer for the Titans for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) before moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.
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