In the previous two drafts, Titans’ general manager Jon Robinson selected a wide receiver in the middle rounds. These two young wideouts will battle this year in the slot. Tajae Sharpe, a fifth round pick in 2016 out of Massachusetts, missed all of last year with a foot injury. This allowed rookie Taywan Taylor out of Western Kentucky to step up in his absence. However, with both young options healthy, a battle to be the number three option for Marcus Mariota is brewing.
As a fifth round pick from a small school, Sharpe was not expected to contribute early. However, he entered a time lacking options in the passing game for their young franchise quarterback. Sharpe caught 41 passes for 522 yards and two touchdowns in his rookie year. Only Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker amassed more yardage during the 2016 season. He also quickly became a fan favorite after he scored a touchdown in Indianapolis and treated himself to a “nap” in the end zone. His sleeping celebration was seen as a metaphor for the team in that everyone was sleeping on them, but they were coming anyway.
Before the 2017 season, Sharpe ran into trouble. He was accused of assault on the night of the draft as someone claims he fell into a fit of rage after the Titans used the fifth overall pick on fellow wide receiver, Corey Davis. It seems like Sharpe and Davis have figured out how to co-exist as the two were seen working out on social media all throughout the offseason. Sharpe’s injury in training camp sidelined him for the entire season. He seems to have made a full recovery and will attempt to step back into a starting role this season.
The main challenger to Sharpe is 2016 third round pick Taywan Taylor. Taylor failed to find the same production as Sharpe did as a rookie, but showed flashes of potential. His lone touchdown of the season was a long 53 yard score to take the lead against the Colts on Monday Night Football. He also beat star Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye deep in Week 2 to set up a score. These short flashes gave Titans fans hope that Taylor could end up being the slot receiver of the future. However, his numbers fell well short of Sharpe’s in their respective rookie years. Taylor only reeled in 16 catches for 231 yards last season. His speed and quickness are superior to Sharpe’s, but at times he looked lost on routes.
Taylor was out of position in multiple games. On a play early in the game on the road against Indianapolis, he ran a very sloppy route that led to an interception. Taylor was used more often early in the season due to an injury to Davis. However, he was demoted to the fourth wide receiver later in the season and became more of a gadget player in Terry Robiskie’s offense. If Taylor is used correctly, his elite speed will help take the Titans’ offense to the next level.
Use in the New Offense
With the Rams last year, Matt LaFleur used Cooper Kupp as his main slot receiver. This bodes well for Sharpe as both have a 6’2″ frame and are solid possession receivers. Sharpe had the advantage of playing more often in his rookie season as the other options as the number two receiver were Harry Douglas, Kendall Wright, and Dorial Green-Beckham as opposed to Corey Davis and Eric Decker. This gave him more targets which Taylor did not receive later in the year when Davis returned from injury. Both will most likely get time on the field as the Rams ran plays out of three wide receiver sets 81% of the time last year. This will force the two to rotate in the slot. After years with sub-par wide receiving corps, Titans fans will be glad that they have two serviceable options to play inside the numbers.