What follows is sprinkled with some speculation and conjecture. Integrity is for suckers.
We’re indulging in such possibly haphazard tomfoolery in this specific instance because after the events during the draft deep in the heart of Tennessee, we could be looking at an entirely reconfigured Titans wide receiver depth chart a year from now.
In reality, that’s intriguing. In fantasy, that’s downright exciting.
For the second straight year, the Titans drafted a wide receiver with a pick in the first two rounds. Last year it was Kendall Wright in the first round, and then this past Friday night Justin Hunter missed being a first rounder by just two picks, with the Titans calling his name at 34th overall in the second round after a trade up with the Chiefs.
Hunter was one of three wide receivers to come off the board in that early round, with Robert Woods going to the Bills seven picks later, while Aaron Dobson landed in New England at 59th overall. Woods may have the best opportunity for immediate production, as he’ll be asked to slide in opposite Stevie Johnson, a situation that should lead to plenty of quality targets early.
But there’s a reason why the Titans were so aggressive while jumping up to grab Hunter. That reason’s name is Kenny Britt.
Short term, Hunter’s presence should result in Nate Washington joining the NFL’s unemployed (albeit briefly), since that’s usually the end game for an under-performing wideout who’s due to be paid $4.2 million in 2013, and he now finds himself on a congested depth chart. But long term — and in the great cycle of NFL life, one year can be “long term” – the youth of Hunter and Wright could effectively lead to Britt’s axing too.
With his current contract set to expire at the end of next season he’s a pending free agent, and he would then be voted off the island if the Titans chose not to retain Britt’s services. The Tennessean’s David Climer sees that as the likely outcome:
Some see the drafting of Hunter as a wakeup call for Britt. I don’t. For one thing, Britt sleeps through wakeup calls. For another, he’s entering the final year of his original contract, and the Titans don’t seem inclined to sign him to a new deal. With so much invested in Hunter, the Titans appear to be preparing for life after Britt.
And so do I.
With Britt, we know what we have. When healthy, he’s both supremely talented, and supremely stupid. He’s been arrested several times, and he’s had multiple knee injuries (two surgeries last year) which led to a 13-game absence in 2011. What’s frustrating, though, is that during Britt’s highly shortened 2011 season, he already logged 271 receiving yards and three touchdowns over just two games.
He struggled heavily with those same knee issues throughout this past season while averaging just 42.1 yards per game. But that burst still surfaced sporadically, though at this point you may have better odds of finding Big Foot and the Lochness Monster playing chess (Britt had 143 yards in Week 14 against the Colts).
That fall combined with both his health and behavioral issues will lead to change at the top. It could be swift or gradual, or anything in between. But it’ll take place over the next year, with Wright and Hunter rising, while Britt fades away and eventually departs.
Those in dynasty and deep keeper leagues should be abundantly aware of Hunter’s potential rise after he had 1,083 receiving yards and nine touchdowns during his final year with the Tennessee Volunteers. The Titans have already said they intend to use Hunter as the “Z” receiver opposite Britt this year, with Wright then moving around, and often being used in the slot. The early role for Hunter then is prominent, and promising. That also gives Jake Locker late-round promise with those three weapons, in addition to continued backfield support from Chris Johnson, who’s now running behind Andy Levitre.
Promise. It’s something that eluded the Titans last year, and now much of that potential — both short term and long term — still rests with Locker’s arm.