Let's start off with the 2011 target data:
|All Tight Ends||100||17.3%|
How might that change in 2012?
The first thing that jumps out is that, unlike the 2010 to 2011 transition, at least as of right now, nobody who caught a bunch of passes won't be back. Before 2011, by contrast, the Titans knew they were going to be without Bo Scaife (4th on the team in targets) and eventually cut Justin Gage (6th). The only players in the above table not under contract to the Titans for 2012 are Ahmard Hall (grouped with Quinn Johnson under "Fullbacks") and Donnie Avery.
Beyond Kendall Wright, we also have to make room in our projected 2012 targets a role for Kenny Britt. As Britt is still recovering from the knee injury that limited him to only two and a half games last season, it's difficult to predict how much he'll be thrown the ball in 2012. One thing we can say with a fairly high degree of certainty, though, is that "if healthy, he'll be thrown the ball a lot." I gave season-long percentages in the table above, and those present a misleading picture. In the two full games he played, he was the target of 31% of Matt Hasselbeck's throws.
That kind of usage pattern wasn't that much out of line with what he'd done in the past. He played 12 games in 2011, starting 7 of them, missing almost all of the Chargers game and playing sparingly after his return from injury. Because I'd have to do a more fine-grained analysis than I'm interested in, I didn't perfectly adjust for all of Britt's missed time in 2010. Over the course of the season, he was the target of 15.6% of Titans targets; taking into account the time he missed, he might've been targeted to 25% or more of all targets. To that end, I'm going to do a tentative hedge and put him at perhaps 23% of targets. Based on the same number of passes, that would put him at 135 targets over the course of the season. That's only a little more often than Washington was targeted last year, and less than a clear #1 like Roddy White has been targeted in the past five seasons (180 each of the past two seasons). Now where do the ripple effects of Britt's targets fall?
One place I don't think it'll fall is the tight end position. Even if Daniel Graham doesn't make the roster, five targets isn't going to make a difference. With Jared Cook having another year of experience in Chris Palmer's system, he might be poised to make a bigger contribution, relatively speaking. More likely, he'll get thrown the ball about the same amount. My tentative assumption is that the distribution of tight end passes might change a little bit, but the overall percentage of tight end targets is likely to stay fairly close to what it was.
The running back position might seem like a fertile ground for additional receiver targets. After all, 135 is a fair number of total running back targets. Then again, it's not that exceptional a number. The Chargers, for example, had roughly 160 running back targets on the same total number of attempts. Teams like the Ravens and Saints (obviously) were also well up there. As long as CJ is explosive, he'll be an attractive target on screens and other passes, especially if he becomes a better pass-protector and learns how to run a route. Javon Ringer was targeted for few designed passes and mostly a recipient of dumpoffs. Some of those passes might go to CJ, but if he retains his role, I expect him to have roughly the same number of targets. My tentative assumption here is similar to my assumption about tight ends, that the distribution of targets among the backs may change, but that the overall percentage of running back targets is likely to stay fairly close to what it is. There may be 10-20 fewer targets here than I am projecting, but not enough to seriously swing any projections.
Kendall Wright will get thrown the ball some. He's not going to come in and be a #1 like A.J. Green was for the Bengals. The other first-round receivers last year were Julio Jones (95 targets) and Jonathan Baldwin (52 targets). I more or less split the difference and semi-arbitrarily gave him 70 targets. That +/- 20 seems like a good number for me, and would be about as many as Lavelle Hawkins last year, maybe minus a little bit. That doesn't seem grossly unreasonable.
Between Britt and Wright, that's 180 extra targets the Titans didn't throw to them last year, and those are coming from the Titans' other receivers. Let's take them in turn.
Marc Mariani: With Hawkins re-signed and Wright in the fold, it's tough for me to see him being more than the Titans' fifth receiver at best. With Britt in the lineup, he'll take over the role of designated wide receiver in 22 personnel, so Mariani's target total will likely be decreasing or staying the same, not increasing. (I'll have a broader look at the 53-man roster in the future.)
Lavelle Hawkins: Signed a three-year deal this offseason. It's not so unreasonable that the Titans couldn't get out of immediately, but the fact they gave him the deal indicated they valued his services. Roughly $2.4 million per year is not starter money, but it does indicate he's a valued reserve who might see regular action. I don't expect him to get the 77 targets he got last year, but he'll get thrown the ball.
Damian Williams: As the table shows, was second on the team in targets last season. Still, if we give Lavelle Hawkins a nominal fourth receiver-type role (50 targets?), we only have 85 targets unallocated for with Nate Washington also left on the discussion table...
Nate Washington: You might think his 21% target rate reflects the benefit from an increased workload after Kenny Britt went out. You'd be wrong, as he was actually targeted for 24% of passes in the first two games. Yes, small sample size, but it was it is. If the Titans really believed in Damian Williams, I think my immediate post-draft reaction of "Nate's a goner" would be accurate. I don't think the Titans should believe in Williams and I think they like Nate enough he sticks around. I think he gets the overwhelming majority of those 85 targets remaining, especially with Britt, Wright, Hawkins, and Mariani all likely active on gameday.
Given the above, here's what a distribution of Titans targets in 2012 might look like:
|All Tight Ends||100||17.2%|
Regardless of the actual distribution, it's very hard for me to see a way all of Jared Cook, Damian Williams, Nate Washington, and Kendall Wright get thrown the ball in 2012.
Now tell me why I'm wrong.
I don't understand why Damian Williams is felt to be irrelevant here. The only way to find out his true value is to give him more touches. He has speed on his side and he runs well after the catch. He has been underutilized. I also don't understand why he has not been used for kickoff and punt returns.
@samperrymd The Titans thought Marc Mariani won both returning jobs when he and Williams were both rookies and haven't felt the need to change. Mariani's not great, but he's been reliable at both roles.
It's not that I think Williams is irrelevant so much that he's caught in a numbers game. The top three are Britt, Washington, and Wright, and the only way I see that changing are if they cut Washington or Wright has a particularly rough transition. Rightly or wrongly, I think the Titans will be looking to justify Hawkins' new contract, plus it's easy for me to see him catching some number of five yard hooks even with the other receiver options. That just doesn't leave many snaps or targets for Williams.
Very good post and comments. I sure would like to see more balls go towards Cook. I'm hoping the light came on for him in the later part of the season. Hopefully, his position coach can't get him to maintain his intensity and reach his Pro Bowl ability. I'd actually like to see him a bit more selfish if that makes sense. I also like Willaims more then Hawkins and would like to see him continue to develope.
Anyone have an opinion on whether there is much of a change in these numbers depending on who gets the majority of the starts at QB? I hope Palmer is putting pressure on Locker to improve his pocket progressions and getting rid of the ball sooner.
As always, thanks for the comments. There's a lot of speculation in this post, and the Titans could easily choose to go a different direction than the one I have them going.
The problem I had with projecting more targets for Cook is there was absolutely no consistency in how he was thrown the ball over the season. He was targeted a lot the last three games (11, 8, 7), but before that was targeted only once each against the Bills and Saints. Ditto earlier in the year-9 targets against the Broncos and 8 against the Bengals sandwiched a pair of 2 target games against the Texans and Colts.
Hawkins over Damian Williams was partly a matter of the contract, partly it was just easier for me to define Hawkins' role with the team. I don't think either player is very good, nor do I see a big quality difference between the two of them. Even if he doesn't get thrown the ball much, I still expect Williams to make the team.
@ThomasGower HI Tom...Thanks for replying! What do you see as the reason that Cook was so inconsistently targeted? Also, I agree with you on both Williams and Hawkins...I think Williams has a little more potential though!
@dragak1981 I have no idea why Cook's targets varied so much. My guess is there are internal consistency and gameplanning reasons, but those are just guesses.
Also... I expect Cook to be targeted closer to how he was at the end of the season last year, but slightly less...There were games he was not thrown to at all (for whatever reason...Hasselback did not trust him, cook was screwing up, combination of both...I remember several times he was open and Hasselback did not even look his way...I think his improved production was a function more of finally getting thrown to than anything Cook was doing...do you agree)...At 6 targets on average per game...this would result in Cook getting thrown to 96 times...let's say 100....The Titans should be looking to use him in a Graham/Gronk manner
I don't see why you have Lavelle Hawkins above D Williams in targets...last year he was ahead of Hawkins and was the better receiver...I think he becomes the fourth wide receiver, hawkins the fifth and Mariani the sixth (if they keep him)...
Also, the Titans offense looks to be going towards more passing, less running and highly explosive...it should look a lot like the Ravens game last year, but even better with Wright and a hopefully much improve CJ....If they are scoring quick...more possessions will mean more passing opportunities...
@dragak1981 I agree with you on most of your points, but I don't believe Titans will keep Hawkins for the entirety of his contract. I believe the Titans did not intend on drafting a 1st round wide receiver therefore they extended Hawkins contract. If Williams continuing to improve I don't see Hawkins surpassing him on the depth chart. Mariani was the sole reason our return game drastically improved and cutting him to keep Hawkins is not a move I see the Titans making. Considering he is on his rookie contract and, at this point, is only a kick return specialist, keeping him on the team should bot come with a high price tag. With the addition of Wright, I believe the opponents will have to respect our passing game more and won't stack the box as much to stop Chris Johnson. This will more then likely lead to more targets to the TE position, namely Jared Cook. However this plays out, if Wright lives up to the hype, then his presence will improve every aspect of our offense.