So, back in the offseason, I took a stab at projecting how many catches each Titans player would end up with in 2013. Now that the Titans have played half their games, I thought it was worth updating that look, to see how the Titans actually had targeted their receivers.
The biggest question I faced in that post was, for the second straight season, who wasn't going to catch the ball? One of the things I try to do here is try to limit the extent to which I subjectively select sample sizes, in an attempt to get a truer picture of how things will play out. Thus, my looks at all sacks, or all interceptions. This is particularly important for catches because, looking individually, you could reasonably but optimistically project each player and end up with many more catches than it was likely the Titans as a team would have.
As it turns out, the Titans have in fact made those choices. They've thrown the ball a lot to some players, even more than I expected them to. They've neglected other players, even more than I neglected them to. Some players, they've even thrown the ball roughly as much as I expected them to.
Big table, and a lot to digest in there, so I'll break it down in segments. First, though, I want to note one thing-I projected the Titans as though they would have 300 catches. At mid-season, 147, a pace of 294, so the totals do not need to be adjusted to account for different volume.
There were major questions here on just how much the Titans would get the backs, in particular CJ, involved in the passing game. Chris Palmer's offense relied a lot on a 5+1 protection scheme, and Loggains' heavier sets late in the season resulted in CJ having 9 targets in the last 5 games of 2012. Would the Titans really get CJ more involved? Loggains seemed to indicate they would, and it seemed like a good way to do the proverbial "getting a player in space." Then, 6 targets in the first 4 games. Fitzpatrick utilized CJ more regularly, and Locker has also thrown him the ball since his return (4+ targets each of the last four games). He's a bit behind the pace, but I think he has a reasonable shot of reaching the 45 catches I projected him for.
The non-CJ backs I projected with a modest catch amount, but they're behind even that. I'd like to blame Shonn Greene's injuries, since he's a better back than Jackie Battle.
I was frustrated with this position, because the Titans seemed to have too many receivers for the snaps they would receive. I had them cutting Nate Washington, just because there weren't enough snaps to go around. Instead, they've continued to play Washington, and he's on pace for 52 catches, about where I projected the WR2 to end up.
Of course, the WR2 I had was Kenny Britt. Instead, the Titans have virtually benched Britt after his early-season struggles. Using catches understates his usage a bit, as he has 27 targets (8/27 = an abysmal catch rate), but as he's not the WR2 he's not going to end up with anything close to the WR2 catches I projected him for.
I felt like I was about the most pessimistic guy in town when it came to Justin Hunter's usage, putting him at the WR3 and 25 catches. Instead, he's been the WR5 and only has 5 catches. Heck, even if you just look at the last three games, he and Britt have basically been the WR4/5 (32/33 snaps, 5 targets each). Silly me, expecting them to use their second-round pick in a must-win season to be a key contributor. Instead, he's been a spot player.
The player whose performance made me want to write this post was Kendall Wright. I thought I was being reasonable but optimistic putting him as the #1 wide receiver and leading the team in catches, but he's turned out to exceed even that projection. He's on a 85-catch, 1000-yard pace that I really didn't see coming. I thought he would be better than last year, thanks to the lost weight, but he's looked even quicker and more explosive in short areas. His advanced stats are pretty modest, basically right at where Nate Washington was last year on a per-play basis, suggesting he's not been quite as valuable as he's looked, though.
Dowell Loggains was going to run an offense a lot like the one Mike Heimerdinger used, and that meant lots of targets for tight ends. This all made sense. I kept expecting the Titans to start throwing the ball to their tight ends. I wasn't alone in this, as I've heard Frank Wycheck express the same belief on multiple occasions. Nope, hasn't happened. I would have given you pretty long odds on the possibility that neither Craig Stevens nor Taylor Thompson would have a catch at midseason after playing in every game. It also hasn't been the case that they've been exceptionally unlucky not to get a catch-Stevens has 3 targets, Thompson 0.
After my catch projection, I ended up writing a separate post on Delanie Walker and the possibility a tight end would have a good number of catches for the first time this late in his career. And, well, he's slightly ahead of the pace I expected him to be on. Hands, one of his big concerns for me, have not been a particular issue.
We'll see a few more changes, I think. Justin Hunter may approach the WR3 status, as I expect Damian Williams to drop into the WR5 role now that he has the return jobs. I'd love to see the Titans get the tight ends more involved in the passing game, but I'm now very near the point where I expect that to never happen. Barring injury, then, I think things have shaken out the last couple weeks into how they're likely to look the rest of the season.