A rising college star…2011 first-team All-American, all-time and single-season leader in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns for his respective school. A combined owned and shared 16 school records, including 19 career 100-yard receiving games (9 in 2011). Third in the country in 2011 with 1,663 receiving yards on 15.4 YPC (13.3/career), and an impressive 14 touchdowns.
Welcome to the NFL…64 receptions, 626 yards on 9.8 YPC, zero 100-yard games, and a total of 4 touchdowns; which is a little more than half of his 7 dropped passes. The college transition into the NFL is not an easy task, but you would expect primary collegiate strengths to carryover as professional metamorphosis begins. This is unfortunately not always the case.
I welcome you to the second spotlight article of my 4 Quarters series of rookie wide receiver breakdowns. The 1st Quarter of coverage has come to an end, and you’ve made the Wright choice joining me for the 2nd Quarter: Kendall Wright.
As the 20th overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft, Wright entered the league known as a deep ball threat coming out of Baylor. Playing with the likes of Robert Griffin III in college was obviously quite beneficial, but his collegiate and rookie statistics I posted above aren’t exactly mirror images of each other. Wright possessed the speed and ability to take advantage of plenty of non-NFL defensive backs, and RG3 had the arm strength and accuracy to make them pay. I don’t really put much blame on his NFL quarterback(s) for his lack of being a deep threat during his rookie campaign, but it isn’t very common to reach the NFL ranks and downgrade from your college quarterback.
The most logical and identifiable place to begin is with the team that drafted Wright, the Tennessee Titans. It was evident before the draft that the Titans needed a wideout with Kenny Britt still not quite the same post knee surgeries, and on top of that being a “knucklehead” as Charles Barkley would lightly put it. Nate Washington pushing 30 years old and the seldom used Jared Cook didn’t leave Tennessee with many solid receiving options. Wright seemed to be a perfect fit to compliment Britt’s size, and aid the development of Jake Locker.
Unfortunately things do not always workout as planned, and Locker’s early season injury woes left Matt Hasselbeck at the helm for a 6-game stretch early in the year. Also, Britt’s 1-game suspension to start the season left Wright with no choice but to learn how to play as the “X’ receiver in the offense. Chris Johnson had more than his own share of trouble getting rolling through the first part of the season, and this perfect storm within the organization impeded any type of sync within the offense for Wright. The change in quarterback that was so obvious with Justin Blackmon wasn’t an issue for him though, as there was not a noticeable incline or decline in targets or statistics while playing with either quarterback.
What was apparent was that Wright wasn’t capable of being the burner he appeared to be in his not so distant college days. NFL defenses are much faster, and the schemes are far too sophisticated to blow the top off of defenses on a normal basis. The fact that his longest play of the year only totaled 38 yards made this very evident. Even though he was playing on the outside he was primarily utilized on underneath routes, slants, and drag routes resulting in short throws. With great quickness yet lacking exceptional overall speed, this was actually a very useful game plan to best utilize Wright. His ability to pick up YAC and create in open space is exactly what the Titans tried to accomplish with the play calling.
Referencing the previous article – 1st Quarter: Justin Blackmon – I would’ve hoped they could’ve moved Wright into the slot like the Jags did with Blackmon, and let him do his damage where he’s most apt to create plays. Being the smallest of the receivers, it would only make sense to counter his size by creating mismatches in the middle of the field. Not being an astounding leaper either really limits the jump ball ability on the outside as well. Tennessee did however do an excellent job to acclimate the play calling around his strengths despite lining him up on the outside.
Even though Wright played the least amount of snaps (578) out of himself, Britt (615), and Nate Washington (815); he did lead the team in targets (104), and receptions (64). His 9.8 YPC was worst on the team though, and his 626 receiving yards was less than stellar because of the depth of routes ran. YAC (330) is where Wright was really able to excel, and making the best of those short routes in open space really displayed his shiftiness and ability to create after the catch.
Britt and Washington were the main beneficiaries of the deep ball targets during the season, and this was surprising because Wright’s big play ability was a highlight of his skill set in college. Wright was able to accept and grow within his role throughout the offense, and did a great job learning what he could from the veteran presence playing to the inside of him.
“I just watched what Nate did and tried to do the same things,” said Wright.
Unfortunately one of the things he duplicated of Washington’s was his 7 drops on the year. Britt had 7 drops as well, and even though their quarterbacks weren’t top-notch they didn’t really pay dividends to their signal callers with these blunders. Wright’s 62% catch rate was respectable, but not what we’d expect from a guy running a majority of his routes within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. A lot of the mistakes on his behalf can be attributed to taking his eyes off the ball and looking to cut up field before he had secured possession of the ball. A simple rookie mishap, but definitely something he will have to work on heading into his sophomore year.
Another factor heading into his second season is newly promoted Offensive Coordinator Dowell Loggains. He filled in as interim O.C. later in the year, which is too small of a sample size and preparation time to really create his own schemes. The fact that Wright suffered the broken rib at the end of the season and missed Week 16 didn’t help either. There seems to be a lot of positive buzz surrounding the new offensive ideas though, and the players have been voicing their excitement.
“Dowell is very, very excited. He brings a lot of energy out there. Between him and coach Ragone, they bring a lot of positive energy on the sideline and just having fun while we work hard at the same time,” said Wright.
It sounds as if we may see some new wrinkles within the offense next season, and hopefully the Titans can find some creative ways to get the ball in Wright’s hands. Tying Blackmon for the most catches by a rookie this past season, and finishing 8th in the league with 22 catches on 3rd down says a lot about this kid. The fact that he wasn’t an every down wideout shows that there is plenty of room to expand on his numbers.
I really see a lot of potential surrounding the skill set of Kendall Wright. His display of burst and ability to make defenders miss in the open field creates havoc for defenses trying to stop him in space. None of his statistics really stood out during his rookie campaign, yet he was able to show plenty of promise moving forward if utilized correctly.
This led me to using the wonderful apps over at RotoViz to identify comparable seasons and try to gauge what we can expect heading into next year. I was astonished at what I had found, and as I delved a bit deeper into the specifics the comparison to Greg Jennings was remarkable. Jennings 2006 season was the year that pulled up – ironically his rookie year also – as one of the most comparable to Wright’s rookie tenure. Below is a chart displaying the numbers from each of their rookie campaigns.
As you can see the number breakdown is quite similar. The one major difference is Jennings was able to make quite a few more big plays, and a lot of that can be credited to having Brett Favre as his quarterback. The total yards being almost exactly equivalent on nearly a 20 catch difference exemplifies the lack of big plays by Wright. Jennings did also start 11 games as opposed to 5 from Wright, but that just shows how efficient Kendall was with his snaps. With their rookie statistics being so equal, I decided to research their combine performances and measurables comparatively as well. Rather than explain to you what I was able to find it is much more staggering to see for yourself.
As you can see there is eerily a lot of similarity between the two players. I consider this to be a positive for Wright considering Jennings nearly reached 1,000 yards and quadrupled his touchdown total his sophomore season, and has positioned himself among the upper echelon of wide receivers over the last 5 years. Wright unfortunately does not have Favre or Aaron Rodgers throwing him the football, but he has the talent to grow upon his potential.
If Locker can stay healthy and continue to better himself, I do believe that there is a bright future for Kendall Wright, and he can go nowhere but up from this point. With Britt always a question mark, and Washington in his 30’s now, the door is open for Wright to make the best of his opportunity. Look for him to expand on his rookie numbers, and pay close attention to his ADP as the offseason progresses because Wright could very well be a great value poised for a breakout next season.