It’s often said that the biggest leap in progress occurs in year two for NFL players, which is encouraging news for Tennessee Titans receiver Tajae Sharpe.
Because last season he was the hunter…now he’s the hunted.
Everything fell into place last year for the rookie fifth round draft pick out of Massachusetts. Incumbent starter Kendall Wright injured his hamstring early in training camp, and was unable to get quality reps throughout the summer.
Second year receiver Dorial Green-Beckham had already fallen out of favor with the franchise, and was traded to Philadelphia prior to the start of the season. And newly acquired Andre Johnson abruptly retired early in the regular season.
Sharpe, to his credit, seized the opportunity with an amazing rookie camp, mini camp, and training camp, and was named a starter when the regular season began.
His hunger fueled him last season. So much so that he was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct after scoring his first professional touchdown. He crossed the goal line…then laid down in a fetal position as if he was taking a nap.
When asked about the celebration Sharpe boldly confessed that it was a message to his naysayers to never “sleep on him”.
Fast forward to today and one has to wonder how well Sharpe has been sleeping after the Titans selected wide receivers with their first and third round picks. Both Corey Davis (1st round) and Taywon Taylor (3rd round) will be looking to do what Sharpe did last season…
Take someone’s starting spot.
And because of the breakout season from Rishard Matthews in 2016, one could reasonably assume that the spot open for grabs is the one that Sharpe currently holds.
The Titans should be rooting for Davis to win the job outright this summer. After all, you don’t pick someone fifth overall to play a limited reserve role.
The question now becomes…how long can Sharpe fend off the highly touted rookie out of Western Michigan?
While this may be a daunting task for Sharpe, it is actually a great dilemma for the Titans as a whole.
Competition brings out the best in most, if not all of us. And that’s something that the Titans really didn’t have at the wide receiver position last year.
Whether Sharpe played lights out, or strung together multiple pedestrian performances, the team really had no other options behind him last season.
But if everyone stays healthy, that certainly won’t be the case this season.
We saw it at the running back position last year. DeMarco Murray knew there was a highy drafted, highly decorated workhorse rookie back in Derrick Henry waiting in the wings if he didn’t get it done. And Henry knew that Murray was playing at a high level, so he had to make the most of his limited opportunities.
The end result was opposing defenses being pelted by two ferocious backs running like their lives were depending on each yard gained.
If Sharpe comes in this offseason with the same…”You want my spot rookie? Then try to come and take it” mentality then the competitive spirit will lift the position as a whole.
And it will ultimately make life easier for quarterback Marcus Mariota and the entire offense.
But if Sharpe hangs his head and shows a lack of mental toughness, then general manager Jon Robinson has already shown that he will replace you.
Throw in the fact that Taywon Taylor will also be looking to cement himself in the rotation, coupled with the fact that the Titans used a three wide receiver set fewer than any team in the NFL last season, and you have a make or break summer for Sharpe.
Tajae is about to learn that it’s different when the rabbit has the gun…and we’re about to find out what he is truly made of in 2017.