After a decade of anonymity, the Tennessee Titans have enjoyed their time as front-page news makers since the conclusion of the 2017 season.
From firing the head coach a day after being eliminated from the playoffs, to the new coaching staff, to the new free agent and draft additions, to the highly publicized new uniform unveiling, to being named the host city for next year’s NFL draft, to the most recent headline grabber…Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan’s contact holdout.
While these developments are certainly newsworthy, one story that should not be buried is the return of wide receiver Tajae Sharpe.
For the casual fan it may be hard to remeber Tennessee’s fifth round pick of the 2016 draft, especially in a class that includes two All Pro selections in tackle Jack Conklin (1st rd) and safety Kevin Byard (3rd rd).
After missing the entire 2017 season with a foot injury, it’s easy to forget a key cog in the most successful season in quarterback Marcus Mariota’s career.
Sharpe opened eyes during training camp and the preseason and turned in a solid rookie campaign in 2016, finishing third on the team in targets (83), receptions (41), receiving yards (522), 20+ yard catches (7), and first downs (27).
And he amassed those numbers as the third guy behind veteran receiver Rishard Matthews and perennial Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker.
Not only did Sharpe earn a starting job for the regular season opener, but he also played in all 16 games….finishing in the top seven for NFL rookies in receptions, yards, and first downs.
Not bad for a rookie playing on a team that predicated themselves on a run-first, smash mouth offensive approach. Tennessee finished that season 3rd overall in rushing yards, and boasted the AFC’s leading rusher that year in DeMarco Murray.
Sharpe’s precise route-running and ability to grab the ball in traffic made him one of Mariota’s favorite safety net targets that year, which also happened to be the best statistical season of his young career.
With no Shapre, Mariota endured his worst statistical season in 2017…throwing more interceptions than touchdowns.
But just for reference, Sharpe’s rookie numbers nearly matched, and in some categories exceeded the combined totals of Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor…last year’s rookie receiver draft picks.
After an underwhelming performance from the unit as a whole in 2017, people raised an eyebrow when general manager Jon Robinson elected to keep the unit in tact with no major additions this offseason.
Translation….J Rob is counting on a healthy Sharpe to pick up where he left off.
And if he does improve upon his rookie debut, then he could be the X factor for an offense that is looking to take a huge leap in 2018 under new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur.
A leap that will need to happen if the Titans want to exceed last year’s playoff success.