Mike Mularkey's appointment as the Tennessee Titans' head coach after the 2015 season quenched any optimism that emanated from Marcus Mariota's performances during his rookie season. Mularkey is a retread coach who has failed spectacularly on more than one occasion. He isn't a forward-thinking coach or an adaptive one. Mularkey believes that his way is the right way and he is going to build the Titans in his identity. An identity that is fully focused on running the ball.
While Mularkey has spoken at length on many occasions about how committed he is to building a run-first offense, an offense that replicates the one he used for Kordell Stewart all those years ago, GM Jon Robinson has set about building his vision. Robinson brought in two running backs who offer next-to-nothing in the passing game and he invested three picks—a first, second and third rounder—in a run-blocking right tackle.
Mariota isn't expected to throw the ball 30 times a game, but his value should be elevated by how often he runs the ball. His receivers are the ones who lose out the most from Mularkey's appointment.
Delanie Walker should remain one of the most productive tight ends in the NFL. Walker developed a rapport with Mariota during his rookie season, catching 94 passes for 1,088 yards and six touchdowns. Injuries to Mariota and Walker curtailed their shared output last season. With Walker acting as the de facto number one receiver in what is expect to be an extremely run-heavy offense, there won't be many targets left over for the team's actual wide receivers. Rishard Matthews is the most appealing of the Titans receivers, at least if you judge by ADP.
The former Miami Dolphins receiver is going 147th overall in MFL drafts. Matthews is the second wide receiver off the board as Dorial Green-Beckham's hype has yet to account for his current reality. Matthews is being taken just four spots after Mariota but 35 spots ahead of Kendall Wright and 75 spots ahead of Tajae Sharpe.
It's easy to see the logic in taking Matthews. He appears to be the Titans' first-choice wide receiver, a certain starter on a depth chart that doesn't have any other certain starters. No matter how bad the Titans passing game projects to be, they do have a good quarterback and a bad defense, so the first-choice receiver should see a significant number of targets. Matthews caught 43 passes for 662 yards and four touchdowns with the Miami Dolphins last year. He only played in 11 games and was a surprise starter ahead of Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker and Greg Jennings.
What really works in Matthews' favor is his efficiency stats. As Paul Kuharsky of ESPN notes, Ryan Tannehill had a 125.1 passer rating when throwing to Matthews last year. That was the fifth-highest number across the whole league. Unsurprisingly, 4for4.com note that Matthews had the fourth-highest fantasy point per target number in the NFL last year. In theory, if Matthews plays 16 games and is a focal point of the Titans offense, he should easily outproduce his draft spot.
There is just one problem.
Matthews' efficiency stats are somewhat fraudulent. Matthews has a problem with catching the ball. He had at least eight failures at the catch point in 2015 despite catching just 43 passes. Twoof those eight or more didn't count because the plays were negated by penalties that weren't the reason that Matthews couldn't complete the catches. Those plays aren't taken into account for his overall statistics but they do hold value in measuring his skill set. Matthews is big-play reliant, which is dangerous for any receiver but especially for someone whose offense won't throw the ball a lot.
On this play, Matthews leaves 15+ yards on the filed and a potential first down against the New England Patriots. It's his second drop of the game. Matthews should comfortably catch this ball but he doesn't show off soft hands. A potential reason for his failure is the small contact that the defensive back makes with his elbow as the ball arrives. If that contact was the reason for Matthews dropping the ball, that is a major concern because it highlights his lack of strength at the catch point.
Matthews isn't a ball-winning receiver. He won't tower above a defensive back or overwhelm him at the catch point. He struggles to pull the ball in against tight coverage. Matthews is a space receiver who will do as much work with the ball in his hands as he does before he catches it. That says as much about his route running as it does his YAC ability unfortunately.
The above gif shows off the type of play that Matthews can't be expected to make. On Second-and-16, Ryan Tannehill throws a near perfect backshoulder pass to negate the good coverage of Stephon Gilmore. Matthews has to reach up for the ball but it's not an exceptionally difficult catch to make when the defensive back has been neutralized. Instead of plucking the ball out of the air, Matthews misplaces his hands on the ball so he essentially deflects it away like a defensive back. He never had control of the ball and never had a chance at completing the play.
In general, Matthews appaers to have a concentration issue. He doesn't watch the ball into his hands or locate it accurately with his hands away from his body. He's not necessarily a body catcher but he's also not a natural catcher of the ball. Routine plays become a roulette with him because it doesn't matter if he's wide open or if there is a defensive back in his vicinity. The above play comes from Week 1 against Washington.
Matthews has somewhat of a reputation for being a possession receiver because of his efficiency. In reality Matthews is more of an inconsistent big-play threat.
During the 2015 season, Matthews had 10 receptions of 20 or more yards and four receptions of 40 or more yards. His longest reception of the season was a 53-yard touchdown reception while he averaged more than 15 yards per reception. In the Titans offense, the receiver who offers consistency and precision on intermediate routes, hello Delanie Walker, is more likely to thrive. Mariota is a precise passer to the intermediate levels but has major issues pushing the ball downfield. With his limited route-running ability, Matthews doesn't create much separation on intermediate routes and we've already seen that he doesn't consistently win at the catch point.
If you are drafting Matthews, you are drafting a big-play reliant receiver who has a narrow skill set. Someone who will primarily rely on YAC to create big plays in an offense taht won't force the ball into his hands. Matthews isn't a diamond in the rough in Tennessee, he's going to suffer from his situation the same way as his teammates will.
Walker is the only pass-catching player on the Titans roster who is worthy of his current ADP.
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