The signing of unrestricted free-agent wide receiver Nate Washington gives the Tennessee Titans their first deep threat in their offense in several years.
Washington joins the team after three seasons as the Pittsburgh Steelers No. 3 receiver and occasional spot starter; he played well in that role. In 2008, he caught 40 passes for 631 yards and three touchdowns in 16 games. He averaged at least 15 yards per catch in five games and had receptions of at least 48 yards in four straight games during the season. Washington is definitely a deep threat in any passing game, but he also has a negative he needs to work on. Washington has been known to drop passes that seem to be easy receptions for a receiver. On a positive note, especially for the Titans, Washington has learned from wide receiver Hines Ward to become a very effective run blocker down the field.
What's under the hood?
The Titans are not known for their receiving corps but still have some good targets for quarterback Kerry Collins entering the season. They lost wide receiver Brandon Jones (San Francisco 49ers) to free agency but still have a leading receiver, in terms of yardage, from last season in wide receiver Justin Gage. He caught 34 passes for 651 yards and six touchdowns 12 games. He posted two 100-yard games during the season but no single game of more than five receptions. Gage finished the season with a 10-reception, 135-yard performance in the divisional round of the playoffs.
The only other receiver that made an impact on the team that returns is wide receiver Justin McCareins. He caught 30 passes for 412 yards but zero touchdowns in 14 games. McCareins likely will be the No. 3 receiver on the team and shown to be a decent option.
The team also has second-year wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins on their roster and may look to add one in the draft. The Titans have two very productive tight ends they use in their offense. Tight end Bo Scaife had 58 receptions last season, which led the team, for 561 yards and two touchdowns in 16 games. He was set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason of the season, but the Titans used their franchise tag on him before the start of free agency. Scaife has been a reliable target over the middle for the team. Another veteran also made an impact, to a lesser degree, in 2008: Tight end Alge Crumpler caught 24 passes for 257 yards and one touchdown in 15 games. Crumpler and Scaife are used a lot because they help the team's running game as well as their quick passing game.
The addition of Washington will help the Titans offense, but it certainly will not change their style of play entering the 2009 season. With running backs Chris Johnson and LenDale White returning, Tennessee will continue to be a running team. Johnson rushed 1,228 yards and nine touchdowns on 251 carries for a terrific 4.9 yards-per-carry average. White chipped in with 773 yards and 15 touchdowns on 200 carries. Johnson was also a threat as a receiver out of the backfield during his rookie season. He caught 43 passes for 260 yards and one touchdown.
A good way to sum up the Titans offense was season was they ranked seventh in the league in rushing yards per game and 27th in league in passing yards per game. The team's passing game likes to find the open receiver with quick passes. Collins did not take many shots down the field during the season in 2008, but that could change with the addition of Washington. Of Collins' 415 pass attempts last season, 364 of them were either thrown to a receiver behind the line of scrimmage or to a receiver 20 yards or closer.
Fantasy football outlook
From a fantasy perspective, Washington will be an intriguing option for owners because he likely will gain one of the team's starting wide receiver positions. He should be considered a borderline No. 4 receiver with a lot of upside because of his ability to stretch the field.
Collins still has the arm to get the ball down the field, so Washington's signing adds another dimension to their offense. He will still have to learn the system and build chemistry with Collins, but Washington has an opportunity to be a strong No. 3 or even a weak No. 2 fantasy receiver at the end of the season.
If Washington turns out to be anything better than a No. 3, consider yourself fortunate, though. Too much would have to line up properly in his first year in town, but we have seen No. 2 fantasy production before (Derrick Mason) in Tennessee's system. Washington carries some risk, because it's tough to gauge how he will respond to this newfound pressure.
About Tim Piotrowski
Piotrowski has been a Hot Off the Wire analyst since 2007.
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