It could be argued that the Tennessee Titans hadn’t found an elite, No. 1 receiver since Derrick Mason left in 2004.
It wasn’t for a lack of trying (see Corey Davis, Kendall Wright, Kenny Britt, Drew Bennett). But now, the Titans have two top-tier receivers in A.J. Brown and Julio Jones – a scary notion considering Tennessee ranked second in yards per game (398.4) and fourth in points per game (30.7) last season.
With Brown on one side, Jones on the other, and Derrick Henry behind him, quarterback Ryan Tannehill is surrounded by the best group of talent he’s ever had, and quite possibly the best group of playmakers in the AFC.
“Defenses are really going to have to pick their poison,” Jones said. “If they want to put nine in the box, right, a guy like Derrick Henry in the backfield, they have to respect him. But then that’s when me and A.J. go to work outside. Then if you only have eight in the box, Derrick is going to go to work in the backfield.”
“Certainly, he’s a productive player, he’s a big target with strong hands and sure-handed,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel added. “…His impact obviously can help a lot of people…sometimes (veteran players) those are your best coaches. I’m sure he’ll provide some of that. Ultimately, were just trying to figure out where he best fits in and gets acclimated to our system.”
Jones gives the Titans a true deep threat the team has lacked for quite a while. His presence adds another dimension on play-action passes – a Titans’ offensive staple – and Tannehill is one of the best play-action QBs in the NFL. Last season, the 32-year-old ranked third in passing yards (1,561) and yards per attempt (9.7), and seventh in touchdowns (11) off play action.
Brown, who had a breakout rookie season in 2019, followed it up with an even better sophomore outing. He campaigned feverishly the last few weeks to convince Jones to come to Tennessee, and now the 23-year-old gets to play opposite the receiver he modeled his game after.
A side-by-side comparison of their numbers through their first two seasons shows a similar trajectory:
Jones: 133 receptions, 2,157 yards, 18 touchdowns, 16.2 yards per reception
Brown: 122 receptions, 2,126 yards, 19 touchdowns, 17.4 yards per reception
“I’m very excited for us to be a 1-2 punch or a 1-1 punch, however you want to look at it,” Jones said. “He’s definitely a No. 1 receiver. He has that competitive nature in him. I’m just showing him little things that I know from experience being in the league. But he has it all.”
The former No. 6 overall pick was Pro Football Focus’ top rated receiver from 2015-2018 and finishing in the top three in both 2018 and 2019. Although he only played in nine games last year, he still totaled 51 receptions for 771 yards and three touchdowns. That’s only 14 fewer receptions, 213 fewer yards and two fewer touchdowns than Corey Davis, Tennessee’s No. 2 receiver last year, in five fewer games.
Although he’s 32 and coming off an injury-plagued 2020 season, Jones believes he still has plenty left to offer the Titans.
“At the end of the day, I believe in me,” Jones said. “I know what I have in the tank. We’re talking about age is 32; I’m young. In football you can say that’s old but you either do it or you don’t. This game don’t change for me; I’m still fast, I’m still strong…For those questioning my health – stay tuned.”
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_