NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In the perfect Titans scenario, every highly drafted player would make a huge impact right away.
We’ve seen it happen twice over the past two years, in the form of 2016 first-round pick Jack Conklin and 2017 first-round pick Adoree Jackson.
Conklin stepped straight into a vacant right-tackle role and started 16 games as a rookie, earning All-Pro status in the process. Jackson jumped in as a starting cornerback last season and played 1,165 snaps, more than any other NFL rookie.
But things can’t always progress quite as quickly, as some draft picks need a little time to marinate before making their mark.
That brings us to the cases of Titans wide receivers Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor, chosen in the first and third rounds, respectively, of the 2017 draft.
Might the Titans have wanted more from the pair than the combined 50 receptions and 606 yards they produced? Sure.
But as recent history tells us, a number of highly drafted wide receivers around the league have produced routine numbers during their first seasons, only to blossom in their second or third year.
Take 2015, for instance, when a pair of receivers selected in the first round – Miami’s DeVante Parker and Philadelphia’s Nelson Agholor – got off to similar starts. Both Parker (26 catches, 490 yards, three touchdowns) and Agholor (23 catches, 283 yards, one touchdown) posted stats in the same ballpark as Davis in his rookie season (34 catches, 375 yards).
But starting in 2016, both Parker and Agholor grew their games.
Parker has averaged 57 catches and over 700 receiving yards the last two seasons, while Agholor put together a strong 2017 for the Super Bowl-champion Eagles, catching 62 passes for 708 yards and eight touchdowns.
We’ll use a recent third-round pick to make a comparative case for Taylor.
In 2014, Indianapolis chose rookie Donte Moncrief in the third round. He had a solid rookie year, catching 32 passes for 444 yards. But Moncrief doubled his catches in year two – hauling in 64 passes – while totaling 733 receiving yards and six touchdowns.
A number of other talented receivers have been sluggish out of the starting gate in recent years as well. Among players taken at that position in the 2017 draft, for example, Davis was one of just five to notch at least 30 catches.
One reason is very likely the complexity of modern-day NFL offenses, which seem to represent an increasing transitional challenge.
“I think the coverages change in the NFL,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “I think there’s so many more coverages that teams run. You look around college, some teams will just be a `cover-four’ team, or some teams are just `cover-two.’ (The wide receivers) kind of know exactly what they’re getting, as opposed to when they get into the NFL, there could be a number of different coverages and a number of different disguises.
Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor at NFLPA Rookie Premier
“I think that as a receiver, you go from knowing exactly what coverage you’re going to get to, ‘Man, I don’t know,’ a couple strides into my route.”
Both Davis and Taylor should benefit nicely from a year’s worth of learning the league, but there are other reasons to expect a production bump from the young Titans’ receivers as well.
In Davis’ case, he missed the majority of his first offseason, virtually all of training camp and five full games due to injury. He was healthy for a much bigger chunk of this offseason, and is expected to be 100 percent at the start of training camp next month.
In Taylor’s case, he should be more confident entering his second year after making a sizable step – Conference USA to the NFL – a season ago.
“Absolutely, getting a year under my belt, that helps a lot,” Taylor said. “I understand what it takes preparation-wise, study habit-wise and things like that, and also understand you can’t just do it inside of work – you’ve got to do it at home as well. So I definitely am more comfortable.”
It’s also worth pointing out – going back to two of the earlier comparisons – that both Parker and Agholor made their jumps under new coaching staffs. Parker’s stats took a big leap in his second season when Adam Gase took over as Miami’s coach, while Agholor has thrived under Doug Pederson in Philadelphia.
Here in Nashville, Davis and Taylor are looking forward to working under new Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, who helped orchestrate a huge turnaround in the Los Angeles Rams’ offense in 2017.
“Coach LaFleur is definitely big on drawing up plays, doing different things, trying to get us open,” Taylor said. “I think he’s doing a great job of utilizing each one of us to the best of our abilities. I know we’re all capable of making big plays.”
Expect to see more of them from Davis and Taylor in their second seasons.
— Reach John Glennon at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.