NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The 2019 and 2020 seasons were the best individually for Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Tannehill won the Comeback Player of the Year award after the 2019 season and had a career-high 33 touchdown passes in 2020.
A big part of Tannehill’s initial success with the Titans was because he had wide receivers AJ Brown and Adam Humphries and tight end Jonnu Smith available for him to throw to.
However, the 2021 season didn’t quite pan out. Tannehill threw 14 interceptions last season. That’s more than the 13 interceptions he threw over the previous two seasons combined when he had Smith, Humphries and Brown in the lineup.
Smith signed a free-agent contract with the Patriots in 2021. Humphries was a cap casualty and signed with the Washington Commanders.
Brown was available for 13 of the 17 regular-season games. But he won’t be around for the upcoming season after contract issues resulted in Brown being traded to the Philadelphia Eagles on draft night two weeks ago.
Titans general manager Jon Robinson took a swing at prospects in this year’s draft who could help duplicate previous success for Tannehill. In Treylon Burks, Chigoziem Okonkwo and Kyle Philips, Robinson selected three players who closely resemble their big three of the past.
Here’s a look at how the prospects compare to past playmakers:
Treylon Burks — AJ Brown
Brown, who had a 23% share of the total receiving yards for the Titans last season, will be the biggest part of the trio to replace. Tannehill targeted Brown 272 times during their time together. That’s more than any other Titans pass-catcher from 2019 to 2021.
Burks will be expected to step into the lineup and have an impact, but he isn’t concerning himself with being Brown 2.0.
“Just being myself and not trying to be anybody else,” Burks said. “Attacking every day like I’m supposed to — and the effort and finish. Being that guy that’s going to do the extra effort and finish to succeed.”
The comparisons will come naturally because Burks was selected with one of the two picks (No. 18 overall) that Tennessee acquired in Brown’s blockbuster trade.
At 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, the former Arkansas star’s size is very similar to the 6-foot-1, 225-pound frame that Brown plays with. The similarities in playstyle are evident.
Arkansas WR Treylon Burks says he’s watched a lot of @1kalwaysopen_ and welcomes the comparisons he’s drawn. Burks also said he has studied a lot of Julio Jones especially how he runs slants. pic.twitter.com/XpTH9rQAzF
— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) March 2, 2022
Both Brown and Burks are capable of making contested catches and help quarter theirbacks by gaining extra yards once they get their hands on the ball.
According to Sportzshala Stats & Information, Brown ranks third among wide receivers in average yards after the catch since entering the league in 2019. Burks’ 9.4 average yards after the catch placed him seventh among FBS receivers last season.
Chigoziem Okonkwo — Jonnu Smith
Smith was one of Tannehill’s favorite targets in the red zone. In 2020, the tight end had eight touchdown receptions in the red zone, more than any other player on the Titans.
The Okonkwo to Smith comparison starts with their similar build. Okonkwo, a fourth-round draft pick out of Maryland, checks in at 6-foot-2, 238 pounds, while Smith was 6-foot-2, 248 pounds when he entered the NFL in 2017.
“Jonnu was one of the guys I liked to watch throughout college, just because he’s a 6-foot-2 guy just like me,” Okonkwo said.
Both players are athletic tight ends who can be used in various alignments that create matchup problems for defenses.
Their versatility includes carrying the ball out of the backfield as well. Smith lined up at running back and broke off a 57-yard carry against the Houston Texans in Week 15 of the 2019 season. Okonkwo’s 54-yard touchdown run helped fuel the Terrapins to a 63-33 win over Illinois.
“[Smith is] one of the guys I like to pattern my game after,” Okonkwo explained. “His play style, too, is very, very physical. I feel like it’s very good with the ball in his hands. I feel like I’m the same way. I’m very physical. I’m not afraid to stick my head in there. And then he’s very strong after the catch. So that’s definitely some of the similarities that people see between him and me.”
Kyle Philips — Adam Humphries
Humphries was a reliable receiver for Tannehill. He hauled in 43 out of 59 targets from him — mostly from the slot.
Philips figures to settle in as the primary slot receiver for Tannehill. It’s no coincidence that Robinson snatched up the shifty receiver from UCLA in the fifth round.
Robinson was a huge advocate for Humphries when he caught on with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent in 2015. Humphries followed Robinson to Tennessee and signed a four-year, $36 million contract in 2019.
Both Humphries and Philips have a crab-like ability to move equally as fast laterally as they do when running in a straight line. The way they set up defenders with their routes makes them tough to cover, especially on third downs.
Philips admittedly hasn’t watched a lot of Humphries but mentioned a couple of similar receivers he’s patterned his game after.
“I’d say [I model my game after] Cole Beasley, Hunter Renfrow just in the slot, how they run their outs ,” Philips said. “I love how intentional they are with their stems, eyes, head movement, all that stuff. Next, Keenan Allen’s toughness on outs. He’s got a little skip step that he freezes DBs with, and I’ve been able to add that to my game and love that a lot. Then, lastly, would be Davante Adams with his release package. I really love his split release, so I’ve been able to add that to my game a little bit.”
The Titans also stand to gain from Philips’ punt return ability. Nine of Philip’s 25 career punt returns at UCLA went for 20-plus yards, two of which were touchdowns.