Why Wright is on the list
Kendall Wright drew loose comparisons to Steve Smith and Santonio Holmes coming out of Baylor, exhibiting the "tremendous speed, burst and explosion" to make plays after the catch and burn defensive backs down the field. The question for NFL evaluators was how much stock to put in Wright's disappointing 2012 NFL Scouting Combine performance versus the impressive game film.
The Titans had no intentions of spoon-feeding Wright after selecting him at No. 20 overall. He learned both outside positions as well as the slot, finished second only to Nate Washington in pass routes run and tied Jacksonville Jaguars No. 5 overall pick Justin Blackmon for most receptions among NFL rookies.
After shedding 14 pounds, Wright looked faster and quicker in offseason practices while catching everything that came his way. He's expected to be featured more in new coordinator Dowell Loggains' offense than he was under Chris Palmer last season.
Chalk one up for the combine concerns, which included a report that Wright managed a mere four bench-press reps and showed 16 percent body fat. Much like Blackmon, Wright's first season is a cautionary tale for out-of-shape rookies. It didn't take long for the Smith and Holmes comparisons to turn into a joke.
Upon drafting Wright, Titans general manager Ruston Webster immediately cited the receiver's "ability to catch a short ball and turn it into a long run." Wright must have left that big-play ability at the buffet table. He finished 22nd in Pro Football Focus' Yards After Catch metric, but that was artificially inflated by the high number of slants and bubble screens run close to the line of scrimmage. A more telling statistic is Wright's inability to reach 10.0 yards per reception.
The two videos below illustrate the discrepancy between the player Wright was drafted to become and the player Wright was as a rookie. Wright and T.Y. Hilton of the Indianapolis Colts essentially run the same slant/screen route. Wright gained just 6 yards to Hilton's 17. This scenario played out over and over on short routes, with Hilton gaining more yards than expected and Wright consistently stuck in the 5- to 10-yard range.
Wright already has helped himself in dropping weight, which will allow him to separate from coverage on intermediate and deep routes while regaining post-catch explosiveness on those slants and screens. Although he's not in Smith's league in physicality, he does have that advantage on Hilton.
Loggains can further aid the Titans' first-round investment by using Wright more creatively as a souped-up slot receiver in the mold of Percy Harvin or Randall Cobb. With rookie Justin Hunter joining Kenny Britt and Nate Washington, it's time to ditch Wright's reps at flanker and split end.
There's little question that Wright has the potential for 75 receptions and 900 yards if he arrives to camp in peak football shape. Whether or not Wright reaches those marks depends on Jake Locker's ability to consistently place the ball in a spot that will allow his receiver to keep running or make an immediate move after the catch.
Follow Chris Wesseling on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.