In a mini-camp interview earlier this week, Kendall Wright suggested that the Titans' failure to give him opportunities befitting his talent was the explanation for his limited 2016 production.
If this story sounds familiar, it’s because another new Bears receiver acquisition recently blamed his former team for his drop in production. Thankfully, unlike Cruz, Wright did not provide any conspiracy theories as to why the Titans decided to limit his snaps. Instead, Wright focused on making the argument that his lack of production was not due to a lack of talent but a lack of opportunity.
Below are Wright’s snaps and production over the past several seasons, and after a quick look, his claim seems reasonable.
The first thing I noticed is in 2016, Wright had a career low in snaps, playing 27% of the Titans total snaps when the Titan’s highest snap-count receiver Tajae Sharpe played 74% and many of the league’s top receivers play over 90%. Part of this low is due to 3 missed games at the beginning of the year following a pre-season hamstring injury and benchings in weeks 14 and 17, at least one for disciplinary reasons. But Wright’s stats also showed a career low in snaps per game (below 30 snaps per game or just over 40% of the snaps in the games he played). His low production is not only due to the games he missed but also because of limited playing time in the games he played.
Passing over his totals and looking to the stats related to his efficiency, we see that he had career highs in yards per reception (14.3) reception percentage (67.4%) yards per target (9.7) and yards per snap (1.35). These numbers even compare favorably with the most productive receivers in the 2016 (see below).
Yards per snap is a limited metric because it is affected by how a player is used and where they fall in a quarterback’s reads, but it is also affected by how well a receiver gets open. Having a high value is encouraging that getting open was not a problem for Wright.
However, how Wright gets open is something that has been a point of contention with the Titans. In his first years, Wright came to be known for a “freelancing” route running style. This freelancing freedom was explicitly allowed under then-Titans now-Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains and explicitly disallowed under later regimes. Running a route differently every time is something that can make headaches for opposing cornerbacks, but it’s also something one would imagine could be a headache for friendly quarterbacks. Ryan Fitzpatrick appreciated this “streetballerish” style, saying Wright could mix up his routes but still end up in the expected place when the ball was on its way. Perhaps Marcus Mariota did not.
A partial explanation for Wright’s limited snaps is the Titans “exotic smashmouth” offense uses three receiver sets less often than the league average. Although has Wright has spent time on the outside with success in the past, the Titans have played him in the slot for the 2016 season, leaving him off the field for all of the smashier plays the Titans ran.
As a Bears’ fan, I am hopeful he can have more opportunity—and more production—this season. Although the fact that he missed games due to injury is frightening for the traumatized fan in me, his low per-game playing time is perhaps a good thing for the Bears. Of all the reasons for a player to have poor production, this is one of the best. If Wright had played at the same level for twice the snaps last season, he might not be playing for the Bears this year, and certainly wouldn’t be under a 2 million dollar contract.
I’m not thrilled that Wright seemed to have clashes with his last coaching staff, or the fact that missed meetings led to benching, but this wouldn’t be the first time a talented receiver acted out when they weren’t getting the opportunities they deserved. Wright has a history of working well with Dowell Loggains, and perhaps more importantly, he had the best production of his career the last time he caught passes as a Bear (at Baylor).
Wright is undoubtedly a talented receiver. He has shown he can produce a thousand yard season and shown he can convert targets into yards at an elite level. He’s fun to watch with great short area quickness and elusiveness that has translated to an impressive career average 5.5 yards after catch. Every receiver on the Bears is a question mark, but Wright has shown more success with the Bears current offensive coordinator than any of the others.
I am starting to feel the optimism swelling up inside me. At any moment, it could shoot out of my belly in a rainbow care-bear style. It’s the same feeling that led me to place unreasonable expectations on Mere Bear. Today, I will control this feeling. I will reign in the rainbow and leave you with this: Kendall Wright seems to have some potential to be a valuable or at least useful contributor for the 2017 Bears.