After a surprisingly productive junior season, Tennessee wide receiver Josh Malone opted to forgo his senior season and declare for the NFL draft.. Malone finished the 2016 season with 50 receptions for 972 yards and 11 touchdowns, and most mock drafts have Malone being drafted as a mid-round pick.
Given the depth at wide receiver most draft classes have, it’s no surprise that Malone is a projected mid-round pick. Given the league’s emphasis on the passing game, however, there are teams that could use Malone’s services. In his final season in Knoxville, Malone transformed into a lethal deep threat, adding to his ability to thrive in the intermediate routes. He times his jumps well and makes well-timed body adjustments when locating the ball.
NFL teams wouldn’t mind adding depth to their receiving cores, but there are four teams specifically who desperately need help at the receiver position and would be good fits for Malone.
After Andy Dalton’s MVP-caliber 2015 campaign was cut short due to injury, the Bengals lost two of his primary weapons (Marvin Jones to Detroit and Mohammad Sanu to Atlanta) during the offseason, leaving the Red Rifle with A.J. Green as his only reliable target. After performing at an all-world level over the first half of the 2016 season, Green suffered a season-ending hamstring injury, forcing the perennial Pro Bowler to miss the final six games of the regular season.
With Jones and Sanu gone and tight end Tyler Eifert not at 100 percent due to neck issues, Dalton’s options were limited. Green is expected to make a healthy return for the 2017 season, but it wouldn’t hurt the Bengals to address other team needs in the earlier rounds before selecting Malone in the third or fourth rounds.
One of Dalton’s key weaknesses over his first four seasons was his inability to throw accurate deep passes. After developing into one of the league’s top deep-ball marksmen in the 2015 season, his performances only dipped due to a lack of weaponry. With the potential combination of Green and Malone, Dalton’s long ball could make a furious comeback.
The Titans are rapidly becoming one of the league’s most functional franchises thanks to the genius of general manager Jon Robinson, a New England disciple who has completely flipped Tennessee’s culture in one season. Prior to Robinson’s arrival in 2016, the Titans won a combined five games in 2014 and 2015. Last season, the team finished 9-7 and nearly won the AFC South.
Robinson’s offensive philosophy is similar to that of the Dallas Cowboys: Build the offensive line first, and everything that follows will take care of itself.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Titans had the No. 1 offensive line in the league last season. Yes, you read that correctly. The ranking was well-deserved, as running back DeMarco Murray ran for 1,287 yards, good for third in the NFL, and second-year quarterback Marcus Mariota received ample time in the pocket to survey the field.
The Titans hold two first-round picks, and although the fans want Robinson to use the fifth overall pick on Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams, there is simply too much elite defensive talent to pass up that high in the draft.
This is where Malone comes in.
A potent running game and offensive line helps any quarterback, but Mariota could use another receiving option to help the offense’s balance when the Titans play elite defenses. For example, against Denver late in the season, Mariota only completed six passes for 88 yards. Although the primary reason for such a poor performance is debatable, there’s no question he would’ve benefited from a receiver like Malone, who could stretch the field.
The reasoning behind this one is pretty cut and dry. Philadelphia is a perfect landing spot for Malone — at this point, the Eagles could use anything to help quarterback Carson Wentz. The second overall pick got his rookie season off to a hot start, but it derailed due to a severe lack of weaponry. While Philadelphia might grab a receiver in an earlier round, it still wouldn’t hurt to add depth to the position. Maybe the Eagles will go Cleveland Browns-circa-2016-draft-mode and draft five receivers — but, unlike the Browns, Philadelphia has a competent quarterback.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers have an elite wide receiver in Mike Evans, but Vincent Jackson isn’t getting any younger and Tampa Bay’s remaining pass catchers aren’t complementary to quarterback Jameis Winston’s gunslinger style. Even Evans isn’t a perfect fit for Winston’s style despite being a tall receiver who can snag passes over any defensive back. Although Winston will likely learn to stop taking so many risks heading into his third season, he still has a cannon for an arm and plenty of touch on his deep ball.
Malone brings a best of both worlds for Tampa Bay: He can run intermediate routes similar to Evans and be the beneficiary of Winston’s downfield shots. The Bucs may opt to draft a receiver earlier in the draft, but if they focus on other areas on offense, Malone brings tremendous value to a team that’s on the cusp of making the playoffs.
Edited by Nathan Odom
Featured image by Ben Proffitt