Tajae Sharpe and Marcus Mariota Bond Early In the Season

The Tennessee Titans are implementing a run-heavy offense, but that doesn’t mean they lack weapons in the passing game. Sharona looks at the budding relationship of between wideout Tajae Sharpe and quarterback Marcus Mariota.

After the Tennessee Titans used the phrase “Exotic Smashmouth” during the preseason it rapidly became a topic of conversation. A lesser-known storyline, but one that may prove to be more important, is the integration into and emergence in the offense of rookie wideout Tajae Sharpe as quarterback Marcus Mariota’s weapon of choice.

A University of Massachusetts product, Sharpe turned heads early during organized team activities in the offseason and then in the preseason. If you followed his college career you weren’t surprised as the former All American led the NCAA with 9.3 receptions per game in 2015. Many felt the Titans got the steal of the 2016 NFL Draft when he fell to them in the 5th round.

Despite preseason hype, regular season football loomed and it was fair to ask how he would fare. The answer after one game is that Sharpe looks like the real deal.


In Week 1 against a very good Minnesota Vikings defense, the chemistry between Mariota and Sharpe became apparent. Mariota trusted his rookie wideout enough to target him early and often. Sharpe saw a team-high 11 targets and led the Titans in receiving with seven receptions for 76 yards. The next-highest targeted player was Andre Johnson, with seven targets and three receptions. Further, Sharpe accounted for 45.5% of the Titans first downs in the game per Pro Football Reference.

It’s an old cliche but film doesn’t lie, and Sharpe’s game on Sunday was impressive for the rookie who doesn’t seem intimidated by the speed of the NFL game. Early on, Sharpe (#19) was split out wide left in a five-receiver set with Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes (#26) in press coverage. Facing 2nd and 10, with the Titans driving from their 41-yard line, Mariota found Sharpe for this nice completion for 10 yards and a first down.

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Later, on 2nd and 10 at the Tennessee 47 with 9:20 left to go in the first half,  Mariota trusts Sharpe and targets him in double coverage.

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In one of their best drives of the game at the end of the first half, starting at their own 27 with 4:55 left, Mariota targeted Sharpe three times including this completion from the no huddle that moved the chains.

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In the final two minutes of the half, on that same drive, Mariota found Sharpe once again for a drive-sustaining catch for a first down. Without these key conversions, the Titans would not have ended the drive with a touchdown.

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Later in the game, Mariota targeted Sharpe on a skinny post, a route where timing is crucial. Sharpe was in position and made the play.

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In Week 2 against the Detroit Lions, Sharpe’s stat sheet wasn’t as good, but he was still the most targeted wide receiver on the team with 7 targets, 4 receptions, and 33 yards. Running back Demarco Murray likewise had 7 targets while tight end Delanie Walker was targeted 6 times.

Here, Mariota running the no huddle hits Sharpe over the middle on 2nd and 6 with the ball on the Detroit 38 yard line. The play picks up 11 yards and advances the chains in the first of three first down conversions between the two in Week 2.

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Sharpe finishes the play well with a mean stiff arm to Nevin Lawson to pick up the first down.

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Timing and chemistry are incredibly important between a quarterback and wide receiver. Despite their youth, Mariota and Sharpe already display signs of developing a very strong chemistry.  The Titans have been looking for a number one wide receiver since the early days of the franchise when they passed on Randy Moss to select Kevin Dyson in the 1998 NFL Draft. Tennessee intends to run the ball a lot this season, but having a threat in the passing game will force defenses to be honest and keep their running backs from constantly seeing eight or nine men in the box.

Follow Sharona on Twitter @SportsbySharona, and check out her articles comparing Jace Amaro and Delanie Walker and exploring the exotic smashmouth, as well as her appearance on ITP’s Mock War Room.

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All video courtesy of GamePass. 

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