Treylon Burks

Treylon Burks

When NFL insider Ian Rapoport reported that Tennessee Titans rookie receiver Treylon Burks was suffering from turf toe and expected to miss some time earlier this week, Titans fans likely had painful flashbacks of Julio Jones and A.J. Brown from last season.

While there is no definitive timetable regarding how much time Burks will miss, losing him — even for a handful of games — makes the Titans offense considerably weaker. Although Burks was targeted just five times over the past two games, catching three passes for 27 yards, he had still quietly become Tennessee’s second-leading receiver behind Robert Woods.

Burks silently did the little things that often went unnoticed. He led the Titans in some of the overlooked areas of the analytics, such as average yards of separation (3.9) — where he also ranked in the top 15 in the NFL — average targeted air yards (11.8), and yards after the catch per reception (5.9), per Next Gen Stats. His 12.9 yards per reception rank second on the Titans among all receivers, and he was responsible for 14.7 percent of the team’s receptions and saw 15.8 percent of the team’s total targets through four games — all second-best behind Woods.

“Treylon is a tough guy to replace, but it gives the other guys an opportunity,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “Whoever ends up stepping in there for us and getting a bigger role is going to have to come huge for us. We have some big, strong, physical receivers who can use their size and strength to create some space. We have to do that moving forward.”

With Burks sidelined, Woods will now be under a microscope. He’s been solid through the first four games, leading the team in most major receiving categories including receptions (13), targets (20), yards (167) and first downs (10), and he’s one of just two wideouts on the team without a drop this season. But it the Titans are going to start making their case as a legitimate playoff contender, they’re going to need the Robert Woods of 2018-2020 — the one who had back-to-back 90-catch seasons, the one who came just 64 yards shy of three straight 1,000-yard seasons.

“[Woods] has helped us in a lot of ways,” coach Mike Vrabel said recently. “He has taken advantage of his opportunities. He has certainly tried to play multiple positions for us and some moving parts. We have got other guys that are like that. Nick Westbrook-Ikhine can do that. Cody [Hollister] can play multiple spots. We will see kind of where things shake out this week.”

Added Tannehill: “Robert has done a good job since he got here of buying in and trying to do everything that we're asking of him. ... I have a lot of confidence throwing him the ball, and hopefully he continues to get himself open.”

But the burden of replacing Burks doesn’t fall on Woods alone. The only Titans receivers to catch a pass this year aside from Woods and Burks are rookie Kyle Philips, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine and Cody Hollister, who’ve combined for just 13 receptions and 159 yards.

Philips should see more time in the slot and working over the middle — an area that is Tannehill’s bread and butter. (Thirty-nine of his 67 completions and 47 of his 101 attempts this year have been between the hash marks.)

Westbrook-Ikhine and Hollister could split time out wide, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Josh Gordon earn a few snaps on Sunday and for Tennessee to possibly take a few shots deep with him.

"It's a great opportunity for these guys; to go out there and show what they can do in one-on-one situations,” offensive coordinator Todd Downing said. “It's been great to watch the process this year. In offseason training camp those guys got a lot of time on task with Ryan, having an understanding of where Ryan expects them to be and how he expects them to come out of the top of the route.”

As the Titans prepare for the Washington Commanders on Sunday at FedEx Field in D.C., they’ll tell you they’re not worried about replacing Burks’ production. And maybe they shouldn’t.

Aside from Benjamin St. Juste and Bobby McCain, Washington’s defensive backs typically allow a high completion percentage — Kendall Fuller (68), Darrick Forrest (60), William Jackson (82) — and all but McCain are allowing 10 yards or more per reception.

The Commanders have the ninth-worst passing defense in the NFL, allowing 259.8 yards passing per game. They’ve also surrendered the sixth-most receptions (107) and the eighth-most touchdown receptions (8) this year, and they rank 22nd in the league in coverage, according to Pro Football Focus.

If there was a week for the Titans passing offense to get right, this is that week.

"I'm excited for this week to get rolling and attack these [defensive backs],” Westbrook-Ikhine said. “We have a lot of big dudes to make contested catches, so we make a play wherever [Tannehill] throws it."

The Titans will take on the Commanders in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 9. Kickoff is at noon Central on CBS, with Andrew Catalon and James Lofton on the call.

Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_.

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