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Front Page - Friday, October 6, 2023

Westbrook-Ikhine goes from undrafted to consistent option

Wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine has 78 receptions for 1,040 yards and nine TDs in three-plus seasons with Titans. He scored once and had a team-high five catches against Cincinnati. - Photo by George Walker IV | AP

In his four years with the Titans, he has become a symbol of the team’s lack of dynamic production at wide receiver to many in the team’s fan base.

But the truth is, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine has turned into a valuable success story on several different levels in his now three-plus seasons in Tennessee.

Westbrook-Ikhine came to the Titans as an undrafted free agent out of Indiana in the COVID-impacted 2020 season, and his first training camp wasn’t the best.

Dropped passes plagued him, and it seemed no big surprise when the Titans let him go in final cuts. It might have been more of a surprise to some that Westbrook-Ikhine was brought back to the practice squad for further development and the chance to get an opportunity perhaps later on.

Later on came in Week Two of that season when he was signed back to the active roster and given a role of being primarily a gunner on punt coverage and to be a mainstay on virtually all the special teams units.

NWI became one of the Titans’ most valuable special teams players in his first two seasons with the team. And thanks to injuries and attrition, he has, over time, developed as a receiver.

His numbers over his first three seasons don’t dazzle, but he caught 66 passes during that time and had a pair of 100-yard receiving games while filling in between injuries to Julio Jones, Treylon Burks and others, as well as trying to help fill the gaping hole caused by the trade of A.J. Brown.

Still, the lack of appreciation sort of shows. Entering his restricted free agent season, the Titans declined to offer him even the minimum tender of just more than $2 million, instead playing hardball before he accepted a one-year deal for about half that amount.

It didn’t seem to deter Westbrook-Ikhine, who is off to the best start of his four-year career this season. After catching five passes for 51 yards and a TD against the Bengals Sunday, NWI now has 12 receptions for 124 yards and has caught both of Ryan Tannehill’s touchdown throws in the first four games.

“Nick’s consistent. He’s been the same guy and shown steady improvement since he got here three or four years ago now,” Tannehill says. “He’s a guy who comes to work each and every day. You know what you’re getting from him when he practices.

“And exactly what he does in practice is exactly what he does in the game. He’s showed up big on a number of occasions and does the dirty work for us, and he obviously has the talent to play for us on the outside. I’m thankful to have Nick. We can move him around. He’s a versatile player and adds value to our team.”

And while NWI will never be confused for the recently acquired DeAndre Hopkins, Brown or Burks, he has carved out a nice role with the Titans because of his versatility.

“I try to have a good knowledge of the offense and just to be versatile and be able to know all the different positions at receiver,” Westbrook-Ikhine says. “That way, the way this league works, guys go down and you need to be able to step up and fill in for different roles. I try to prepare like I’m a starter for those different positions.”

As for the trust he has earned from Tannehill, Westbrook-Ikhine says his time here has helped that develop with his quarterback.

“It’s crazy to think that I’m the most tenured guy with the Titans, but I think that’s just part of it,” he says. “I’ve just been trying to build that trust over these four years and just trying to be available. That’s part of our job as receivers and that’s what I’ve tried to do.”

Titans coach Mike Vrabel says he appreciates Westbrook-Ikhine’s versatility and value, not only as a receiver but as an impact player on special teams. He sees him as similar type to new teammate Chris Moore, whom Vrabel and offensive coordinator Tim Kelly were with in Houston.

“They have made plays throughout the early part of the season when called upon. Those guys work extremely hard. They play on special teams for us, they know all the receiver spots. Invaluable, versatile players,” Vrabel says.

Valuable enough to deserve better than being the face of Titans receiver futility.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com