NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Dez Fitzpatrick wasn't with the Tennessee Titans for more than 30 minutes before he received a special text message. The wide receiver from Louisville, taken in the fourth round of last week's NFL draft, was already hearing from his new quarterback.
"Ryan Tannehill hit me up, congratulated me and said he can't wait to work," Fitzpatrick said. "He said that he's excited for me to come down and he felt like I was a good pick for them and he likes my game and I got to be a weapon with this offense."
Tannehill's excited for good reason. The 6-foot-2, 208-pound Fitzgerald showed off his polished route-running and playmaking ability during the week of practice at the Senior Bowl. He capped that off with six receptions for 90 yards in the game.
Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy was especially impressed with Fitzpatrick’s performance in the game.
“He went out and balled! I saw him pregame and you could see it," Nagy said. "That dude was ready to compete and he obviously had a great game. He’s a guy that gets it right away. He comes across to me as a guy that will be able to hit the ground running.”
Robinson got to see Fitzpatrick in person at the Senior Bowl and did extensive work on him with the scouting staff. After not selecting a wide receiver through the first three rounds, Titans GM Jon Robinson traded up to select Fitzpatrick in the fourth round with the 109th pick.
What they saw led them to believe that Fitzpatrick would contribute to the team's success now and in the future.
"We watched a lot on him and we like his size. We like his speed. We like his length," Robinson said. "He's got good route-running skills. He's got some things he's got to clean up. I love his toughness. I love his tenacity as a blocker. He's good in traffic catching the football."
Fitzpatrick said the Titans took note of the reps he had in the slot in the Senior Bowl and how he played in the slot during his earlier years at Louisville. After losing receiver Corey Davis to free agency and releasing Adam Humphries, the Titans needed to add players who could play across the formation.
In free agency, the team added Josh Reynolds, who played every receiver position for the Los Angeles Rams over the past four seasons. Tennessee is getting similar versatility in Fitzpatrick, who gives them another option that can be moved around and complement star wideout A.J. Brown.
"They said that they're really impressed that I can play inside, outside at my size," Fitzpatrick added. "Going back to my first two years at Louisville, I played the Z position, which allowed me to play inside and outside, but the last two years at Louisville I played the X position. They liked how I can move at a big size, a thicker frame."
Fitzpatrick posted 43 receptions for 833 yards and three touchdowns last season at Louisville. The most attractive part of his stat line is the 19.3 yards per catch.
The Titans need a player who can stretch the field and open up the underneath game, giving Brown more space to work the middle of the field. If Tannehill can successfully connect with Fitzpatrick on some deep passes, safeties will start to play the vertical routes, which would give Brown one fewer defender to worry about and open up more of an opportunity to gain yards after the catch.
"I feel like for you to be a deep threat, that's how it comes -- that's how you get your separation in your intermediate routes and your shorter routes," Fitzpatrick said. "They respect everything if they think that you're going deep. The slants and the hitches and everything works better when they respect your deep threat, and that's kind of how you got to go about things."
Nagy said he noticed how well Fitzpatrick accelerates despite not being a “top-end burner.” According to Nagy, it seems like he gets on cornerbacks quicker than they expect which makes it tougher to open up their hips and run with him.
But Fitzpatrick is not just a deep threat. He is a technically sound route-runner who attacks the ball when it's thrown his way. His ball skills make him capable of winning on back-shoulder throws and making contested catches.
Fitzpatrick's impressive catch and 74-yard TD gives Louisville lead
Malik Cunningham lets it sail to Dez Fitzpatrick for a 74-yard touchdown that gives Louisville their first lead of the game vs. Florida State.
Obviously, Fitzpatrick isn't the perfect prospect and has some areas for improvement. Former Titans receiver Chris Sanders believes Fitzpatrick can be a solid pro after he develops further as a receiver.
"He's physical at the line of scrimmage. I love his releases and he has a game plan. I love his feet," Sanders said. "He gets the DBs off of their spots and stacks him very well. The only thing that I'm concerned about is when he's running those over-the-middle routes he's not creating separation. He has to work at the top of the route. Give the DB a little head fake or a jab to make him think you're going in the opposite direction of where you're actually going. If he can do that, you're getting a polished receiver."
Sanders pointed to the way Fitzpatrick works back to the football on comebacks and curl routes as an example of the results that come from hard work. A lot of younger receivers don't consistently find their way back to the ball. Sanders says it's a sign that someone has worked with Fitzpatrick a lot to fine-tune his game.
Fortunately for the Titans, Fitzpatrick has shown himself to be a player who is always working to get better. The willingness to put in the extra work was one of the many traits the Titans like about Fitzpatrick.
Robinson added, "One of the things, as we continued to visit with him and talk to the staff there at Louisville about him, is how tireless his work ethic was. That's one thing we talked about is get ready to bring your work ethic here to Nashville."