Titans: Vince Young and countless question marks August 14, 2007
Chris Bahr Sporting News
Not enough. As inspiring as the team's finish in 2006 was -- the Titans won six of the final seven games and nearly forced their way into the postseason -- the offseason was just as disappointing. Instead of beefing up the offense around emerging stud Vince Young, Tennessee sat idly by as the most coveted wideouts signed elsewhere. Worse, the Rams swooped in and signed Drew Bennett, the Titans' leading receiver in 2006. Bobby Wade, the team's No. 2 receiver from a year ago, also is gone.
In addition to a shaky passing attack, the running game has plenty of question marks. Travis Henry, who rushed for seven TDs en route to a 1,211-yard season in '06, now is in Denver. That leaves the injury-prone, fitness-challenged LenDale White as the starter. If he can't handle the load, Chris Brown is back in a backup role. And rookie Chris Henry also is available.
And no summary of the offseason would be complete without a mention of suspended Pacman Jones, who will spend the next six months near (but not in) a pro wrestling ring, instead of a pro football stadium. Say what you will about Jones, but he was capable of impact performances on defense and special teams.
Projected draft round Player Round Vince Young, QB 8-9 LenDale White, RB 7-8 Chris Brown, RB 13-14 Brandon Jones, WR 9 Roydell Williams, WR DND Bo Scaife, TE 14 Rob Bironas, K DND Defense/special teams DND Draft position based on a standard 12-team combined scoring and yardage league with a 17-round draft. DND: Do not draft.
Key additions: WR Justin Gage, CB Nick Harper, QB Tim Rattay. Key losses: WR Drew Bennett, RB Travis Henry, DT Robaire Smith, WR Bobby Wade.
Keith Bulluck. LB. Bulluck is the kind of do-everything linebacker IDP owners drool over. And that's what makes him our top-ranked LB heading into the 2007 season. He amassed 143 tackles, had 2.5 sacks and picked off a pass last season. That's five consecutive seasons with at least 125 tackles, meaning Bulluck also brings the consistency.
Chris Hope, DB. Hope is coming off a career year. His 121 tackles were second only to Bulluck on the Titans and led all NFL defensive backs. He finished with a career-high five interceptions and returned one for a TD. He is an elite option.
Vince Young, QB. That whole Madden Curse thing has been played out more than the Motley Crue "Shout at the Devil" tape that still resides in my car's tape deck (yeah, it's an older car -- I get paid to write about sports, not play them). The real reason Young is set up for a sophomore slump is the lack of talent around him. He enters the season without a go-to receiver and with big question marks in the running game. Young literally did it all for a while last season, but defenses will be ready for him this year. Obviously, his talent is too amazing to contain every week, but Young is a very risky choice as your starting QB. An overlooked stat: Young completed only 51.5 percent of his passes in 2006. You're better off drafting him as a backup and waiting for the Titans' offense to jell. He'll be more valuable later in the season.
Brandon Jones, WR. Entering that magical third season, Jones has the tools and the size to become the Titans' No. 1 wideout. Especially encouraging is the fact that three of his four TD receptions came in the final six weeks of the season. There's an obvious chemistry developing between Young and Jones. Still, it's asking an awful lot of Jones to take such a huge leap with the Titans and in terms of fantasy value. If you're counting on him as more than a sleeper or a borderline No. 3, you'll be disappointed.
Bo Scaife, TE. His name sounds like a combination of a lead character in a trashy romance novel and a foot disease, but Scaife was third on the team in receptions last season behind Drew Bennett and Bobby Wade (both of whom are gone). The tight end is a young QB's security blanket and the wideout talent here is unproven, so Scaife, who played with Young at Texas, will be targeted often. Just not often enough to be more than a bye-week fill-in, at least initially.
DL Kyle Vanden Bosch. A quick glance at Vanden Bosch's stats from last year would lead you to believe he was injured, unmotivated or ineffective. Although he managed a career-best 75 tackles, his sack total dropped from 12.5 to 6.5. But that had more to do with the lack of help he got, and the subsequent double-teams he faced. With improvement from linemates such as Travis LaBoy and Antwan Odom, Vanden Bosch should have a clearer path to the QB this season.
LenDale White, RB. It's safe to say that the careers of former USC backfield mates Reggie Bush and White have gone in opposite directions. Bush ran for big yardage and TDs last season, in addition to doing Subway commercials with that Jared goof. Conversely, White's body often resembles Jared's -- pre-Subway diet. White also has battled nagging injuries throughout his young career. But if he can impress this preseason, the feature back job will be his. We just have our doubts about whether he can do anything with it. He should be among the last starting running backs selected, especially considering he isn't yet the official starter.
Rob Bironas, K. When researching kickers -- and I'll admit that's not how I usually spend my Friday nights (not with all those Fresh Prince reruns on) -- the first thing I look at is how a kicker performs from 40-49 yards. I generally consider anything less than 40 yards to be a given, and anything more than 49 yards to be a bonus. Well, Bironas was only 4-for-8 from my all-important range. Sure, Bironas did nail one from 60 yards last season and he did finish strong, but that shouldn't make him worthy of a draft pick this season. Not with that offense and not coming off two offseason surgeries.
Chris Brown, RB. Brown is the Titans' insurance policy for LenDale White. He has a 1,000-yard season on his resume, but the past two seasons have been subpar. He failed to reach 900 yards as the team's starter in 2005, and he played second fiddle to Travis Henry last season. Because running backs are so valuable, because the team's depth chart is far from settled and because White is such an unknown, Brown must be drafted, but not until the later middle rounds.
Chris Henry, RB. The Titans hope they won't see much of Henry, at least not early in the season. The rookie second-round pick isn't ready to start, and that's why the team brought Brown back. However, White is hardly a dependable starter, so Henry could get into the mix earlier than expected. He is worth a look in the late rounds, but he'll likely be among the first players you expose to waivers when you need to pick up another player.
Roydell Williams, WR. After a promising rookie season in 2005 (299 yards, 2 TDs), Williams went scoreless last season while catching only eight passes. Even on a team that's thin at receiver, Williams isn't making his mark. In fact, he is battling groin and hamstring injuries in camp. Feel free to track him -- and maybe even put in a claim for him later -- but don't draft him.
Eric Moulds, WR. First things first: Yes, Moulds still is in the NFL. But you'd never know it from watching him last season. On a Houston team desperately in need of a No. 2 to take the heat off Andre Johnson, Moulds was a dud. And there's little reason to expect a career revival in this offense. The fact that he started the preseason opener isn't too vital.
David Givens, WR. Givens is a relatively new member of a dubious club -- receivers who shine in New England, then fail miserably once they leave. To be fair, he battled knee problems last season that resulted in an ACL surgery (and a follow-up operation), and he played in only five games. Givens won't be ready for Week 1, and he should start the season on your waiver wire.
Ben Troupe, TE. After a breakout season in 2005 (55 receptions, four TDs), Troupe's 2006 campaign ended early because of a broken ankle. He is behind Bo Scaife on the depth chart, but still has a bit of value and upside as he enters his fourth season. Track him? Yes. Draft him? No way.
Titans defense/special teams. Much of the appeal of this unit came from Pacman Jones' return gains and his ability to take an INT to the house. Because of a suspension and a budding pro wrestling career, Pacman is out of the picture. Free-agent pickup Nick Harper will help, but what's basically left is a group that finished last in total defense, 29th in sacks and in the middle of the pack in takeaways (aided by Pacman's four pickoffs). As you can see, this unit has about as much appeal as that hot dog that has been sitting on that rotating thingy for anywhere between 10 and 110 hours at your local gas station.
Courtney Roby, WR. It's tough to count out any wideout in Tennessee, but there are more polished options than Roby, who caught only two passes in 2006. If he surprises, you always can use a waiver claim to snatch the speedy third-year player.
Kerry Collins, QB. Collins' main role is as the clipboard holder and veteran mentor for Vince Young. Even if Young were injured and Collins were pressed into duty, he wouldn't be worth a waiver claim.
Justin Gage, WR. If I read once more about his athleticism and leaping ability, I'm going to dress in a meat coat and jump into the bear exhibit at the zoo. Speaking of Bears, that's the team with which Gage spent the first four years of his career teasing everyone with his supposed potential.
Ultimate Fantasy Football Tip: The biggest mistake you can make right now is paying the $7.25 million for Vince Young, who is the seventh-most expensive QB in this game. If you're dying to own him, wait until after the team's bye week -- when his price will be lower. That's also when the Titans begins a soft stretch in their schedule -- from Week 5 to Week 7, they'll play the Falcons, Buccaneers and Texans.
TO KNOW LIST
Coaching: Jeff Fisher has been in Tennessee so long that it seems he has been through six or seven rebuilding phases. He did an outstanding job last season, especially late, but he faces an uphill battle with so many young players. Offensive coordinator Norm Chow will have to work through that inexperience and find a way to motivate LenDale White, while also attempting to get Vince Young's passing ability on par with his scrambling ability. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz needs to devise a way to get more pressure off end Kyle Vanden Bosch and on the opposing QB.
Offensive line: Here's one thing the running game has going for it. The Titans' O-line, although relatively young at several spots, was a pleasant surprise last season and should build on that experience. In fact, we rank this unit seventh overall. The experience of center Kevin Mawae and right guard Benji Olson is a big plus. Much of the credit must go to Vince Young's elusiveness, but the Titans allowed only 29 sacks last season. And only five teams averaged more yards per carry. Solid.
Schedule analysis: There are some soft opposing defenses (Saints, Falcons, Bucs, Texans, Chiefs), but the Titans also play eight games against teams with top 12 fantasy defenses. Looking ahead to Week 14 -- the first week of playoffs in most leagues -- the Titans will be matched up against the Chargers. No thanks. Fantasy Strength of Schedule: 2nd toughest (or 31st easiest).