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Can Kenny Britt become the next great wide receiver?

by Chase Stuart on July 9, 2013

in Random Perspective On, Receiving, Statistics

Britt smoked the Eagles secondary

Britt smoked the Eagles secondary.

Kenny Britt’s story is hardly a secret. As a freshman at Rutgers in 2006, his 64-yard catch turned the tide in the biggest win in school history. The next year, he was part of a dynamic offense: Ray Rice rushed for 2,012 yards, Tiquan Underwood caught 65 passes for 1100 yards and 7 touchdowns, and Britt was the big play threat, gaining 1,232 yards and 8 touchdowns on 62 catches. In 2008, Britt caught 87 passes for 1,371 yards and 7 touchdowns. After his junior year, the dynamic college receiver made the obvious move and declared for the NFL Draft. He then watched his hometown Giants take Hakeem Nicks one pick before the Titans made Britt the first Rutgers player ever to be selected in the first round.

Before analyzing his NFL career, I think it’s important to remember that Britt is young for his class year: he played in his first NFL game before he was old enough to legally drink. Despite the young age, Britt didn’t disappoint, producing 701 receiving yards as a rookie in ’09. He even produced a signature moment, catching the game-winning touchdown pass from Vince Young in what was one of the greatest comeback drives of all time (no, really — I swear).

Britt’s 2010 season looks like modest improvement on the surface, but his 775 yards and 9 touchdowns don’t tell the full story. According to Pro Football Focus, Britt only ran passing routes on 253 snaps that season, but averaged a whopping 3.1 yards per route run, easily the highest rate in the league. The obvious follow-up question is why didn’t he run more routes? Well, the 2010 Titans were a run-heavy team centered around Chris Johnson; Tennessee finished 30th with just 474 pass attempts. Britt also missed nearly five full games with a hamstring injury, and Tennessee tended to place Nate Washington on the field in their 1-WR sets. Those seem like reasonable explanations for overlooking why a 22-year-old would play a limited number of snaps. The impressive part is his insane production.

That set 2011 up as a very interesting year: could Britt maintain that pace on more snaps? Was he about to emerge as the next elite wide receiver? On Britt’s first 94 pass routes, he gained 289 yards, producing yet another superb 3.1 YPRR average. Unfortunately, his 94th route was his last: Britt missed the rest of the season after tearing his ACL and MCL following a hit by Broncos safety Rahim Moore.1

Okay, so would 2012 be the breakout season? Not by a longshot. Britt struggled last year, producing a line of just 45/589/4 in 14 games and 11 starts. But in addition to dealing with the inconsistent Jake Locker, Britt was never fully healthy. He had hamstring problems in training camp, an ankle injury early in the year, and his knee never seemed right, either (tearing two ligaments in your knee tends to have an impact on normal humans).

So what should we expect from Britt in 2013? The optimist would say that now two full years removed from surgery, Britt could be finally ready to emerge as a star receiver. The pessimist would focus on Britt’s inability to stay on the field and the laundry list of off-the-field issues (he’s had nine incidents involving the police since entering the NFL).

I spoke with Thomas Gower of Total Titans and Football Outsiders, and asked him his thoughts.

Q: How much do you blame the ACL/MCL injury for Britt’s dropoff last season?

TG: There’s no doubt in my mind the injury and rust associated with it had a lot to do with Britt’s down 2012 campaign. Physically, he just didn’t move like we’d seen a healthy Kenny Britt move. Not the same speed, not the same explosion, just not the same player. Even when he had his big game late in the season against Indianapolis, he wasn’t the old Kenny Britt. I believe he said he got better throughout the season (because of the offseason surgeries, including one on the non-ACL knee, he missed all of training camp even) and ended the year at about 80%. The injury-related layoff also just destroyed his sense of timing. He visibly battled the ball all year long, and he’s said this offseason he had trouble adjusting to the speed of the ball coming out of the quarterback’s hands. It wasn’t just Locker’s occasional tendency to fastball short throws, either, as he struggled catching passes from Hasselbeck as well.

Q: Do you think that sets up 2013 as a bounceback season for Britt?

TG: As to what to expect from Britt this year, it’s hard to say. All accounts from OTAs are that he’s if not absolutely 100% healthy, he’s pretty close to it. He has the physical talent to be as good as about any wide receiver in the game. The big question aside from health has been how mentally focused he is away from the field on being the best football player he can be. I don’t have a good feel for that, but he showed in 2010 that he can put up relatively good numbers even without ideal technique refinement. As long as he’s healthy, I expect him to play plenty, maybe 80% of snaps. I don’t expect him to be a great fantasy wide receiver, though. The Titans are shifting to the run game as the focus of the offense, naturally limiting his numbers, wide receiver depth is better, and frankly, I don’t trust him to play all 16 games.

Q: I agree with you that adding Chance Warmack and Shonn Greene should make Tennessee a more run-heavy team. But what do you make of the fact that the Titans have spent top-35 picks in consecutive years on wide receivers not named Britt or Nate Washington? That’s an odd use of resources for a team that wants to have only two wide receivers on the field.

TG: I think the Titans will look a lot like they did in the second half of 2009 and in 2010. Personnel-wise, they’ll run a lot of two tight ends, and with Delanie Walker instead of Jared Cook, they have three relatively good blockers and no relatively good receivers at the position.

The Justin Hunter pick was about a couple things. First, they didn’t have a pure speed receiver. Kendall Wright at Baylor seemed like he might be that guy, but indications from his rookie year and what they’ve said about him say that he’s not. Second, 2013 will almost certainly be Kenny Britt’s last season in Tennessee. Between his injuries and off-the-field issues, the Titans seem frustrated enough with him I can’t see a situation where they’re willing to pay him what he thinks he’s worth. Third, their only wideout under contract for 2014 who was a lock to be there (before taking Hunter) was Wright. Lavelle Hawkins was released post-draft, and there’s no way Nate Washington is going to be around at $4.8 million.

There’s a relatively good chance Washington gets cut this year. He’s not a great outside receiver, even as a #2, and he’s due to make $4.2 million. Yes, he’s been their most reliable receiver the past two seasons, but he’s not so good they can’t cut him. I think the Titans would be fine, relatively speaking, rolling with Britt, Wright, Hunter, Kevin Walter, and Damian Williams as their group.

Q: Thanks, Tom. Last question: I’m not much of a Locker fan. Do you think he turns it on this year?

TG: The optimistic point of view is Locker never got to a good level of trust in Chris Palmer’s option route-heavy offense, and hesitated too much. He’d wait for guys to break open, and that gave defenses more time to react. Cynics (like me) say he’s always been a “see it, throw it” passer who lacks anticipation, so that was nothing new. By giving him more predictable routes, he can read a defense and make a throw. It’s a form of anticipation, albeit a relatively robotic one that doesn’t react well to stress (see Dalton, Andy). Accuracy issues, you say? What accuracy issues?

Previous “Random Perspective On” Articles:
AFC East: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New York Jets
AFC North: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers
AFC South: Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans
AFC West: Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers
NFC East: Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins
NFC North: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings
NFC South: Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
NFC West: Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams

  1. I guess Britt should have just ran a go route. Too soon, Denver fans? []

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Danish July 9, 2013 at 9:24 am

Way too soon.

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Shattenjager July 9, 2013 at 12:19 pm

I’m not upset about that play so much as Fox’s incredible Schottenheimering the end of that game.

However, considering that a year and a half ago I was certain that we had five more years of dealing with Saint Timmy and his horrendous minions, I’m happy with the season anyway. As a result, I’m okay with jokes about Rahim Moore being confused by go routes.

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Danish July 9, 2013 at 1:18 pm

Agree mostly. Mannings interception in OT was a punch in the plums too. It’s just… I so rarely let myself get optimistic about football, because the single elimination thing will rip your heart out nine of ten times. But the way the regular season ended last year, with the 1st seed and all, I couldn’t help looking forward to kicking Brady’s but at Mile High in the AFCCG. And the Ravens were dead. Manning had ‘em. Then, boom, right in the nads.

This doesn’t take anything away from what I believe to be the best off-season for any team in any sport since the 2008 Boston Celtics – how Elway managed to upgrade from Tim Tebow to Peyton Manning is beyond me. And the regular season was great, but the brutal heatrbreak at the end there kind of ruins it for me, I must admit.

Wait was I supposed to talk about Kenny Britt?

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Shattenjager July 9, 2013 at 1:58 pm

It’s lucky for Elway that Manning was still Manning. It took until about week 10 for people around here to stop complaining about how Tebow was better, even with him being great. Imagine if he’d been average instead.

To end the threadjack, I think Britt in 2010 was as physically dominant a receiver as I ever remember seeing outside of Randy Moss. His off-field problems and injuries make me wonder if we’re ever going to see him come anywhere near living up to that.

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Danish July 9, 2013 at 2:49 pm

Well you can’t go to a teams homebase to get a balanced evaluation of the play of the QB – I hardly listen to Chase, when he rambles on Sanchez!

Britt looks more physically dominant than Calvin Johnson? Or Andre? Fitz? I dunno…

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Danish July 9, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Clarification: I listen, Chase, but mostly for the entertainment value :D

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Shattenjager July 9, 2013 at 3:52 pm

“As physically dominant as,” not more physically dominant than. In my opinion Calvin Johnson is at about the same level that Britt looked that season (though Johnson has looked like that for much longer). I don’t think either Fitzgerald or Andre Johnson has ever been at that physical level, but they have other abilities to make up for it (hands, route running, ability to make adjustments, etc.). Britt in 2010 really didn’t have any of the refinements those other guys have, so he wasn’t as good or as consistent, but I think he was that physically dominant.

He also hasn’t looked close to that since 2010. He may have been in better shape that year than he will ever be again.

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Ajit July 9, 2013 at 5:56 pm

I think the chiefs last year showed that terrible qb play can fast derail every member of an offense from both a fantasy perspective and a win perspective.

I’ve seen about 3 or 4 games of lockers, charted two of them, and in all came away thoroughly underwhelmed. Actually, that’s being generous. I’m not trying to bash the titans necessarily, but I really feel like they are in for a calamitous year. I think Locker is terrible and the defense really isn’t very good either, with derrick morgan and a few others highlight an otherwise dismal roster. I also think Munchak is a lame duck. Of course, the division is very weak so they might win a few games anyways, but I really feel like they are the odds on favorite to end up with the worst record in football.

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commonsense July 10, 2013 at 9:11 pm

Ajit, I think you are out of your mine. Do you even know what you are talking about. You must be talking out of your BEHIND. I think TITANS will do just fine and bet that they will in no way have the worst record.

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Ajit July 10, 2013 at 10:05 pm

Care to give some reasons to back up what you’re saying other than I’m talking out of my behind? I think my position was reasonably argued. I accept that making a predictions is tough, but its just an opinion. Btw, per FO, the titans had the 29th ranked offense, 25th ranked defense last year – so they were a pretty bad team last year. Their record was likely inflated by having a really soft schedule. So please provide reasons for why you think I’m wrong, instead of just trying to be insulting.

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Biggan July 11, 2013 at 6:39 am

Soft schedule eh Ajit? Um I dont think you watched too much football last year or something. Green Bay, New England, Pittsburgh, Houston (x2), Indy (x2), Chicago and thats an easy schedule eh? Oh and lets not forget the rotation on offensive line due to injurys we had last year. If I remember correctly we had the most players on IR/PUP list at the end of the season last year and also started more O-Line combinations than any team in the league because of losing 4/5 starters for the year. We would have done better last year if not for all the injuries. Also a slowed Kenny Britt coming of knee surgeries to both knees likely did not help. Already clearly baring injuries we will have one of the better o-lines in the NFL this year and perhaps open some holes for CJ to get through. Locker will also show improvement significantly with better protection and an easier scheme than Chris Palmer was trying to force down his throat at the speed of light. Also like him or not G. Williams will help adjust our terribad defense from last year and Pollard will bring some swag and attitude that is much needed. I dont think we are SB bound or anything but I have a hard time believing that we will be the worst team in the NFL or anywhere even close. My prediction is 9-7 this year with a much easier schedule than last year, perhaps even a wildcard birth.

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Biggan July 11, 2013 at 6:43 am

Oh and also I must have forgotten the 2 shoulder injuries that Locker had last year, and even received surgery for in the offseason. That hurts as well.

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Kibbles July 12, 2013 at 2:45 am

Can he? Yes. Will he? It’s unlikely, but then again, it’s unlikely that ANY individual player will be the “next great ______”. The odds of it happening are very low. I’d say, with the exception of Tavon Austin, I’d put Kenny Britt’s odds higher than any other 25-or-under WR who is not already generally believed to be flirting with that title (i.e. no Bryant, Green, Julio, Demaryius, or Harvin, and possibly no Cobb and Nicks depending on where your threshold for “next great WR” falls).

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