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