Airing It Out In Tennessee? Putting Chris Johnson 's Prediction to the Test
Tennessee Titan RB Chris Johnson is recently on record indicating the Titans' offense will be less smash and more pass in 2012. However, when looking at the numbers, I think it is fair to say the Titans began that transition in 2011. For the first time since 1992 (when they were the Houston Oilers), Tennessee surpassed the 3900 passing yard mark. Even the late Steve McNair never managed to lead his team to more than 3400 yards passing. The departure of Jeff Fisher not only signaled the end of the longest tenured coach in the NFL, but also a change in offensive philosophy. Chris Johnson's words ring true, but are about a year late in their delivery. It is well stated and documented the league's transformation away from running and defense to a more aerial approach and Tennessee is just trying to keep up with the Jones'. So what does 2012 hold for the Titan offense, can their progression continue and who are the pass catchers to own in Tennessee?
There is still much to be decided in terms of the Titan signal caller in 2012. Matt Hasselbeck moved from Seattle to Tennessee prior to the 2011 season. Hasselbeck did a nice job (posting his best numbers since 2007 when he was with Seattle), including a 30/42 for 358 yards and 1 TD performance in leading the Titans to an upset win against Baltimore in week 2. For the first time since 2007, Hasselbeck also was able to start in all 16 games. However, the oft-injured QB was not able to finish all 16 games, giving Titan fans a glimpse at their future in rookie QB Jake Locker. Like a shark that "smells" blood, many Titan fans saw enough to yearn for the young QB and any setbacks, injury or not, for Hasselbeck may spell his doom. The QB situation is one to keep an eye on in Tennessee through training camp and preseason, as Locker has the potential to be a nice dual-threat QB2 in fantasy circles with substantial upside if he gets the nod early.
FFtoolbox.com writer Brian Murphy put it best in describing Chris Johnson as, "CJ…SomethingK". There is not an expectation for Johnson to put up 2000+ yards again; and while I would argue he is undervalued this year, Johnson is no slouch catching the ball out of the backfield. Never registering less than 40 catches in his career, Johnson caught 57 balls in 2011 and I am expecting those numbers to rise in 2012, especially if Locker gets the nod at QB. Johnson is beyond scary with open space and the Titans' passing attack would be wise to use Johnson liberally when throwing the ball.
If you asked anyone about the 2012 Titans passing game 4 days ago, certainly the immediate responses would revolve around Kenny Britt . Those responses would still revolve around Britt today, but for all the wrong reasons. Britt has undergone 3 knee surgeries since 2011 and even more concerning, Britt had his 8th run-in with the authorities following a DUI arrest on Friday morning. Hasselbeck or Locker will again have to look to Nate Washington and rookie Kendall Wright for production as Britt will be hard pressed to avoid a suspension whenever he is able to return from injury. Washington did an excellent job in 2011 filling in for Britt, scoring 7 TDs and amassing 1000+ yards receiving. Potential owners should feel ecstatic landing Washington in the 16th round (where he is currently being drafted) and should not hesitate to pull the trigger even earlier if need be. Maybe Washington does not repeat those numbers, but at that cost, he is well worth the "risk". The Titans had been running Wright in Britt's position during OTAs; perhaps thankfully so as he will now have to fill in for an extended period in 2012. Wright should help relieve the pressure and coverage on Washington and could surpass Washington as the Titans' top WR while Britt is off the field. Wright's price tag has me avoiding the rookie WR (currently being drafted before Washington) as he may have the higher ceiling, but also a much lower floor. The trio of Britt, Washington and Wright is quite formidable, but the questions surrounding Britt and his potential suspension have me pumping the breaks on expectations for the WRs for now.
A proverbial sleeper pick at TE in 2011, Jared Cook had trouble getting out of the gates. However, by the end of the season, Cook jumpstarted the hype machine yet again for the upcoming season as he averaged 7 catches and 112 yards receiving for the final 3 games. Cook only tallied 3 TDs, but as the confidence and chemistry continues to build between Cook and whichever QB gets the nod, so will his TD numbers. Cook is currently being drafted as the 14th best TE, but I expect him to move into the top 10 in 2012. Cook is athletic, but raw and his growth at the position should continue to trend upward in his 3rd season with the Titans.