The Titans are coming off a roller-coaster 2009 season that included a number of ups and downs. Despite starting the season with a six-game losing streak, the Titans managed to claw their way back to an 8-8 finish by finishing on a 8-2 run that coincided with quarterback Vince Young’s insertion into the starting lineup.
The season’s highlight was running back Chris Johnson having an outstanding sophomore season, becoming only the sixth player in NFL history to surpass 2,000 yards (finishing with 2,006). Young’s development as a pocket passer was also impressive. Although he struggled in some games, his accuracy seemed to be better than in prior years, even if his completion percentage failed to reflect that.
The lowlight of the season may have been the performance of the Titans defense. The usually stellar unit was not able to overcome the loss of defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth to free agency or the three-game absence of cornerback Cortland Finnegan. The defense stumbled to a 31st ranking in pass defense while giving up over 25 points per game.
In 2010, Young returns as the starting quarterback, although there are questions about his availability early in the season due to his involvement in a night club incident that occurred in June. At his best, Young is an improvisational quarterback able to make plays with his legs when his receivers are covered. He has a knack for making plays late in close games, but he needs to develop more consistency as a pocket passer.
With Johnson in tow, the Titans figure to once again be among the league leaders in rushing yards. The only concern is whether the Titans can find a viable backup to Johnson to reduce the injury risk associated with using him too much. Javon Ringer will battle a pair of undrafted free agents (LaGarrette Blunt and Stafon Johnson) for what little playing time Johnson leaves behind.
The Titans feature a trio of wide receivers who each bring differing strengths to the offense. Nate Washington is the team’s top deep threat but needs to improve his route running on short and intermediate routes. Justin Gage is a big receiver who is best used on intermediate patterns and in the red zone. Second-year player Kenny Britt offers the most upside at the position given his size and speed, but he is coming off a disappointing offseason in which he was told to sit out OTAs due to his poor conditioning.
Bo Scaife returns at tight end. Although he is a favorite of Young’s, the Titans want more from the position, and Scaife seems to have reached his potential. Ideally, Jared Cook would show enough in the preseason to earn the starting nod, with Scaife moving to the bench.
Over the years, the Titans have been a team focused on playing solid defense and with the ability to run the ball on offense. However, they failed to add any key pieces on defense, so improvement will have to come from within. On offense, they will remain focused on running the ball, given the dynamic talent that Johnson possesses.
QB Vince Young
Young enters 2010 as the unchallenged starting quarterback for the Titans, though it’s debatable whether that’s a good or bad thing. Although he played well last year, he remains a work in progress both on and off the field. His maturity has been questioned in the past, and his involvement in another incident this offseason had to be disappointing for the Titans. Young has been the quintessential boom-or-bust fantasy quarterback, but he did display more consistency last year. Temper your enthusiasm, however, since the Titans will rely heavily on Chris Johnson running the ball and, although Damian Williams was added at wide receiver through the draft, the team figures to rely once again on Nate Washington, Justin Gage, and an out-of-shape Kenny Britt in 2010. Expect Young to be drafted before he should be; his true value is as a low-end fantasy backup with upside.
RB Chris Johnson
Johnson is coming off a monstrous 2009 season in which he became only the sixth running back in NFL history to top 2,000 yards rushing (finishing with a total of 2,006). He also added 503 receiving yards, and his 2,509 combined total was the most yards from scrimmage in NFL history. The Titans return four of five starters along the offensive line, and the trade of LenDale White makes Johnson a sure workhorse back in 2010. However, if history is any indication, Johnson’s 2010 production will not approach what he accomplished last year. None of the previous five running backs to top 2,000 yards came close to hitting the milestone in the following season. However, look for Johnson to top 2,000 total yards and maintain a touchdown–per-game pace, which should please any of his fantasy owners. He will enter the season as the near-unanimous choice as the top fantasy running back.
RB Javon Ringer
With Lendale White having been traded, Ringer will compete with undrafted rookie free agents LaGarrette Blunt and Stafon Johnson for the backup role behind Chris Johnson. Ringer has been working as the team’s starter with Chris Johnson absent from offseason workouts, so he is in position to win the job. He was a workhorse back in college, and Johnson owners will want to use a late-round pick on Ringer for use as a handcuff.
WR Kenny Britt
Britt is coming off a nice rookie season with over 700 yards, although his three touchdowns were a bit of a disappointment considering his 6’3”, 220 pound frame. But the Titans are a well-coached team, so expect Britt’s red zone targets to increase in 2010, and look for him to become more assertive in going after balls. Expectations of a breakout season were dampened when reports out of Tennessee indicated that he was so out of shape that the Titans refused to let him practice at OTAs. Apparently his rookie production has gone to his head. Add that as a risk factor to this second-year player. Britt is unlikely to be a worthy fantasy starter in 2010 in most leagues, but he does have upside for keeper leagues.
WR Nate Washington
Washington is coming off a disappointing first season in Tennessee where he was bothered with injuries and never seemed to be on the same page with Vince Young. Washington will compete with Justin Gage for a spot in the starting lineup, but with Kenny Britt at one starting spot, it makes more sense to have the explosive Washington in the starting lineup ahead of Gage. Washington has always been an inconsistent performer, but expect him to top his 2009 production this season. He is a backup for fantasy purposes but is worth starting if the weekly matchup is right.
WR Justin Gage
The Titans were hopeful that Gage, after having a solid first year with the team, could continue to improve and solidify his role in the starting lineup. However, he has been a bit of a disappointment since that 2007 campaign, missing four games in each of the last two seasons. He suffered a spine injury last year that he set him back, and it now appears that he will be relegated to a backup role in 2010. There is some hope for Gage, however, given the offseason maturity issues second-year player Kenny Britt has shown. However, Britt and 2010 second-round pick Damian Williams are the future at the position for the Titans, and Gage is unlikely to earn enough playing time to be relevant for fantasy purposes in 2010.
TE Bo Scaife
A few years ago, Scaife seemed to be a promising player, but it now appears that he is stuck in journeyman status. Scaife figures to open the season as the Titans starting tight end, but second-year player Jared Cook will be breathing down his neck during the preseason. Although Scaife has 149 receptions over the last three years, his fantasy production has been muted by his 9.5 yards per reception average over that span, along with his lack of touchdowns (four in three years). If Scaife holds onto the job, expect 30-40 yards per game and one or two touchdowns on the season. Why bother?
TE Jared Cook
Cook is talented and Bo Scaife has shown his limitations over his five-year career, so Cook’s playing time should increase. In fact, it won’t be a surprise if Cook wrestles away the starting position at some point in 2010. The Titans are high on him, and , given Vince Young’s propensity for throwing to the tight end position, he could surprise if he can beat out Scaife and assume the full-time role.