Is Vince Young finally ready to become a fantasy factor?
It was Dec. 10, 2006. That was when Vince Young captured the attention of football fans everywhere with his 39-yard overtime touchdown run against the Houston Texans. Two weeks later, Young led the Tennessee Titans to a 30-29 victory over the Buffalo Bills, directing two scoring drives in the final quarter and putting his team on the verge of the playoffs. Although the Titans just missed out on the postseason, Young was named the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year and made the Pro Bowl. Fantasy owners were drooling over the prospect of owning such an explosive and exciting player, and yet, just as quickly as Young burst onto the scene, his bubble burst completely.
The growing pains of 2007, in which Young managed only nine passing touchdowns -- the worst team output in the NFL -- to go along with 17 interceptions, gave way to actual pain in 2008. Young hurt his knee in Week 1, and coach Jeff Fisher turned the reins over to veteran Kerry Collins. Young disappeared from the equation completely, and the Titans started the season 10-0. There was no way Young was getting back his starting job with that kind of success from Collins. So he sat and watched and waited. Fantasy owners did not have the same luxury, so they all moved on.
By the time Young returned to the Titans' huddle after the team's dismal 0-6 start to the 2009 season, expectations were understandably low. However, Young nearly pulled the Titans all the way to the playoffs, as he led the team to an 8-2 record over the last 10 games of the season. He had 10 touchdown passes in those games, but none in the last two weeks of the season, when he also threw three of his seven interceptions. With Chris Johnson rushing for 2,006 yards, it's very easy to give him most of the credit, rather than Young, and as drafting for the 2010 fantasy football season has shown, that's clearly the case. Johnson is the No. 1 overall pick, while Young is not even being selected in every league, with an average draft position of 125.6, 19th among quarterbacks.
Now, while you'd have to be crazy to draft him as your No. 1 given his history both on and off the field, the truth is that the 2010 version of Vince Young absolutely is worth being selected as your No. 2 quarterback. Young now is in his third season under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, who developed Steve McNair, and watching the young quarterback in the preseason, it's clear he's a different player under center.
No longer is Young looking to sprint outside the pocket at the earliest opportunity. Instead, he's dropping back and waiting for the plays to develop and for his receivers to get downfield. Along with a newfound patience, there's an obvious increase in accuracy. Most importantly, whereas in the past there seemed to be two offenses in Tennessee, one with Collins at the helm and a completely different one for VY (full of end-arounds and other gadgetry designed to give Young room to roam), there now seems to be one unified vision in the Titans' huddle. The run can set up the pass, but it's just as likely the pass will set up the run. Defenses are likely to throw eight-man fronts at Johnson in an effort to make Young "prove it," and so far he has done so.
Kenny Britt, Nate Washington and Justin Gage, along with tight end Bo Scaife, likely will be getting plenty of one-on-one coverage downfield, so as long as the offensive line -- younger and more powerful this season with 39-year-old Kevin Mawae no longer at center -- can keep opposing defenses at bay, there's every reason to believe Young will have his best statistical season as a pro in 2010 and look more like a pro while accomplishing the feat.
But let's face it. Even if you're not convinced Young will emerge as a top-15 fantasy quarterback, that's not why you will be drafting him. I can hear the argument now: "What do I need from my backup anyway -- one game during the season when my stud starter has a bye? I can just play the waiver wire when that week comes along." Even assuming you're lucky enought to avoid a major injury to your starting signal-caller, that's a bit shortsighted. When it comes to the fantasy playoffs, if you are relying on the likes of Drew Brees or Peyton Manning to take you to the promised land, history has taught us they might not be on the field for more than a few token snaps once they get you there.
Looking at the Titans' schedule over the last month of the NFL season, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a better potential "Championship Game Plan B" than Young. From Weeks 14 through 17, Tennessee will square off with the Houston Texans (middle of the pack at best against the pass and without a solid pass rush), the Kansas City Chiefs (ranked 30th in defense in 2009) and not one, but two games against the Indianapolis Colts (who we've gotten used to packing it in early in preparation for the NFL's postseason).
Vince Young has finally come of age, and the time is now to add him to your fantasy plans.