print 2011 Wrap-Up Report and Early 2012 Preview: AFC South

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Published, 1/27/12   

 
Houston Texans
 
QBs: Texan fans are still probably wondering what could have been this season if their season wasn’t left in the hands of a third-string QB. Of course, that’s because they lost starting QB Matt Schaub to a Lisfranc foot injury in mid-November. Schaub ended up starting 10 games for the Texans and went 178/292 (61%) for 2479 yards, 15 TDs, and 6 INTs, while adding a pair of rushing TDs to put up 19.7 FPG (14th). Schaub's pass attempts varied greatly from week to week, especially with the defense playing so well, but he'll always remain a solid option in this offense. Of course, not having Andre Johnson for a chunk of games in the middle of the season didn’t help, but it didn’t hurt the Texans as much as it would have it in the past since they had a great dual threat in the backfield with Arian Foster and a defense that went from one of the worst in the league in 2010 to one of the best in 2011. The Texans out-schemed defenses, varying their formations to keep defenses off-balance. They dictated the flow of the game and stayed a step ahead of defenses. That’s part of the reason why the Texans were able to survive when Schaub went down, although, as we saw at the end of the season and in the playoffs, he was sorely missed. Matt Leinart was the next man up, but in his first start, he suffered a broken collarbone and joined Schaub on IR. That meant third-string rookie QB T.J. Yates was under center for a team trying to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Early on we thought that Yates was a little rough around the edges, but he ran a little bit to help his fantasy production. And considering the circumstances he showed solid poise and command, and he made some nice throws. What was most amazing at first is that they weren’t really hiding him. Once Johnson was back, we saw them run their usual offense with Yates, and they still took deep shots. Unfortunately, Yates might have had some “beginner's luck” early in his tenure as the Houston QB because the Texans clearly tried to hide him at the end of the season and in the playoffs. He was able to get a win against the Bengals in the Wild Card Round, but a poor performance against the Ravens in the Divisional Round was probably the difference in the game. He finished the regular season going 82/134 (61.2%) for 949 yards, 3 TDs, and 3 INTs, which put him at 10.9 FPG. Schaub has already had the surgery to fix his foot and said there’s no question he’ll be ready for OTAs and training camp.
 
  • Fantasy situation to watch in 2012: If Schaub returns to form can he be a reliable fantasy starter once again? Will Yates or Leinart back him up?
RBs: One of the biggest storylines of the preseason was the status of Arian Foster and his troublesome hamstring. The Texans initially played it safe with Foster, sitting him for the opener, but he attempted to play in Week Two and aggravated his injury, which kept him out of the team’s Week Three game. Foster would return to action for Week Four and played the rest of the season, save for a healthy scratch in the team’s meaningless regular season finale. After putting together a breakout 2010 season, Foster picked up right where he left off and played a very important role for what became a well-balanced Texan offense, at least until Andre Johnson went down with a hamstring injury of his own. We felt that the Texans had by far the best running game in the league, and given his impressive receiving ability, Foster continued to show why he’s the best all-around back in the league. His combination of power and decisiveness is deadly in their running scheme, and he’s a very good receiver who can do it all in the passing game, including downfield routes. Foster is a bigger back who runs with great power and strength, but he’s incredibly smooth and fluid as well. He has great balance, body control, and lateral agility. Foster is not the product of their great system; he’s just a great player, although he’s a great fit for their scheme and their commitment to the run certainly makes him that much more valuable as a fantasy stud. In 13 games, Foster carried the ball 278 times for 1224 yards (4.4 YPC) and 10 TDs while adding 53/617/2 on 71 targets (74.6% catch rate) to end up as the #1 RB with 19.7 FPG. He did put the ball on the ground five times, and while it wasn’t considered a chronic problem, it did open the door for Ben Tateat times. Tate missed all of the 2010 season, his rookie year, but he became the hottest handcuff heading into the season because of the injury to Foster at the beginning. Tate started the two games Foster missed and appeared in 15 games, rushing for 942 yards and 4 TDs on 175 carries (5.4 YPC), but he didn’t play much of a role in the passing game with just 13/98 on 19 targets, which put him 35th in FPG among RBs with 8.5. While Foster is considered great, Tate is also very good, but he’s a different type of runner. He’s a strong and physical runner who is a downhill guy all the way. He’s physical, and like Darren McFadden, he runs with great “velocity.” He has no problems with the physicality of the game, and he’s in a system that always creates running lanes for its backs, so he seems to get 4-5 yards on every carry. While the Texans would be fine if Tate needed to be the lead back if Foster went down, there’s definitely a difference between the two in terms of overall talent. Tate is a bigger guy who brings it and has some speed when he gets going, but Foster has better cutback ability and is a lot looser in the hips. He’s also a much better receiver, so he’s definitely a much better hurry-up back. The bottom line is these two form a great combo and a are big reason why the Texans had so much success this season. #3 RB Derrick Ward played in 11 games and had 45 carries for 154 yards and 2 TDs, but between injuries and behind way behind Foster and Tate, he didn’t play as much of a role as he did in 2010. As a free agent, there’s no guarantee Ward will be back.
 
  • Fantasy situation to watch in 2012: As a restricted free agent, will Foster get a long-term deal or will the Texans put a high tender on him and just stick with a one-year deal?
WRs/TEs: Even though the Texans made the playoffs for the first time in 2011, it still may have been a season to forget for Andre Johnson. A strong start to the season was derailed by a hamstring injury suffered in Week Four against the Steelers. Johnson ended up having a procedure to help his recovery, but he still ended up missing six games before returning in Week Twelve. Unfortunately, another hamstring injury popped up in Week Thirteen and caused Johnson to miss the next three games before he returned for the season finale in an effort to get in tune with rookie QB T.J. Yates, who went from third-stringer to starter. Johnson appeared to be back to top form by the playoffs, but with just seven games played in the regular season, he ended up with just 33/429/2 (14.9 YPC) on 51 targets (64.7% caught), which put him at 8.9 FPG (25th). Without Johnson, the Texan passing game suffered as neither Kevin Walter nor Jacoby Jones stepped up in his absence. Walter has always been “just a guy” because he doesn’t have any special talent, and he has kept a starting job opposite Johnson because he does exactly what is asked of him and because Jones has never been consistent enough. In 14 games, Walter put up 39/474/3 (12.2 YPC) on 57 targets (68.4% catch rate), which put him 70th among WRs with 4.7 FPG. Jones played in every game, but he had another disappointing season with 31/512/2 (16.5 YPC) on 64 targets, which produced a miserable 48.4% catch rate. He averaged just 4.1 FPG. The team’s second best receiver, TE Owen Daniels, didn’t have a bad year with 54/677/3 on 83 targets, but with just 5.7 FPG, which put him 16th among TEs. He was the team’s best weapon with Johnson out, but without guys like Walter and Jones stepping up, defenses could concentrate more on Daniels and made a point to take him out of the game. In addition to dealing with knee and hand injuries, Daniels also had his production limited by a lack of scoring, and backup TE Joel Dreessen had a lot to do with that. Dreessen played in every game, and while he saw only 39 targets, he caught 28 of them (71.8%) for 353 yards and 6 TDs, which essentially made him a vulture at TE. However, he averaged just 4.5 FPG, so while he wasn’t worth using in fantasy lineups, he did just enough to make Daniels a very frustrating player to own. The versatile James Casey, who played some FB, TE, and H-back, never did enough to warrant owning, but he was important to this offense and ended up with 18/260/1 on 23 targets. Between Daniels’ injury history and the presence of these two other players, we’re going to be hesitant to offer anything more than a lukewarm endorsement for OD in the future.
 
  • Fantasy situation to watch in 2012: Will the Texans finally find a legitimate #2 WR to complement Johnson? Did Dreessen do enough to warrant a new deal or is the team comfortable with Casey being the #2 to Daniels? Will Daniels return to the form that made him a reliable fantasy starter?
Key Free Agents: RB Arian Foster (RFA), RB Derrick Ward, PK Neil Rackers, C Chris Myers, RG Mike Brisiel, TE Joel Dreessen, LB Mario Williams, LB Tim Dobbins, DE Tim Bulman, CB Jason Allen
 
Indianapolis Colts
 
QBs: As Joni Mitchell once sang, “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.” That statement could not be any more true in Indianapolis with the Colts losing Peyton Manning to a neck injury for all of the 2011 season. Curtis Painter was the team’s primary backup, but he wasn’t afforded the opportunity to start the season. Instead, the Colts coaxed Kerry Collins out of retirement, and he was named the starter with very little time to prepare, which was clearly evident Collins lasted just three starts before suffering a concussion that landed him on the IR soon after. The Colts turned back to Painter, and while they weren’t winning games, at times we were somewhat encouraged by Painter thanks to his arm strength, which allowed him to hit downfield throws. When he was good, he showed poise, a strong arm, and mobility, plus he had weapons and the team was often playing from behind, so from a volume standpoint he still had chances to produce. Painter looks like Matthew Stafford from the neck down, but he ended up playing nowhere near the level of Stafford and was eventually replaced by Dan Orlovsky after making eight starts and appearing in nine games, finishing the season 132/243 (54.3) for 1541 yards, 6 TDs, 9 INTs, and just 12.4 FPG (40th). Orlovsky appeared in eight games and make the final five starts of the season. We knew he was a scrappy signal-caller who can make some plays on the move, and if he throws with even a little bit of confidence, he has a chance because the weapons around him aren’t bad. Although he wasn’t consistent and didn’t have the arm that Painter did, Orlovsky was at least smart enough to get the ball to his receivers and give them a chance to make plays. He ended up getting both himself and the Colts into the win column a couple of times before the year ended. For the season, Orlovsky went 122/193 (63.2%) for 1201 yards, 6 TDs, and 4 INTs, which put him at 10.6 FPG. With the #1 pick in the draft locked up, the Colts are expected to draft Stanford’s Andrew Luck as part of their rebuilding process. That could spell the end of Manning’s career as he is due a $28 million bonus on March 8. Manning painted a dreary picture of the current state of the franchise, which seemed to upset owner Jim Irsay, who already cleaned house with the firings of his lead personnel men, the Polians, as well as HC Jim Caldwell.
 
  • Fantasy situation to watch in 2012: Assuming Luck ends up in Indy, will he be the starter from Day One? Is there any chance Manning returns?
RBs: The Colts had been able to mask their lack of production from their RBs in recent years because of the great play of Peyton Manning and the team’s passing attack. That wasn’t the case in 2011 with Manning on the sidelines, and this running game was really exposed. Joseph Addai ended up returning to the team on a three-year deal once the lockout ended, and that’s because the team wasn’t confident in former 1st-round pick Donald Brown, who was drafted in 2009 to be the eventual replacement for Addai. After battling injuries for much of 2010, it was more of the same for Addai in 2011, as a hamstring injury limited him to 12 games. Early in the season Addai was running well, but when the hamstring injury happened, he was never the same, despite trying to play through it in the second half of the year. He finished with just 433 yards and 1 TD on 118 carries (3.7 YPC) and added just 15/93/0 on 22 targets, which put him in a tie for 56th among RBs with 4.9 FPG. Brown finally started to display some of the skills that impressed the team when he was drafted back in 2009. He clearly turned a corner and played the best football of his young career in 2011. Brown was decisive and quick, and his solid talent has started to come to the surface. Unlike Addai, Brown showed he could create yards on his own and beat the defense to the outside and turn it up field. It’s certainly fair to speculate that, because he was finally healthy, which was probably the biggest key, he got into more a rhythm and looked more comfortable. He is mainly a perimeter player, but he’s also done pretty well running inside. He’s probably a little too small and stiff to be a full-time starter, but if he's going to continue to get this type of opportunity in 2012, he does have potential as a runner and receiver. While he had only two starts, Brown played in every game and led the team with 645 yards and 5 TDs on 134 carries (4.8 YPC), and chipped in 16/86 on 19 targets, which was good enough for 8.6 FPG (34th among RBs). Rookie RB Delone Carter played a little better than expected and proved to be a low-to-the-ground interior runner – but with some quickness to his game and some wiggle – so it will be interesting to see what he can do when he gets some volume, which didn’t happen often in 2011 and may not happen in the future. That’s because he had trouble with fumbles (3 in 101 carries), which took him out of the mix because the coaching staff had trouble trusting him. He’s probably not a feature back and doesn’t have the skill set to carry the load full time, especially for an offense as bad as the Colts had. Carter appeared in all 16 games and started three times. He rushed 101 times for 377 yards (3.7 YPC) and 2 TDs, which was good for just 3.2 FPG.
 
  • Fantasy situation to watch in 2012: Can Brown handle the lead role for an entire season, or will we continue to see Carter and possibly even Addai stay in the mix? Will Addai be kept around?
WRs/TEs: The loss of Peyton Manning was an instant downgrade across the board for all the Colt receivers, and it was pretty obvious how much each of these guys missed Manning throwing them the ball. Then again, you can’t expect much from the QB trio of Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter, and Dan Orlovsky. Reggie Wayne, who was coming off a career high in receptions in 2010, wasn’t expected to be a game-changing player at this point in his career because he doesn’t run well anymore. He never got anything going with the team’s different QBs, and his numbers suffered as a result. Without the ability to be a playmaker, Wayne was at the mercy of the terrible offense, and that’s why he ended up with just 75/960/4 (12.8 YPC) on 131 targets (57.3% caught), which put him 39th among WRs with 7.5 FPG in 16 games. Pierre Garcon may never be as talented as Wayne, but sometimes opportunity means more, and that was the case, at least early on when Garcon’s ability to get downfield helped him develop a decent rapport with the big-armed Painter. The team took its shots when the OL was able to protect, and that didn’t happen often, so Garcon was able to have random bursts of production. Considering Garcon had issues connecting with Manning in the past, we can’t be too upset that he had 70/947/6 (13.5 YPC) on 131 targets (53.4% caught), as he managed to finish 30th among WRs with 8.3 FPG in 16 games. Austin Collie may have suffered more than any receiver from the absence of Manning. While he was able to get over the concussion issues from 2010 and knee and foot injuries in the preseason to play in all 16 games, Collie didn’t get consistent targets. Because he wasn’t much of a scoring threat, his fantasy numbers suffered greatly. Collie put up 54/514/1 (9.5 YPC) on 96 targets, which was good for a 56.3% catch rate. His fantasy value was destroyed, as evidenced by the 3.6 FPG he averaged. Dallas Clark returned from a season-ending injury in 2010 to become an in-line blocker instead of his usual role in the slot because the team struggled so much in pass protection. Routes for Clark ended up being in the 4-5 yard range, and that severely limited his productivity. Add in a broken fibula and a pinched nerve in his back, and Clark ended up playing in just 11 games, putting up 34/252/2 (10.4 YPC) on just 64 targets (53.1% caught), which put him all the way down at #27 at the TE position with just 4.3 FPG. Jacob Tamme, who was unbelievable as Clark’s replacement in 2010, wasn’t able to replicate that performance in 2011. He finished the season with 19/177/1 on 31 targets (61.3% caught) and 2.2 FPG in 11 games.
 
  • Fantasy situation to watch in 2012: With Wayne not expected back and Garcon also entering free agency, what will this receiving corps look like when the 2012 opens?
Key Free Agents: WR Reggie Wayne, WR Pierre Garcon, TE Jacob Tamme, QB Dan Orlovsky, C Jeff Saturday, RG Ryan Diem, DE Robert Mathis, LB Phillip Wheeler
 
Jacksonville Jaguars
 
QBs: The Jaguars came into training camp with David Garrard looking like their Week One starter, but, in a surprise move, the team cut Garrard and decided to start veteran Luke McCown with rookie Blaine Gabbert backing him up. That plan didn’t last very long, as McCown was pulled in favor of Gabbert in Week Two after throwing 4 INTs against the Jets. Gabbert started the rest of the season, but the results weren’t very promising. The Jaguars drafted Gabbert by trading up six spots to the Redskins’ 10th overall pick, giving up their 1st-round and 2nd-round picks in the process. Gabbert made 15 appearances (14 starts) and finished 210/413 (50.8%) for 2214 yards, 12 TDs, and 11 INTs, which put him 42nd among QBs with 11.2 FPG. A lot went wrong for Gabbert, and very little went right, although it was hard to expect much from the rookie considering he wasn’t able to work with his coaches during the lockout. Gabbert showed a live arm and good movement and mobility, but his inability to handle pressure in the pocket was troublesome and has made us wonder if he’ll be able to overcome the problem. His play was incredibly disconcerting because he was horrible in the pocket, and that’s even more frustrating because he actually has the tools to be very good. His positive attributes will mean nothing if he doesn’t learn to stand tough in the pocket. Maybe he’ll be able to stand tall in the pocket if at some point he gets a stud receiver to throw to, but their receiving corps was one of the worst in the league and actually got worse throughout the season. Gabbert was asked to make due with Mike Thomas as his top WR and Jason Hill opposite him – until he was cut. They even tried to bring back Mike Sims-Walker, but that ended in an IR injury settlement. Typically, we’ve seen young QBs latch on to their TE, and after a strong 2010 season, you would think Marcedes Lewis would be just what Gabbert needed, but unfortunately he was a disappointment and was not very reliable. We hope Gabbert gets some help with his receiving corps, but there’s also a chance the new coaching staff looks to bring in a more capable veteran QB to at least compete with Gabbert in camp, as new OC Bob Bratkowski has suggested. That would make sense since it was pretty obvious that Gabbert was in over his head last season and not ready to be a starter for a team that had a great RB in Maurice Jones-Drew but the worst receiving corps in the league. We don’t want to count out Gabbert too early, but until he learns to stop shying away from contact, we’ll have a tough time buying into his long-term chances in the league.
 
  • Fantasy situation to watch in 2012: Will a normal off-season help Gabbert develop to the point that the team feels comfortable with him as starter? What kind of veteran help will they find?
RBs: Maurice Jones-Drew was able to play through a knee injury for much of the 2010 season, but he ended up missing the last two games and needed surgery on his meniscus last January. When he admitted in July that he wasn’t 100%, we had some trepidations about considering him a top fantasy back and that would explain why he dropped into the 2nd round of many drafts. As we know by now, if you had MJD on your team this year, he didn’t disappoint and probably exceeded expectations. One of the biggest keys to his success was being able to stay healthy for all 16 games despite a couple of minor, nagging injuries. The full slate of games allowed him to lead the league with 343 carries and win the rushing title with 1606 yards (4.7 YPC). His 8 TDs on the ground were a little disappointing, but they had to be expected because he didn’t get many chance to score near the goal line as part of one of the worst offenses in the league. While we heard talk from the coaching staff of limiting Jones-Drew to keep him fresh, especially after his surgery, that never really happened, although for a time, it looked like Deji Karim was playing more of a role in the passing game before ending up as a healthy inactive towards the end of the season. Jones-Drew continued to do a solid job as a receiver with 43/374/3 on 64 targets, which was good for a catch percentage of 67.2. Despite the lack of TDs and very little help around him, MJD finished 5th among RBs with 16.5 FPG. Each week, Jones-Drew proved to be the same guy: a physical back who runs hard and puts up numbers despite being the only legitimate offensive weapon on his team and the only player the opposition had to worry about. To show you how much more MJD was involved than everyone else, Karim was the next most productive back with 63 carries for 130 yards and 14/120/0 on 19 targets, which put him at 2.1 FPG. Rashad Jennings, who looked like he’d be the one to be the #2 RB to Jones-Drew after a decent 2010 season, ended up on the IR after injuring his knee in the preseason. We saw a little of DuJuan Harris down the stretch with Karim being deactivated and Jennings out, but he made no impact, as Jones-Drew continued to carry the offense on his back.
 
  • Fantasy situation to watch in 2012: Can Jones-Drew, who turns 27 in March and enters his seventh season, continue to shoulder such a heavy load in the offense? Will Jennings return healthy and take some pressure off him?
WRs/TEs: It was no secret that the Jaguars came into 2011 with the worst receiving corps in the league on paper, but even we were surprised with how bad they turned out to be. They opened the season with Mike Thomas and Jason Hill starting on the outside and TE Marcedes Lewis looking to build on his breakout 2010 season. Unfortunately, Thomas is better fit as a slot receiver, Hill was a cast-off from San Francisco who the Jaguars picked off waivers in 2010, and Lewis was a huge disappointment after signing a new contract in the off-season. Thomas ended up leading the team with 44/415/1 (9.4 YPC) on 90 targets, which translates into a miserable 48.9% catch rate. He was the top fantasy WR with a measly 3.2 FPG, which put him 106th at the position. Hill missed some time with an injury during the season and was eventually cut before season’s end. When former Jaguar Mike Sims-Walker was cut by the Rams, Jacksonville decided to re-sign him in an attempt to boost their depleted receiving corps, but it never worked out. He ended up off the team a short time later after coming to an injury-compensation agreement. A year after catching 10 TDs, Lewis didn’t find the endzone in 2011 – which became sort of a running joke because of how many missed opportunities there were. Lewis ended up with 39/460/0 (11.8 YPC) on 84 targets, which meant he caught just 46.4% off those targets. Lewis isn't a dynamic threat, but he does everything well and can be a threat in the red zone. However, if he's not scoring, he can't do much for you for fantasy. The injuries, releases, and overall lack of talent led to players like Jarett Dillard (29/292/1) and Chastin West (13/163/2) seeing playing time, although the one player we wanted to see play a bigger role, rookie Cecil Shorts, ended up playing in just 10 games and catching 2/30/1 on 10 targets. We hope to see more of Shorts in 2012 because he’s potentially a productive one-speed receiver with reliable hands. That doesn’t mean he’s the answer to this team’s receiving problems, but giving him more of a chance to develop with Blaine Gabbert during a normal off-season would certainly help.
 
  • Fantasy situation to watch in 2012: While it certainly can’t get any worse in 2012, will the Jaguars add anyone to make this receiving corps at least somewhat better?
Key Free Agents: QB Luke McCown, PK Josh Scobee, RT Guy Whimper, DE Jeremy Mincey, DE Matt Roth, CB Rashean Mathis, FS Dwight Lowery,
 
Tennessee Titans
 
QBs: After cutting ties with Vince Young, the Titans were pretty much starting from scratch at the QB position in 2011. They used their 1st-round pick to select Jake Locker in an effort to find a long-term solution, but it was widely believed that Locker would need some time to develop and probably wouldn’t be a smart option to start immediately. That lead the team to sign veteran QB Matt Hasselbeck to start and to mentor Locker. After some shaky final seasons in Seattle, we didn’t have high expectations for Hasselbeck, but we understood that with a good OL in Tennessee – something he didn’t have in Seattle – Hasselbeck could at least be a trustworthy guy to get someone like Kenny Britt the ball. Early in the season we remarked that Hasselbeck had been so good because his protection was great. He made some inaccurate throws, but overall he was accurate. He clearly knew where and when to throw the ball, although having Britt out there did make things easier. With Britt lost to a knee injury in just the third game of the season, the team was left without a true go-to receiver, which affected Hasselbeck’s play. In the middle of the season, he went into a rut that stretched most of the rest of the way. Plus, elbow and calf injuries were bad enough to cause him to come out of games with Locker coming in relief. Locker was certainly a work in progress, and a lot of his throws got away from him and were off target, but his physical tools jumped off the screen. The ball came out of his hand extremely well, and he has a cannon for an arm, so the ball flew through the air even when he was off-balance or had defenders draped on him. He showed good movement, and when he ran he looked like one of the faster players on the field. When Locker was in the game, the team made a point of playing to his strengths, but he still needed to be calmed down. He missed throws that he should have hit, as there is randomness to his accuracy, but he is a special physical talent. He clearly has big upside due to his big arm, mobility, and ability to pick up big yardage as a runner, but because the Titans were in the playoff hunt, they decided to stay with a banged-up Hasselbeck as the starter for the rest of the season. Hasselbeck managed to start all 16 games and threw for 3571 yards, 18 TDs, and 14 INTs on 319/518 passing (61.6%) which put him in a tie for 28th among QBs at 16 FPG. Locker appeared in 5 games, going 34/66 (51.5%) for 542 yards, 4 TD, and 0 INTs while adding a rushing TD. The Titans have already said that Hasselbeck and Locker would be in an open competition for the starting job in 2012, but we’d still expect to see Locker at least finish the 2012 season as the starter.
 
  • Fantasy situation to watch in 2012: Who will win the starting job? Will Locker progress enough for the Titans to be comfortable with him as their starting option?
RBs: The 2010 season can’t be called a disappointment for Chris Johnson, but it was obviously a drop-off from his magical 2009 season. However, the 2011 season was without a doubt a disappointment for Johnson, especially after he held out before signing a contract extension right before the regular season began. He struggled to get out of the gate, with his first 100-yard game not coming until Week Four against the Browns. We started to see a player who didn’t look nearly as explosive as he did two years ago and who struggled to create anything and often went down at first contact. He was a tentative player who doesn't invite contact, but the offense really had little else to hang its hat on once Kenny Britt was lost, so the Titans had to keep going back to him. Johnson couldn’t pick up yards after contact and only produced when he got a lot of room to work with. He didn’t take what defenses gave him and instead always looked for big plays. Even with his huge contract, the Titans started to realize that they might need to get some production from another source, which is why backup Javon Ringer got involved. Ringer looked more like a North-South runner than Johnson and was a short, low-to-the-ground runner with enough bulk to handle a higher number of carries. We compared him to a very poor man’s Ray Rice, although he didn’t really get a chance to do show what he can do because the Titans continued to give chances to Johnson chances, who eventually started playing better. Toward the back end of the season, Johnson clearly looked better, and the team definitely used some deception and trickery to get him going on misdirection runs. Down the stretch, we saw Johnson look more decisive and explosive, showing flashes of the 2009 version, although not nearly consistent enough. He was also running with better physicality by the end of the season. Johnson ended up playing in every game despite an ankle injury that limited him at the end of the season. It got to the point where you had to stick with him if he was on your team at the end of the season because the team had something to play for and had no other standout weapons. Also, Johnson was able to make up some of his lost production on the ground with a presence in the passing game. He ended up finishing with 262 carries for 1047 yards (4 YPC) and 4 TDs while adding 57/418/0 on 79 targets (72.2% caught), which put him 22nd among RBs with 10.7 FPG. By the end of the season, he wasn’t back to the Johnson of 2008-2009, but he may be closer to the Johnson of 2010, which we’ll take even if he’s still a little up-and-down. Ringer played in 12 games before being lost to a season-ending hand injury in December. He carried just 59 times for 185 yards (3.1 YPC) and a TD in addition to chipping in 28/187 on 36 targets, which put him at 3.6 FPG. Rookie Jamie Harper ended up filling in for Ringer, but he didn’t play much of a role.
 
  • Fantasy situation to watch in 2012: How will Johnson react to a subpar season? Will we see Johnson be a more consistent player or do we have to understand his up-and-down production is part of who he is?
WRs/TEs: Despite more off-the-field issues, it was tough to not be excited about Kenny Britt’s prospects for 2011, especially with a veteran presence at the QB position in Matt Hasselbeck as opposed to the mess he dealt with in 2010. Britt got off to a great start with Hasselbeck and showed he was a big-time playmaker and worthy of being a big part of the offense. We saw a receiver who could run and got open all the time. He ran good routes down the sideline, over the middle on deep crossing routes, and just about everywhere else. He played with physicality, and he also caught everything thrown his way. He's a stud who not only commands the ball; he demands the ball. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see Britt continue his tremendous play after he went down with a torn ACL and MCL in Week Three. At the time, Britt had 17/289/3 (17 YPC) on 26 targets and was at an impressive 15.6 FPG. That left the Titans without a go-to receiver in the way that Britt was, so it was up to Nate Washington to step up in Britt’s absence. While he’s clearly more suited for a complementary role, Washington reminded us that he's talented and can run, in addition to being a solid threat in the red zone. He had good speed to get down the field and continued to be targeted more than any other Titan. Washington also played through troublesome ankle and back injuries when the team was in a dogfight for the final playoff spot in the AFC. Washington played in every game and finished with 74/1023/7 (13.8 YPC) on 121 targets (61.2% caught), which put him 22nd among WRs with 9.4 FPG. In addition to Washington stepping up, Damian Williams also got in the mix, and while he’s really nothing more than just a guy, he was solid and a nice complement for this receiver corps – a role he could play when Britt returns in 2012. In 15 games, Williams had 45/592/5 (13.2 YPC) on 84 targets (62.7% caught) and was tied for 58th at the WR position with 5.9 FPG. WR Lavelle Hawkins also saw time as a slot receiver and was decent with 47/470/1 on 75 targets. TE Jared Cook was the player we thought would be needed to step up the most with Britt gone because he’s fits the mold of the “new” TE prototype as an athletic receiver who can be a matchup nightmare for the opposition. He had a decent finish to the 2010 season, but outside of flashing early on, he looked like a disappointment. Luckily, he finished the season on a high note with 21/355/1 on 26 targets in his last three games. He played in every game, and thanks to his strong play down the stretch, ended up with 49/759/3 (15.5 YPC) on 80 targets (61.3% caught) and 5.9 FPG (15th among TEs). HC Mike Munchak admitted that Cook’s play down the stretch earned him more chances in the offense, and while he may not have gotten the ball a lot, sometimes it was because defenses took him out of the mix because he was more dynamic than any other receiver with Britt on the sidelines.
 
  • Fantasy situation to watch in 2012: Can Britt return to his great form after going down with a serious knee injury? Will Cook put together a full season and realize his potential as someone who can become one of the dominant TEs in the game?
 

Key Free Agents: WR Lavelle Hawkins, FB Ahmard Hall, RG Jake Scott, DE Jason Jones, LB Barrett Ruud, SS Jordan Babineaux, SS Chris Hope, FS Michael Griffin, CB Courtland Finnegan


 

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