The Detroit Lions selected Titus Young with the #44 pick of the 2011 NFL draft. I have to admit, I have not been a big fan of this pick. I feel that the Lions should have taken Mikel LeShoure at the #44 pick. By taking Young and then trading up for LeShoure, the Lions sacrificed getting a player like John Moffitt in the third round. Then they could have filled the WR3 role with Edmund Gates in the fourth round. I don't feel the Lions got optimal results in the draft because of this. This is not just hindsight, I was complaining about this from the moment Titus Young was selected.
With that said, I am not going to spend any more time complaining about this pick any more. What's done is done, and Titus Young is a Lion. It is time to put any regrets in the past and move on. So I am going to tell you why Titus Young was the best practical choice to fill the Lions need for another receiver.To completely understand the thinking behind the selection of Titus Young (and Mikel LeShoure) you have to understand the philosophy behind how the Lions approach the draft. Many of us have pointed out that the Lions use a Best Player Available(BPA) strategy to select players. When the Lions selected Nick Fairley in the first round, that was verified, or so we thought. The subsequent selection of Titus Young at the #44 pick shocked and confused many of us.
Titus did not seem like the BPA at the time. There were several other players on the board that many of us thought were a better value, and aligned better with our needs. Our confidence in the use of the BPA strategy by Mayhew had been shaken a bit, but have no fear. The Lions are indeed using the BPA strategy, just not in a way that you can easily interpret. To get a good explanation I will turn to the words of Jim Schwartz...
"Every one of these picks, they stand alone for their talent, but they weren't drafted just for their talent. They were drafted for how they fit in with what we want to do, and with a very specific role in mind for them... not with an eye toward need. (Need} isn't something we have been talking about. We talk about players that fit, and players that can make plays for us." - Jim Schwartz, Detroit Lions head coach
That statement is very revealing about the mindset behind the Lions draft picks. It tells us that the Lions approach the draft with specific types of players in mind that fit a well-defined role on the football team. We will have a hard time interpreting the "best player available" unless we understand exactly what the roles entail. What is now clear is that the Lions target very specific players in the draft and they will move up or down as needed to get them.
For the wide receiver role, the Lions wanted a player that could "take the top off the defense." That is just another way to say that the Lions want a deep threat receiver. So let's look at how Titus Young fits that role.
Young may be the quickest wide receiver in the 2011 draft. Quickness is different from speed because it speaks more about the receiver's ability to do a lot of things that are important to his production. In many ways quickness is even more important to a receiver than pure speed.
Quickness helps a receiver avoid getting bumped off their route at the line of scrimmage. This allows the receiver to be more effective in timing patterns because they can be in the right place at the right time.
Quickness can create opportunities for big plays when the defender is caught off balance after missing the bump at the line of scrimmage. The receiver runs right past them, and it is off to the races.
Quick receivers can gain separation from a defender by getting up to full speed in very few steps. This allows the receiver to gain an advantage on the defender immediately off the line of scrimmage and press the advantage throughout the remainder of the route.
Quickness also impacts the ability of the receiver to accelerate out of cuts in their pass route and create separation. Separation gives the quarterback a bigger opening to throw the ball into without danger of an interception.
While Titus Young excels in his quickness, he also has very good straight line speed. He was clocked at 4.38 seconds in the 40 yard dash at his Pro Day. This is fast enough to outrun many NFL corners. Young was able to get open behind the defensive backs at the Senior Bowl practices more often than any other receiver, but that is not all he can do. He can also run the short and medium routes. This makes him even more effective as a deep threat because the defender can't count on him always going long.
One of the biggest issues that the Lions have had with their receivers is dropping passes. Every receiver will drop passes once in a while, but it must be kept to a minimum. Dropped passes are lost opportunities to make a play. Titus Young has good hands. He has been very good at moving his hands out away from his body to get the ball and reel in tough catches. But Young does have a tendency to drop passes in streaks on occasion.
When Young was dropping passes in the first day of practice at the Senior Bowl, he was told by Detroit Lions receiver coach, Shawn Jefferson, that he needed to close his hands on the ball sooner. Young was not adjusting to the velocity of the throws he was getting from the quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl. But Young took Jefferson's advice. He adjusted well and impressed the coaches through the remainder of the Senior Bowl practices.
Titus Young, is not a "big" receiver at 5'11" and only 174 lbs. He will be lighter than most NFL cornerbacks he will face, but not always shorter. We might be tempted to rely on Titus gaining some weight in order to reduce his disadvantage, but that might not be possible without impacting his speed and quickness.
Even if you weren't very happy when the Lions picked Titus Young, you should take heart. He is a fine receiver and has a very good chance to be an impact player for the Lions. That is exactly what the Lions were looking for and the reason that he was so high on their draft board.
We don't have to completely understand the reasons that the Lions felt Titus Young was their BPA. All we have to do is trust that Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz have a method to their madness. I am prepared to do that because they have done pretty well so far. Until they prove otherwise, they deserve the benfit of the doubt, and I will give it to them.