Meet the Cubs: Titus Young

>> 5.20.2011

16 October 2010: Boise State Broncos wide receiver Titus Young (1) runs for the end zone as the Broncos lead the Spartans 41-0 at the half at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, California ***FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY**** 

2.12 (44): Titus Young
          Wide Receiver, Boise State

With all of the armchair scouting, mock drafts, media hyperventilation, and everything else that surrounds the NFL draft, there are very few surprises left. This is especially true for hardcore fans: just look through the Mlive.com article comments and forums in March; most of the Lion regulars have their preferred targets picked out through all seven rounds.

Very few, if any, had Titus Young on their list—most hadn’t heard of him! Yet another difference between armchair GMs and the pros: Jim Schwartz immediately Tweeted that the Lions had had their eye on Titus Young for a long time . . .

Tom Kowalski immediately told Lions fans not to worry, Titus Young would become a fan favorite. Young plays, talks, and Tweets with irrepressible emotion—from crying when the Lions drafted him, to exulting on the phone with Lions fans at the Hard Rock CafĂ©, to throwing himself headlong into becoming a Lion and a Detroiter:

titus_young_detroit_lions

. . . Young doesn't do anything halfway.

“Man Im Bout To Get #313 Tatted on My Chest, and #BringinBackTheBadboys on my Back! Would yall Love me then????????”

It’s amazing, then, that in spotlight of Los Angeles, Young blended into the shadows. At University High School, Young’s rail-thin frame and talented teammates kept him from drawing much attention from big schools, despite being named All-League his sophomore and junior years. But then he attended the USC Nike Camp, and his performance put him on major-school radar—and his unbelievable senior season was too huge for anyone to ignore. As a receiver, Young caught 66 passes for 1,359 and 10 TDs, plus 49 yards and 2 TDs on the ground. As a defensive back, Young had 97 tackles, 11 INTs, 8 PDs and a sack. For good measure, he returned 18 punts for 392 yards and 3 TDs, and 11 kickoffs for 363 and 1 score.

The Pac-10 offers came rolling in: Oregon, Washington, Washington State, Arizona State . . . he was thrilled to see his stock rising, and started lining up officials. Scout.com ranked him a three-star recruit, and so did Rivals.com. On December 11th, 2006, Young told Rivals:

I'm still sending film out right now and I think that could result in even more offers for me. I had a great season and honestly feel I'm one of the top athletes in the country. Schools are just now finding out about me, that's why I'm keeping that last visit open. I want to take all all my trips and then I'll make my decision close to Signing Day."

A few days later, Boise State made an in-home visit. After that visit, Young immediately visited Boise's campus. After that visit, Young immediately committed to Boise State—just six days after telling Rivals he wanted to play it all the way out to the end! It must have seemed like a perfect fit . . . so what happened?

“I was thinking it would be best for him to go someplace else,” [BSU Head Coach Chris] Petersen said.

According to Chadd Cripe at the Idaho Statesman, Young’s impact on the Broncos was immediate. The 2006 team that beat Oklahoma featured three senior wideouts, and Young’s talent and personality turned heads—those of his teammates’, and the media. The spotlight loved Titus, and he loved it right back. The 17-year-old caught a pass in every one of the Broncos’ games that year, and finished third on the team in receptions (44), second in yards (639), and third in TDs (5).  Still, he struggled to hold onto the ball, and struggled to maintain perspective. 

Young was suspended for the first quarter of the 2007 Hawaii Bowl, yet still fumbled twice in the remainder of the game. Still, that humbling experience wasn’t quite humbling enough. Young tuned out his coaches, put himself first, broke some team rules, and was ultimately suspended for all but three games in 2008. It reached the point where both parties were ready to move on.

Still, Young persevered in class, even while barred from team activites:

“I really just wanted to go home for a while, sit on my couch, lock myself in a cage,” he said. “That’s how I really felt at the time. If I would have ran, I would have been running from my problems. I’ve never been a type to run from a problem. You’ve always got to hit it in the mouth and stay strong and endure and have faith.”

Petersen offered him “one more shot" during the practice sessions for the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl, and Titus took it seriously. He remained on the team for the 2009 season, and in spectacular fashion—he finished with 79 catches, 1041 yards, and 1o TDs through the air, plus 15 carries for 138 and 2 on the ground. He was named first-team All-WAC as both a receiver and returner, but that was just the warmup act.

His senior season, Young hauled in 71 balls for a BSU single-season 1,215 yards (that 17.1 YpC!) and 9 TDs. He added 14 carries for 91 yards and a score. He again was named first-team All-WAC, and third team AP All-America. His truncated career at Boise State was still enough to place him #1 all-time in both single-season and career receiving yards.

Young wasn’t done proving himself at Boise State, though. After a disappointing Combine where he cut an official 4.53, Young really needed a great Pro Day performance to assure teams his on-film game speed wasn’t just an illusion generated by WAC competition. Depending on who you ask, Young’s two Pro Day runs averaged somewhere between 4.39 and 4.43, easing the concerns about his timed speed. He dropped no passes, and the National Football Post reported Young successfully boosted his draft stock back into the high second-round/late first-round territory (which, obviously yes). But hey, let's hear it from the scouts themselves:

  • Sideline Scouting:

    Positives: Has good but not great speed... Smart player, knows where he is on the field at all times, plays the sidelines well... Runs nice crisp routes, slips well into zone coverage... Quick off the line of scrimmage... has good change of direction ability and cuts well in the open field... Explosive deep threat, gets behind coverage with ease... Dynamic return man, can return both punts and kickoffs in the NFL... Tough to bring down when the ball is in his hands, keeps a low center of gravity and slips through tackles... Elite short area burst, is an absolute terror with the football in his hands... Terrific body control, adjusts well to balls in the air and plays the sidelines well.

    Negatives: Very small, would like to see him add some weight to his frame... Ran slower at the combine than most expected... Questionable hands, drops some catchable balls... Looks up field before securing the football... Average run blocker, size limits his ability to be much of a factor in this area... Stats may be inflated due to playing in Boise State's high powered offense against WAC competition... Comes with character concerns, missed most of 2008 due to suspension.

  • CBSSports.com:

    Strengths: Very quick receiver who eats up the cushion out of his breaks and gets on top of the corner in a hurry. Has a solid second gear to get down the field after initial moves and can run away from defenders. Explodes out of his stance with no wasted steps and does a nice job of stemming his routes. Is a sudden athlete who moves seamlessly in and out of his breaks without sacrificing acceleration. Maintains his balance when cutting and keeps his feet under him in his routes. Runs crisp routes to earn consistent separation from defenders and is shifty enough out of his stance to slip press coverage. Has great lateral quickness in the open field and can create on his own after the reception. Sells out to make tough catches and fully extends his body and arms when going over the middle. Possesses strong wrists to snag the ball and hold onto it in traffic. Tracks passes over either shoulder. Understands spacing and will not drift back into coverage. Versatile player who brings added value as both a kick and punt returner due to this combination of straight-line running, toughness and elusiveness.

    Weaknesses: Slight, thin frame that may not hold up in the NFL with his playing style. Loses focus and drops catchable passes. Concentration wavers all too often and will look to run upfield before securing the ball. Does not win jump balls often and struggles to out-leap defenders. Can be stymied at the line by physical corners and lacks the strength and drive to be an effective run blocker. Has nice timed speed, but lacks elite ability to burn by defensive backs on a consistent basis. Has a reputation as an egotistical player who can resist coaching.

  • For the first Lion draftee this season, SI.com lists "Positives"! They graded Young a 2.80, practically equal to Mikel Leshoure:

    Positives: Productive college receiver with a consistent game. Fluid releasing off the line and runs sharp routes, quickly getting into breaks and immediately coming back to the ball on exit. Displays terrific focus and concentration and makes the reception away from his frame. Possesses strong hands, showing the ability to snatch passes from the air. Easily adjusts the errant throw, effortlessly makes the reception downfield, and elusive running after the catch. Reads the defense and settles into the open spot on the field. Sneaky fast and finds a way to get behind opponents. Gives effort blocking downfield and gets solid results.

    Negatives: More quick than fast. Erratic workout at the combine. Lacks top size and likely to struggle handling jams or battling at the next level.

    Analysis: Young was exceptionally productive the past two seasons and turned in a terrific performance at the Senior Bowl in January. He's a prospect who comes to play on game day and should be a productive third receiver while also being an asset on special teams.

  • Pro Football Weekly:

    Positives: Exceptional burst, acceleration and deep speed to stretch the field vertically. Fluid strider with big-time turnover. Quick-footed to slip the jam. Is sudden in and out of breaks and makes speed cuts smoothly. Very good hands and concentration — tracks the ball well over his shoulder. Outruns angles and can take it the distance. Agile and elusive in the open field. Versatile and highly productive — consistent playmaker as a receiver and kickoff returner.

    Negatives:

    Has a slight build with short arms and lacks bulk — is not equipped to work inside, and durability could be a considerable issue. Can be outmuscled and does not always come down with the contested catch. Has limited run strength and exposes his frame to some shots. Occasional concentration drop. Soft blocker. Was immature early in his career. Production was slightly inflated by WAC defenses and was rarely challenged by comparably athletic cornerbacks. Did not run through the gauntlet drill at the Combine with any tempo.

    Summary: Thinly built, tight-skinned, confident, competitive, explosive deep threat whose loose hips and lateral agility set him apart from generic burners. Versatility increases his value —possesses the vertical speed to scalp a secondary as a vertical “X” receiver, the suddenness and run-after-catch ability to create mismatches from the slot and the burst to pose a threat as a primary kickoff returner. Multifaceted playmaking ability could even push him into the first round, though his slight frame could keep evaluators at bay and shorten the shelf life of his NFL career.

Of course, none of this is why you are here. You are here for the TRUTH. You want to KNOW if Titus Young is bound for the Hall of Fame or the Charles Rogers Failure Valhalla. Fortunately the One True Oracle of NFL Success, YouTube Highlight Reels, loves Titus Young more than any prospect I’ve ever had the pleasure of breaking down for Meet the Cubs. You know a kid is a player when he has HIGH SCHOOL YouTube Highlight Reels, especially one that's such a love letter to the art:

I’m . . . I’m not saying someone who is really into Titus Young is also into video editing, but there’s a treasure trove at YouTube just too big to embed. Here’s a nice collection of straight highlights, followed by a very interesting meta/narrative/trick catch/interview thing that you don’t see every day (which also includes straight highlights). When contrasted to the high school clip above, the difference between who Titus Young was a kid, and who Titus Young is as a man is dramatic, and unmistakable.

Here's a special treat. Aaron Aloysius of Draft Breakdown does some really, really nice videos that spotlight individual prospects throughout individual games, and this one of Young vs. Nevada is a gem:

First of all, the speed thing. Young definitely plays much faster than the WAC opponents, and I believe he’d still be electrifying against AQ conference competition. I got frustrated while watching through these, because it seemed that so much of the running time of each video was Young blowing by everyone to the house—over, and over, and over again . . .

There’s no doubt that Young is a long strider with good top speed, but even given how much of his body is legs, it’s astounding to see how quick his foot speed is, and how naturally he chops his stride short to change direction—and how quickly he digs back in and gets to that gliding, cruising speed. Normally, those types of runners struggle to get in and out of cuts quickly, but as you see above his footspeed and instincts neutralize that tendency.

In my mind, there’s no doubt that if Young applies himself as he did his senior year, he’ll be able to make an immediate impact here. My question is, how does Scott Linehan plan to use him, in combination with Nate Burleson? As the WR Old Mother Hubbard showed us, the Lions desperately need a field stretcher, a playmaker who can get open downfield and break medium routes to the house. He did that in college, over and over and over again—but can he do it in the NFL? Burleson is a hair taller and decidedly thicker; so is he really the natural choice to slide inside while Young plays #2?

From what the scouts above say, Young will actually be better suited for the outside than Burleson, because Burleson has the strength to handle hits and traffic, and mix it up with linebackers, while Young has the speed to get open deep. Young shouldn’t see much press coverage, given all the short- and medium-depth options the Lions have (Burleson, Pettigrew, Sheffler, Best); He’ll simply be asked to fly—and that, he can do. I see Young used right away as the #2 receiver in three-receiver sets . . . and after that, who knows? Maybe the spotlight loves Young even on the biggest stage of all.

8 comments:

Neil May 20, 2011 at 8:56 PM  

Maybe the thing I have been struck by the most when it comes to Titus Young is his infectious enthusiasm. He just makes you want to root for him. By the time I got done writing my own breakdown/post/whatever that was, I wanted to adopt the dude and stand in front of him with a torch and pitchfork to keep the haters away. He's already one of my favorite players. It helps that he can really, really play.

Alvin2112,  May 21, 2011 at 12:53 AM  

This kid can really really play can't he. Some players just look like football players and T. Young is one of them. This is the pick I'm most excited about this year, although I think LeShoure helps us alittle more at first. Stafford is going to have some fun throwing it to this kid :).

Al

Anonymous,  May 21, 2011 at 6:00 PM  

Forgive me for not knowing anything about football but wouldn't we see MORE press coverage to disrupt the timing of all those short and medium routes, as opposed to cushions?

Ty May 21, 2011 at 6:13 PM  

Neil--

I loved your piece, and totally agree. He just seems to play with such joy and abandon; it's so fun to watch.

Peace
Ty

Ty May 21, 2011 at 6:57 PM  

Alvin2112--

I agree, I think his attitude will be infectious and his skill will be a huge jolt to the offense. If Stafford stays healthy, it's going to be a top 5, maybe even top 3 unit.

Peace
Ty

Ty May 21, 2011 at 7:02 PM  

Anon--

Clearly, you DO know something about football--no need to kowtow to me; I'm hardly infallible.

What I was meant to suggest was, Titus Young might not see as much press coverage, because pressing him opens up lots of ways to attack the defense with Burleson, Pettigrew, Best, and Linehan's route combinations. With so many weapons, I expect to see a lobof soft zones played against the Lions.

Peace
Ty

Matt,  May 24, 2011 at 1:17 AM  

First, I agree with the general sentiment. Titus Young is already a fan favorite and deservedly so.

Now for the nitty-gritty. Everyone is talking about the deep speed, either excited by it or concerned that maybe it isn't super-elite. My concern (and I wrote about this once in a comment that got eaten) is less with that and more with, well, everything else. The thing about deep speed in the NFL is that if it's all you've got, then you've really got nothing (see: Heyward-Bey, Darrius). Say you're a D coordinator lined up against Titus, Calvin, and Nate in the slot. Obviously, you double (or triple) Megatron with a corner and safety over the top. On the other side, if all Titus can do is go deep, then you jam him (he's not big) with the corner (who can tail Titus or drop into the flat) and have the other safety pick him up. In the nickel, that actually leaves your best overall coverage guy available to man-up on Burleson. Now, you still have to deal with the TEs and/or RBs, which is why I'm REALLY excited about the offense, but you can cover the receivers pretty easily if Titus Young is nothing more than a deep threat. What I really want to know/see is if he can consistently get open on the short and intermediate stuff, as well as get deep, so the defense has to play him "honest." Can he learn different packages, make plays after the catch (bubble screen, anyone?), and hold his own blocking? And I'd love to see some razzle-dazzle between Titus & Logan in the return game. Of course, Titus Young was brought in mainly to stretch the field and free up some space for Calvin, Nate, and the TEs/RBs to work. In order to do that effectively, though, he has to be able to do more than just go deep.

NorthLeft12 May 24, 2011 at 10:35 AM  

I agree with Matt. One of the positives for Titus, that has been mentioned repeatedly, is his outstanding route running. I hope to see the Lions take full advantage of this strength and get the ball to him at various spots in the field to also take advantage of his after the catch running ability.

I think we will.

NOTE: I participated in a Live Mock draft on Mocking The Draft a couple of weeks before the NFL draft representing the Lions. I ended up snagging Titus at # 60 [I traded down from # 44], just missing out on Leshoure, who was taken at # 59. That would have been a very difficult choice for me. I never thought to pull a Mayhew and get both!

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