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 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:


. . . 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. ranked him a three-star recruit, and so did 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.


    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, 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.


    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.


The NFL Owner Liberation Army

>> 5.18.2011

I don’t know if you’ve heard (sarcasm), but the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals granted the owners a full stay of Judge Nelson’s enjoinder of the lockout.

I started out completely neutral in this whole mess; as many have since said, I declared myself “on the side of the fans.”  But as I dug deeper and deeper into the issues, I discovered that the league’s behavior has been, frankly, despicable. Unable to resolve their own differences on revenue sharing, the owners have spent the last four years trying to bring about this day: a judicially-enforced lockout that could last into the season, so they can exert maximum leverage on players. Their goals: to build more ridiculous billion-dollar stadiums, to play more games unnecessarily, to put franchises on other continents, and to bleed every single person on Earth for every cent they’ve got, everything else be damned. That’s what they mean when they say “grow the game,” people.

More interested, intelligent, initially neutral observers have been coming around to my way of thinking. Here's an excellent piece by Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post:

Should you find yourself drifting to the side of the players in the NFL labor dispute, it doesn’t mean you’ve gone all communist. Some fans may feel that to support the players is anti-capitalist, a little too May Day. But there is the spirit of free enterprise, and then there is the spirit with which NFL owners tend to do business. They aren’t at all the same thing.

What’s so American about gouging, price-fixing, and frankly, sucking the life out of fans?

It's an honest question to ask--and Jenkins' investigation into the answer is intelligent, well-informed, and balanced. At least half jokingly (though partly seriously) Tony Kornhieser called her piece "shrew-like" and "hysterical" during a radio show. But if Kornheiser couldn’t have made that crack with a straight face if he’d read Drew Magary of Deadspin fame setting “The Bizarre Cult of Pro-Owner Fanboys” of Pro Football Talk’s readership on blast:

It's like a group of people went directly to their computers after walking out of a screening of Atlas Shrugged. You can find retarded commenters at virtually any Internet forum (why, just scroll down!), but the idea that there are people out there who would like to see the owners succeed in PREVENTING THE PLAYING OF ACTUAL NFL GAMES to spite NFL players strikes me as … what's the word? Oh, right. F***ING INSANE.

[. . .] There's a distinctly political turn to much of these lockout arguments among fans. I guess if you think the players are right (and I do), that makes you a dirty liberal and there can't possibly be a decent case to be made. All unions are bad, which means the NFL players are ungrateful and lazy and deserve to be booted out on their ass because the owners are the beginning and end of why the NFL is successful.

It’s not just the ridiculous comments that are being made over there, or the sheer volume by which pro-owner comments outweigh pro-player ones. PFT has an upvote/downvote system, and they REALLY tell the tale. Check the comments (and votes) on these PFT posts. My favorite, though, is a post called “More Misplaced Rhetoric From De Smith,” which is Florio ripping DeMaurice Smith for his characterization of the state of affairs as the NFL “suing not to play.” The NFL commentariat almost unanimously hailed this post as Florio’s first fair and balanced article on the issue:

theangryrob says:May 18, 2011 9:08 AM

I’m having a hard time rationalizing it, but I kind of thought this was a great, even handed post. I’m strangely pleased and confused at the same time.

So, uh, nice work :D

232 upvotes, 5 downvotes    [Ed.--as of the time of this post]

Look, in a vacuum, there’s no question whose side the fans’ interests align with. The players are the ones we pay to see. The players are the ones whose jerseys we buy. The players are the ones who we see on TV, endorsing products we buy ‘cuz we love them. The players are the ones who are putting their bodies on the line, sacrificing their joints, their backs, their necks, and maybe even their long-term mental health for our entertainment. The players are the ones who come from the same places we come from—neighborhoods, high schools, colleges—and who, within a few years, either come back to those places, or put down roots in whichever city they played.

What is it that makes so many fans root so hard for the owners, then? Men or women, who typically inherited either the team itself, a business empire, a personal fortune, or any combination of the above? Why is it that working fans with mortgage payments and credit card debt are gleefully cheering for the players to be crushed by those same bills as their bosses withhold paychecks? What kind of bizarre Stockholm Syndrome is at work, here?

That’s what’s really happening here: fans are sympathizing with their captors. We’re paying $20 to park, $70 or so a head to get in the door, $7 for hot dogs, $8 for beer, $4 for water we’re not given a cap to so our kids can spill it, and uncountable dollars in jerseys, shirts, pennants, stickers, garden gnomes and other ridiculous merch, and at the end of the day these fans sneer at the players on the field and say “YOU MAKE ENOUGH MONEY! CAVE INTO THE POOR OWNERS! THEIR PROFITS AREN’T GROWING AS FAST AS THEY’D LIKE ANYMORE!” No doubt, when the lockout ends, all these fans will be happily thanking the benevolent owners—and lantern-jawed protector of the game, Commissioner Goodell—for ending they started to begin with.

Let me post-script all this with a few caveats. I do see the last deal as being player-friendly, and I do believe there’s room for fair concessions on both sides. TLiW (and elsewhere) commenter LineBusy has an interesting take exploring just that; you should read it. I do think both sides have grossly disrespected the fans by not resolving this before the expiry of the old CBA; both sides have been planning for THIS day for so long they’ve failed to stop it. However, one side is working men speaking plainly and truthfully about protecting their current and future interests, and the other side is a bunch of fabulously wealthy people in control of one of the most monstrously profitable industries in the world, strangling the golden goose while smiling and saying “We want football, too!”


Ndamukong Suh: a Portrait In Two Vehicles

>> 5.17.2011

Ndamukong Suh drives a Chrysler 300 in a new TV commercial, "Homecoming."

By now, you’ve probably seen Ndamukong Suh’s new Chrysler TV commercial, wherein he drives a gleaming new Chrysler 300 through his hometown of Portland, Oregon. At the end, as a smiling Ndamukong hugs his thrilled-to-see-him mother, the voiceover says “Show where you’re going, without forgetting where you’re from.”

It's fitting for Suh; this very commercial begins his transition from “football player” to “media icon.” Note that they don’t say his name, or his team, or show him in uniform, or do anything but hint to non-fans in case you’re wondering this guy’s a football player—you’re expected to know who he is and what he looks like.

Further, the commercial’s fitting for Chrysler itself. Resurrected from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, purchased by FIAT, and now profitable for the first time since 2006, Chrysler’s building better cars that simultaneously respect the heritage of the Motor City, and compete with the state of the art. They’re calling it “earned luxury,” pride taken in a job well done.

Show where you’re going, without forgetting where you’re from.” It’s an excellent tagline for the Lions’ upcoming season, too: it’s not just the slappies and homers and “optimists” and “Joey Blueskies” believers [like me] who think the Lions are going to be contenders this year. Rick Gosselin even said the Lions will be the team chasing the Packers in the NFC North this year—and the Dallas Morning News scribe is one of the world’s best NFL predictors. The challenge for the Lions will be believing that they can—and should—expect victory every time they step on the field, while remembering they’re not far removed from the most humbling season in NFL history.

Ndamukong Suh has always been a man of two personalities, though. The classy, humble, intelligent, soft-spoken young man—who, indeed, didn’t speak a word in this commercial—is represented quite well by the new 300. But there’s another side of Suh: the vicious, relentless, quarterback-decapitating, 3200-pounds-of-force-hitting-with monster who prowls the middle of Ford Field in a #90 Lions jersey. That guy will be entering the Gumball 3000 this year.

For those unfamiliar, the Gumball is a famous (some might say notorious) gathering of elite gearheads, racers, musicians, celebrities, athletes, and (literal) Jackasses in some of the world’s most rare, powerful, and extravagant cars. They tear around the world’s highways looking good, having fun, and theoretically not racing. That doesn’t stop some of these thrill-seekers from getting ticketed for outrageous speeding, their cars impounded and their licenses stripped, or, once, causing a fatal accident.

Though the organizers learned from that incident—and even “Mr. Hyde” Ndamukong Suh won’t be that reckless—I hear he’ll likely be at the wheel of a Dodge Challenger SRT-8, with a snarling, 470-horsepower 392 Hemi under the hood:


The party starts on May 25th, and rubber meets the road May 26th—so be prepared for some awesome pics and video of Suh emerging thereabouts. Say a little prayer that everything’s as safe as it is awesome, and enjoy that there’s a Detroit Lion—and a Big 3 car—at the heart of one of the hottest events for cool people in cool cars.


Meta, etc.

>> 5.16.2011

Those of you who follow @lionsinwinter on Twitter know that I spent most of the weekend on the couch, laid low by a horrible stomachy thing. Content for today arriving late tonight, or possibly tomorrow. Sorry!


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