The Tennessee Titans have officially moved onto a new regime, officially naming Ken Whisenhunt their new head coach. With a new philosophy coming in, the Titans will likely continue to make changes on both sides of the ball. The biggest may come at quarterback.
Tennessee has waded in the waters of mediocrity at the quarterback position for the better part of the last decade. They’ve bounced around from middling talents like Vince Young, Kerry Collins, Matt Hasselbeck and last year’s main starter (at least on paper), Jake Locker. Locker was a would-be top fantasy football sleeper coming into the 2013 season, but a myriad of injuries and inconsistent play kept him from realizing his potential.
But the worst part might not necessarily be that he didn’t realize his potential this year. It might actually be that we saw glimpses of it that we may never see it again.
A top-10 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, Locker has been slow to come along as an NFL quarterback. Accuracy and pocket issues have held back his development, and untimely injuries have derailed any serious success.
This season was viewed as by many to be Locker’s last chance to prove himself, and although he got off to an encouraging start with six touchdowns to no interceptions, he sustained hip and foot injuries at separate times that foiled his season.
The question for Whisenhunt and his coaching staff, though, will be whether or not Locker did enough in 2013 and his previous two seasons to warrant another crack at the starting gig. And if the answer is no, the next question will be where do they go from here?
Physically, Locker is a brooding beast with limitless upside. He has great arm strength and a clean release, while displaying the ability to make all of the necessary throws at the NFL level. He’s at his best when he can make quick decisions and with little pressure (like most quarterbacks), and also benefits from rollouts and play action. Not a very accurate passer, Locker lacks polish on timing routes and often will have balls landing in front of receivers or flying over their heads. Going back to that “he can make all the throws” idea, he physically has the ability to do so, but at the highest level, actually hasn’t been able to do it consistently.
Athletically, Locker is near the top of the league for quarterbacks. He has a great build that really should be able to absorb punishment, both inside the pocket and out in the open field when he’s active as a runner. This is why it’s at least mildly surprising that he’s been so injury-prone through his first three seasons. He has excellent-timed speed and has natural open-field running ability. He seems like a natural fit for read-option packages, yet Tennessee surprisingly limited his snaps with such plays. One could argue that hurt him, but when you consider his apparent fragility, it’s entirely plausible the Titans simply didn’t want to put him in harms way more than they needed to.
Locker’s pros end in the physical realm. He’s not the most cerebral quarterback, and will likely never develop into an extremely accurate passer. The biggest knock is probably the fact that he can’t properly use his solid arm strength, as he hasn’t yet consistently connected with his receivers down the field.
While this is all true and Locker’s immediate future doesn’t exactly look promising, it’s also worth considering that it’s simply too early to make a decision on Locker. Whisenhunt and company may think about this, too. After all, Locker appeared in just five games as a rookie, while appearing in just 18 of a possible 32 games the last two years due to injury (shoulder, hip and foot). The latest is of the lisfranc variety, a serious mid-foot sprain that is difficult to return from. However, since Locker’ isn’t a wide receiver or running back, it’s possible a return to form won’t take as long or that the potential negative impact wouldn’t be as evident.
Of everything, though, the biggest takeaway has to be the fact that Locker did seem to make some progress in 2013, and that he hasn’t had enough time to show that he’s not the answer under center. Some may find it easy to quickly write him off, but Whisenhunt has worked wonders as an offensive coordinator and head coach in the past. If he sees the potential Locker has to offer and he gets his hands in Locker’s development, there’s still the possibility some magical progress happens. In the right system and with the right coaching, Locker’s arm strength and athleticism could help turn him into a dynamic force.
Then again, perhaps Locker is just an average quarterback with a big, inaccurate arm that can run around a bit. If the Titans dumb it down to that, they might decide to pull the plug.
If they do, Tennessee fans will be forced to wonder what their best options will be. Let’s take a look:
Roll With Ryan Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick was actually not terrible in place of the injured Locker, as he tossed 14 touchdowns to just 12 interceptions and helped the Titans stay reasonably competitive. He’s 31 and has a weak arm, though. If the Titans wanted to march into 2014 with a mediocre passer under center, they might as well take a shot on Locker’s upside. It’s highly doubtful Fitzpatrick starts 2014 under center. The only case would be if the Titans’ starter got hurt or he was asked to be the bridge to a rookie quarterback.
Sign Michael Vick or Another Free Agent
The Bears took Jay Cutler off the free-agent market, so there’s really not many options to peruse. Michael Vick is probably the only thing close to a legit option, even though he’ll be 34 and his his own issues with accuracy, health and pocket presence. Again, why not stick with Locker, right?
Josh McCown and Josh Freeman are the other two safe bets if Tennessee goes the free-agency route, but that’s not looking like the ideal move.
Draft a New Franchise Passer
This is probably something Tennessee will do, one way or the other. Either they’ll pass on trying to pick up the pieces with Locker and spend a first rounder on a new quarterback, or they’ll give Locker a chance and bring in a young guy in rounds 2-4 to help with competition. If they do start over in the first round, the names that should be tied to them should be Derek Carr, Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel, although if any of them fall, it’d probably be Carr.
Ultimately, it’s likely Locker still ends up starting for the Titans under center in 2014, at least initially. If that’s the case, with an upgrade in offensive philosophy and coaching, fantasy owners will have to at least consider him as an interesting sleeper once again. Just don’t go drafting him to be your QB1.
This post comes from Kevin Roberts of FantasyFootballOverdose.com. You can follow Fantasy Football Overdose on twitter at @NBAandNFLInfo, and for more information on the NFL visit Fantasy Football Overdose – your online source for anything about fantasy football.