- Matt Williamson, ESPN.com
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He has played just 31 NFL games and attempted just 761 passes, but it appears Tennessee QB Vince Young's career is at a crossroads. Young's athletic ability has never been questioned, and his ability to make highlight-reel plays is well documented. What he has yet to prove is that he can consistently make quality passes, that he can go through his progressions, or that he knows when to fire the ball and when to put air under it.
After watching film of Young throughout his first three years in the NFL, as well as looking back at his time at Texas, studying his play for the specific traits needed to succeed in the NFL, it's easy to see where
Young has improved and where he continues to struggle.
A three-year starter in college, Young improved as a passer from season to season, which gave scouts plenty of hope. But that improvement has not continued at this level, and he has struggled with the faster defenders and the level and depth of talent.
His passing stride length varies far too often, and he doesn't consistently point his plant foot at his target. As a result, his passes sail right, left, high and short -- even when he doesn't have to compromise his delivery to account for the pass rush. This really hasn't changed, nor has his lack of touch on short and intermediate throws. He guns the ball when he should throw it softly and doesn't allow his receivers to excel after the catch because too often they are fighting just to haul in another errant throw. It should be noted that he did improve his ability to hit his target in stride in his second season, but this still is not a strength.
Young also is a poor deep passer and doesn't put the proper amount of air under his throws to give his receivers the best chance to make a play on the ball. He has progressed very little -- if at all -- in this area. When his receivers do get separation, he too often misses them, which is a terrible fit on a team that begs for a game manager behind center. This was overlooked and forgiven early in his career, but it is no longer acceptable. Young is a 57 percent career passer, and if he were in the offense of Arizona's Matt Leinart or Denver's Jay Cutler -- the other QBs selected in the first round of the 2006 draft -- he might have struggled to complete half of his passes at the NFL level. There is plenty of work for him to do here.
When he came out of Texas, Young's throwing motion, arm angle and accuracy were big concerns, and they still are big problems. His motion is unorthodox, and his release point is very low. He pushes the ball instead of snapping it off at ear level and getting full extension of the arm, which affects his accuracy. At 6-5, he sees well over the rush, so for someone with an odd throwing motion, he doesn't have a lot of balls batted down.
Young does have a powerful arm. He can get the ball downfield with velocity when his feet are not set or with a defender hanging all over him. And his release -- though odd, for sure -- isn't slow or deliberate, and his varying arm angle is sometimes an advantage. Quarterbacks have been successful with quirky deliveries -- San Diego's Philip Rivers comes to mind -- and changing it would set back his development further. Instead, if he fine-tunes a few parts of his delivery and improves on accuracy and touch, it won't be as big a problem.
Do not discount just how good a runner Young was coming out of Texas or just how good he has been in any of his three NFL seasons. He is a smooth, almost effortless runner who often moves much faster than he appears. This throws off would-be tacklers. He gets to top speed quickly, and his acceleration is rare for a quarterback. He changes the angles tacklers have to take to reach him, and his vision and anticipation as a runner are exceptional. Young is capable of breaking tackles and doesn't back down from contact. Still, those hits can add up. Young is a tall target, and taking multiple hits limits his amazing burst, elusiveness and speed.
Young was more effective running the ball as a rookie than he was in 2007 or has been so far in 2008 simply because defenses don't believe he can throw the ball and now just sit back and wait for him to take off. Defensive coordinators can assign an athletic linebacker or a safety as a spy on Young because they don't fear Tennessee's passing game. They try to force him to win games with his arm by restricting him to the pocket with a "mush rush," asking the D-linemen simply to keep him in the pocket. Although the Titans have done a terrible job of supplying suitable wide receivers, beating an NFL defense with his arm is simply not Young's strong suit. Also, by restricting his mobility, teams have forced Young to read the field, which he's not very good at in this stage of his development.
Although Young made plenty of big plays at Texas, he wasn't asked to run the most sophisticated offense. That has caught up to him in the NFL.
He declared early and is very far behind the successful quarterbacks at this level. During the scouting process, much was made of Young's Wonderlic score. Although this test certainly is not a surefire indicator of intelligence or mental capacity on the football field, Young got only 15 of the 33 questions he answered right. When QBs score that low, it's a a red flag for NFL teams.
Young is much more confident working from the shotgun than under center. It's something he did the bulk of the time at Texas and something former Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who is better at developing pocket passers, did to help Young in the pros. This gives him a little more time to make reads, which he is not the best at. Much of the offense Young has run has him focused on reading just half the field, making it easier for him to go through progressions.
In Young's second NFL season, he tried to become more of a pocket passer. He did battle injuries from taking hits as a runner, but he rarely left the pocket in 2007 and instead relied on his arm. He attempted mostly short throws and his completion percentage rose, but he also forced throws he had no business attempting and made very few big plays with his arm. Tennessee made the playoffs, and Young continued to wear the label of winner -- and maybe rightfully so, as he did make some game-changing plays at opportune times. Still, defense was the foundation of the 2007 Titans.
Young still lacks confidence as a decision-maker. He is sloppy with his drops coming away from center, and his landing point isn't consistent on his three-, five- or seven-step drops. This is something that should have been corrected by now. He pats the ball while staring down his target, which gives cover men a strong indicator of when and where the ball is going. His anticipation is lacking and has not improved, nor has his ability to look off the safety or manipulate coverage. The ability is there, but because he has yet to improve his deficiencies, it makes you question his work ethic, football intelligence and desire to be great.
Young is already on his second offensive coordinator, and apparently, neither playcaller has felt comfortable allowing Young to go through his progressions, process a lot of information at once or view the entire field. He has thrown only 22 regular-season passes with Mike Heimerdinger as his coordinator, so any analysis of that relationship would be incomplete.
Young is perhaps best known for his ability to make big plays, for rising to the moment. He was the guy you wanted to have the ball when it mattered most. It was his performance in the Longhorns' 2006 Rose Bowl win over USC that made him a Texas legend and a household name. But his history of making big plays dates to his high school days in Houston (trust me -- when I was with Pitt, I watched him while we were recruiting him). It carried over to Texas, where he guided the Longhorns to a 30-2 career mark and a national championship. He also made those kind of plays early in his career with the Titans.
But as Tennessee has struggled, so has Young. He doesn't lead with toughness, and there is at least the perception that he is willing to quit on his Titans teammates. He handles criticism very poorly. To excel as a quarterback in the NFL, these traits simply cannot be part of your makeup. Success might have come too easily for Young earlier, but it hasn't in the NFL. Now is when he needs to work harder and bury his nose in the Titans' playbook with Heimerdinger, who was brought in specifically to get more out of him. That physical ability to make plays is still there, but the biggest concerns now are about his mental makeup.
Young still has a lot of work to do to be a successful NFL quarterback. Right now, he's just a great athlete playing QB and is getting by on his physical gifts. But there is so much more to it than being the best athlete on the field. Yes, his delivery is odd, but if he were more accurate or had a better feel for the type of pass needed, that wouldn't be as big a deal. He needs to work harder on the mental side of the game, be able to make his reads, to see the whole field, to know where everyone is going to be before it happens. The game still seems fast to Young. Until he does all this, his great mobility will be less and less of a factor because teams won't let him use it. He needs to prove he can be a passer in the league; then, his mobility can become a great weapon once again. The tools are all there. It's up to Young if he wants to use them.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
There's no denying Vince Young's physical tools. But it's up to Young whether he wants to use them to be great.