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Spotlight - RB Chris Brown, Tennessee Titans

Jason Wood's mug

Jason Wood's Thoughts

Chris Brown is a talented back, no one can deny that. You don't average 4.8 yards per carry on 220 carries playing for a 5-11 team without some natural ability. He had six 100+ yard rushing games last season (in 11 games played), and went over the 1,000 yard mark despite missing 1/3rd of the season.

But to say his injury history isn't something you need to worry about would be myopic. After all, the Titans are worried about it. If they weren't, why did the Titans, in a rebuilding year, move to acquire veteran tailback Travis Henry and sign him to a new contract that goes out to 2009?

Say what you will about Travis Henry but he has two 1,300+ yard seasons, a Pro Bowl, and has two years of 300+ carries under his belt; all things Brown has yet to accomplish.

So the question everyone wants to know is how will Brown and Henry split touches? After all, both are capable of being the lead back IF HEALTHY, and neither seems particularly well suited to serve as a true backup (i.e., 5-10 touches per game).

If you're to believe coachspeak, HC Jeff Fisher and new offensive coordinator Norm Chow intend to put both to work, by getting them "about 200 carries each." The only problem with their plan is that history suggests it's highly unlikely. And furthermore, I'm not sure the Titans young defense is up to the task either. Consider:

1) The Titans may WANT to run the ball, but with that defense, they're not going to have as many opportunities as you would need for your prediction to come true

2) Two RBs with 200+ carries is a rare feat indeed, but not impossible.

Teams with multiple 200+ carry RBs in the same season (1985-2004)

  • 2000 -- Thunder Dayne and Lightning Barber, NYG (228 and 213 carries, respectively)
  • 1998 -- W. Dunn and M. Alstott, TB (245 and 215)
  • 1990 -- B. Word and C. Okoye, KC (204 and 245)
  • 1986 -- E. Jackson and W. Abercrombie, PIT (216 and 214)
  • 1985 -- F. Pollard and W. Abercrombie, PIT (233 and 227)
  • 1985 -- K. Mack and E. Byner, CLE (222 and 244)

Not only is it a rare feat, but when you look at how those team's defenses ranked, you can see that you're being a bit too optimistic as to the combined workload of these two Titan RBs...

  • 2000 -- NY Giants (5th in points allowed, 5th in yards allowed)
  • 1998 -- Tampa Bay (5th in points allowed, 2nd in yards allowed)
  • 1990 -- Kansas City (5th in points allowed, 16th in yards allowed)
  • 1986 -- Pittsburgh (17th in points allowed, 17th in yards allowed)
  • 1985 -- Pittsburgh (15th in points allowed, 4th in yards allowed)
  • 1985 -- Cleveland (7th in points allowed, 9th in yards allowed)

Only the early 80s Steelers teams with W. Abercrombie and friends had mediocre defenses but still had two 200 carry backs. In recent years (the last 15), the only three times were in conjunction with elite playmaking defenses.

Unless you think Tennessee is going to VASTLY exceed their projected defensive abilities, Henry + Brown are very likely not getting 200 carries each.

OK, so if they're not going to get 200+ carries each, what should our expectations be for them?

I believe Brown has proven himself a more versatile runner, as exhibited by his solid YPC a year ago despite less-than-ideal circumstances. Henry is more of a power back, hitting the hole and trying to get yardage after the contact. For that reason, I expect Brown to be in more packages between the 20s.

But as to scoring, Henry has a BIG edge over Brown based on their respective history, in my view.

Using our Data Dominator, I looked at the breakdowns for Henry and Brown in short yardage situations over the last three seasons (short yardage defined as 1 to 3 yards to go):

Travis Henry

  • 105 rushes
  • 464 yards
  • 4.42 YPC
  • 70 first downs (66.7% FD conversion rate)
  • 12 TDs

Chris Brown

  • 37 rushes
  • 101 yards
  • 2.73 YPC
  • 15 first downs (40.5% FD conversion rate)
  • 3 TDs

Furthermore, among RBs with at least 25 "short yardage" carries in the last three seasons Travis Henry ranked 7th in YPC while Brown ranks 57th.

Basically, as I see it, OC Norm Chow DOES intend to use both liberally. And assuming he's able to come to the same conclusion vis-a-vis their individual strengths, that suggests Henry will be used more often in short yardage and goal line situations, whereas Brown may be the better option between the 20s and while trying to gain yardage in chunks. Interestingly, neither is a particularly good blocker nor an above average receiver, so I don't think those issues will factor much into the substitution decisions.

Positives

  • Brown is a naturally gifted runner with good vision, he can create yardage on his own, a key playing for a young, rebuilding offense
  • OC Norm Chow promises to get both backs involved and his history at USC suggests he's up to the task
  • The Titans offensive line should be one of the team's few strengths, as most of the unit returns intact from a season ago when Brown averaged 4.8 yards per tote

Negatives

  • Brown has missed 5 games in each of his first two seasons, and is again hampered by "minor" injury in camp
  • Travis Henry is at his best when given a heavy workload, and the Titans signed him through 2009 so he WILL be a big part of the offense one way or another
  • The Titans defense doesn't appear good enough to allow the team to run as much as they want to, and Brown (the yardage guy) probably suffers disproportionately as a result

Final Thoughts

When you look at their respective ADPs, Chris Brown's has steadily declined since the Henry acquisition, while Henry's has steadily climbed. A week after the trade, Brown was being drafted in the 4th round of 12-team drafts while Henry was going in the 7th or 8th. According to Antsports, in drafts over the last two weeks, their ADPs have converged and both are now going in the mid- to late 6th round. Assuming you can really get Brown that late, I still think he ends the season with better totals; but in the few drafts I've participated in so far, Henry has been available much later, and thus remains the higher value selection. All things being equal, Brown is the guy. But don't reach for Brown in the 3rd or 4th round, let the draft come to you.


Colin Dowling's mug

Colin Dowling's Thoughts

I don’t like Barbara Streisand a whole lot, but I couldn’t help but giggle when she sang “The Way We Were” at an event for Bill Clinton after he had left the presidency. She was reminiscing not only over how things had been for eight years, but also how they could have been had the party not ceded the White House. It was the same sort of laugh I had when the Titans finally consummated a trade for Travis Henry. I’m sure Chris Brown thought about what almost was and what could have been.

This may surprise you, since I’ve been one of Chris Brown’s biggest supporters for some time. However, the truth is that Fantasy Football is (unfortunately) peripheral to real football and for all of his obvious talent; the Titans aren’t going to win the Super Bowl with a running back that can’t convert short yardage. I realize that much of the short yardage equation comes down to the Offensive Line. Some, not all. Fact is that Chris Brown had a hard time as a short yardage back, which explains why the team needed a hard-nose running back a la Travis Henry to come in and share the load.

Let’s examine a few facets of Brown’s game in an effort to figure out what we might expect from him this season. And to show I’m a reasonable guy, I’m not even going to discuss Brown’s propensity for injury, which is rather impossible to predict with any certainty.

Touchdowns

Regarding Fantasy Football, as is the point, Brown’s touchdown projections must be muted. While he did show the ability to break a big play for a touchdown last year, very few things in football are less predictable then “long runs for touchdown.” To project that Brown is going to get 5 or 6 or more touchdowns from outside 20 yards is a little foolish in my opinion. To expect that he is going to get more then a token carry or two at the goal line is also a bad idea, seeing as how he was TERRIBLE last year in short yardage, which is an area in which Travis Henry normally excels.

Yardage

Again, why should we believe that Chris Brown is going to get enough carries to garner useful yardage? More specifically, why does everyone seem so certain that Brown will finish camp ahead of Henry on the depth chart? Brown had a nice 10 games. Henry has had two very nice full seasons where he showed the ability to run between the tackles and play through injury.

Receiving

Brown has the advantage over Henry here. His height and recent history tell us that Brown, not Henry can be lined up outside or used in the passing game a fair amount. Problem is, reports out of camp suggest that Fullback Troy Fleming could post nice receiving numbers, meaning Brown’s receiving numbers could disappoint as well.

Positives

  • Showed big play ability last season
  • Seems to perform well against good defenses and bad alike
  • Incumbent runner on the team

Negatives

  • New OC means that being the incumbent might not mean much.
  • Disappointing short yardage runner
  • The Titans didn’t sign Travis Henry to an extension just to be a backup

Final Thoughts

I like Chris Brown as a football player. I like watching him run and I know that any time he gets the ball, he could go the distance. Problem is, the Titans have won a ton of games in the last few years by taking 4 yards consistently and converting in short yardage situations; neither of which are Brown’s forte’. I have no problem envisioning a season where Travis Henry leads the team in carries and goal line touches, making Chris Brown a weekly headache for the team’s that draft him. More problematic is that barring the unthinkable – Brown playing exclusively while Henry sits – Chris Brown doesn’t offer a whole lot of upside this season.


Quotations from the Message Board Thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

cosjobs:
As long as we can avoid the dreaded "game time decisions," he's a pleasure to have on your team a hard working, hard running, blue collar back who runs with authority. If he can get me 12-13 starts and I know when advance when he's not playing, he's worth a mid-3rd or better.

TwinTurbo:
I think Chris Brown is going to be an excellent value pick this year that will exceed his average draft position.

BigRed:
Health issues will continue and he will be fortunate to crack 1,000 yards IMO. Wouldn't touch him with a 10' pole, especially given his perceived value.


Chris Brown Projections

SOURCERSHRSHYDRSHTDRECRECYDRECTD
Jason Wood2159604352401
Colin Dowling2009005322200
Message Board Consensus27312559332551



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