The St. Louis Rams were the only NFL franchise to claim the Detroit Lions‘ Titus Young after he was released. Young was a second round pick of the Lions in 2011 and is a physically gifted 23-year old wide receiver. Coming out of Boise State, Young entered the NFL with the reputation of a dynamic receiver who could make big plays down the field. It was somewhat of a surprise when the Lions drafted Young, considering they had Nate Burleson and Calvin Johnson, but they were overwhelmed by his abilities and perceived value in the second round.
Ability and perceived value are the two reasons the Rams have taken this chance on Young. Young was released from the Lions after his second season, but had been shut down during the regular season long before then. Plenty of players in the league have character issues and overwhelming egos, but Young has proven to be a special case during his short career. The fact that the Lions, a franchise who regularly put up with arrests and discipline issues with their star players, were willing to let him go says an awful lot about how difficult it is to handle the young receiver.
Young reportedly claimed that he was the best receiver in the league. The statement alone is not an issue. Over the past two years the NFL world has celebrated similar statements from Joe Flacco and Eli Manning, who followed up their proclamations with Super Bowl victories and MVP performances. Instead of following up his proclamation with the ultimate team victory, Young instead decided to take on the team’s superstar receiver, Johnson. Now the young receiver never went for Johnson physically, but he did purposely line up on the wrong spot on the field in order to take Johnson’s role in the offense. A week before the team’s Thanksgiving day game, Young and his wide receivers coach reached a boiling point as he was purposely ruining play-calls to try and force the ball his way.
Character issues with Young were no major surprise for the Lions, but there is a major difference between dealing with an ego opposed to playing with a player who is purposely sabotaging the team effort for individual gain. Young came out of Boise State with character question marks and one major red flag, after he was suspended for most of his sophomore season for fighting with a teammate.
The Lions were hoping to manage Young’s character flaws and get his focus on playing winning football on the field. However, his problems quickly reared themselves in the professional game. In May 2012, he was suspended for sucker-punching teammate Louis Delmas. It was clear early on that the Lions were failing with Young, which is no surprise considering the type of team that is run in Detroit. The Lions don’t carry many veterans, nor do they have a coaching staff that prioritizes discipline. In fact, the play on the field and actions off of it in Detroit hints that the inmates are running the asylum when it comes to accountability and discipline.
Putting Young in a scenario with stronger leadership and coaches who can change his approach, after already facing the sobering process of being released from a franchise, could alter his approach. However, Young didn’t learn after his first two suspensions so it’s difficult to see him learning this time. Jeff Fisher has taken risks in the past, but those risks didn’t necessarily work out all the time. Furthermore, while the Rams have more veteran leadership than the Lions do, those leaders are almost exclusively on the defensive side of the ball.
Talent is the main reason Young was claimed by the Rams. However, Young’s talent isn’t actually that great. It wasn’t enough for any other franchise to make a waiver claim on him outside of the Rams, while his numbers during his first two seasons don’t really reflect his production on the field. Young dropped three passes on 53 targets last year, coming away with 33 total receptions. The previous season he dropped eight passes and caught 52 passes, but those 52 passes came on 89 targets(via ProFootballFocus). Even though those catches went for just under 1,000 yards, 10 touchdowns and a 12.2 average, they also came in the most pass-heavy offense in the NFL with the best receiver in the league drawing multiple defenders away from him on every single snap.
Young won’t have the same space or the quantity of opportunities with the Rams, while the Rams’ quality of player at the position isn’t significantly worse than Young. Chris Givens showed an incredible amount of promise as a rookie, while Brian Quick looked impressive in limited time as he continues to develop as a professional. Presuming the team re-signs Danny Amendola, they would already have three quality receiving options entering next season for Sam Bradford. That’s without even considering Brandon Gibson and Austin Pettis.
Pettis played with Young at Boise State, but there are no reports on whether the team consulted with him about claiming the young receiver. Taking player recommendations isn’t a reliable way of examining another player’s character. Depending on how strong the duo’s friendship was, Pettis is going to feel pressured to recommend him, although you could off-set that with the fact that Young would be competing with Pettis for a roster spot entering next year.