After two games of the 2011 NFL regular season, then third year Tennessee Titans wide receiver Kenny Britt appeared to be announcing himself as an elite NFL player. In games against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens, Britt tallied a total of 14 receptions for 271 yards and three touchdowns. Or, in other words, a 16 game season projection of 112 receptions, 2,168 yards and 24 touchdowns.
The ridiculous potential that Britt was showing off would be cut short soon after. Six days after turning 23, he tore his ACL in a Week 3 matchup with the Denver Broncos. His 112 reception, 2,168 yards and 24 touchdowns would be exiled to the dreams of fantasy surrealists.
Although Britt's season was limited to those two games, they did show off a new level of ability that hadn't been there as consistently during the previous two years. Britt entered the league as the 30th overall pick of the 2009 NFL draft. During his rookie season, he was the youngest player in the league at just 20 years of age. Expectations were appropriately quelled, but in spite of his youth he still showed off some flashes.
His 42 receptions, 701 yards and three touchdowns in 16 games(six starts) didn't do enough to justify his selection, but it did entice onlookers to consider what could come. During his second season, Britt showed off even more of his ability, finishing a 12 game season(seven starts) with 42 receptions, 775 yards and nine touchdowns. In spite of those gaudy touchdown numbers, there were still question marks over just how good Britt could be regardless of what off the field issues came with his ability.
All that changed for those two games at the beginning of 2011. For a short time, Britt was set to join that second group of wide receivers desperately trying to track down the crown of Calvin Johnson.
Instead, he had surgery, endured the arduous process of rehabbing from that major knee surgery and was suspended for one game before returning in time for Week 2 of the 2012 season. A lot had happened during that 12 month span, but not just with Britt. While Britt had been away, the Titans moved on from Matt Hasselbeck as their starting quarterback, instead putting youngster Jake Locker into the starting lineup.
While adjusting to playing with a new quarterback and adjusting to playing after his injury, Britt struggled to come anywhere close to what he had done during any of his previous seasons. Unquestionably, last season was the lowest point of his career so far. Of course, that career is still only four seasons old and he won't turn 25 until during the 2013 season, so that's not really saying much.
Britt is the perfect example of a risk-reward play in fantasy football. He needs his health to be where it was 24 months ago, but he also needs his quarterback to elevate his play. If both of those things happen, then the best wide receiver in fantasy football may not be drafted anywhere close to the top of the draft.
That may seem like an incredible claim, and it is undoubtedly an unlikely outcome, but if you break down what Britt during that two game spell you see a player who has every single tool required to be the best in the league.
Red Zone Receiver
The first thing you notice about Britt when he walks onto the field is his stature. His frame is ideally shaped for an outside receiver and he has the height, 6-3, to tower over most defensive backs. There are plenty of receivers with his height and a number with his body shape also, but very few can extend the impact of their physical structures with their ball-skills.
Against the Jaguars, Britt was lined up against Rashean Mathis on the outside. The line of scrimmage was just three yards from the endzone, while Mathis had no safety help despite the Titans having a slot receiver very close to Britt.
Britt runs a fade route, something that has no distinguishable cut or move to gain separation. Instead, his quarterback throws to a spot and trusts Britt to beat the defensive back for the football. Mathis isn't an outstanding cornerback at this stage of his career, but he is in a decent position here and what Britt does really leaves him no opportunity to prevent the touchdown either way.
Being 6-3 gives Britt an obvious advantage over most defensive backs, but when his athleticism allows him to extend that height and his ability to catch the ball while fully extended allows him to comfortably make receptions at full extension, defensive backs can't do much to stop him. Here, Mathis hasn't really done anything wrong. Britt is simply towering over him.
Mathis actually does an excellent job of trying to push him out of bounds, but Britt isn't a light receiver and he has excellent body control. Here, he contorts his body in such a way that he is able to drag his feet inside the endzone despite Mathis toppling the rest of his body over the white line.
The natural reaction for defensive backs in this situation is to drop off Britt slightly in order to get a better position on the football. In this scenario, Britt has to act differently, but act in such ways that are not out of his ability.
Against the Ravens the following week, Dominique Foxworth dropped off Britt in a similar situation. Foxworth had no safety help and the Ravens were blitzing, meaning that the ball was sure to come out quickly. For that reason, Foxworth has his weight shifted forward and he is on his toes anticipating a throw underneath.
With Foxworth anticipating the quick throw underneath and him having no safety help inside to work off of, Britt runs an outstanding route. Instead of simply running up five yards before posting up, he runs directly at Foxworth to push him back onto his heels, before planting his right foot and pivoting the atypical way to get into a posting up position.
This creates a small gap between the defensive back and his frame, giving Hasselbeck a space to throw into and Britt enough room to manoeuvre his body into a position to more comfortably catch the ball.
By the time Foxworth gets in a position to make a play on the football, Britt has already caught it and brought it safely into his body to prevent any pass breakup.
Another important aspect of being a redzone receiver is running the slant route effectively against press coverage and into tight areas. This example doesn't come from a redzone play, but it is a redzone type of situation because the coverage is tight to the line of scrimmage and the defensive back across from him is in press coverage.
At the snap, Mathis jumps into the neutral zone directly in Britt's face. Britt isn't fazed however and releases inside as Mathis jumps back towards the sideline. That allows him a free release inside on the slant route.
Britt makes the reception into his chest as Mathis hits him from behind. Britt is able to continue moving forward as he uses his strength to brush off Mathis' flailing arm tackle. He steps directly into the arriving safety, but Britt is much bigger than the diminutive safety and gets low enough to power through his attempted hit.
Not only does Britt complete the reception, but he keeps moving forward to gain an extra five yards after the initial hit.
Britt's release wasn't on show there, the camera angles did't give enough detail, but it is very impressive. This play from the Ravens' game shows off how he effectively uses his physical tools and technique.
Cary Williams is lined up directly in line with Britt at the snap, in press coverage. Britt wants to get inside of Williams to run a shallow curl route up the seam. In order to do this, he must force Williams off his spot and move him towards the sideline.
Instead of going directly for Williams' inside shoulder, Britt shows the presence of mind to run straight towards the sideline passed Williams' outside shoulder. This drags Williams sideways, but it also exposes him to Britt's swinging arm that the receiver uses to knock him off his feet. Britt punches Williams on his inside shoulder, something that is legal this close to the line of scrimmage, before planting his outside foot to come back inside.
This gives Britt a free release to come in field while Williams has to plant his outside foot and accelerate again to try and regain position. While Williams is overcompensating to try and catch up to Britt, he reverses his direction again to catch a curl route while Williams is moving further down the field.
It's Britt's outstanding release that makes this reception so simple in the end.
Polished All-Around Receiver
Britt is a big, athletic receiver who can outrun or outjump almost any defender. However, that alone is never enough to get onlookers excited at this level of football. You have to be able to release of the line, understand situations, run precise routes, extend for the football and make plays all over the field. At his best, Britt has no limitations in any facet of being an NFL receiver.
Again against Williams in the Ravens game, Britt showed off his ability to manipulate the defensive backs trying to cover him. Instead of using his release, this time he used a very deceptive double move to come free on a play that should have resulted in a huge touchdown reception.
Most receivers with Britt's frame struggle to create separation with their route running because they don't have the fluid athleticism or the ability to make subtle moves that make all of their routes look similar. Britt obviously doesn't have that problem and on this play he used excellent hesitation to sell the comeback route before completely losing Williams down the sideline.
Because of his athleticism, Britt doesn't need the defensive back to bite too hard on his fake. Even the slightest wrong move will give him enough space to get away.
Even though Britt completely lost Williams and was wide open for an easy touchdown reception, an inaccurate throw from Hasselbeck forces him to make a difficult reception. Hasselbeck should have thrown the ball on the line of the red arrow in the above image, but instead he dropped it five yards short and too far outside.
Fortunately for the veteran quarterback, Britt recognized the flight of the football very early on and had enough body control to turn at full speed and adjust to the ball in the air. Instead of catching the ball in full stride on the move towards the endzone, he was falling backwards and desperately trying to stay in bounds.
Ultimately , the result was still a big play down the field, but Britt was made to work very hard for it and showed off abilities that most 'Big Play' receivers don't have.
Combine with his astute technical ability, Britt is also more than willing to make plays all over the field and work the whole route tree.
On the above play, Britt uses his speed to find space on a crossing route. He easily escapes Ray Lewis over the middle of the field before getting into the pocket of space where his quarterback can fit the ball comfortably ahead of Ed Reed's arrival.
Crucially, when Britt caught the ball, he watched it into his chest before looking to turn. As soon as he turned, Ed Reed attempted to hit him violently. Britt had the awareness to brace himself for the hit as he turned while using his strength in a strong base to fend off Reed's attempt to make a play on the ball.
Often receivers will lose the ball in this situation because they don't see the hit coming. Britt not only saw it coming, but he braced himself enough to turn a potentially painful hit to just an ordinary tackle.
While the above play showed off Britt's ability to feel a hit coming and avoid exposing himself to that hit, he was still working his way away from the defensive back and not moving into a tight area. In the same game, he showed off his willingness to take punishment from defensive backs, but also his ability to minimize the impact of that punishment on any given play.
On this play, Britt has run a seam route and easily beaten Foxworth. However, he is running directly into the vicinity of the Ravens' two safeties. Furthermore, he is forced to high point the football because if he runs underneath it, Reed will have a chance to hit him before he catches the ball or make a play on it.
Britt fully extends to get the football, but with exceptional quickness, he is able to make one subtle movement that makes him a smaller target by the time he arrives on the ground. This is crucial because Britt showed off the bravery to fully extend, but still had that capability to protect himself and make the catch more likely.
For a receiver of his sheer size, Britt shouldn't be a major threat in the open field. Yet, because of his fluid athleticism, he has the running ability to make many running backs envious when fully healthy.
On this bubble screen, Britt has one blocker with three defensive backs in the immediate vicinity. Because he understands the situation and has the athleticism to exploit it, he is still able to gain eight yards even when the defense plays him relatively well.
Britt initially attacks the outside shoulder of his blocker, but the defensive back is in position to prevent him from gaining the edge. Instead, he reverses the field and brings himself back towards two defenders. A situation that should work against him.
The combination of a bad angle from the defender and Britt's outstanding acceleration allows him to get inside however. Although he needed that defender to overplay the sideline, once he got inside he made the most of what was there. Britt's acceleration and strength allowed him to get passed the first tackle attempt, shed the second before finishing the play with forward momentum.
This is something Britt did on more than one occasion. Here, a defender arrives at the same time as the football and he doesn't have a blocker leading the way to work with. This play should be stopped for no gain.
As he catches the ball, Britt sidesteps backwards to evade the incoming defender, before planting his foot and aggressively powering forward to gain forward momentum. For receivers who can make the initial cut, the natural inclination is to try and continually dance your way through the defense. For a player with all the physical abilities of Britt, he can simply power over the smaller defensive backs.
Fortunately, he knows that and looks to do it even if it's not a flashy or exciting move for a wide receiver.
One of two things will prevent Britt from reaching those lofty heights again during his career: the inability of Jake Locker or his recovery from his knee injury. At worst, Locker will be terrible this year and the Titans will find another quarterback in the draft next season. At best, he will become what the Titans believe he can be or Britt will leave as a free agent for a team with a legitimate signal-caller.
On the injury front, there is only one source to consult...Dr. Jene Bramel:
"It's easy to see the impressive recoveries of Adrian Peterson and (hopefully) Robert Griffin III as the new standard for reconstructive knee surgery. But there will still be players who struggle to fully recover within 12 months of their injury. In Britt's case, scar tissue and questionable compliance with rehab kept him from a quicker recovery. Reports from Titans camp suggest Britt may finally be back to full health, however. Just 24 years old, there's still time for Britt to build on what look to be a breakout season in 2010."
There are many players throughout history who have had their careers derailed by injuries and knee injuries specifically. There are also many wide receivers who have never reached their potential because of poor quarterback play. However, right now there may be only five or six receivers with the sheer ability of Kenny Britt and none of them are falling as far as he will in fantasy drafts.
You can follow Cian Fahey on twitter @Cianaf