- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
It's easy to love Tennessee Titans wide receiver Kenny Britt. As anyone who saw Britt's 225-yard, three-touchdown extravaganza against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 7 of 2010 with mouth agape can attest, the Rutgers product can dominate a game. Britt also started off 2011 quickly, with 271 receiving yards and three touchdowns through two weeks, and one of those performances came against the Baltimore Ravens. The guy has skills.
It's also easy to not love Britt, however. Since embarrassing the Eagles, the Titans have played 25 regular-season games. Britt has suited up for seven of them. We know the guy can play, but we don't know if the guy can play enough, and Tuesday's surprising news that Britt is recovering from yet another knee surgery doesn't make the situation any clearer.
I've chosen Britt in a few drafts already, mocks and otherwise, though not as one of my starting wide receivers and no earlier than the seventh round. Based on sheer ability, acquiring Britt at that spot of a draft, after securing a starting group of running backs and wide receivers, is wonderful. Then again, how much of Britt are we going to see in 2012? Perhaps it's folly to assume we'll get 16 games, even though Britt did that as a rookie in 2009, but can we get half a season? Britt's upside is immense. The situation reminds me somewhat of Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden; you know he's going to miss games, but you'd likely need to use a second-round pick on him. Britt in Round 7 . . . sign me up!
In Britt's case, it's not one knee that has given him troubles, but each knee. Britt wrecked his right knee in Week 3 last season, tearing his ACL and MCL. It happened in September, which is ample time for a complete return in 2012. In fact, Britt reportedly was running and cutting and doing all of the things needed to effectively play wide receiver at the Titans' organized team activities in June, and he told reporters, "I guarantee I will be back and better than I've been before." Well, that's what we like to hear!
Britt had follow-up arthroscopic surgery on the right knee in mid-May. This didn't scare me much, however. He was running a few weeks later, and September remained far away. This week's news was that Britt had arthroscopic surgery on the left knee, for swelling, following minicamp at the end of June. Again, I can't say I'm running away from him in drafts, though I fully acknowledge the risk. I'd like to see Britt perform in a preseason game or two -- those contests start up in three weeks, incidentally -- but these are minor knee procedures. There's a reason it wasn't public knowledge for weeks.
Yes, Britt's knees are worrisome, but this is about risk versus reward, and fantasy is about value. Hey, at least he's stayed out of legal trouble, which was a legit concern heading into last season. Britt isn't going among the top 10 wide receivers in drafts, though he has that upside. This is what scares me about McFadden, frankly. Britt was the 28th wide receiver chosen in ESPN Fantasy's mock draft this week. I thought about grabbing him two rounds earlier.
As ESPN.com AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky notes, the timetable for Britt's return remains problematic, but this summer's news shouldn't be overrated, either. The Titans open the season Sept. 9 against the New England Patriots, a defense that had serious issues containing wide receivers -- elite ones or not -- last season, as its secondary was brutal. I don't think it's improved much, to be blunt.
When Britt suits up for that game, it's likely few fantasy owners will have him active, but they ought to consider it. I will. By Week 2, Britt could be hurt again, or leading the league in receiving yards. I'm no doctor, but I don't think anyone knows whether Britt can remain healthy. Let's be clear, though: Nobody is safe in fantasy football, from Peyton Manning to Tom Brady to Adrian Peterson to Andre Johnson.
I'll continue selecting Britt when appropriate, not relying on him for 16 games worth of awesomeness, but hoping for periods of success, and fully expecting at some point for the tantalizing combination of health and upside to produce elite numbers. It's irrelevant to look at his season paces, but this would have been a 1,200-yard receiver in 2011. He caught nine touchdowns in 10 games. He's capable of this in 2012 or, as Kuharsky notes, Britt might not be back to 100 percent until 2013. If it's Round 7, I'll take that chance.
It's worth noting that the Titans selected Kendall Wright with the 20th selection in the 2012 draft, and the team claims he'll be heavily involved in the offense right away. Well, I'm generally avoiding rookies at the spot in drafts, unless it's a running back like Trent Richardson with a clear path for playing time. Wright doesn't have that, and even if Britt misses September, the rookie from Baylor is hardly a lock for stardom.
For one, I expect running back Chris Johnson to bounce back and be worthy of first-round selection, adjusting the offense's focus a tad. Second, the quarterback situation is less than ideal. Matt Hasselbeck is 36 and performed poorly much of the second half of 2011. Jake Locker is athletic but not accurate, and hasn't started a game. You overlook these factors with Britt, who had the three-touchdown game with Kerry Collins quarterbacking and had to deal with Vince Young in 2009, but not with a rookie.
Ultimately, I don't see fantasy owners talking much about the Titans' passing game, but I see sleepers. Britt has top-10 potential. Tight end Jared Cook has the size and speed to emerge, which he probably did the final weeks of last season. He could be top 10. While Wright gets overdrafted in fantasy, few will look at veteran Nate Washington, he of the 1,023 receiving yards and eight scores last year. It wouldn't have happened with a healthy Britt, but Washington is starting. Damian Williams is also in the picture for the slot, battling with Wright. This isn't an elite passing offense, but fantasy owners should take notice.
Eric Karabell discusses the fantasy value of Kenny Britt, who recently underwent yet another knee surgery.