NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans, in previous regimes and the new one, are not basing personnel decisions on public sentiment.
And they certainly shouldn’t.
But as I watched the Twitter reaction of some fans to the team’s release of quarterback Zach Mettenberger, I couldn’t help but think of a list of guys the fan base has generally overrated.
@PaulKuharskyNFL wow. Another example of poor ownership. He will do well on another team.— Larry Lincoln Jr. (@LarryLincolnJr) May 16, 2016
Since the Titans got to Nashville, many fans have really latched on to some underdogs who weren’t or aren’t very good.
Has Music City’s affection for mediocre/bad players helped enable the franchise to make the sort of moves that have landed it at the bottom of the league?
Did former GM Ruston Webster feel better about running back Antonio Andrews (still around) and tight end Chase Coffman (gone) because such a vocal segment of the fan base inexplicably loved them? On some small level it’s certainly a bit easier to be patient with a guy fans love and a bit harder to cut him.
Some likable underdogs have panned out, certainly.
Drew Bennett was a giant underdog when he arrived in 2001, and he turned into a very productive receiver in his six seasons. Marc Mariani was a seventh-rounder who went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie returner.
But my sense is Titans fans develop a much deeper affection for marginal players than fans of many other teams.
Some players who’ve done well hit a wall, and a segment of the fan base doesn’t let go of what he’d been instead of what he’d become.
Billy Volek was a comet of a quarterback who put up some ridiculous numbers when he took over for Steve McNair but then fell off. Colin McCarthy did some good work early as a fourth-round linebacker in 2011, but injuries undid him and many wouldn’t let the hope go.
Others who did far less somehow became popular well beyond what they deserved based on their production: Jarett Payton brought a great story with him, as the son of all-time great Walter Payton, but was not a good running back. Running back John Simon, receiver Michael Preston and even fullback Wes Ours had some combination of winning personality/great work ethic/underdog ethos. What they didn’t have was the skill to breakthrough into significant roles or the production to maintain a role when they got one.
Last year’s seventh-round receiver Tre McBride made the practice squad out of camp then played in seven games after injuries lined him up for a promotion. He’s a bubbly guy and a hard worker. But nothing he has done suggests he has much of an NFL future, and I hear from people who feel like he belongs in the mix of receivers I talk about at this stage.
Mettenberger showed some promise. He’s an SEC guy, which scores points with most fans of the Titans.
But the single most important thing we learned about him after two years was that he isn’t good.