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Upon Further Review: Does T.O. still have it?

Doug Farrar
Shutdown Corner

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In the second in a series of specific scouting reports, Shutdown Corner investigates whether Terrell Owens(notes) can still be a viable receiver in the NFL. For the scouting report on Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb(notes), click here.

The Seattle Seahawks are just the latest in a long line of teams to refuse the idea of adding free agent receiver Terrell Owens to their roster. Seattle's receiver corps may be full of names, but it isn't exactly brimming with talent. The same can be said of the Washington Redskins, who made their own "No, thanks!" statement in that regard. The San Diego Chargers are looking at the possibility of losing Vincent Jackson(notes), their top receiver, for the first 10 weeks of the 2010 season as he considers the pros and cons of an extended holdout. And the list goes on and on.

At 36 (he'll be 37 in December), Owens may be on the wrong side of the NFL age curve, but does he really have so little left that no NFL team would find his presence beneficial? It's possible that Owens' financial demands, or his well-known personality issues, are impeding his progress in finding a new team for 2010, but these factors are unknown. The lack of interest seems to be at least as much related to the idea of what he can't do on the field anymore, because Owens always had teams willing to put up with whatever they had to put up with in exchange for his productivity before.

Before the 2009 season, Owens signed a one-year, $6.5 million deal with the Buffalo Bills after three productive but tumultuous seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. In 2009, he caught 55 passes for 829 yards and five touchdowns - all among his lowest career totals for a full season - and the lowest DVOA and DYAR (Football Outsiders' advanced efficiency metrics) of his career. These numbers would seem to indicate that Owens is well past his prime, until you consider what the Bermuda Triangle of quarterbacks in Buffalo did to the receivers who had been on the roster in 2008.

Lee Evans(notes), thought to be one of the top young receivers in the game when J.P. Losman(notes) was throwing him long bombs, saw his numbers demolished in 2009 when targeted by Trent Edwards(notes), Ryan Fitzpatrick(notes), and Brian Brohm(notes). Evans' targets were about the same in 2009 (95 to 2008's 102), but his Catch Rate went from 62 percent to 46 percent, his DVOA (per-play efficiency) went from +11.2% to -11.1%, and his DYAR (season-cumulative efficiency) dropped from 191 to 12. Evans didn't suddenly forget to catch the football at the NFL level; it's just that it's tougher to do your job when so many of the balls thrown to you are either wormburners five yards in front of you, or floaters into triple coverage. With that in mind, I went back and reviewed three different Bills games to see the good and bad of Terrell Owens, and how much he could be seen to have in a vacuum.

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I started with the Bills' 38-10 loss in Week 4 against the Miami Dolphins. Through a quarter of a season, Owens already had a pretty good bead on the fact that he was going to be running a lot of unintentional comebacks due to Edwards' underthrows. With 11:18 left in the first half (and one Buffalo play after Edwards threw a pick for touchdown to rookie cornerback Vontae Davis(notes) after Davis had boxed running back Marshawn Lynch(notes) out on the sideline), Owens lined up wide left with fellow rookie cornerback Sean Smith(notes) in close coverage.

Owens ran a straight sideline route off the snap and adjusted to Edwards' skyball while Smith kept running. The play was good for 39 yards, taking the ball from the Buffalo 46-yard line to the Miami 15. Owens was targeted seven times in that game and caught three passes for 60 yards. Not a great catch rate, but Edwards hit just 14 of his 26 targeted passes to any receiver. Evans was targeted six times and caught just two passes.

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By Week 11 of the 2009 season, the Bills were in freefall, and changes had been made. Head coach Dick Jauron was replaced by defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, and Edwards had been replaced by Ryan Fitzpatrick. Injuries and ineffectiveness ended Edwards' season, and Fitzpatrick was brought in to try and give the offense some spark. Fitzpatrick made some plays against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 11 - the Bills still lost, 18-15, but one 98-yard pass from Fitzpatrick to Owens woke up the echoes for those who remembered a great receiver. On first-and-10 with 11:40 left in the third quarter, the Bills were backed up at their own 2-yard line.

At the snap, Fitzpatrick got a rare burst of good blocking from a max-protect set and hurled the ball downfield. Owens simply beat cornerback Tyron Brackenridge(notes) downfield - just turned on the jets on a deep seam route and smoked the defender. Owens caught the ball at the Buffalo 40 and no Jags defender had a chance to catch up. He was targeted 14 times in that game, and caught nine passes for 197 yards. It was Fitzpatrick's best day in Buffalo, and it showed what Owens was still capable of doing with a league-average quarterback throwing the ball to him.

What T.O. did not possess was the consistent downfield speed that he was able to show off in his younger years. But it's tough to look at his 2009 performance with an unbiased eye and not wonder why this guy isn't on a roster at this point. My Shutdown Corner colleague MJD recently mentioned collusion as a possible factor; it could very easily be the fact that so many teams are afraid of the personality they know will eventually explode if they take him in. But here's a thought: In 2009, Terrell Owens absolutely had the worst quarterbacks, worst offensive line, and worst overall offensive situation of his long career. For all the times he threw more talented teammates under the bus in the past, did you hear a peep out of him last season?

In the end, I think that some team will make Terrell Owens an addition to its roster, quite possibly as an injury replacement late in training camp. And as long as he has enough time to get acclimated with whatever offensive system he's now married to, I have little doubt that he can still be a very productive #2 receiver in the NFL. The idea that he's done from an on-field perspective is pure folly. The other concerns about him are entirely legitimate. That one is not.

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