Step to the head of the class if you knew back then what everybody's caught on to by now. Come right up and get your props if there was no doubt in your mind, not a single apprehension, that Vince Young was capable of stepping right into the NFL and doing for the Tennessee Titans what he did for the Texas Longhorns. But I'm telling you right from the get-go. If there's enough of you for a game of bridge I know at least three of you are lying.
Who could possibly have foreseen what's transpired in Tennessee, where the Titans have reeled off four straight victories and blossomed under Young into the one non-playoff team that no contender wants to play? Certainly not the Houston Texans, who passed on the Houston native and somehow, despite owning the No. 1 pick in last year's draft, are without a rookie-of-the-year candidate in a year when they're three for a dollar. And certainly not the Titans, who in drafting Young resigned themselves to a lengthy apprenticeship before making him their starter.
On the bench Young might have remained, for this year, possibly the next, until three losses with an archaic Kerry Collins at starter got the Titans to thinking that timetables are for train conductors. And so they nudged Young into the fray, ignoring his unorthodox throwing mechanics, his unfamiliarity with NFL defenses, and relying on the two qualities that made him an intriguing draftee to begin with: his ethereal athleticism and an uncanny propensity for willing his team to victory.
That the Titans are 6-4 since Young's ascension to starter foils the ancient law that reads: No quarterback shall step from college to the pros and find immediate success. On Nov. 26, Young rallied Tennessee from 21 down to a victory over the Giants. The week after that he threw for two touchdowns and ran for 78 yards in an upset of Indianapolis. Up the middle he scrambled Sunday, on third down in overtime, looking like Secretariat in the Belmont while covering 39 yards for the winning score. No team's put up more points against Baltimore's steel defense than the 26 Tennessee hung on it with Young in charge.
With three weeks left in the season Young's the no-doubt-about-it frontrunner for NFL rookie of the year. Never mind Saints running back Reggie Bush, who has the advantage of a endorsement deal with Pepsi, which happens to sponsor the award. It can be argued that Bush isn't even the top rookie on his own team, not with wide receiver Marques Colston averaging almost 16 yards a catch to go with his seven touchdowns.
In Jacksonville, running back Maurice Jones-Drew (11 touchdowns) has hit the charts with a bullet. In New England, running back Laurence Maroney has excelled while sharing the backfield load. Linebacker A.J. Hawk has been a whirlwind for Green Bay. But no one stacks up to Young, whose presence, leadership and flair for the dramatic trump personal statistics that are tepid compared to those of his classmates.
Young is completing a scant 52 percent of his passes, owns a undistinguished quarterback rating of 65.7. Only 10 of his throws have resulted in touchdowns while 11 have been intercepted. If numbers were the be all and end all, he'd be a witness to the competition for rookie supremacy, anything but a contender.
But when it comes to rookie QBs the debate is reduced to wins and losses. If quarterback is the most difficult position on the field, if it's generally accepted that no quarterback seamlessly transitions from college to the pros, then what Young has accomplished overwhelms any statistical argument that can be mounted against him. What's more impressive than making a winner out of a team that had forgotten how to win?