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Q&A With Football Outsiders' Michael David Smith

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I was reading a recent online chat between Baseball Prospectus readers and Football Outsiders' Michael David Smith, and the topic of Vince Young came up. Smith's answers surprised me a little bit, and I emailed him with some questions about Young, as well as some other Longhorns.

Michael was nice enough to take some time to answer the questions in detail, which you can find below. If you're a football and/or stats junkie like I am, you're probably already aware of Football Outsiders and Michael David Smith. If not, consider this your introduction, and a nudge to head on over to check out their site.

PB: Let's start with Longhorn fans' favorite topic. In your most recent chat with readers on Baseball Prospectus, you mentioned that you'd include Vince Young among the game's elite signal callers within five years. There's no shortage of folks in Austin who share that sentiment, but there remain some serious skeptics elsewhere. So let's start with your statement about the next five years: what, specifically, did you see in Vince Young's play this year that led you to conclude he's going to be one of the game's best?

Michael David Smith, Football Outsiders: What amazed me about Young this year was that he seemed to "get it" much more quickly than I thought he would. I saw Young as a prospect who would probably spend one full year as a backup, then have some growing pains as a starter in his second season, then start to show real progress in season three. Instead, he took just a few games to get acclimated -- three games as a backup, then about seven where he looked like he was still learning, and then starting with that great comeback against the Giants at the end of November, he really looked like he understood the pro passing game. I don't want to overstate things, because he still wasn't a great passer (and he clearly wasn't ready for Bill Belichick's schemes in the season finale), but he was a much better passer than Kerry Collins, the old pro who was allegedly going to be his tutor.

PB: Lest we get too giddy: what's the one thing that could keep Vince from reaching that next level?

Michael David Smith, Football Outsiders: The wrong offense. I give Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow a lot of credit -- many people thought the Titans would be better off drafting Matt Leinart because he and Chow worked together at USC, but Chow tailored his offense nicely around Young's strengths. If that changes -- especially if Chow stops using the shotgun, which is clearly where Young is most comfortable -- Young will struggle.

Also, he needs to learn to hang onto the ball. Twelve fumbles is way too many. And we always have to remember that football is a team sport, and the Titans have to get better players around him -- I don't think the Tennessee offense is real talented. One guy I do like, though, is another Longhorn, Ahmard Hall. Every time I watched the Titans I saw Hall throw at least one block that made me wonder how no one drafted him last year. The Titans were wise to sign him.

PB: One of the things that frustrates Longhorn fans are the countless comparisons between Vince Young and Michael Vick. The two are, in many of our minds, entirely different players, other than being African American and athletic. For one thing, Young and Vick are different kinds of runners - Vick being quicker and faster, but Young possessing tremendous size and unparalleled vision. Young also appears to be a more efficient runner - both in terms of yardage he gains and how he uses his athletic ability to open up better plays. First, do you agree with this assessment? And second, is there any really good player comp for Vince Young? How unique a player is he?

Michael David Smith, Football Outsiders: You're absolutely right. I think Vick has a stronger arm than Young and I think he's a faster runner than Young, but I'd take Young over Vick right now if I were starting a team and got to choose one of them. Although I think scouts tend to make too big a deal of height (I'm a big Doug Flutie fan), Young's height really helps him see the field, and I sometimes look at Vick and think he just doesn't know what's going on in the secondary. Young also has much better touch on his passes than I thought he would at this stage in his career, and that's an area where Vick still struggles. When I watched Young in college I was worried about his delivery, but I was wrong about that -- and that's another thing I think the Titans' coaching was smart about, not trying to totally reinvent him. His passing motion isn't the kind of thing you'd use in a training video for young players, but it works for him.

Right now, I think Vick is better than Young at knowing when to run -- sometimes I see Young take off running when he should have stayed in the pocket for another second and gone through his progressions. But as Young gets better at that (and at taking care of the ball) he could be as good a runner as Vick.

PB: I'm not sure how much of a draftnik you are, but can you speculate on the four Longhorns who have a chance to be drafted on the first day this year (Aaron Ross, Michael Griffin, Tim Crowder, and Justin Blalock)? Do any of them look like they could develop into outstanding starters in the NFL?

Michael David Smith, Football Outsiders: Crowder, to me, looks like the best NFL prospect coming out of Texas this year, but I like all four of them. I'm a big fan of taking four-year starters, so that's something I like about both Crowder and Blalock. There's some good research that says games started is one of the best predictors of success at quarterback, and although I don't know of any thorough research along those lines that extends to other positions, I think it's probably true elsewhere. Ross, I think, is a much better prospect than Griffin. Ross looks like a late first-round pick to me, while Griffin looks more like a third-round pick.

PB: Thanks for the insights, Michael. Much appreciated.