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NFL Hot Reads: Drafting quarterbacks early is anything but a lock; just ask the Titans

Jake Locker of the Tennessee Titans drops back

Jake Locker of the Tennessee Titans drops back to pass in the first half of a preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on August 23, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Kevin C. Cox

Jake Locker's time is up in Tennessee, where Titans first-year coach Ken Whisenhunt has decided to go with rookie Zach Mettenberger, a sixth-round pick out of LSU.

It's yet another reminder that too many teams reach for quarterbacks high in the draft, only to see them fizzle once they get on the field.

Locker, the eighth pick in 2011, is one of three quarterbacks drafted among the first 12 picks that year to lose his starting job. The others are former Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who was selected 10th overall and now is a 49ers backup, and Christian Ponder, the Vikings' 12th overall pick, who now backs up rookie Teddy Bridgewater.

Cam Newton was the first overall pick that year, and the Panthers' quarterback has grown into a capable passer as well as a dangerous runner. But the best value at quarterback in 2011 is Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers, a second-round pick (36th overall). Kaepernick already has been to two straight NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl.

 

Hey, Peyton, over here!

Remember when Wes Welker was one of the most productive receivers in the NFL? Whether it was catching passes from Tom Brady in New England or Peyton Manning in Denver, the diminutive slot receiver was always a focal point of the passing game.

Not these days, though. In fact, Welker has become mostly an afterthought in the Broncos' offense this year.

True, he was suspended for the first two games after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug in the offseason, but Welker has been back long enough to get into a rhythm, even after returning from a concussion. But in his last five games, he has only 13 catches for 121 yards and one touchdown.

Welker has mostly fallen victim to the presence of so many other quality skill players on Denver's offense, including receivers Emmanuel Sanders, who had three touchdown catches in Thursday night's win over the Chargers, and Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas.

 

Rodgers better than ever?

As good as Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was in 2011, when he won the NFL's Most Valuable Player award, he's even better now. So says Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who calls the plays for the 30-year-old quarterback.

"Aaron is a much better player today than he was in 2011,'' McCarthy said. "His responsibility level has increased a lot since then. So what he does during the course of the week, during the course of the game, at the line of scrimmage, the communication between Alex Van Pelt and myself, he is, in my opinion, watching him grow throughout his career, he's clearly a better player.''

Rodgers has thrown 18 straight touchdown passes without an interception, and his streak of 192 passes without an interception is the longest of his career. Only Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr, who once went 294 straight passes without throwing a pick, has a longer streak in Packers history.

 

Almost must-win for Cincy

Remember the Bengals' 23-16 win over the Ravens in Baltimore in Week 1? You know, the game in which plenty of folks suggested the Bengals finally were ready to start winning big because they'd actually beaten a good team -- and a divisional rival, at that -- on the road?

Well, that game might as well have been from last season, because plenty has changed for the Bengals since then. After a three-game winning streak to start the season, the Bengals are winless in their last three (0-2-1) and host the Ravens in an AFC North rematch today.

It's a huge spot for the Bengals, who can't afford to fall further behind the front-running Ravens (5-2).

The Bengals, coming off a 27-0 road loss to the Colts, hope the home-field advantage kicks in for this one. Cincinnati has been a much different team at home, going 11-0-1 in the last 12 games at Paul Brown Stadium. Quarterback Andy Dalton has passed for 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions for a 97.2 rating during that stretch.

 

Manusky mastering defense

Credit Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky with a big assist for Indianapolis' 5-2 start.

While quarterback Andrew Luck gets most of the credit for Indy's first-half success -- as well he should -- Manusky has done his part by keeping the defense together in the absence of All-Pro linebacker Robert Mathis, who led the NFL last year with 19.5 sacks.

Mathis, who was suspended for the first four games after a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs, was lost for the season when he tore his Achilles while training in Atlanta. But Manusky has done a terrific job making up for the loss.

The Colts are coming off a 27-0 shutout win over the Bengals and already have 21 sacks, third-best in the NFL. The key stat is on third downs; the Colts lead the league, allowing only 26 percent of third-down conversions.

 

Old man river keeps rolling

Steve Smith Sr., 35, is off to one of the best seasons of his career. He leads the Ravens with 38 catches for 640 yards, which projects to 87 catches for 1,463 yards.

Smith's best year came in 2005 with the Panthers, when he led the NFL with 103 catches for 1,563 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Smith already has four 100-yard receiving games, and with Ravens tight end Owen Daniels and Dennis Pitta out with injuries, his numbers figure to get even better.

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