2017 Tennessee Titans Fantasy Football Team Outlook
Since breaking his leg in Week 16 last season, Marcus Mariota is able to practice without restrictions and will be a full-go come training camp. In an effort to build on his mobility in the pocket, Mariota has dropped to 215 pounds after playing around 220-225 last year and being told to bulk up to avoid another injury. Well, if it works out, Mariota will only build on his already impressive rushing upside. He ranked 6th amongst QBs in rushing yards in 2016 and 9th in 2015 despite only playing in 12 games, averaging 6.1 and 7.4 yards per carry, respectively. The Titans have done a tremendous job loading up the offense with a plethora of weapons, and arguably the most well-rounded one in the NFL. They drafted rookie standout WR Corey Davis with their 5th overall pick, signed Eric Decker via free agency, they already had a 900/9 wideout in Rishard Matthews, an always reliable and underrated Delanie Walker at tight end, arguably the best RB duo in the AFC in DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry and he'll be throwing behind PFF's 4th ranked offensive line. By now, most people have heard the stat, Mariota has the an unblemished TD:INT ratio in the redzone, 33:0, best in the NFL. Bringing in Eric Decker, who's been one of the NFL's best redzone targets over the last five seasons was a match made in heaven. There's really not much to like about Mariota this year, especially going in that middling QB range of QB7-12 (96th, QB8). From Week 5-15 (Week 16 left early with broken leg), Mariota was QB4 behind only Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Drew Brees. He's a great option with crazy upside you can grab in the ninth round or later.
ALL CREDIT TO EVAN SILVA THE GAWD
"Coach Mike Mularkey did in Matt Ryan’s third year with Atlanta, when Ryan leaped from a 29.5 attempts-per-game passer with Michael Turner as the offensive foundation to a 35.7-attempt average in a breakout 2010 campaign. In June, Kevin Cole of Predictive Football showed Decker’s presence has spiked the touchdown rates (TDs/pass attempts) of every NFL quarterback with whom Decker has played."
Before we move into the weapons, I want to throw a few numbers out, just in terms of their offense. In 2016, the Titans had the fifth lowest number of pass attempts per game (31.5). They also ran the third fewest plays out of the 3-WR set, only 42% of their plays. They ran a ton of 2-TE sets, so 2-WRs, 2-TEs, 1-RB. A big reason for that was because they had Anthony Fasano on their roster who consistently grades out as one of the better blocking tight ends in the NFL. Fasano is in Miami now, and with a ton of weapons in their receiver group, it's very possible that number shifts, but not guaranteed.
Moving over to Tennessee's weapons are where things get fun. With the fifth pick in this year's draft, the Titans shocked the world, taking Western Michigan's Corey Davis. A complete, all-around player Davis has the potential to develop into a true #1 receiver in the NFL. He's just 22-years old, and has great size on the outside (6-3, 210) mixed with good speed (4.53). Davis "graduated as the NCAA’s all-time leader in receiving yards (5,278), tallying 331 career receptions (15.9 YPR) and 52 touchdowns and earning 2016 MAC Offensive Player of the Year" (Rotoworld). We received news yesterday that Davis pulled up short on a route with a hamstring injury and is getting it checked out. All we know now is that "he's going to miss some time." MRI results should come out shortly, but it's not good news for the rookie Davis.
Davis is the first wide receiver in Tennessee being drafted in 2017, going 88th overall as WR38. There's no denying Davis' talent and upside in this offense, he's their first round pick, so of course they want to use him a ton, but I'm not completely sold on Rishard Matthews playing second fiddle to Davis in 2017. It's hard to overstate how good Matthews was for the Titans in 2016. First off, Matthews was good in Miami, but never got the opportunity to showcase it. With Miami, in the six (6) games that Matthews received at least six targets, he had at least 85 receiving yards or a touchdown in ALL 6. Last season, Matthews finished as WR11 in standard leagues. From Week 5 through the end of the season, Matthews had at least 105 receiving yards and/or a touchdown in 10-of-12 games. Want to talk about consistency? Matthews saw six (6) targets inside the 10-yard line in 2016, turning all six into touchdowns. Right now, Matthews, who will fully be in a battle with Davis to play opposite Decker in 2WR sets, is getting picked nearly 45 spots (131, WR50) after Corey Davis. It's early in camp, but Davis has been running as the X receiver in the first-team offense while Matthews has been in the Z.
Eric Decker, coming off a hip injury that cost him 13 games has been a question mark for a lot of fantasy owners this offseason, also going after Davis at pick 93, WR40. It's unfair to label the 30-year old as injury prone after missing just two of a possible 80 games in the five seasons prior to 2016. Decker is pinned as the slot guy in Tennessee right now as he acclimates himself to the offense and will likely, at worst split time with either Matthews or Davis in 2-WR sets, much like his role in New York. They couldn't have found a better WR in free agency to pair with Mariota, given both their redzone success. Over the last five seasons, Decker has the second most redzone touchdowns (36) among all players. That's INCLUDING last year's 3-game campaign. As I mentioned earlier, it's very possibly that the Titans run more 3-WR sets now, which will move Decker into the slot, definitely not a bad thing. In Decker's last full season (2015), he ran 68% of his routes from the slot, catching the 5th most receptions (56) from the slot and scoring the 3rd most touchdowns (7) from the slot. Decker should be the first Titans wide receiver off the board in fantasy this season. He's a really good bet to lead the team in receptions and touchdowns.
Behind these three is their 3rd round rookie from Wester Kentucky, Tawyan Taylor. Taylor's done nothing but shined at OTA's, reading quotes like "Taylor's always making plays" and "looked like the perfect fit at slot". Shining in shorts makes sense given Taylors 81st percentile SPARQ score. Although he played lesser competition at Western Kentucky, Taylor ate both Alabama and Vanderbilt (SEC) defenses alive, posting lines of 9-121 and 9-112. Considering the Titans rarely run out of the 4-WR formation, it's highly unlikely Taylor makes an impact in 2017, but Decker's only signed on for one year, meaning Taylor is probably the slot receiver of the future in Tennessee. He has great value in both keeper and dynasty formats at pick 245, WR63. Behind these four you have the one-hit hype wonder Tajae Sharpe who's roster spot might be in jeopardy and Harry Douglas who's impact will be non-existent as a depth play for Tennessee.
The player I think will suffer the most from all of these offseason acquisitions is Delanie Walker. Walker led the Titans in target share in both 2015 (26%) and 2016 (25%), but will likely see that number drop with more 1-TE sets, being asked to block more and Decker soaking up targets over the middle. In a down year for tight end position in fantasy, Walker was able to finish as a top-5 option for the second consecutive season and top-8 for the third straight year. However, Walker will be 33 in August and is unlikely to see the same number of redzone targets he's previously enjoyed. Luckily for fantasy owners, it's being baked into his ADP (96, TE9). He's going right around where he should be, as a high-floor, medium-ceiling TE1.
For the second straight year, DeMarco Murray should dominate touches in Tennessee's backfield. They'll hand over the reigns to sophomore Derrick Henry when the time is right, which isn't 2017. You could waste your time arguing that Henry is a better back, but evidenced by the 346-123 touch-share, Tennessee doesn't seem to care. Even if you think Henry sees more carries this season, Murray still dominates receiving work in the backfield, out-targeting the Alabama back 67-15 while tying Rishard Matthews for the team lead in targets inside the 10 (6). You might think that given his size Henry would get a bigger piece of the pie rushing down by the goal-line, but that wasn't the case either. Murray had 12 carries inside-the-5 compared to Henry's 4, and Murray ranked 5th in the NFL with 26 carries inside the opponent's 10, compared to 11 for Henry. Just saying "I think Henry is going to get a bigger workload, or I think DeMarco is going to get hurt" isn't anywhere near a good enough argument to drop Murray in the rankings. A good argument would be, over the Titans final three games, Henry scores three touchdowns compared to Murray's 0, but the latter still out-touched the rookie 51-31 over that span. You can give Henry 40 of Murray's 293 carries in 2017 and Murray still winds up with over 300 touches. But back to Murray. He's leading a backfield that had the third most rush attempts per game, the third highest rushing yards total, behind an elite offensive line. He finished last year as RB5 and ADP wise, I think Murray is an absolute steal 17th overall, as RB9. I would gladly take him at any spot in the 2nd round and could easily argue him into same tier as LeSean McCoy, Melvin Gordon and Jay Ajayi. I don't even want to talk about the fact that Jordan Howard is going before Murray. On the other hand, Derrick Henry at pick 77, RB27 is insanity. You have starting running backs like Frank Gore, Paul Perkins and LeGarrette Blount going after him. Let someone else draft Henry, even if you own Murray. Don't spend two top-8 picks on a single backfield.