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Evan Silva

Offseason Low Down

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Titans Fantasy Preview

Friday, July 20, 2018


Titans 2016-2017 Offensive Profile

2016-2017 Pass Attempts Rank: 28th, 28th
2016-2017 Rush Attempts Rank: 4th, 14th
2016-2017 Play Volume Rank: 22nd, 29th
2016-2017 Yards Per Play Rank: 11th, 18th
Unaccounted for Air Yards from 2017: 898 (22nd)
Unaccounted for Carries from 2017: 187 (12th)

Projected Starting Lineup

QB: Marcus Mariota
RB: Derrick Henry
WR: Corey Davis
WR: Rishard Matthews
WR: Taywan Taylor
TE: Delanie Walker
LT: Taylor Lewan
LG: Quinton Spain
C: Ben Jones
RG: Josh Kline
RT: Jack Conklin

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Passing Game Outlook

Marcus Mariota fractured his right fibula/ankle in Week 16 of the 2016 season and was never right last year, logging career lows in yards per carry (5.2) and rushing yards per game (20.8), then straining his hamstring in Week 4. Although it was announced as a 2-4 week injury, Mariota missed just one game. He managed single-digit rushing yards in 5-of-6 weeks after returning, however, and looked unsure of himself on the field, especially in scoring position. After throwing 33 combined touchdown passes with a 62.5% completion rate in the red zone across his first two NFL seasons, Mariota slumped to 44.9% completions and six passing scores in year three. Overall, Mariota’s touchdown rate dove from 5.5% in 2015-2016 to 2.9%, making him an obvious positive-regression candidate entering 2018. Fueling Mariota optimism is Tennessee’s swap of stone-aged offensive minds Mike Mularkey and Terry Robiskie for Kyle Shanahan-Sean McVay disciple Matt LaFleur, who oversaw Jared Goff’s sophomore breakout and helped carve out a pre-snap competitive advantage detailed extensively in my Rams Team Preview. McVay and LaFleur’s offense led the NFL in play-action passing rate (30%), while Mariota posted league bests in passer rating (122.8) and yards per attempt (11.1) on play-action throws last year. Back to full health with dual-threat capability under improved coaching, Mariota is one of my favorite post-hype picks.

Corey Davis lost almost his entire rookie offseason to January ankle surgery and an August hamstring strain that cost him all of training camp. Davis teased with ten targets in Week 1, then aggravated the hamstring in Week 2 and didn’t return until Week 9. Davis went scoreless on the year and cleared 50 yards just once in Tennessee’s final nine regular season games, then flashed his mouth-watering upside with a 5/63/2 receiving line in the Titans’ Divisional Round loss to New England, dusting Malcolm Butler for both scores. Davis stayed mostly healthy this spring and was “one of the stars” of OTAs. The fifth overall pick in last year’s draft, Davis was a Brandon Marshall-level talent coming out of Western Michigan, where he graduated as the NCAA’s all-time leader in receiving yards (5,278). Davis’ second-year breakout candidacy is contingent on his health and ability to form an on-field bond with Mariota after they barely practiced together last year. Davis’ ceiling is every bit worthy of his eighth-round ADP.

Rishard Matthews figures to fill LaFleur's “Robert Woods Role” at Z receiver, where Woods averaged a team-high 7.1 targets per game. Matthews averaged 6.8 and 6.2 targets the past two seasons in Nashville, delivering WR23 and WR37 finishes in PPR points per game with 10th/96 and 30th/93 rankings in PFF’s predictive Yards Per Route Run metric. Matthews flukily drew only two targets inside the ten-yard line last season after tying for the team lead with seven the year prior and converting five into scores. Turning 29 in October, Matthews likely lacks the ceiling of Davis but is a higher-floor piece of a Titans passing game primed for positive-touchdown regression. Matthews’ cost-effective 10th- to 11th-round ADP makes him a safe investment in leagues of all types.

Taywan Taylor is penciled in as Tennessee’s slot receiver replacement for Eric Decker, whose departure vacates 83 targets and 11 in the red zone, second most on the team. A 2017 third-round pick out of Western Kentucky, Taylor profiled on the Kendall Wright-Emmanuel Sanders spectrum as a quick-twitch interior receiver with big-play flashes. Taylor ran 61% of his rookie-year routes in the slot and showed by far the top Game Speed among Tennessee pass catchers in Josh Hermsmeyer’s Next Gen Stats charts. Cooper Kupp – LaFleur’s slot receiver in L.A. – led the Rams in targets (94), red-zone targets (23), and targets inside the ten (7). LaFleur’s Rams used three-wide 11 personnel at a league-high 81% clip, making their No. 3 a near-full-time receiver. Taylor is one of my favorite last-round picks.

Third-year WR Tajae Sharpe and second-year TE Jonnu Smith are Tennessee’s top candidates for sub-package snaps, and Sharpe could even threaten Taylor’s playing time with a big camp. A hyped 2016 fifth-round pick out of UMass, Sharpe was one of the NFL’s worst starting receivers as a rookie before missing all of 2017 with a fractured foot. Sharpe’s calling cards of reliable hands and crisp routes theoretically translate well to the slot, although he ran 93% of his 2016 pass patterns outside. 2017 third-round pick Smith earned a big rookie-year role in Tennessee’s oft-used two-tight end sets, logging a 51% playing-time clip behind Delanie Walker. Smith has a bright future in Dynasty leagues as the heir apparent to Walker, who turns 34 before the season and is entering the final year of his deal.

Delanie Walker enters his contract year having cleared 800 yards in four straight seasons and as yet another Titans positive-touchdown-regression candidate. Despite leading last year’s team in red-zone targets (12) and targets inside the ten (8), Walker managed a five-year low in TDs in a Tennessee offense that threw the third fewest passing scores in the league (14). Although Davis and Taylor elicit more youth-driven exuberance, Walker has a longstanding on-field rapport with Mariota and continued to play at a very high level in 2017, evidenced by Walker’s No. 6 finish among 43 qualified tight ends in yards per route run. Walker’s Game Speed also showed up as elite. Walker is one of my highest-owned tight ends in best-ball leagues and will likely be in re-draft, as well.

 

Editor's Note: The 2018 Rotoworld Draft Guide provides more than 500 extensive player profiles, tiers, projections, Evan Silva’s Sleepers and Busts and much more. Get the NFL Draft Guide now.

 

Running Game Outlook

Derrick Henry backed up DeMarco Murray in his first two seasons, averaging 4.5 and 4.2 yards per carry and ranking 6th/42 and 15th/47 among qualified backs in Football Outsiders’ rushing Success Rate. Henry has shown an ability to both grind tough yards and bang long runs, and he put the Titans on his back with Murray injured in last year’s Wild Card round by flaming the Chiefs for a 23/156/1 rushing line in Tennessee’s upset win. Coaching staffs at all football levels have diagnosed Henry with passing-game limitations, however; his catch totals over the past five years are 1 > 5 > 11 > 13 > 11, and Henry caught only eight passes in his entire high school career. Henry’s downside is clear after Tennessee’s signing of versatile Dion Lewis, but so is Henry’s touchdown upside behind a talented offensive line facing a soft schedule. Leading the NFL in rushing TDs is within Henry's range of potential outcomes. I probably won’t invest heavily in Henry in re-draft leagues, but I’m trying to load up on him in best ball.

Dion Lewis arrived in Nashville on a four-year, $20 million deal, bringing versatility to a backfield that allotted 84 and 66 targets to running backs in the last two years but only 21% of those to Henry. New OC LaFleur spent the last three seasons with Kyle Shanahan’s Falcons and Sean McVay’s Rams, where running backs drew target totals of 127, 117, and 101. Entering camp, beat writers are anticipating a 50:50 Henry-Lewis backfield split with Lewis handling more passing-game work and Henry leading the team in carries. Although Lewis is clearly the superior receiving back, his inside running ability should not be overlooked despite Lewis’ diminutive size (5’7/193). Lewis’ 2017 rushing Success Rate of 56% ranked No. 4 among 47 qualified backs at Football Outsiders, severely outclassing Henry’s 48% clip. Still, Henry’s colossal size advantage (6’3/247) likely gives him a big leg up for scoring-position work. Whereas Henry offers a lofty touchdown ceiling, Lewis is best viewed as an RB2/flex preferable in PPR leagues.

2018 Vegas Win Total

The Titans’ Win Total opened at 8.0 after consecutive 9-7 finishes under Mike Mularkey, who was fired despite last year’s Wild Card win and replaced by ex-Texans DC Mike Vrabel with ex-Rams OC Matt LaFleur taking full autonomy on offense. Warren Sharp rated Tennessee’s schedule seventh softest in football, including the NFL’s easiest slate in Weeks 11-17, setting up for a fast finish. Outside of the AFC South, the Titans draw the unimposing NFC East and AFC East divisions, plus Baltimore (home) and the Chargers in London. I have little doubt the offense will improve for statistical and coaching reasons, while GM Jon Robinson bolstered the defense with CB Malcolm Butler, OLB Harold Landry, ILB Rashaan Evans, and NT Bennie Logan, all addressing positions of major need. Last year’s Titans did overachieve, going 9-7 despite a -22 point differential in a weak AFC. Nevertheless, I think the smart money is on Tennessee beating eight wins for the third straight year.



Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
Email :Evan Silva



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