For a team that finished 2018 with a 9-7 record, was 3rd in points allowed as a defense, there really isn’t enough buzz about what the Titans could potentially be this year, and for good reason. The biggest issue for fantasy perspective is because of volume. For 2019, we are likely going to see more of the same, unless Marcus Mariota decides he wants to play in the NFL beyond this season. For the past 2 seasons, poor coaching, scheme, and frankly quarterback play to some degree are what has been handicapping the Titans. They again took a highly touted WR in the 2nd round of the NFL draft in A.J. Brown. The willingness to make Derrick Henry a workhorse in the second half of the season. Some 3rd-year players to discuss. Let’s dive into the 2019 Tennessee Titans and what there is to know about them heading into training camp and things to look out for.
Studs: Derrick Henry
The Titans didn’t make any notable moves coaching wise, Mike Vrabel will be entering his 2nd year as head coach and showed his willingness to pound the rock in 2018. The Titans ranked in the top 10 in rushing attempts and I wouldn’t expect that to slow down for this coming season. This puts the focus on Derrick Henry. In a contract year, Henry will be running with a chip on his shoulder as the lead guy and Dion Lewis will be the complimentary back into Henry. Contrary to what some may think, this two-headed attack is very dominant when it comes to team carry count. In all likelihood they will take on 95% of the team carries by non-quarterbacks. They should combine for nearly 400 carries this season with my expected split at 263 for Henry and 131 for Lewis. This may be conservative depending on how aggressive and successful they are running the ball with Henry. Henry should be a consistent RB2 this year in PPR.
Primary Backup: An injury to either player (especially Henry) would likely result in a more pass-heavy attack, but as far as running backs go, David Fluellen is the primary backup to both Lewis and Henry but is completely irrelevant without an injury.
Marcus Mariota is the key in all of this. He’s never played in 16 games in his 4 years in the NFL. His most successful season in 2016 he only played in 15 games and threw 451 passes, 3426 yards, and 26 touchdowns. When projecting him for 2019 it is hard to give him a bump because of his history, combined with the rush/pass split for the Titans which is unlike that of most NFL teams. They will be a run and D squad again this year and manage the clock to win close games.
This is a big bummer for fantasy owners because Mariota is a player who out of college was a player who was very accurate and still has a great rushing floor. Arm strength has been a bit of problem, but he did take a big leap in 2018 completing nearly 70% of his passes (68.9%) which was 6th overall in the NFL. This bodes well for the scheme and the players added to the passing attack. The hope is that he can build off of this and play a full season to see if he’s the guy, now that he has likely the best weapons he’s ever had in the NFL.
I would be cautious with Mariota. The Titans were 29th in Pass attempts last season and I would expect them to be in the bottom 5 again this year. That doesn’t mean he isn’t intriguing, but he’s a flyer guy at best in hopes that he can put a lot together and that offense takes a significant jump up from ~900 plays to near 1000 would make them much more palatable for fantasy it is just unlikely.
Notable Backup: Ryan Tannehill, former QB for the Miami Dolphins. I actually would really like him in this offense. He’s mobile, likes to throw shorter patterns, which should be the strength of this offense. I would consider him a stash candidate in Superflex leagues.
Receivers & Tight Ends
Notable Additions: A.J. Brown (51st overall), Adam Humphries from TBB (FA)
Notable Subtractions: Rishard Matthews
Corey Davis, coming into his 3rd year (usually the breakout year!) should be the go-to guy again for the Titans which is unfortunate because despite having a 23% target share in 2018 still only managed 112 targets because of such a low passing volume. He also had 35.88% of the teams’ air yards, good for 6th in the NFL. I wouldn’t write off Davis just yet, its not a question of talent or even target share, its just volume. That doesn’t mean you should sell him because he is a talent worth holding in my opinion. Statistically, I think he will struggle again. I have him pegged for 67 rec, 914 yards, and 5 touchdowns. Nearly identical to what he did last season with a slight uptick. The touchdowns have upside, but I see him as a fringe WR2, likely WR3 without a serious breakout from Mariota and a return to his 2016 form.
There are two names I really like as talents but the chance for production seems unlikely for both 3rd-year players Taywan Taylor and Jonnu Smith. Taylor is a quick receiver who plays inside and uses his speed and agility to turns short routes into bigger gains. Jonnu was given an opportunity last year with the injury to Delaine Walker and wasn’t able to really capitalize on the opportunity and only saw 30 targets. Jonnu will more than likely be buried below Walker until he leaves or retires, so even this year may be another wait and see if you have the chance. For those needing to make a call, I would likely go another direction and potentially move on, there are higher upside options. In the case of Taylor, Humphries should be ahead of him based on his contract. With A.J. Brown’s ability and draft pedigree it seems likely Taylor will be behind him on the depth chart as well. This leaves Taylor as the likely WR4 on this offense with the hopes that he can see a greater opportunity on his next contract because this one seems unlikely without injury.
Delaine Walker was once one of the most reliable tight ends in fantasy football and in 2016 and 2017 received 100 targets both years as one of the favorite targets of Mariota. He will certainly be ahead of Jonnu Smith as the primary pass-catching tight end. He has an outside shot of being a TE1 this season if he can stay healthy. A great buy low candidate but there is definite risk coming off his broken ankle.
It’s worth noting that the breakdown of targets for the Titans receivers really falls off on average once you get to the WR4. This means that whoever is that WR4 typically suffers from a significant decrease in snap share and target volume. For my personal projections, I could see them actually spreading the ball out a little more than last due to the influx of receiving weapons, all of which will need to get worked into the offense. The biggest issue is since they like to run the ball, that invites a lot of 2 even 3 tight end sets. This means even in play action the receivers won’t be on the field for opportunities. I’m expecting moderate production from Humphries, Brown, and Taylor. I view them much more as chain movers for the offense than any potential fantasy force for this season. Humphries has good upside if he and Mariota can develop chemistry. Going from pass heavy Tampa Bay to Tennessee, I just don’t see how he can be very relevant, especially in his first year with the team. Brown is in a similar spot where it will be tough to produce as a rookie in such a low volume offense. Basically, all receivers will be busts unless they get drafted very late or picked up off of waivers, the volume just won’t be there.
• Titans are on bringing on a new Offensive coordinator for the 3rd straight season. Arthur Smith was an internal hire and former tight end coach for the past 3 seasons
• Ryan Tannehill is a great fit for this scheme. I wouldn’t count him out as an option if Mariota struggles.
• For IDP fans, 2nd year Edge/OLB Harold Landry could be poised for a larger role on an improved front 7. Career 25 sacks at Boston College, 16.5 in his junior year in 12 games, and 4.5 in 2018. If he can stay healthy, my bold prediction is can push double digits.
• UDFA-WR Anthony Ratliff-Williams out of UNC could be a DEEP sleeper, very athletic player but could be a longshot to make the 53-man roster.Follow @ChaBoyJRich Tweets by ChaBoyJRich