2019 was a wild ride for the Tennessee Titans. They gave you just about everything you could ask for in a season… Shy of a Super Bowl.
You wanted ground and pound? *Derrick Henry entered the chat*
You wanted controversy? A mix up at QB will do that.
Rookie breakouts? Heard of a guy named A.J. Brown?
On their road to an AFC Conference Championship appearance after a 9-7 regular season, the Titans gifted you with some exciting fantasy contributors. A top three finish by Henry, a breakout top 15 finish by Brown and top nine fantasy points per game showing by Tannehill all equated out to a prosperous 2019 for the Titans. It wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine in Music City, though. After suffering an early injury, Marcus Mariota was benched for the remainder of the season, which eventually led to his departure from the team. Corey Davis took a step backward into the second fiddle role behind AJB. Even after being thrust into the starting role, Jonnu Smith failed to see the volume necessary to reach his potential.
In the Head Coach’s Image
With results like that, it’s clear that Head Coach Mike Vrabel focused on the ground and pound aspect of the game. This buoyed Derrick Henry to a league-high 303 carries while the passing attack threw an incredibly low 448 attempts. A change in the guard at the offensive coordinator position prior to season’s start to former Tight End Coach, Arthur Smith might have indicated an increase in the potency of the passing attack, but Vrabel Vrabeled on…
In terms of game script, we should expect more of the same moving into the ‘20 season. The only outlier will be the retirement of Defensive Coordinator, Dean Pees. Vrabel has neglected to replace him since January, which would indicate he plans to take on the full brunt of the defensive play-calling this coming season, a task he’s fully equipped to shoulder. However, what he cannot manage is the full weight of both offensive and defensive play-calling. Because of that, there is still hope the offense might pivot to a more balanced approach with OC Smith assuming the play is calling for the offense… But I’m not holding my breath.
With all that in mind, what does 2020 hold for the Titans of Tennessee?
Let’s start with the shot caller. The rock chucker. The man, the myth, the refugee from Gase Island, himself Ryan Tannehill.
Tannehill had the most efficient season of his career in 2019. That’s not to say it was his most productive, just his most efficient. He threw the ball 286 times for 2,742 yards and 22 TDs, all while throwing only 6 INTs (2.1% interception rate). He also set a career benchmark in QB Rating (117.5) and cultivated a top 15 WR in AJB. For fantasy purposes, Tannehill was a surprise star ranking QB9 in fantasy points per game.
After the completion of that banner fill-in season, the Titans parted ways with Mariota and hitched their wagon to Tannehill. Resigning him to the tune of 4 years/$118 mil with a potential out in 2023. With that contract in mind, I believe we should expect more of the same moving into ‘20. The offensive scheme should play out much as it did the year prior, which means low volume but high efficiency for the passing attack built off the success of the play action. As the full-time starter, Tannehill will see all the passes, somewhere around 450 attempts, 4,050 passing yards, and an inevitable regression in their hyper-efficient 2019 TD percentage to near 30.
Aside from the passing chops, his rushing capabilities will continue to be a minor factor in his game. On average, through his career, he’s rushed 41 times a season, and I predict the same for ‘20 with approximately 200 rushing yards and a pair of TDs.
Lock it up!
With all that in mind, Tannehill is a lock for a top 10 QB performance moving forward. Going forward, this is going to be a very foreign concept for some because of the huge leap from his QB21 fantasy finish in ‘19. However, with his future tag team partner, A.J. Brown, locked up for the next three years, this kind of production should become the norm. The beautiful thing about this is that he’s being drafted in dynasty startup drafts as the QB22, according to FFPC Dynasty ADP. An absolute steal. His 2019 partial year production left the average fantasy player only seeing a QB21 performance and not the points per game production. Use this to your benefit and draft him accordingly.
In Superflex leagues, Tannehill would become a priority for me. With his depressed ADP, he could be the later round addition that locks up your second QB slot with a potential weekly QB1 performance. If you miss out on the all-stars with the early picks, Tannehill is even more of a must own.
Revel in his sleeperdom.
We’re not gonna touch on Tennessee’s backup situation because… There’s really nothing there. You probably haven’t heard of Logan Woodside or Cole McDonald, and there’s a reason for that. So let’s move on to the running backs!
This one is going to be pretty quick, folks. Derrick Henry is a monster of a man. A towering figure standing at 6’3 247 lbs. He toted the rock more times than anyone in the NFL in ‘19, a bone-crushing and career-high 303 times on his way to an equally season and career-high 1,540 rushing yards.
2020 should be no different. With consistency in the offensive play calling flowing over into the new season, a banner year for the big braided barbarian is on the horizon. High carries, high yards, and high TDs are all in the cards for this newly signed RB. The only hiccup in that plan will be the loss of star tackle Jack Conklin.
Uncertainty surrounds how the OL will function without him, but we can be certain of Henry’s ability to crush through a line, Conklin or not. With his new contract (4 year/$50 mil), his dynasty value should jump considerably. According to FFPC Dynasty ADP, he is being drafted as the RB10 off the board at ADP 16.2… That’s an insult to this man’s talent and production. In my opinion, he should be vaulted to RB6 in half-point scoring and RB7 in full. He’s one of the best RB1’s you can have on your squad and will be a workhorse for years to come.
However, a lesser known, smaller sized and lower upside running back was drafted this season by the name of Darrynton Evans, an Appalachian State standout. Evans appears to be the perfect complement to Henry’s between the tackles dominance. He is a slasher who can also bang in between the tackles and has hands to match. I believe he will see more action in the passing game than one would expect, filling the Dion Lewis role that the Titans always wanted.
Evans should be rostered in all formats and should go somewhere in the 3rd round of rookie drafts. He may end up holding standalone flex value in the passing game if he makes inroads in the offense but will certainly be a valuable handcuff for Henry, regardless.
Moving on to the air attack of the Titans, we have to start it off with the man among boys, A.J. Brown. Looking back this offseason, it’s funny to think that he was ever referred to as a “promising rookie” out of Ole Miss but that’s precisely what he was. Fast forward to 2020 and he’s the Bell of the Ball after popping off with 52 receptions for 1,051 receiving yards and 8 TDs. He proved to be the perfect yin to Tannehill’s yang, producing efficiency numbers that were unheard of from a rookie.
20.2 yards per reception (3rd), 12.5 yards per target (2nd), 9 total TDs (3rd). The hits keep coming with top five production metrics for the Titans’ WR1. He is an all-star in the making with a hyper-efficient QB chucking him the stone. That being said, there will be regression in ’20. The numbers he put up are unsustainable, and the only thing that can balance that out is more volume, which is hard to come by in this offensive scheme. However, we’ve seen Corey Davis receive higher target numbers with far less efficiency, so it is entirely possible, leaning towards probable, for AJB to receive an uptick in looks.
I’m anticipating his targets to go up from 84 to near 110. He’s that talented and get’s that open that he can’t be denied. If that comes to fruition, he will undoubtedly be a low-end WR1 producing somewhere near 1,250 receiving yards and 8 TDs. He is a killer talent with a bright future, but it should be known that his FFPC Dynasty ADP is pretty rich for my taste. 29.01? WR8? That’s hard for me to stomach at what I believe to be the apex of his range of outcomes. Regardless, he’s still a baller and the undeniable WR1 in this Titans air attack.
Moving on to the secondary option in the passing game, Corey Davis, I’m about to surprise some folks.
You heard that right. I’m not touting Davis as a 4th-year breakout candidate worthy of the 1st round draft capital spent on him in 2017, but I am saying that he has the juice to be a serviceable WR3/Flex option in your lineup for 2020. With the departure of Tajae Sharp and Delanie Walker from the team, there will be an available 66 targets to be dispersed between him, AJB, and Jonnu. With that availability and a second year to cultivate a relationship with Tannehill, I believe Davis can return to 2018 levels of production, seeing around 89 targets for 800 receiving yards and 4 TDs. This would seat him as a fringe WR3 in ‘19 standings, which far outkicks his depressed FFPC ADP of 215.67 (WR71). At that price, I would be taking Davis all day and twice on Sunday. He has increased his Offensive Share Metric (OSM) score every year since entering the NFL, which shows a consistent development in his skill as a WR, according to Pro Football Network. This increased catch rate (62.32%) and YAC (4.9) show that he has slowly developed into a reliable pass catcher in the NFL and means good things for the remainder of his time in Tennessee, as well as, wherever he may go after the conclusion of the 2020 season. Davis is a buy-in my book, and a ‘21 3rd might get the job done at this point. Consider it.
There really aren’t any other WR weapons of fantasy relevance on the team, so we’ll move on to the heavily hyped TE, Jonnu Smith.
Smith was given the keys to the kingdom after a Week 6 injury to Delanie Walker and never lost the job. His 16 game pace after Delanie went down was 46/549/5, which is still… Not great. However, Smith showed his ability to be a valuable piece in this offensive scheme, making a clutch touchdown catch in the postseason, showing the most yards after catch per route amongst starting TEs (6.2) and the 4th best catch rate of his peers at 77.8%, according to playerprofiler.com.
Bust or Breakout?
While that is true, moving into the 2020 season, I am underwhelmed by his “breakout” potential, contrary to the buzz created by a large faction in the fantasy community. I believe he has all the tools to be a TE1 I’m just not sure if he will be given the opportunity. Gone are the days of Delanie Walker’s 100+ target seasons, and nigh is the ground and pound tendencies of Mike Vrabel. The only saving grace for Jonnu’s possible volume is Vrabel’s aforementioned decision to assume the responsibilities of the DC position, leaving former TE coach Arthur Smith to man the offensive calls. Because of this, along with Jonnu’s obvious skills, I believe he will take a step forward. I’m projecting him for 75 targets, 650 receiving yards, and 6 TDs. This would have seated him as TE8 in ’19 (1/2 pt scoring), but 2020 will be a different beast.
With breakouts on the horizon for Noah Fant, T.J. Hockenson, Mike Gesicki, Hayden Hurst, and Dallas Goedert, Jonnu finds himself buried somewhere in the middle of that pack. Luckily, he is the cheapest of the bunch at FFPC ADP 111.69 (TE15). With low TE1 upside at TE2 prices, Jonnu is a buy for me at his ADP but probably not a trade target. His hype train has picked up too much speed to jump on now. Draft him in startups and hold him in established leagues.
Individual Defensive Players (IDP)
Now that we’ve exhausted the offensive side of the ball, it’s time to address the defense. Shout out to Jeff Abercrombie (@thesofascout) and Jordan Rains (@50shadesofdrunk) for their insight into the Tennessee defense IDPs! Check out their IDP articles on the Dynasty Nerds site.
Jeffrey Simmons DT/DE
Simmons, a Mississippi State standout, will be a major factor in the Titans ‘20 defensive scheme. As a 2019 1st round pick (19th), he made an immediate impact once recovered from his ACL injury, posting 32 tackles, 4 for a loss, with 2 sacks. With the departure of Jurrell Casey, Simmons will see more snaps on the interior and should continue his dominance as a tenacious run stopper. Simmons, at only 22, will grow into this role and is a value DL addition to any team, especially in DT specific leagues.
Jayon Brown LB
Brown, the best LB of the bunch in Tennessee, hit on all cylinders at the end of last season. After the Titans’ bye in week 11 he was all gas, no breaks, posting 32 of his 68 solo tackles, and 49 of his 104 combined tackles in 5 games. He finished the season as LB33 but with that late-season pace would have finished much higher. Brown is 25 years old coming into the 2020 season and seems to be finding his rhythm, so I’m expecting his late-season push to become more of the norm rather than the exception. He is being ranked as LB24 by the Dynasty Nerds, and after an LB33 finish last year, it might be time to acquire him as your LB2 before he pops off.
Rashaan Evans LB
Rashaan Evans is a valuable LB himself coming in at LB36 on the Dynasty Nerds rankings. He tallied 111 combined tackles last year with 2.5 sacks and 9 tackles for a loss. All this is combined with an impressive fumble recovery returned for a 54 yard TD. Evans is the 1B to Jayon Brown’s 1A. At only 24 years old with a 1st round draft capital, he already has a 2018 top 30LB finish under his belt; the kids got juice. He should be rostered as an LB3 with LB2 upside.
Harold Landry LB
Harold Landy is the dark horse candidate in this LB core. He comes in as Dynasty Nerds LB44 but I believe he has the ability to outkick that ranking. While already putting up an LB32 finish in ‘19, Landry will see some diversity to his playing time in ‘20. With the departure of Brian Orakpo as the weak-side edge rusher, Landry should often slide into that role, increasing his big-play potential for sacks and tackles for loss. Of the three linebackers listed, Landry may be the trade target that will provide you the biggest bang for your buck.
Kevin Byard S
If you’re looking for upside, you’re looking in the right direction with Kevin Byard. He’s snagged 17 INTs in the past three years on his way to DB18 & DB26 finishes in 2018 and 2019. Byard is a big play waiting to happen, and after a lull in ‘19, which has resulted in a Dynasty Nerds DB21 ranking, he may have dropped to post-hype sleeper status. At 26 years old, Kevin Byard will be the DB2 your team can plug and play when needed for years to come while packing some serious upside.
So to sum up the Tennessee Titans fantasy potential, I’d call it… Electric.
While the depth of players at each position might not be there like other NFL teams, the Titans boast a possible number 1 at QB, RB, WR, and TE, which is pretty damn impressive.
Tannehill will be a steal in Superflex leagues, A.J. Brown is a superstar in the making (even if I’m not a fan of his ADP) and Derrick Henry is… Derrick Henry. Jonnu Smith has a wide range of outcomes, but at his price, I’m interested. Corey Davis brings up the rear as a viable flex option. Finally, the IDPs for this team are young and upcoming. They’ve shown flashes of greatness and might pay dividends in the future if acquired now.
All in all, this is an exciting team, both in real and fantasy football, so buckle up because 2020 is going to be fun.
Find me on Twitter and YouTube @TripleDFFP
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