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Fantasy Opportunity Spotlight: Tennessee Titans

A team-by-team analysis of coaches’ tendencies and using them to help create realistic fantasy football projections. @TubaDeus takes a look at the Tennessee Titans.

Welcome to the new home of my yearly Fantasy Opportunity series! For those who didn’t see this series on Reddit last year, I try to take a different approach to fantasy projections than your run-of-the-mill analyst. The basis of my process is that the number one indicator of fantasy success is opportunities to touch the ball. Obviously, individual player skill can (and will) affect that, but at the end of the day players are at the mercy of playcalling and play design. Therefore, if we want to make accurate projections, we need to look at each coach’s scheme and how they like to spread the ball around.

As a result, this series is very coach-centric. I’ll touch on individual players, but only as they relate to their coaches’ schemes. On a related note, this series will only aim to establish projections on how touches will be split up, not what individual players will be able to accomplish with those touches. That will come later once depth charts settle through training camp. Think of this series more as a basis for realistic expectations.

Make sense? Good. Let’s dive in.

Most of my stats are pulled from Pro Football Reference. Please support them. They are awesome and are my primary source of statistical information.

Tennessee Titans

Last Year’s Accuracy

Total PlaysRush Attempts (Rush %)Passing Plays (Pass %) – Includes SacksSacks Allowed (Sack %)WR Targets (WR Target %)RB Targets (RB Target %)TE Targets (TE Target %)
2020 Projections945445 (47.1%)500 (52.9%)45 (9.0%)275 (60.4%)55 (12.1%)110 (24.2%)
2020 Stats1031521 (50.5%)510 (49.5%)25 (4.9%)280 (57.7%)58 (12.0%)139 (28.7%)
For league wide stats, see this spreadsheet.

Coaching Changes

There seems to be something in the water in Tennessee. After being promoted from tight end coach to offensive coordinator, Arthur Smith took the Titans’ offense to new heights in 2020 (6′ 3″, to be exact). When he flipped that success into a head coaching gig, current tight end coach Todd Downing was promoted to replace him. He’ll be left to his own devices on offense given head coach Mike Vrabel’s defensive background. Speaking of the defense, Vrabel promoted outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen to the defensive coordinator role after not naming one in 2020 (though Bowen appears to have been running the defense anyway).

Tennessee Titans OC Todd Downing not trying to be Arthur Smith
George Walker IV/Tennesseean.com

Coaching History

Unlike several of the other fresh promotions this year, Downing actually comes with some experience as an offensive coordinator, albeit in a very small sample size. What’s interesting is that his 2017 Raiders offense looked almost exactly the opposite of the 2020 Titans. Where the Titans were the second most run-heavy team in the league in 2020, Downing’s Raiders posted a bottom third run rate in 2017. The two teams posted identical wide receiver target shares (57.7%), but Downing’s Raiders kept the running back and tight end targets fairly even while the Titans’ tight ends more than doubled their backfield’s targets. The Raiders offense was among the slowest in the league under Downing while the Titans recorded one of the fastest paces last year.

These discrepancies somehow came about despite the two teams being remarkably similar in terms of personnel. Both featured solid, if not necessarily spectacular, quarterback play. They both enjoyed two dominant wide receivers without much depth behind them, along with a veteran presence at tight end. They also both boasted famously bulldozing running backs (though it is worth mentioning that a 31-year-old Marshawn Lynch is a bit of a step down from a 26-year-old Derrick Henry). Even the offensive lines were similarly solid-not-great.

Looking Ahead

So if operating with similar personnel led to two drastically different outcomes, where will Downing take the Titans offense in 2021? Depends which stat we’re looking at. Sure, Downing likely was never going to repeat last year’s 50%+ run rate, but he’s certainly not going to waste a talent like Derrick Henry in a pass first offense, regardless of the arrival of Julio Jones. Expect the Titans to still be more run heavy than league average, just in the mid-to-upper 40% range rather than touching 50%.

Titans-Raiders preview: Derrick Henry poses huge problem
Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

Divvying up target shares, however, might look a little more like Downing’s old Raiders offense. The Titans allowed starting tight end Jonnu Smith to walk in free agency, leaving Anthony Firkser as the only notable tight end on the roster. Meanwhile, Derrick Henry has been making a point of working on his receiving skills this offseason, and Tennessee will be welcoming back a fully healthy Darrynton Evans (originally drafted as a change of pace satellite back). Given the personnel changes and Downing’s playcalling history, the target share split between the two positions should be much less lopsided in 2021 than it was last year. Of course, both are likely to suffer a bit from the one-two punch of A.J. Brown and Julio Jones at wideout.

All that being said, though, the Titans may struggle to match last year’s play volume. As noted above, Downing’s pace in his last stint calling plays was considerably slower than Tennessee’s pace last year. If he keeps that up in 2021 and the defense can’t recover from last year’s debacle, the Titans will likely post among the fewest offensive drives in the league. The one hope the offense does have in maintaining volume is that Tennessee made a point of turning over the defense in free agency, and they targeted the unit heavily in the draft. If the changes result in improvement on last year’s abysmal defensive efficiency, then the Titans stand a chance of keeping up with last year’s play volume.

2021 Projections

Total PlaysRush Attempts (Rush %)Passing Plays (Pass %) – Includes SacksSacks Allowed (Sack %)WR Targets (WR Target %)RB Targets (RB Target %)TE Targets (TE Target %)
2020 Stats1031521 (50.5%)510 (49.5%)25 (4.9%)280 (57.7%)58 (12.0%)139 (28.7%)
2021 Projections (17 Games)1079505 (46.8%)574 (53.2%)29 (5.1%)325 (59.6%)94 (17.2%)113 (20.7%)

Previous Entry: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Next Entry: Washington Football Team

Find this article helpful? You can follow me on Twitter and Reddit as @TubaDeus, though I spend most of my time on Discord.

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