2018 Fantasy Football: Tennessee Titans Team Outlook
Even with a 9-7 record for the second straight season, the Titans regressed in 2017. They made the playoffs despite being outscored by 22 points for the year. Mike Vrabel will take over as head coach after one failed season as the defensive coordinator for the Texans. Vrabel has four years of coaching experience in the NFL after playing in the league for 14 seasons. His ties to New England and three Super Bowl ties had to be the key to his perceived value as a head coach in the NFL. Tennessee has one playoff appearance over the last nine seasons.
Matt LaFleur takes over as the offensive coordinator for Tennessee after a great season leading the Rams’ offense in 2107. LaFleur has nine years of coaching experience in the NFL with four seasons coming as a quarterback’s coach. In 2016, Matt helped the Falcons score 540 points as the QB coach while being one quarter away from a Super Bowl title. Last year the Titans finished 19th (334) in points scored, which was 47 fewer points than 2016 (381). Their offense fell to 23rd in yards gained.
Tennessee added Dean Pees as the defensive coordinator. He has 14 years of experience in the NFL, which includes two Super Bowl titles with the Patriots and the Ravens. Pees worked over the last six seasons as the defensive coordinator for the Baltimore.
The Titans moved on from RB DeMarco Murray and WR Eric Decker in the offseason. Both players struggled to match their previous success last year.
Tennessee dumped both of their backup QBs – MattCassel and Brandon Weeden. QB Blaine Gabbert signed to take over the reserve role at QB behind Marcus Mariota. Gabbert is a former first-round draft pick (2011), but he’s struggled to earn a starting job over the last five seasons.
The only released player to earn another job with another team in the NFL was LB Avery Williamson. Williamson played his best all in the league in 2017 with impact value against the run with some value sacking the QB.
New England provided the Titans with their top two signings in the offseason. Dion Lewis takes over as the change of pace back with upside in pass catching on third downs. CB Malcolm Butler was a Super Bowl hero in 2014, but he fell out of favor heading into the 2017 Super Bowl leading to his free agency. Butler should be a league average cornerback or better in 2018.
Tennessee signed G Kevin Pamphile for depth on the offensive line. He’s been a liability in all areas over four seasons in the NFL.
DT Bennie Logan should add value vs. the run on early downs after being in the league for five years.
The Titans only had four draft picks in the 2018 NFL Draft. They invested their first three selections on the defensive side of the ball.
In the first round, LB Rashaan Evans was the choice at pick 22. Evans should be a great linebacker vs. the run where his speed, vision, and instincts will offer an edge. He’ll add value to the pass rush while needing to prove his worth in pass coverage. His challenge at the next level will be overcoming weaker talent on the defensive line compared to his years at Alabama.
The Titans added DE Harold Landry in the second round. Landry has a chance to be an impact pass rusher thanks to his speed and quickness. He has strength, but he doesn’t have size (6’2” and 252 lbs.) to beat NFL linemen consistently on the defensive line. Harold needs to improve when asked to change direction.
Their next selection came in the fifth round with S Dana Cruikshank. He brings an interesting combination of size (6’1” and 209 lbs.) and speed (4.41) for the safety position. Cruikshank brings power and strength to the run defense, but he has risk in coverage.
With their last draft pick in round 6, Tennessee bought some insurance at QB with Luke Falk. His arm is below NFL standards, but he has a quick release with strength in his accuracy. Falk shows the ability to read defenses. His decision making can be late, and his arm isn’t strong enough to finish tight throws in coverage. Luke has game management skills, but he needs a good offensive line to create a better passing window.
The Titans placed 15th in the NFL in rushing yards (1,833) with 18 TDs and 12 runs over 20 yards. Their ball carriers gained 4.1 yards per rush.
Tennessee fell to 23rd in passing yards (3,191) with only 14 passing TDs and 17 Ints. Their QBs gained only 6.8 yards per pass attempt with only 39 completions over 20 yards. The Titans’ offensive line allowed 35 sacks and 71 QB hits.
LT Taylor Lewan continues to play at a high level even with a slight step back in success in 2017. Both his run and pass blocking grade above the league average with three straight winning seasons. Lewan is a former first-round draft pick (2014).
LG Quinton Spain earned a starting job in 2016 after being signed as an undrafted free agent in 2015. He played in 28 games over the last two years with regression as a run blocker.
C Ben Jones made a step forward in his game in 2016 after moving from the Texans to Tennessee. He’s yet to miss a game in his six-year career after being drafted in the fourth round in 2012. Jones was a neutral run blocker while showing more risk in pass protection in 2017.
RG Josh Kline was picked up off the waiver wire in early September in 2017. He played 30 games over the last two seasons with league average success. Tennessee signed a four-year, $26 million contract in March, which show the Titans confidence in his game.
RT Jack Conklin hit the ground running in his rookie season after being picked eighth overall in 2016. Jack has an edge in strength with plus hands and technique. Even with some speed, Conklin may lack the quickness and athletic ability to handle left tackle early in his career. Jack finished being the best lineman on this roster in 2016. Even with success in both run and pass blocking, Conklin was slightly less productive last year.
Tennessee has two linemen that offer strength plus three other players with close to league average value. The Titans should run the ball well while offering some risk in pass blocking up the middle vs. a team with a strong interior pass rush. Overall, Tennessee has a top 12 offensive line with upside behind him at running back.
The above data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing touchdowns (TDS).
This information is based on 2017, which will work as our starting point for 2018. We’ll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We’ll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.
2017 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2017.
2017 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL.
2017 Adjustment is based on the 2017 league average and the 2017 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat category and the basis for the strength of schedule.
The Titans have a favorable schedule for their rushing offense. They have one tough game (PHI) with two matchups (LAC and WAS) with upside. Over the last ten games, Tennessee has eight games that offer a winning edge for their RBs.
Tennessee will struggle to throw the ball in two games against the Jaguars while the Chargers will present a problem as well. They have two games (NE and NYG) vs. teams with risk defending the pass. Other than the two games against Jacksonville, the Titans have a neutral schedule for their passing attack.
Tennessee wants to be a top running team with a high value scoring rushing TDs. Their rushing attempts (27.7 per game) ranked 14th in the NFL, which was below 2016 (29.8 – 4th). In 2018, Derrick Henry will have a chance to shine a high-volume power running back. The WR receiving core is in transition, which limits the upside in the passing game.
QB Marcus Mariota – Over the last two seasons, Mariota has a 17-13 record while averaging only 30.1 passes per game. In 2016, Marcus played well leading to 26 TDs and only nine Ints. Last year Mariota struggled to throw TDs (13) while making more mistakes (15 interceptions). He continues to offer value as a runner over the last two seasons (60/349/2 and 60/312/5). In 2017, Marcus passed for over 300 yards in two games while never delivering more than two TDs in any game. He missed Week 5 with a hamstring injury. Over his three years in the NFL, Mariota hasn’t delivered a special season in line with his success in 2014 at Oregon (5,224 combined yards with 42 passing TDs and 15 rushing TDs with only four Ints. The new offensive coordinator invites intriguing upside to the 2018 offensive game plan. MattLaFleur has been part of two great offenses in 2016 (Falcons – 33.8 points per game) and 2017 (Rams – 29.9 points per game). Based on his direction and questions with the possible production at WR, Marcus will be drafted as a backup Fantasy QB in 2018. He has top 12 talent for sure, but his passing attempts will rank well below the league average. His winning value will need to come from his ability to run and TDs. With a full season of games, Mariota should deliver 4,000 combined yards with just over league average TDs. His potential for upside and change in offensive philosophy would lead to me drafting Mariota on many teams as a QB2 in 2018.
QB Blaine Gabbert – Over seven seasons in the NFL, Gabbert has an 11-34 record with a short completion rate (55.6). He has 44 TDs and 43 Ints in his career. His best season came in a relief role in 2015 with the 49ers. Blaine passed for 2,031 yards with ten TDs and seven Ints with a career-high completion rate (63.1). Low upside backup while offering only game management skills.
Other Options: Luke Falk
RB Derrick Henry – After chasing Henry around as the upside RB over the last two seasons, Fantasy owners now have an opportunity to ride this exciting RB to a winning season. Despite expecting a considerable bump in touches and high value in TDs, many Fantasy owners may trust issues with 2018 Fantasy value for Derrick with Dion Lewis to the Titans’ roster. In 2017, Henry had 187 touches for 880 yards with Six TDs and 11 catches. He finished two games with over 100 yards rushing (19/131/1 and 11/109/1). In his only game with the whole show at RB in Week 17, Derrick delivered 117 combined yards with a TD and one catch while receiving 29 touches. Last year the Titans’ RBs had 383 rushes for 1,521 yards and 13 TDs plus 50 catches for 402 yards and two TDs on 66 targets. There is no doubt that Henry will receive 300+ touches in 2018 leading to about 1,500 combined yards. I expect double digit TDs with about 25 catches. Derrick is a power runner who will be better with a high volume of touches. Excellent upside RB2 with huge upside if he gets the whole show for the Titans.
RB Dion Lewis – The Patriots turned to Dion Lewis over the second half of the season as their lead back. He finished with 212 touches for 1,104 yards with nine TDs and 32 catches while starting eight games. Over the last six games of 2018, Lewis had three games with over 100 combined yards (15/112, 153 combined yards with two TDs and five catches, and 133 combined yards with two TDs and six catches) while receiving 61 touches over the last two starts of the season. Dion projects as the pass-catching back with a change of pass value on early downs. Possible 150 rushes for 600+ yards plus 50+ catches for another 400+ yards with a handful of TDs.
Other Options: David Fluellen, Akrum Wadley, Dalyn Dawkins
WR Corey Davis – The most impressive thing about Davis on draft day in 2017 was the high praise from longtime NFL WR Steve Smith. He knows what it takes to have success in the NFL, and he painted an impressive picture of this young man in my eyes. Corey was TD machine (46 over 39 games) over his last three seasons at Western Michigan. Over four years in college, Davis caught 331 passes for 5278 yards and 52 TDs. He’ll win many jump balls plus he does a nice job tracking the deep pass. Corey has the accelerator to turn a short screen pass into a long TD. He runs well in the open field with the ball in his hands plus his second gear creates instant separation after the catch. Davis will have value in fades at the goal line and enough quickness to score on slants. He’ll represent the number 84 well in his career. Last summer Corey suffered a hamstring injury leading to him reinjuring it in Week 2. After five missed games, Davis only had 27 catches for 302 yards and no TDs on 52 targets over the last nine games of the season. His best game (5/63/2) came in the second week of the playoff vs. the Patriots. Last year the Titans’ WRs caught 159 passes for 1,977 yards and a league-low six TDs on 266 targets. Great talent who will emerge as one of the top receivers in the game. With a healthy offseason, Corey should be an attractive value WR in 2018. His starting point should be 70+ catches for 1,000+ yards with mid-level TDs.
WR Rishard Matthews – After a slow start to 2016 over his first four games (3/26, 4/40, 3/32, and 2/82), Matthews turned in to a scoring machine (nine TDs over his last 12 games). His best success came in three games (9/122, 4/105, and 9/114/1) over the last six weeks of the season. Rishard finished with 65 catches for 945 yards and nine TDs on 108 targets setting a career high in all area. Last season Matthews missed two games with a hamstring issue leading to a step down in production (53/795/4 on 87 targets). He had four games of value (6/87/1, 4/70/1, 5/113/1, and 6/95/1) while posted under ten Fantasy points in half of his games. On the year, Rishard averaged 6.2 targets per game compared to 6.8 in 2016. The emergence of Corey Davis will push Matthews to WR2 in this offense. Possible 60+ catches for 800+ yards and some scoring value.
8/3/2018 > Matthews remains on the physically unable to perform list with a slow recovery from an unknown injury.
WR Taywan Taylor– Based on his junior and senior seasons at Western Kentucky (86/1467/17 and 98/1730/17), Taylor will move up quickly up the Titans’ depth chart at wide receiver. Taylor has a very good release with upside as a route runner. He’ll add value after the catch while needing improvement in his hand catching ability. His next step is showing the ability to get open against higher level CBs. In his rookie season, Taywan caught 16 of 28 targets for 231 yards and one TD. He projects as the 3rd WR in Tennessee’s offense in 2018 with minimal Fantasy value without an injury.
WR Tajae Sharpe – Over his last two seasons at UMass, Sharpe caught 196 passes for 2,600 yards and 12 TDs. He drew a lot of attention over the summer in 2016 leading to his name climbing in the late draft season. The Titans gave him a great opportunity in Week 1 (7/76 on 11 targets), but his game just was ready to make an impact in his rookie season. Tajae finished with 41 catches for 522 yards and two TDs on 83 targets. He had a poor catch rate (49.4). He missed all of 2017 with a foot injury that required surgery last June. His opportunity in 2016 may give him the inside track to win the WR3 job for the Titans over the summer.
Other Options: Michael Campanaro, Deontay Burnett, Darius Burnett, Zach Pascal, Cameron Batson
TE Delanie Walker – Over the last five seasons, Walker has been the best receiving option in Tennessee. With the Titans, he’s averaged 4.7 catches for 55 yards and 0.34 TDs per game or 10.24 Fantasy points in PPR leagues. He has over 100 targets in each of the last four seasons leading to 800+ yards receiving each year. In 2017, Delanie had 74 catches for 807 yards and three TDs on 111 targets. He finished with eight games with five catches or more, but only one game with over 80 yards receiving (6/92). Walker will start the year at age 34 while showing no regression to his game. Marcus Mariota will look for the TE on many plays (97/1015/6 in 2017). Last year Delanie did plays through some injuries. Only a steady TE options for me, but I would be careful not to overpay for a player who should be on the decline. With 16 games of action, 60+ catches for 700+ yards and a handful of TDs. My bet is on the under on his projections.
TE Jonnu Smith – In his rookie season as the number two TE for the Titans, Smith caught 18 passes for 157 yards and two TDs on 30 targets while receiving plenty of snaps (556) in two TE sets. If I did roster Delanie Walker in 2018, I would be comfortable with the upside of Smith as his handcuff. Over four years in college, Smith caught 178 passes for 2,001 yards and 18 TDs highlighted by his sophomore year (61/710/8). Jonnu has plenty of talent with the speed, the strength, and the athleticism to make plays at the next level. He needs to improve his route running while doing a better job when given a chance to catch the ball. A vertical threat with some value as a blocker.
Other Options: Luke Stocker, Phillip Supernaw, Tim Semisch, Ethan Wolf, Anthony Firkser
K Ryan Succop – There has been an improvement in Ryan’s game since he moved to the Titans. Over the last four seasons, Succop made 86.5 percent of his 104 field goals including eight of 15 from 50 yards or more. In 2017, he led the NFL in FG attempts (42) leading to a career high in field goals (35). Over the last three years, Ryan made 99 of 105 extra point tries. The Titans will score TDs in close so his chance may still rank below the top kickers in the league. Matchup option with a chance to add long-term value.
The Titans face four teams (JAX X 2, PHI, and DAL) with strength in their rushing attacks. They have two games (MIA and WAS) against teams with risk rushing the ball. Overall, Tennessee has a poor schedule for their run defense.
Tennessee faces five teams (BUF, BAL, DAL, and IND X 2) that struggled to pass the ball in 2017 plus five favorable games (NYG, HOU X 2, and JAX X 2). The Titans’ pass defense will get tested in two games (LAC and NE).
The Titans allowed the fourth lowest number of rushing yards (1,420) in 2107 with a league-low five rushing TDs allowed and only three runs over 20 yards. Ball carriers gained 3.6 yards per rush while averaging only 24.9 rushing attempts per game.
Tennessee slipped to 25th in passing yards allowed (3,828) with QBs tossing 27 TDs and 12 Ints. Their defense had 43 sacks while holding offenses to 6.8 yards per pass attempts. They ranked third in pass plays over 20 yards (37).
DE Jurrell Casey continues to be one of the better defensive linemen in the NFL. He’s very good against the run with success rushing the QB. Last year he had 60 tackles and six sacks. DE DaQuan Jones missed four games last year with a biceps injury. The Titans signed him to a new three-year contract in March ($121 million). Last season Jones had 31 tackles and 3.5 sacks with his best value coming against the run.
DT Bennie Logan had 52 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 2017 with the Chiefs while seeing rotational playing time. Logan offers minimal value in sacks while being a neutral player vs. the run. DT Austin Johnson projects as a run clogger with limited value in the pass rush. His best asset is his strength while possessing a good feel for the game leading to solid tackles for his position. Johnson needs to improve as an attacker, which will help him win more battles at the point of contact. Tennessee drafted him in the second round in 2016. He finished with 24 tackles and one sack while receiving minimal playing time.
LB Brian Orakpo has 24.5 sacks and 141 tackles over the last three seasons. He tends to be a slight negative against the runs with upside rushing the QB. LB Derrick Morgan has 16.5 sacks over his last 29 games while picking up 65 tackles. Morgan struggled against the run in 2017 while ranking as a neutral player.
LB Rashaan Evans expects to move right into the starting lineup after getting drafted in the first round in the 2018 NFL Draft. He’ll upgrade the run defense while adding value in sacks. Evans should develop into an impact player with value on every down. LB Wesley Woodyard had a career-high 124 tackles in 2017 with five sakes. His best value come against the run while having risk in coverage.
S Johnathan Cyprien missed six games last year due to a back issue. Cyprien has over 100 tackles over his last previous four seasons. He has value against the run with risk in all other areas. Only once in his career has Johnathan been an asset in the secondary. S Kevin Byard was a beast in all areas in 2017. He set a career high in tackles (87) with impressive stats in defended passes (16) and interceptions (8).
CB Logan Ryan and CB Malcolm Butler graded as league average players in 2017. Butler won’t help the run support while being the better player in coverage. Ryan is a neutral player with three consistent seasons on his resume. CB Adoree Jackson did a good job in his rookie season after getting drafted in the first round in the 2017 NFL Draft. He recorded 70 tackles with 17 defended passes. Jackson looks to have all the base skills to be a top end corner. His vision is above average with offering playmaking skill skills. He’ll also add value in the return game. Adoree’ needs to prove he can handle elite CBs due to his size (5’10” and 186 lbs.).
The structure of this defense looks promising in 2018. The Titans have strength at cornerback and their defensive projects well again against the run. The addition of rookie Rashaan Evans should help stabilize the middle of the field in all area. If this defense can improve the pressure on the QB, the Titans will be one of the better defenses in 2018. I like their schedule, which makes Tennessee one of the top 12 defenses in the NFL with playable value in many games.
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