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Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota is a top pick for fantasy football 2017.

By Pat Fitzmaurice
August 02, 2017

Welcome to the Exotic Smashmouth Resort. Phillipe here will take your bags and handle them roughly. Please take a complimentary lei and a set of brass knuckles. We’re holding a poolside reception for guests tonight. We’ll be serving tropical drinks accompanied by knockwurst-and-onion sandwiches. We hope you enjoy your stay.

The 2017 Titans could offer an interesting exhibition of the tug-of-war between efficiency and volume. Heavily tilted toward the run in 2016, the Titans spent the fifth overall pick in this year’s draft on WR Corey Davis, then used a pair of third-round picks on WR Taywan Taylor and TE Jonnu Smith. In June, the Titans added another piece to their passing game when they signed Eric Decker after he was purged by the Jets. These moves would seem to herald a shift toward a run/pass split more in line with the NFL average. Only Dallas and Buffalo had a higher percentage of running plays last year than Tennessee, which ran the ball on 47.2% of its offensive snaps. The league average was 42.2%​.

Quarterbacks

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Marcus Mariota QB12 QB7 Buy

For QB Marcus Mariota, that would mean an uptick in passing volume, potentially boosting his fantasy value. But defenses will no doubt adjust, and if opponents line up fewer defenders in the box and use more packages featuring extra defensive backs and designated pass rushers, Mariota’s efficiency will suffer. RBs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry are likely to get fewer carries but will probably face fewer seven- and eight-man fronts now that opponents must pay more respect to Tennessee’s pass catchers. It’s possible that the trade-off between volume and efficiency will amount to a zero-sum game, or something close to it. But given a choice, I’ll take volume over efficiency.

A volume boost, not to mention the enhanced pass-catching weaponry, could thrust Mariota closer toward the elite QB tier. He was the highest-scoring fantasy quarterback from Week 5 to Week 12 last year, completing 67.4% of his throws for 2,073 yards, with 20 TD passes and only three interceptions during that stretch. Mariota also had 238 rushing yards and two TD runs over that span. On the other hand, he completed 54.0% of his passes in his other seven starts, with five TDs and six INTs. We should also probably expect a dip in Mariota’s touchdown percentage. He’s thrown TD passes on 5.5% of his throws thus far in his career, a seemingly unsustainable rate.

Mariota’s Fantasy Football Calculator ADP is QB12. That’s not quite the discount price tag Mariota carried a year ago but still quite reasonable. I’m totally on board unless Mariota’s ADP takes an August rocket ride.

Running Backs

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
DeMarco Murray RB9 RB8 Consider
Derrick Henry RB31 RB39 Sidestep

DeMarco Murray has three excellent NFL seasons on his record. Despite finishing RB4 last year, he’s being drafted RB8, behind Melvin Gordon and Jay Ajayi, and just ahead of Jordan Howard, all of whom have had just one excellent season. Some investors might bypass Murray for Ajayi or Howard based on Murray’s lousy 2015 season with the Eagles or the looming presence of second-year backup Derrick Henry. I think that would be a mistake. It’s reasonable to chalk up the Philly fiasco to Chip Kelly’s misusage of Murray and to the struggles of the Eagles’ offensive line. And it seems unlikely that Murray will lose the lead role to Henry on merit (though it’s certainly possible Henry will get a larger share of carries).

There are some who believe Henry is as talented as the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott. Henry is a potentially valuable lottery ticket, just a Murray injury away from a workhorse role behind a bulldozing offensive line that ranked fourth in run blocking last year, per Football Outsiders. But Henry will cost you more than a scratch-off ticket at the neighborhood bodega – his ADP is RB31, and he’s going near the middle of the sixth round. That’s a steep price for a player who, if Murray stays intact, might not be a bankable starter at any point this season. Murray owners might be tempted to slap on the cuffs, but handcuffing generally isn’t a good idea, especially not when they’re the sort of gold-plated handcuffs you’d find in high-end sex toy catalog.

Wide Receivers

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Eric Decker WR40 WR42 Dine elsewhere
Corey Davis WR42 WR50 Pluck only if ripe
Rishard Matthews WR53 WR52 Move on

Eric Decker is the hidden gem of a restaurant that you and your spouse love, but then it gets a great review and suddenly it’s hard to get a table, so you don’t eat there anymore. Almost unanimously beloved by fantasy writers, Decker has averaged 126.5 targets over his last four full seasons, but he has virtually zero chance to get that sort of target volume in Tennessee. It’s also somewhat concerning that he needed hip and shoulder surgeries in the offseason, though he’s since been medically cleared. Decker’s ADP is WR40, which is slightly high for my tastes, so I’ll either have to choose another restaurant or order takeout.

Many fantasy owners used to regard rookie wide receivers as poor investments. The bumper crop of 2014—Odell Beckham, Mike Evans, Brandin Cooks, Sammy Watkins et al.—prompted a re-evaluation. Farming becomes a more attractive vocation when the earth yields strawberries the size of a fist and zeppelin-sized watermelons. The fruit from this year’s crop probably won’t be as extraordinary, but it shouldn’t be an empty harvest. The Titans used the No. 5 pick on Corey Davis of Western Michigan, and perhaps we should heed the magnitude of that investment, given that this was a lauded overall draft class brimming with defensive talent. That major expenditure of draft capital suggests that the Titans have big plans for Davis, even taking into account the addition of Decker. Davis doesn’t hail from one of the power conferences, but his physical traits and route running ability surely would have made him a standout in the SEC or Big 12. I had Davis ranked WR33 before the Decker signing and have since dropped him to WR49. Davis currently has an ADP of WR43, and it’s been trending downward since the Decker signing. I won’t be aggressively hunting Davis in redraft leagues, but if his ADP continues to fall and this 10-pound tomato falls into my basket in the later rounds, I won’t complain.

The additions of Davis and Decker would seem to bode ill for Rishard Matthews’ fantasy value after his 2016 liftoff. A seventh-round pick out of Nevada, Matthews spent four years honing his craft in Miami before becoming a useful fantasy property in his first year with the Titans, finishing with 65 catches for 945 yards and nine TDs. Matthews’ ADP is WR53, and I rank him a few spots higher than that.

Tajae Sharpe was a training-camp star for Tennessee last summer and had seven catches in his first NFL game, but everything that followed was a letdown. With Decker, Davis and Matthews now blocking the road to relevance, Sharpe could turn out to be the NFL version of Haley Joel Osment, with his greatest success coming in the pre-pubescent phase of his career. Sharpe could be phased out of the offense entirely if rookie third-rounder Taywan Taylor gets traction right away. Sharpe and Taylor have dynasty-league value but are afterthoughts in all but the deepest of redraft leagues.

Tight Ends

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Delanie Walker TE8 TE9 Consider

If Tajae Sharpe is Haley Joel Osment, then Delanie Walker is J.K. Simmons, a late-blooming veteran who does terrific work but still isn’t fully appreciated. Walker’s ADP of TE8 is reasonable, but his appeal has diminished with the addition of so much WR firepower. Rookie third-rounder Jonnu Smith might be a waiver-worthy tight end if Walker were to go down.

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