Every year we give our premium content members a team-by-team, player-by-player look at the NFL season that was. The coverage will be in-depth, but because the Dynasty Capsule series begins immediately after the season, we won’t use it to discuss free agency or the draft. Come see us in early May once Mr. Irrelevant is off the board for another 32-article series giving you the same detailed discussion you’ll see below.
Buckle up dynasty fans, because you’re about to be reminded why our motto is, “There is no off-season.”
Under first-year coach Mike Vrabel, the Tennessee Titans managed to conclude the 2018 season with a 9-7 record for the third year in a row. Unfortunately, unlike the 2017 season, which not only resulted in a playoff berth but a win in the Wild Card round, 2018 saw Tennessee as the first team out due to a Week 17 loss to the division-rival Indianapolis Colts. Though a bitter pill to swallow for fans, losing to the team that accounted for 23.4% of the Titans’ points against (in two games) was a fitting end.
While stout on the defensive side of the ball (third in total scoring defense and eighth in total yardage), the offense run by coordinator Matt LaFleur didn’t produce a single tier-one (top-12) player in fantasy. Somewhat surprisingly, LaFleur was courted by the Green Bay Packers to serve as their next head coach (his fourth cousin’s youngest child knows Sean McVay’s niece’s BFF), leaving the 2019 Titans offense to function under their fifth offensive coordinator in the past five years. While it remains difficult to predict Tennessee’s offensive identity moving forward, it will be hard for them to be any worse than 2018’s bottoming out, as I’ll discuss further below!
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Marcus Mariota (ADP = 225.2; QB27)
It was yet another uneven season for the Titans’ signal-caller, who continued to mix an elite ceiling with a bottom basement floor. About the only consistent thing to Mariota’s game through his four seasons in the league is his inability to stay healthy, as he’s still yet to record a 16-game season. In 2018, the former number two pick overall missed two games completely, and missed snaps in four others.
Highs included finishes as the overall QB7 (Week 4), QB6 (Week 9), QB12 (Week 12) and QB6 (Week 13). Lows included eight games under 200 yards, and eight without a passing score. His rushing totals tacked on an additional 47.7 points, buoying his floor with roughly the equivalent of an additional two QB1 performances, but even that couldn’t rescue him from the depths as a seasonal QB3.
There were nonetheless a few positives to be gleaned from an otherwise dismal year. Mariota eviscerated his previous high for completion percentage (62.2%) while tying his career high for YPA. He also produced the most rushing yardage of his young career. However, this was undone by a career-worst in sacks (42) despite a career low in dropbacks, coupled with a TD/INT ratio barely better than 1:1.
It’s hard to know exactly what to make of Mariota. He didn’t have much to work with offensively in 2018, and we’ve seen his upside in 2016 (26:9 TD/INT). But the simple fact is he hasn’t shown much for two years now, and there’s no way you want to count on him as a starter. That renders him nearly droppable in shallower 1QB leagues, but worth a prospective buy in 2QB or superflex leagues as a cheaper QB2 for those not emphasizing the position.
Blaine Gabbert (ADP = N/A)
Gabbert saw more action than anyone with a passing interest in the team (or fans of good football in general) would prefer. Somehow still only 29, we will likely continue to be tortured by his presence in the league for at least a few more years.
Derrick Henry (ADP = 50.8; RB22)
12 games into the season, Henry was sitting on a cumulative 128-474-5 line. Apart from a fluke two-touchdown performance in a win over the Super Bowl champion Patriots, he was about as far off the radar (and below expectations) as could be. The preseason hype that saw him surge to an ADP of 48.0 in August appeared to be just that – hype.
And yet, in the four games to close the season the third-year ball carrier more than doubled his yards and touchdowns, and added 1.2 yards to his per-carry average. This included two performances with over 170 yards and at least two scores, three top-13 performances, four of his six most voluminous workloads, and one of the nastiest and most disrespectful runs you’ll ever see. Seemingly everything that was done over the first 75% of the year was undone over the last quarter.
This, of course, begs a myriad of questions. What changed? Why was Dion Lewis treated as the “1a” runner despite poorer efficiency (more on that below)? What will happen with yet another offensive coordinator next year?
Early word suggests Henry will be a big part of the offense next year, and it makes sense. Though I’d like to see him catch a few more passes, he was easily the best back on the roster in 2018, and the Titans need to find out exactly what they have in the young man in his final season under contract. Of course, we heard similar last year, and owners suffered the consequences until Week 14. Dynasty owners, while intrigued, clearly aren’t convinced of a continuance of the end of 2018, letting him fall to the low-end RB2 ranks.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a divergence between trade value and ADP in Henry’s case. Of course, I’d be willing to spend on the latter, as his upside is substantially greater than his valuation. We’ve been fooled a few years running now, but Henry may be ready to finally put it all together in 2019.
Dion Lewis (ADP = 138.0; RB47)
While neither Lewis nor Henry was particularly good in the early portion of the season, Lewis flashed a bit more often, including nine of his first ten games with double-digit touches, and four with more than 19. During this time he also had three games with over 60 receiving yards, and three games with over 100 total yards.
Unfortunately, rushing efficiency was lacking, as only two of these contests resulted in performances over 4.0 YPC. This likely helped lead to only 13 total carries over the next two games, followed by a total mothballing over the year’s final month (20 carries), which also happened to coincide with Henry’s breakout detailed above.
Ever a hyper-efficient pass catcher (Lewis caught 88% of his targets in 2018), Lewis deserves a role as a third-down back with the occasional series to himself. However, the ceiling he displayed in his years with the Patriots simply wasn’t there in 2018. Henry is clearly the more appealing and intriguing ball carrier moving forward, though Lewis represents a reasonable investment as a low-end RB4 according to the ADP.
David Fluellen (ADP = N/A)
Fluellen received four total touches in 2018. He’s listed here to show that Mariota is effectively the third running back, but when it comes to the position Henry and Lewis dominated touches (99.1%). The RB3 on the Titans is irrelevant.
Corey Davis (ADP = 38.5; WR17)
Davis is the Rorschach Test of wide receivers. On one hand, he improved from year one to year two in terms of every meaningful receiving category. He also received what was easily the largest target share (by nearly double) over any other Titans pass catcher. Unfortunately, his catch percentage (58.0%) left much to be desired, and his YPT average wasn’t much higher than Marcus Mariota’s yearly average. Despite receiving the 19th most targets in the league, he was still a seasonal PPR WR3. In short, if you squint hard enough it’s easy to see either an ascendant talent or a player with a lower ceiling than his draft pedigree would suggest.
Finishing as the WR27 is certainly serviceable for a second-year player, and shows the type of classical trajectory expected from young pass catchers. He still has a bit of work to do with regard to consistently achieving a higher ceiling, as thirteen contests yielded 62 or fewer yards (his best two games accounted for 24.6% of his receptions, 32.1% of his yards, and two of his four scores), but it’s not far outside the realm of possibility. Still, an ADP as the WR17 doesn’t leave any margin for error, and I’d probably be a seller at that price.
Taywan Taylor (ADP = 185.5; WR80)
Brought in as the “other” receiver in the Titans’ 2017 draft haul, Taylor was able to offer up almost exactly half of his compatriot Davis. To that point, he had 50% of Davis’ targets, 57% of his receptions, and 52% of his yards while adding a single score. Hardly the stuff of legends, but Taylor was able to improve more than twofold in most statistical categories from his freshman campaign.
It was always challenging to see Taylor achieve fantasy success on a volume-deficient team with another young receiver drafted as a top-five selection, purportedly to function as the alpha dog. With that said, it’s disappointing that his dynamic from college (three straight years above 17.0 YPC) hasn’t translated to the pros, with the 2018 season yielding a pedestrian 12.3 YPC. It’s entirely possible that his deficiencies at size, speed, leaping, and arm length/hand size are hindering his ability to make contested catches with bigger, stronger, and faster athletes than he saw as a Western Kentucky Hilltopper. Whatever the reason, another year similar to 2018 will find the soon-to-be third-year player as a roster clogger. Even at the WR80 price, I’d likely still be more of a seller than a buyer.
Tajae Sharpe (ADP = N/A)
Following a surprisingly competent rookie season, Sharpe didn’t record a statistic in 2017, and wasn’t much better this past year. Given the lack of fantasy output from the team’s WR1 and WR2, it’s not surprising Sharpe remained well off the radar. Going into his fourth season, Sharpe needs to put something on tape to audition for another team, as it seems clear he’s not in the Titans’ long-term plans. Dynasty owners feel similarly, as he wasn’t selected in a single February mock draft. He’s only borderline rosterable.
Darius Jennings and Cameron Batson (ADP = N/A)
In theory, there should be a tremendous amount of opportunity for one of these receivers to step up, given the lack of options behind Corey Davis. In practice, the Titans are more than likely going to supplement their pass-catching corps via free agency and/or the NFL Draft, along with tight end Delanie Walker’s return.
Jennings never eclipsed 600 yards in college, and spent two years out of the league between 2015 and 2018 before catching a few balls last year. With just a hair over 200 career yards entering his age-27 season, there’s not much of a light at the end of the tunnel.
Batson is a size-deficient (5’8”, 175 pounds) punt returner who could never clear 11.3 YPC in an undistinguished college career. In theory he has speed to burn, running in the 4.3 range at his Pro Day 40-yard dash, but size restrictions will more than likely prove too challenging for him to carve out a significant role in the pros.
Rishard Matthews (ADP = N/A)
You never go full Antonio Brown.
Matthews forced his way off the roster early in the season, and couldn’t catch on with the Jets after being picked up. This power play will likely prove to be the end of his career, which at least resulted in a couple of nice seasons with the Dolphins and Titans. Diva receivers with short track records who are soon to be 30 aren’t exactly coveted in today’s NFL.
Jonnu Smith (ADP = 231.5; TE29)
Smith took over the largest part of the committee to replace the injured Delanie Walker, but only wound up with 20 receptions to show for it prior to being placed on IR himself with an MCL injury. Another member of the 2017 class that was supposed to remodel Tennessee’s pass-catching corps, Smith has yet to live up to his measurables through two years. Tight end is a notoriously slow developing position, but with Walker expected back and Smith unable to distance himself from his compatriots, his status as an end-of-bench stash will be in danger when the new crop of rookies arrives.
Anthony Firkser (ADP = 239.5; TE35)
After profiling as a plodder who lacked size for the position, Firkser emerged as arguably the most impressive tight end on the team in 2018. He had a nice midseason stretch of three straight 40+ yard performances, while catching at least three balls in four straight contests. On the year he incredibly caught 95% of his 20 targets, which is an impressive feat despite the lack of a true sample size.
While players like Firkser will always be at risk of losing their spot, he’s signed cheaply enough for 2019 such that it doesn’t do much for the Titans’ cap situation to release him. I likely wouldn’t be rostering him in anything more than the deepest of leagues, but he showed enough to at least merit consideration on your fantasy watch list.
Luke Stocker and MyCole Pruitt (ADP = N/A)
In the league since 2011, Stocker’s career line is the equivalent to half a Rob Gronkowski (pre-2018) season. A former fifth-round pick of the Vikings, Pruitt has been on roughly 17 teams since joining the league in 2015, pinballing his way through the league collecting temporary contracts like Thanos does infinity stones. Neither is worthy of a roster spot.
Delanie Walker (ADP = 229.3; TE28)
Considering the totality of this tight end grouping, it stands to reason owners were robbed of what would have been a spectacular season for the standout veteran. To that point, Tennessee tight ends received 89 total targets, which were converted into a fine 67-802-7 line. This cumulative output would’ve resulted in a finish as the 2018 PPR TE6, just behind Jared Cook and well ahead of Austin Hooper.
Given that none of the above appeared to separate, and that Walker received a healthy seven targets in his lone game, it’s fair to assert he would’ve obtained the bulk of this volume. Additionally, Mariota appears to simply be better when targeting tight ends versus his receivers, and this preference has persisted since his rookie season. To that point, Walker received over 100 targets in each of Mariota’s first three seasons, and had four straight dating back to 2014. Quite simply, he’s been the stalwart of the passing offense.
At 34 years of age (35 in August), Walker obviously doesn’t have a lot of time left. But given the dearth of talent at the position, and his (assumed) healthy return, he should be able to far outpace his current price point. He makes for a buy for all parties – contenders should seek to own him as a TE2 with TE1 upside, and rebuilders should snap him up too in the hopes they can flip him for a profit midseason. Dynasty fantasy football may be a lot of things, but straightforward isn’t one of them – however, this is about as close as it gets.
Follow me on Twitter @EDH_27.
You can find his (typically strong and hopefully reasonable) opinions on Twitter at@EDH_27.