The Titans have been candy to the eyes of old-school football fans for the last two and a half seasons, which coincided with their decision to go all-in on RB Derrick Henry as the foundation of their offense. Henry responded exceptionally well, and in 2020 he posted the eighth 2000-yard rushing season in NFL history (and second in Titans history, after Chris Johnson).
But with Mike Vrabel’s defense slipping in recent years, especially in terms of the pass rush, it’s possible that the club and new OC Todd Downing will need to lean more on QB Ryan Tannehill, who has added a hell of a Robin (Julio Jones) to AJ Brown’s Batman.
The biggest question with this team is if Downing will lean entirely into what worked for Arthur Smith and build around Henry and multi-TE sets, or if he’ll lean more on his background with Scott Linehan, who was a massive proponent of 11 personnel (three-WR sets).
Tennessee Titans Franchise Focus Companion Podcast
|Season Win Total (O/U)||9 (-140/+115)|
Season Prop Movement
Win Total: 9.5 (+123) in late March to 9 (-110)
Super Bowl: +2800 in early February to +2800
Premium 2021 Betting Preview from Tom Brolley found here.
Key Offseason Moves
|Matt Barkley (QB)||Dillon Radunz (OT)||Dennis Kelly (OT, GB)|
|Kendall Lamm (OT)||Dez Fitzpatrick (WR)||Isaiah Wilson (OT)|
|Brent Qvale (OG)||Racey McMath (WR)||Corey Davis (WR, NYJ)|
|Chandon Herring (OG, UDFA)||Rashad Weaver (DE)||Adam Humphries (WR, Was)|
|Cole Banwart (OG, UDFA)||Monty Rice (ILB)||Kalif Raymond (WR, Det)|
|Julio Jones (WR)||Caleb Farley (CB)||Jonnu Smith (TE, NE)|
|Josh Reynolds (WR)||Elijah Molden (CB)||MyCole Pruitt (TE, SF)|
|Luke Stocker (TE)||Brady Breeze (S)||DaQuan Jones (DT, Cle)|
|Miller Forristall (TE, UDFA)||Jadeveon Clowney (OLB, Cle)|
|Denico Autry (DE)||Tuzar Skipper (OLB, Atl)|
|John Simon (DE)||Will Compton (ILB)|
|Trevon Coley (DE)||Adoree’ Jackson (CB, NYG)|
|Bud Dupree (OLB)||Desmond King (CB, Hou)|
|Janoris Jenkins (CB)||Malcolm Butler (CB, Ari)|
|Kevin Peterson (CB)||Chris Milton (CB, NYG)|
|Greg Mabin (CB)||Kenny Vaccaro (S)|
|Chris Jones (CB)|
|Matthias Farley (S)|
Scott Barrett’s Fantasy Strength of Schedule
Quarterback: 5th-toughest (-0.51)
Running Back: 16th-softest (+0.19)
Wide Receivers: 15th-toughest (-0.21)
Tight Ends: 7th-toughest (-0.46)
Pace and Tendencies
Pace (seconds in between plays): 26.2 (4th)
Plays per game: 63.5 (17th)
When the game is within a score — Pass: 50.7% (29th) | Run: 49.3% (4th)
When the team is ahead — Pass: 40.6% (31st) | Run: 59.4% (2nd)
When the team is behind — Pass: 56.2% (30th) | Run: 43.8% (3rd)
The Titans were right there neck and neck with the Ravens as the most run-heavy team last season as Derrick Henry, once again, went beast-mode on the league. Henry has handled a ridiculous 807 touches, gained 4,405 scrimmage yards, and scored 37 TDs over the last two seasons combined and is set up for a monster workload for the third-straight year. Former OC Arthur Smith is now the HC of the Falcons, but the Titans kept their hire in-house by elevating Todd Downing as their new play-caller. Downing was the TEs coach over the last two years, so there should be plenty of rollover in the Titans game plan for 2021.
Ryan Tannehill tied Tom Brady for the QB11 finish with 21.1 fantasy points per game.
Only Rodgers (0.26), Mahomes (0.22), Watson (0.21), and Allen (0.20) averaged more expected points added per attempt than Tannehill (0.18).
Tannehill was the QB9 in 2019 in his 12 starts (averaged 18.5 FPG).
Since the start of 2019, Tannehill is second among all QBs in passer rating (110.6) and first in YPA (8.6).
Derrick Henry got off to a bit of a slow start in Weeks 1-2, but then proceeded to finish as a RB1 (top-12) in 9-of-14 games.
Not only was Henry a league-winner in fantasy, he was also the most efficient running back in football — ranking second in yards after contact (3.6) and first in success rate (50%) among qualified RBs.
Since he was made a starter late in the 2018 season, Henry has gone over 75 rushing yards or scored a touchdown in a ridiculous 34-of-38 games (includes playoffs).
However, Henry has been very game-script dependent. When the Titans win, Henry averages 24.3 fantasy points per game. For reference, Dalvin Cook is the RB2 in FPG over the last two combined seasons with 22.5 FPG.
In losses, Henry averages just 12.2 FPG.
In the Titans’ 24 wins in this span, Henry has put up 16 fantasy points in 20 games and gone over 25 points 11 times.
In their losses, Henry has not gone over 18 fantasy points once.
Including the playoffs, A.J. Brown put up 17.6 fantasy points per game in his 15 starts.
That made him the WR7 behind Adams, Hill, Diggs, Ridley, Hopkins, and Allen.
Brown’s 17.6 FPG ranks as the 11th-best season by a second-year WR since 2010.
Brown saw double-digit targets just twice in those 15 games (in Week 17 and the Wild Card Round).
Among receivers with at least 80 targets, Brown led them all in yards after the catch (6.2).
Brown also led all receivers in YAC in his rookie season (8.9).
Julio Jones played just nine games last year, but he was just as explosive and efficient as he’s always been. In 2020, Julio ranked 4th in yards gained per route run after ranking 1st, 1st, 1st, 2nd, and 5th in his previous five seasons.
And just like we’ve seen for years, Julio remained effective on deeper targets. Per SIS, Jones was 4th in EPA (expected points added) per target when he saw throws of 15 or more yards downfield.
Huber’s Scheme Notes
After a 5-0 start, the Titans finished 6-5 over their final 11 games. They managed to win the AFC South before being sent home by the Ravens in the Wild Card round by a score of 20-13. In addition to a below average run defense and nonexistent pass rush for the Titans, when Corey Davis left that game with what appeared to be a concussion, Baltimore’s safeties focused on shutting down A.J. Brown. It worked. When former OC Arthur Smith took over as the Falcons’ new HC, GM Jon Robinson and HC Mike Vrabel used the opportunity to flip the roster on its head.
If you’ve been living under a rock the last two years, you’ll be shocked out of your shoes to learn that Ryan Tannehill has proved himself to be one of the top-five QBs in back-to-back seasons. Most of that success is provided by his top-three production vs. Cover 1 and Cover 3, and top-10 analytics vs. Cover 2 and Cover 4. With Tannehill’s extraordinary post-30 explosion in mind, the Titans’ ability to protect their superstar QB has never been more important. Judging them based on the rate of QB pressures allowed/game, Tennessee’s O-line did quite well, permitting only 9.7/game. But Tannehill is a slippy veteran with extremely underrated mobility that directly impacted his 13th-lowest sack rate (4.5%). And the O-line also benefited from the Derrick Henry-play action combo that kept defenses honest.
The return of Taylor Lewan from tearing an ACL in Week 6 will essentially be the equivalent of hitting the lottery on a top-10 left tackle in free agency. Nobody will be sad to see the Ty Sambrailo-David Quessenberry replacement experiment fade away into oblivion. And the results at right tackle weren’t any better. Robinson has already sent Dennis Kelly packing, bringing in pass-pro specialist Kendall Lamm in to replace him until 2021 second-rounder Dillon Radunz is ready to be featured. The most reliable O-line component for Tannehill was center Ben Davis. However, things get messy when evaluating the pass pro provided by their starting guards. Left guard Rodger Saffold and right guard Nate Davis may excel in run blocking, but their pocket protection is replacement-level, at best.
As long as new OC Todd Downing is able to patch together an O-line combination that keeps Tannehill upright, he’ll field his most dangerous receiving group in his eight-year career. And it didn’t take long after Smith joined Atlanta’s staff to complete a deal with his former team. In addition to clearing $15.3 million off the books from Julio Jones’ contract, the Falcons traded Jones and a 2023 sixth-rounder to Tennessee for their 2022 second-rounder and ‘23 fourth-rounder. He’ll combine with A.J. Brown to provide Tanny with two of the NFLs top-five wideouts based on yards gained/route run (YPRR) and FPs/route (FP/Rt) over the last three seasons.
He may not be able to replace the run blocking efficiency or red zone prowess of Jonnu Smith, but Anthony Firkser is superior in pass protection, and as a complete receiver. His skills as a receiver will be of vital importance for Downing since the WR3 competition is entirely unsettled between Josh Reynolds and ‘21 fourth-rounder Dez Fitzpatrick. Reynolds was a flat-out dud with the Rams. If Fitzpatrick can overtake him, his collegiate success against Cover 3 would come in quite handy for Tannehill. Needless to say, the Titans’ offense is not built to field spread or Air Raid components. It’s all about ‘dem heavy sets.
Just when it seemed this offense was the Henry show, Tannehill and Brown emerged to bring balance to the attack. But the passing game revolves around the additional space created indirectly by Henry through the use of a top-three rate of play action. Can we really blame defenses for showing ultimate respect to the RB who led the NFL last season in pure rushing FPG? And the Titans do not play around with their backfield carries, handing a league-high 76% off to their tractor trailer posing as a running back within Tennessee’s Outside Zone-heavy scheme.
Robinson clearly had run blocking in mind when he constructed his O-line. Now that Tannehill has emerged, the front office will need to eventually consider adding a guard — or two — with a high draft pick/s, capable in both phases of play. Tannehill, Henry, Brown, and Julio are so good that they could conceivably shock the world by defeating the Chiefs for a spot in Super Bowl LVI.
If you ask HC Mike Vrabel, Shane Bowen has been the DC since January of 2020. However, that announcement was not made official last season. When it was reported Bowen was the team’s DC, most assumed it was a promotion. Perhaps Bowen simply did not want to claim the Titans’ ‘20 defense as his work. Can you blame him? Tennessee put one of the most pathetic pass rushes in football on the Nissan Stadium field last year. GM Jon Robinson’s decision to hand Jadeveon Clowney, DaQuan Jones, and their $21 million in combined salaries their walking papers was an easy one indeed. Unfortunately, it’s anyone’s guess who Bowen envisions starting at 0-tech in Jones’ place.
The D-line concerns are so dire that, whereas top defenses pack three-or-more studs along their line’s, Bowen will only have the pleasure of one: ‘19 first-rounder Jeffery Simmons. Where did Robinson spend his first ‘21 draft pick on the defense? He selected WILL Monty Rice with his third round pick, one of the most baffling moves of the entire ‘21 draft. Let’s not forget that 2018 first rounder Rashaan Evans is already developing quite nicely at WILL. And 2017 fifth-rounder Jayon Brown has exceeded all expectations at MIKE. Where the hell does Robinson envision Rice contributing? Perhaps it’s all a ploy to prevent extending contracts to Evans and/or Brown. If that’s the case, another inside LB-needy team will be happy to take one of those “problems” off his hands.
If drafting Rice was confusing, allowing Adoree’ Jackson and Desmond King II to leave via free agency should have the Tennessee faithful in an uproar. It’s clear Robinson intended to open up as much cap space as possible to land another elite skill weapon for Tannehill. And he accomplished that goal with the Julio Jones trade. But how is Bowen supposed to employ his top-10 rate of Man Coverage with Janoris Jenkins and Chris Jackson holding down the outside? Breon Borders really surprised last season with his coverage skills. But had Robinson simply re-signed Jackson and King, he could’ve paired Jackson and Borders on the outside, and retained King as his Nickelback. Yes, they added Caleb Farley with their first round pick. But does anyone know when the kid will even recover from his back injury?
The state of the secondary reaches Defcon 2 when we consider the coverage of starting free safety Kevin Byard. Not a single one of my most trusted coverage metrics speak positively in favor of Byard as a capable last line of defense in Cover 1 for his CBs. At least when Bowen drops them into his competitive rates of Cover 2 or Cover 4 Zone, Byards’ coverage deficiencies will be partially masked by the presence of new starting strong safety Amani Hooker. For those IDP aficionados out there, Hooker is going to post some excellent tackle numbers this season.
In nine-of-11 wins for the Titans last year, the offense put at least 30 points on the scoreboard. We’re looking at a similar requirement this upcoming season with this defense set to implode on a nuclear level. Perhaps someone down the line will convince Robinson he actually needs to invest valuable capital into shoring up his offensive and defensive lines.
Projected Fantasy Contributors
Ryan Tannehill (Proj: QB11 | ADP: 91 | Pos ADP: QB12)
One of the NFL’s most unlikely stars, Tannehill’s rise to the top of league efficiency metrics continued in 2020 with the Titans. Throwing 33 TD to 7 INT, averaging 7.9 YPA, and completing 65.5% of his passes in a run-heavy offense, Tannehill finished as the overall QB7 in fantasy points last season. Tannehill finished as a top-12 weekly QB eight times in his 16 starts, including five times as a top-5 weekly QB, which tied him for 5th-most among QBs. Tannehill also never finished outside the top-24 in any given week, joining Deshaun Watson and Josh Allen as the only 16-game starters to accomplish that feat. Only Aaron Rodgers (0.26), Patrick Mahomes (0.22), Watson (0.21), and Allen (0.20) averaged more expected points added per attempt than Tannehill (0.18). And this was a continuation of 2019, when Tannehill was the QB9 in 2019 in his 12 starts (averaged 18.5 FPG). Since the start of 2019, Tannehill is second among all QBs in passer rating (110.6) and first in YPA (8.6). Tannehill also contributes with his legs. Since joining the Titans, he has 11 rushing TD, and his 7 scores in 2020 tied him with Lamar for 5th among QBs (behind Cam Newton, Kyler Murray, Allen, and Taysom Hill). Obviously, the Titans gave Tannehill another weapon with which to continue his efficiency tear — Julio Jones joins AJ Brown to provide the Titans with one of the NFL’s best WR duos, and Julio fits the offense like a glove, as he’s been the NFL’s most efficient (there’s that word again…) WR on play action over the last four years. While former Titan OC Arthur Smith moved on to Julio’s old team as head coach in Atlanta, the hope here is new OC Todd Downing, despite having more of a background as an “11” personnel disciple, doesn’t change much about what makes this offense hum. That’s RB Derrick Henry, and then Tannehill attacking down the field with play action. Tannehill doesn’t provide the massive ceiling of the true running QBs, but he’s super efficient as a passer, and does enough with his legs to make him more valuable in that area than some QBs going around him in ADP, like Matthew Stafford and Tom Brady. His ADP is QB12 in the 8th/9th-round range, and is the perfect target if you think the true running QBs are just too expensive.
Derrick Henry (Proj: RB3 | ADP: 4 | Pos ADP: RB4)
Betting against outliers in fantasy football is very much a way to end up with a profit almost all of the time, and Henry — with his lack of usage in the passing game — almost certainly looks like an outlier. But is it possible that Henry, who has over 4500 rushing yards over the last three seasons while catching just 52 passes over that span, is so good at being an outlier that he isn’t one? Henry had an all-time great 2020, running for 2027 yards and 17 TD, finishing as the overall RB3 (mostly because of that lack of receiving, which Alvin Kamara and Dalvin Cook have as parts of their game). Henry actually had the most consistent ceiling of any RB in fantasy, finishing a league-high seven times as a top-5 weekly RB. But he finished “just” 12 times as a top-24 RB, behind Kamara and Cook’s 14. Why? Because — and here’s the concern with Henry — he’s much more gamescript dependent. When the Titans win, Henry averages 24.3 fantasy points per game. In losses, Henry averages just 12.2 FPG.
In the Titans’ 24 wins over the last two seasons, Henry has put up 16 fantasy points in 20 games and gone over 25 points 11 times. In their losses, Henry has not gone over 18 fantasy points once. Over the past three seasons, he averages 11.6 more FPG in wins than losses, with just 10.5 FPG in losses. Vegas is predicting only 9.0 wins for the Titans this year, and if that’s correct, we should expect Henry’s average to drop from 20.9 to 16.6 FPG. And if they fall two wins short of that mark, we can expect him to average just 15.3 FPG. And then there’s the “tread on the tires” argument. Henry is a monster, but including playoffs the last two years, he’s carried the ball 782 times. He’s shown no signs of wearing down, and we’re still taking him as a top-five fantasy RB. The Titans’ offensive line should be better with more injury luck this year. But the Titans did lose OC Arthur Smith, and Henry is the most extreme outlier in fantasy.
Darrynton Evans (Proj: RB59 | ADP: 185 | Pos ADP: RB60)
Evans dealt with hamstring injuries for almost his entire rookie season, posting just 14/54 rushing and 2/27/1 receiving in five games, as Derrick Henry dominated the touches in the backfield. That should happen again, but it is probably worth at least a mention that Evans got some work as a wide receiver in OTAs, and Peter King had a report last summer that suggested the Titans viewed Evans as having some similarities in how he could be used to Alvin Kamara. While we won’t lean into hyperbole, Evans was an intriguing prospect, one our Greg Cosell noted was well-suited to handle the outside zone run game in the NFL. What’s the Titans’ foundational run principle? Outside zone, of course. He’s little more than a handcuff, but in theory he’s a really good one if you’re so inclined.
AJ Brown (Proj: WR12 | ADP: 24 | Pos ADP: WR8)
It turns out that playing in one of the NFL’s most efficient passing offenses means Brown has some of the NFL’s most efficient stats! And given how he’s looked on film the last two seasons, we think he’s more of a catalyst for that efficient offense than a product of it. In 14 games in 2020, Brown posted 70/1075/11 on 106 targets (15.4 YPR, 66.0%). He ranked six times as a top-12 WR, and twice as a top-5 WR. Including the playoffs, Brown put up 17.6 fantasy points per game in his 15 starts. That made him the WR7 behind Adams, Hill, Diggs, Ridley, Hopkins, and Allen. Brown’s 17.6 FPG ranks as the 11th-best season by a second-year WR since 2010. Brown saw double-digit targets just twice in those 15 games (in Week 17 and the Wild Card Round), so he did his damage on a per-target basis, making the most of every time QB Ryan Tannehill threw him the football. While he averaged over 20 YPR as a rookie and 15.4 YPR in his second year, Brown isn’t necessarily a deep threat — instead, he’s a YAC monster. Among receivers with at least 80 targets, Brown led them all in yards after the catch in 2020 (6.2). Brown also led all receivers in YAC in his rookie season (8.9). The questions for Brown are three-fold in 2020. First of all, there’s a new offense — will new OC Todd Downing’s offense be a carbon copy of Arthur Smith’s attack, or will it rely less on play action (we hope not)? How will the presence of Julio Jones, who is effectively replacing Corey Davis, impact Brown’s target share? And will off-season cleanup surgery on both of his knees linger into the regular season (he was cleared for training camp)? From our perspective, we do think the addition of Julio might take the top end of Brown’s range of outcomes out of the question (say, top-3 PPR WR), but Brown’s profile suggests he doesn’t need a massive target share to produce big-time numbers — he averaged just 7.8 targets per game when sharing the field with Davis last year, and still put up WR1 numbers. His 2nd/3rd-round ADP is fair.
Julio Jones (Proj: WR21 | ADP: 44 | Pos ADP: WR17)
The Titans made a huge splash after losing Corey Davis in free agency by trading a couple of draft picks for the expensive and disgruntled Julio, who is trying to add a Super Bowl ring — one he should already have — to his illustrious career. Tennessee has 224 targets left behind, 92 of them from Davis, so there should be plenty of opportunity for Julio to make an immediate impact here, so long as he can stay on the field. Julio played just nine games last year, but he was just as explosive and efficient as he’s always been. He finished six of those nine games as a top-24 fantasy WR, including three times as a top-12 WR. In 2020, Julio ranked 4th in yards gained per route run after ranking 1st, 1st, 1st, 2nd, and 5th in his previous five seasons. And just like we’ve seen for years, Julio remained effective on deeper targets. Per SIS, Jones was 4th in EPA (expected points added) per target when he saw throws of 15 or more yards downfield. Only Curtis Samuel, Emmanuel Sanders, and Justin Jefferson were better. Over the past four seasons, Julio leads the NFL in yards gained per route run on play-action passes, and — at least under former OC Arthur Smith — the Titans were one of the NFL’s most play-action heavy teams. It’s also possible that new OC Todd Downing, who comes from a pass-heavy 11 personnel background, could try to coax 3-4 more pass attempts per game out of Ryan Tannehill this year, which should help. Still, we’d expect a massive dropoff in targets, as Julio has averaged 9.6 targets per game over the last five seasons. In games together last year, AJ Brown averaged 7.8 targets per game to 6.5 for Davis. Julio’s career low in targets per game came as a rookie, with 7.3. This is, after all, a run-first offense. Of course, the biggest issue for Julio in recent years has been availability, and he’s already missed multiple practices with what’s believed to be a leg injury in training camp. The Titans have zero incentive to push Julio during the summer, as it’s also possible his presence is a luxury for them, giving AJ Brown perhaps the NFL’s most lethal sidekick. Julio is indeed in the twilight of his career, but is in a position where he should be able to age gracefully. That said, there is some risk to him as a WR2, which is where he has his ADP for fantasy purposes. He’s likely to be much less frustrating to roster in Best Ball formats, where the games in which Julio leaves gimpy early don’t have nearly the nuclear effect on your lineup as they do in start/sit leagues. If he manages to stay healthy, however, with an expected smaller workload, this offense might provide the efficiency for Julio to pay off his 4th-round ADP.
Josh Reynolds (Proj: WR82 | ADP: 347 | Pos ADP: WR120)
Reynolds was a hot fantasy name for a second… prior to the Titans’ trade for Julio Jones this spring. Now, he’s buried as, at best, the #3 target on a team that ran 2-TE sets on a league-high 48% of snaps last year, where TE Anthony Firkser was their predominant slot receiver. Over the past two seasons with the Rams, Reynolds has run 57.1% of his routes from inside, per SIS. So for him to make a fantasy impact, he’s going to need new OC Todd Downing to run much more “11” personnel. Downing does come from that kind of background, and it’s possible the Titans don’t need to run as many 2-TE sets if the offensive line (particularly LT Taylor Lewan) is healthier. Reynolds also could be an important backup, given the recent injury history for Julio, but at this point, there are just not enough opportunities available for him to hold standalone fantasy value, unless the Titans totally change their offense. He’s almost never getting drafted, so you have the ability to watch the waiver wire in the event Julio gets hurt or the Titans suddenly become a heavy 11 personnel team.
Chester Rogers (Proj: WR109 | ADP: N/A | Pos ADP: N/A)
Rogers spent time on the Titans’ practice squad last year after he couldn’t crack the Dolphins’ 53-man roster, even with the Dolphins losing Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns to opt outs. His last NFL action came with the Colts in 2019, where he ran his routes almost exclusively from the slot before fracturing his knee. He can contribute on special teams as well, which might increase his chances of making this team, but he’s at best the backup slot receiver to Josh Reynolds, who already has a non-premium role on this team. Rogers doesn’t even have an ADP.
Dez Fitzpatrick (Proj: WR113 | ADP: 401 | Pos ADP: WR141)
The Titans traded up in the fourth round of April’s NFL Draft to select Fitzpatrick, a size/stride length/competitive receiver who was one of our Greg Cosell’s favorite mid-round prospects this year. At the time, he was looking like one of the only significant additions to a room that lost both Corey Davis and Adam Humphries, but in June the Titans likely put his career as a contributor on the backburner when trading for Julio Jones. Fitzpatrick is currently buried on the depth chart (the Titans also brought in Josh Reynolds from the Rams), but he has been cross-training in camp, working both outside and in the slot — Cosell said in our Rookie Guide that he felt Fitzpatrick could play X, Z, and inside. His competitiveness, if it translates to the NFL, should make him a coaches’ favorite, and it’s possible he could see time as a rookie if Julio misses time, which has become more common in recent years.
Anthony Firkser (Proj: TE19 | ADP: 191 | Pos ADP: TE23)
Firkser is taking over as the Titans’ top TE in 2021 following the departure of Jonnu Smith in free agency. Undersized at 6’2” and 246 pounds, Firkser is much more of a “big slot” receiver than he is a true in-line TE — Firkser ran 71% of his routes lined up in the slot last season, leading all tight ends. Overall, he’s had a lot of success in a part-time role in his career, posting 72/816/3 on 97 targets in three seasons (11.3 YPR, 74.2%). The question now is if he can handle more, and if the Titans will remain a predominant “12” personnel team. That part is crucial, because the Titans view the bigger Geoff Swaim (6’4”, 260”) as the better in-line run blocker, and even under a new coordinator in Todd Downing, one would have to imagine that the run game will be foundational for the Titans with Derrick Henry back there. If Downing instead chooses to go with a more common “11” personnel approach, using 3 WRs, Firkser’s role could be minimized. His ADP has fallen significantly since the Julio Jones trade, as he now, at best, is the #3 passing target in a low-volume pass offense, with two alpha-dog WRs sucking up a massive target share. Firkser can move, and with Jonnu gone, there’s a chance he has a red-zone role. But it’s hard to imagine he’s anything more than a low-end Robert Tonyan (and, keep in mind, Firkser has just 3 career TDs on 72 receptions). Given his talent and the caveats, his ADP of TE23 is more than fair. He’s not likely to be a league-winner for you, and he’s also not likely being drafted in most start-sit leagues. He’s a fine TE2 to pair with an elite option in best ball, like Travis Kelce or Darren Waller.
Hansen’s Final Points
As a longtime Ryan Tannehill apologist, I’m not nearly as shocked by his 2019-2020 play as others are, but with several things around him changing, I’m concerned that his luck may run out. Sure, adding Julio Jones looks great, and it probably will be great if Julio is healthy. But if he’s not, Tennessee may have a problem at receiver, and former OC Arthur Smith is no longer around to solve it. Tannehill has lost Smith, Corey Davis, and Jonnu Smith, so it’s all on Julio. I’m also not sure we can count on another 7 rushing TDs this year from the QB. He’s at least reasonably priced, but we have him a little further down our boards, so I don’t find myself targeting him or even considering him. Still, if he slips a little and is a value as the QB12-14, he’s obviously fine, since his production has been insanely good.
Can he do it again? There’s no sign of slippage with Derrick Henry yet, so the answer is probably “yes.” One thing’s for sure, if he’s healthy and the Titans remain ultra-competitive, he will lead the NFL in carries for the third year in a row, and probably also rushing yards and TDs. If he has a downfall, it could be the Titans struggling as a team, since Henry is so dependent on game script. That said, it’s worrisome how they’re projected to win only nine games, due likely to the loss of OC Arthur Smith and two key receivers, and Henry’s piled on the mileage this year. It could be argued that in PPR, Ezekiel Elliott and Alvin Kamara are safer picks, but if Julio Jones remains healthy, their passing game should take more pressure off Henry, so monster numbers are still attainable.
He should eventually be the changeup behind Derrick Henry this season, and if Henry goes down, Darrynton Evans should be the lead back, so he is the Henry handcuff. He had a lost rookie season, but Evans is a talented back who can catch the ball and pop off long runs. Speaking of catching it, as mentioned above, Evans could surprise with some snaps at receiver, so he could be worth owning in deeper leagues even without Henry. He’s a late pick only, of course, with an ADP of RB60 off the board around 185 overall.
We have AJ Brown a little lower than his ADP, which is fair given the change in coaching staffs and the addition of Julio Jones. Not that we expect Jones to truly hurt Brown, and he could help him often, but with some lingering concerns about his knees, and the potential attention he’d get if Julio missed time, we think his WR8 ADP is a little high and we like Brown where we have him slotted as of 8/10 as the WR12.
Because he’s still playing at an elite level when healthy and he moves to a team with a lot of vacated targets, Julio Jones, if he can stay on the field, should produce just fine with an accurate QB and in an offense where he’s not the marked man for once. So the question for Julio is simply whether or not he can stay healthy. It’s fair to have doubts, and we do have doubts that have prompted us to rank him a little below his ADP of WR17 (we have him at WR24). Taking him in the fourth round is a gamble, but there’s certainly a chance he outperforms his lowered ADP if things go well. I’m likely passing on him, for what it’s worth.
The winner of the Most Boring Player in fantasy football is Josh Reynolds, who got a lot more boring after the team traded for Julio Jones this past spring. He’s actually a solid player who can line up all over the field, and he should certainly get some favorable matchups, so he’s probably a good bet to outproduce his high ADP of 347 and WR120. In fact, that ADP is so embarrassingly low that Reynolds, if healthy, is a lock to crush. So if you like boring, target this man in Round 28. If you don’t go 28 rounds, then he’s not for you.
We’re just doing our due diligence by pointing out that Chester Rogers may actually get some snaps in the slot this year. Of course, the top three guys can line up inside no problem, so there’s nothing to see here with Rogers in terms of fantasy drafts.
If there’s a sleeper on the Titans at WR, it’s definitely the rookie Dez Fitzpatrick, who has an appealing combination of size/stride length and competitiveness. Fitzpatrick has positional flexibility, and he’s been trying to learn all three positions, so he’s someone to check out if they suffer a devastating injury to one of their top two guys.
There was some buzz on Anthony Firkser this spring when the team lost Jonnu Smith, but things died down quickly when Julio Jones was added to the roster. Firkser last year was often their “big slot” with Jonnu in line blocking, and we could see Firkser in a similar role this year, which could lead to solid production. He will certainly get some favorable matchups when defenses have their hands full with WRs Jones and Brown. Playing for new OC Todd Downing, their former TE coach, should help his chances. On the downside, they may use fewer 2-TE sets than we’re used to, capping his upside. But if you’re still drafting TEs 190 picks in, he’s a pretty good flyer.