If you follow me on Twitter, or know me at all, you’ll realize quickly that I am a Tennessee Titans fan. You’ll also find out that I have resigned to the fact that my favorite team has been horrible as of late. This reigns especially true when it comes to providing any fantasy football goodness (outside of Delanie Walker). Well, I’m here to tell you that this year may finally be the year that you need to remember the Titans when the sun comes up on draft day.
But, but, the Titans confuse me. Yeah, yeah, they still confuse me to. Even after going to several practices there’s still time for things to shuffle around a bit. But! With that said you, have to start somewhere, and the Titans have already shown who they trust thus far into training camp practices.
There have now been more than a full week of practices and the lens over the depth chart is finally starting to come into focus. Yes, it’s still the first week of preseason games, but here’s what you need to know about each offensive and fantasy relevant (sorry kickers) position grouping for the Titans when it comes to fantasy this year.
Here’s a hint. Mariota’s their guy. Yes, he’s been getting some designed runs since day one of practice. His offensive line is upgraded, thanks to rookie Jack Conklin at right tackle and Ben Jones at center. His RBs & WRs are a lot better. Going into year two, a healthy Mariota is going to pass (and run) more than you think. He’s a safe QB2 with low-end QB1 upside.
Last year the Titans running backs were atrocious. Antonio Andrews, David Cobb, Bishop Sankey & Dexter McCluster waddled their way to the 25th best rushing attack in football. Luckily, as many of you already know, DeMarco Murray and Heisman-winner Derrick Henry have come to the rescue.
Since day one, DeMarco Murray has taken more than 80% of his snaps in scrimmages with the first team. Derrick Henry has gotten his fair share with the first team too, but it’s clearly DeMarco Murray’s backfield to lead.
The Titans most recently held a prolonged game-simulation scrimmage on Monday, August 8th. In that scrimmage DeMarco Murray took ten snaps in a row with the first team and was done for the night. After that, Derrick Henry took twenty-four of the remaining thirty 1st-team snaps. Not only that, but he ran it in for two touchdowns, and added a solid 20-yard run for good measure. This one-two punch of Thunder & Thunder (yes that’s already a thing) is one defenses will learn to fear.
Beyond the two workhorses, many thought Dexter McCluster may have a passing or gadget-type role to play in the offense. That was the case early on in practices, but he’s slowly faded. McCluster had all of zero reps in the live scrimmage even though he was perfectly healthy for warm-ups and positional drills. He may not make the team.
David Cobb, 2nd year running back out of Minnesota, is the 3rd name that nearly seems to be a lock for the active roster this year. He’s displayed better vision, and even decisive burst on cutbacks all throughout camp. He actually scampered in for a 15 yard score in the aforementioned live scrimmage on one of his many cutback reads. Even with his successes he will probably only get real work fantasy-worthy work if Murray or Henry go down.
All the other guys like Sankey, Andrews & Fluellen are fighting for a practice squad spot at best.
Given that neither Murray nor Henry are going very early in fantasy drafts they could both be a steal. If either one gets hurt the other would be in line for true feature back work. As it stands, it may be a 60-40 split but both deserve a higher average draft position than they currently own. I would take Murray inside the top 50 picks easily, and Henry inside the top 95 or so.
This group is the messiest of them all.
It seems that the entire fantasy football community wants Dorial Green-Beckham to succeed. I don’t blame them. He’s a 6’5″, 230-pound monster of man whose stride eats up ground alarmingly fast. He has a couple of problems, though. Their names are Rishard Matthews & Tajae Sharpe.
Since the first organized team activities (OTAs) began this summer, Sharpe and Matthews have been running with the first team. Sharpe’s fantastically crisp route-running shows up in every practice. Matthews’ consistency from play to play and solid run-blocking ability are major reasons he’s earned 1st-teams snaps.
To help you all appreciate just how consistently Rishard & Tajae are running with first team at this point, consider the following fun facts. They both ran 100% of their snaps in the live scrimmage Monday with Marcus Mariota. Outside of Harry Douglas (who was replacing the sidelined Kendall Wright), they both ran at least twenty-one more 1st-team snaps than any other wide receiver on the team. Not only that, but they both scored fantastic touchdowns in the scrimmage. Tajae grabbed a contested ball out of the sky in the back of the end zone (although it was overturned with off-setting penalties away from the play). Rishard scored on a nasty slant route that he had to adjust for at the catch.
With those two seemingly “locked in” at the starting receiver spots, it looks like the Dorial Green-Beckham fans may have to wait to see their boy really take off. Dorial hasn’t been doing himself many favors this offseason either. He’s had more drops than any other Titans wide receiver. He occasionally runs the wrong route or makes the wrong read due to an apparent unfamiliarity with the playbook. Although, it seems as though he improves with each practice. His routes are getting tighter. The contested catches are going his way more often. He just needs to be more consistent before he gets close to earning first team reps. That’s something he’s not been able to do, and it looks like it’s going to be more of the same for perhaps one more year.
But wait, there’s still so many more Titans wide receivers right? Yes. Future Hall-of-Famer Andre Johnson, Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter, and even 2nd-year fan favorite Tre McBride have made some noise in Titans camp.
Kendall Wright is locked in to the slot receiver role. He rarely lines up outside at all during practices. That being said, it’s not a terrible thing for Kendall’s fantasy relevance. Every practice Kendall makes a breath-taking play deep up the middle, out by the sideline or clutch in the red zone. He’s going to get a lot of work out of the slot.
Andre Johnson has had his fair share of work with the first team as well, but not as consistently. He makes plays from time to time in practice, but he’s clearly not the Andre of old. He’s a lock to make the team as a solid veteran leader who can move the chains when called upon, but is probably not a starter.
Justin Hunter & Tre McBride have both getting a ton of snaps all off-season, but it’s been with the 2nd and 3rd teams. Their roles could expand with injury, but they’re not going to be drafted in nearly any fantasy leagues.
Where it really gets messy is when you have to decide which Titan to draft first. Well, that’s where the average draft position and rankings consensus don’t make any sense.
Many sites still have both Dorial Green-Beckham & Kendall Wright well ahead of Rishard Matthews & Tajae Sharpe. Wright & Dorial may be more well-known, but their rankings are not merited. When you remember the Titans on draft day this year the real values will be Rishard Matthews and Tajae Sharpe. Kendall Wright may bounce back with some motivation in his contract year and efficiency from the slot, but his snaps will be slightly limited in comparison to Rishard & Tajae (at least for now).
Take Rishard or Tajae (or both to diversify any “risk”) with confidence in the pick 120 to 140 range. Those are the kind of picks that will make your buddies laugh on draft day, but cry by the end of week 4.
Don’t get cute. The only Titan TE to draft or own in just about any format is Delanie Walker. He’s a PPR monster whose absolute ceiling may be capped slightly in comparison to last year due to added weapons around him. Plus, he may stay in to block more with the “exotic smash mouth” brand of football the Titans are bringing this year. However, he’s still easily a TE1 for fantasy this year. If you can get him after pick 75, enjoy!
Titans Projected Week 1 Depth Chart
QB: Marcus Mariota
RB: DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry, David Cobb, Jalston Fowler (Fullback)
RWR: Rishard Matthews, Andre Johnson
LWR: Tajae Sharpe, Dorial Green-Beckham
Slot: Kendall Wright, Harry Douglas
TE: Delanie Walker, Anthony Fasano, Craig Stephens, Philip Supernaw
Relevant Cuts: Justin Hunter, Tre McBride (most likely practice squad), Dexter McCluster, Bishop Sankey, Antonio Andrews (most likely practice squad), Alex Ellis (UDFA from Tennessee who starred in camp, but will most likely land on another team or practice squad)
What do you think? Which Titans player will you remember in your drafts this year?