Five Things to Watch Heading into Tennessee Titans Training Camp
The hype has been building around the Titans for a while. Coming off of an 8-8 season where they challenged for the division throne, the Titans used their offseason to upgrade specific offensive and defensive holes. Tennessee is a rising offensive juggernaut, complemented by a young and exciting defense. Titans training camp will be the first sign of how far the team can go in 2017.
Targets For Decker, Davis, Taylor?
The Titans spent a significant amount of resources upgrading their pass catchers — signing Eric Decker, and drafting Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor and Jonnu Smith at fifth, 72nd, and 100th overall. These four join an already established pass catching group of Rishard Matthews, Delanie Walker, and Tajae Sharpe that was devoid of a go-to WR.
Someday, Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor will be a formidable inside/outside combination, but that day is not today. The Titans run three-WR sets at one of the lowest rates in the NFL and, regardless, are a low volume passing offense, only attempting 502 passes in 2016. Rishard Matthews was the most targeted Titan with a mere 108 targets and the Titans didn’t lose much 2016 production with Andre Johnson, Kendall Wright, Harry Douglas and Anthony Fasano leaving 102 unclaimed targets.
How will these targets be split? I expect Eric Decker to have nearly an identical line as Rishard Matthews posted in 2016 at 65/945/9. Decker just makes too much sense with Mariota — one of the foremost red zone receivers in the NFL (37 of 53 career TDs inside the red zone), paired with a QB with 33 TDs and zero INTs inside the red zone is easy math. The second best pass catcher in Tennessee figures to be some ungodly combination of Davis, Matthews, and Walker trading off catches and yards. For these three, the projection would be similar, hovering around 700 yards and six TDs each. Taywan Taylor is an exciting talent, but for 2017 his fantasy prospects look grim. Training camp will be key for the Tennessee WR core to decide the pecking order. Such a situation devalues the WRs in said offense, but it does benefit one person …
How Good Can Marcus Mariota Be?
Marcus Mariota is so much fun to watch. Not only that, but his special rushing ability combines with pinpoint accuracy in important situations to make him an exciting fantasy QB. His 2016 was very good until it was shut down by injury in Week 17.
Mariota was ninth in fantasy points per game and fifth in fantasy points per dropback. What makes Mariota’s fantasy upside so great is his rushing ability, even if he rarely uses it. Mariota’s 60 rushes ranked seventh among QBs, but his 365 yards was fourth. These 24 extra rushing yards per game help a QB rack up fantasy points extremely quickly, almost making rushing QBs a cheat code. He hasn’t just been a special runner though, he’s been an elite passer.
Mariota’s red zone stats are extraordinary, as mentioned before, and the Titans matched their offseason moves to this strength by adding Decker. One of Mariota’s forgotten strengths is the 20+ yard pass, of which he attempted 69, completing 42%, good for eighth in the NFL. This plays out in a comparison of his air yards, 2,203, thirteenth in the NFL, and total yards, 3,426, 23rd in the NFL. Clearly, yards after the catch was not the Titans strong suit, and they added both Taylor and Davis to rectify that. While the rookie pair may not have an immediate impact, any YAC help will be appreciated.
I expect the Titans to up their pass attempts closer to 550 in 2017, raising Mariota’s total by 100. With 100 more attempts, 4,000 yards and 3o TDs is a realistic jump. Combining that with 400 and four on the ground and 10 INTs gives us around 380 fantasy points, a performance that would have been good for fourth overall in 2016. I’m buying all the Mariota in the ninth round, provided he just shows up to — and doesn’t get hurt — at training camp.
How Will The Backfield Shake Out?
DeMarco Murray is coming off of another 340+ touch season and is approaching 1,700 total touches. Murray looks to have another one or two RB1 seasons remaining, but the question is whether the Titans will manage his workload more in 2017. The Titans gave Murray 21+ touches seven times and the last time he received such a massive season workload, 2014, he had an injury plagued 2015.
In Derrick Henry, the Titans have one of the athletic specimens of the NFL. On 123 touches last year, Henry racked up 627 yards and five TDs. Henry will not take over for Murray in 2017. At best, he’ll see about 175 touches, which could translate to viable production, much like Tevin Coleman in 2016 for the Falcons. The Titans look to be a high flying offense in 2017 and sustaining an RB1 and an RB2, fueled by TDs, is not out of the question. The problem is, drafters are taking Henry as if it’s a guaranteed thing he gets an RB2 finish. Henry has a late sixth round ADP, ahead of the likes of Jamison Crowder, Willie Snead, and Tyrell Williams, all WRs who could be league winners. Henry’s upside is immense, but we need to remember to bake in his downside when we draft him.
Dominating Offensive Line
The Titans have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL and that was a huge part of the combined success of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. The team seems to have their line set, but camp is always important to watch because offensive lineman are frequently injured and even the best lines can fall apart. Keeping an eye on the health and depth of the O-line is a small, but easy thing to do.
One of the Titans’ offensive line keys was using one or two TEs to help protect and block. Backup TEs Anthony Fasano and Phillip Supernaw had a combined 15 games with 30+ snaps. Obviously, the 2017 backup TEs, Supernaw, Jace Amaro and Jonnu Smith, are important for receiving, but if they can’t help out in pass protection they won’t see the field. For these three, especially rookie Jonnu Smith, use training camp to monitor how well they pass block. If Delanie Walker or the O-line suffer an injury, the best blocker will get the first crack.
Watch Out For Tennessee’s D/ST
It might be a little early for this, but I plan to be heavily targeting the Tennessee D/ST in redraft. They currently have a 16th round ADP, 21st D/ST overall, despite adding two key CBs and playing in an interception prone division. Blake Bortles and his backups will throw 18-20 picks a season, Andrew Luck is good for 14-16, DeShaun Watson is a rookie and Tom Savage isn’t very good, and the Titans get six games against that crew.
Tennessee’s other first round pick, Adoree’ Jackson, is an electric KR/PR as well as corner. Logan Ryan may have been the second CB in New England, but he’s one of the best tackling defensive backs and is a needed upgrade. What I’m banking on with the Titans D/ST is the jolt of energy Jackson should provide to an already decent return game. The Titans led the NFL with two punt return TDs and were eighth in PR yards. The punt unit knows what it is doing, and adding a returner with 4.42 speed and a 90th percentile Burst Score should do wonders for Tennessee. Use training camp to determine if Jackson is returning kicks, as he could provide week-winning scoring opportunities.
For more updated news, notes and analysis on the Titans training camp, check out TitansOnline.com and follow the team writers as they break down the above issues and many others. Don’t forget to check out our training camp previews for the other NFL teams here as well.