by Dan Trader (@RotoNostra)
In fantasy football, only single players are highlighted and given room to shine, regardless if they’re on a great or horrible team in real life. So what I chose to do instead of standard power rankings was take a look at all 32 NFL teams and rank them based on their fantasy relevance for the 2016 season in standard leagues, considering their current rosters, systems and surrounding conditions as criteria. Much can change between now and the opening of the regular season, but the following rankings are merely opinions from my perspective based on the current state of affairs and are ranked in the order in which I would invest in them, not based on which teams will have the best records at the end of the season.
The rest of the rankings can be found here.
The Titans ranked near the bottom of several offensive categories in 2015: 30th in yards per game, fifth fewest points per game, sixth fewest yards per play, and most notably allowed the most sacks. While there seems to only be one direction to go after finishing 3-13, there’s a reason why this franchise obtained back to back draft picks in the top two, so staying stagnant is absolutely another possibility.
Improvement is achievable with Marcus Mariota at the helm though, and we know he’s capable of putting up decent fantasy numbers because at the very least he will most likely be playing from behind most of the time. Much needs to go right before this offensive unit is successful in the NFL though, but I do believe fantasy value is brewing in Tennessee for the future. As of right now though, one could say, “a man is skeptical for the upcoming 2016 season.”
The Titans kept interim head coach Mike Mularkey after parting ways with Ken Whisenhunt. That could be a positive from a continuity standpoint for the players getting used to his system. He hasn’t had much success as a head coach though (5-27 record in last 32 games as a HC), but to his credit has been effective developing young quarterbacks like Kordell Stewart and Matt Ryan, and also directed top-tier offenses during that span of time as offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh and Atlanta.
But as a head coach, his offensive production has generally been below average. And he’s never worked with a quarterback as mobile as Mariota. So I’m curious to see how things play out, because you can ignore what’s being said every time you hear the words “exotic smash-mouth” and “Tennessee Titans” in the same sentence.
Terry Robiskie is the new offensive coordinator after spending the past eight seasons as the wide receivers coach with the Atlanta Falcons. Julio Jones and Roddy White were developed under his tenure and I think he could have similar success with the Titans receiving corps over time.
QB Protection Plan
The Titans have some talent on the offensive line even if they did give up a league high 54 sacks in 2015.
The team has a decent amount riding on the ascension of their offensive line with the likes of Taylor Lewan, Ben Jones, Chance Warmack and now Jack Conklin. The left guard spot seems to currently be a rotation of players and was certainly a weakness last season. Solidarity and familiarity throughout the line can only be gained through game time experience playing alongside of each other and much of the successes on offense will depend on this unit. If the line can click together, improvements could come in leaps and bounds. However, that continuity takes time to develop, so things are little uncertain right now. Plus last season several linemen were dealing with injuries, and Mariota was on pace to put up a great statistical rookie season, and he was ultimately unable to play the entire year because of those injuries and lack of depth on the offensive line.
Who Can We Trust in the Back Field?
We know the Titans want to run the ball, despite sporting the fifth fewest attempts per game in 2015. If they want to be effective in the passing game and keep their QB upright, I hope they intend to assemble a better rushing attack than the unit that ranked 25th in the league in average offensive rush yards per game last season.
Tennessee drafted Alabama’s Derrick Henry in the second round of the NFL Draft on the heels of signing DeMarco Murray during the offseason. Murray figures to be the lead back in Tennessee during Henry’s rookie season, but this has all the makings for a committee attack in my opinion, at least until Henry is capable of taking on the bulk of the workload. After Murray, he’s easily the best back on the depth chart and definitely an interesting player for dynasty, playing with an exciting young QB behind a line that has future potential.
Several media outlets have pointed out that Murray’s abysmal numbers in Philadelphia during 2015 exceeded Tennessee’s rushing production, and I definitely feel like Murray is in the position to put up reliable fantasy numbers, but his ceiling isn’t currently as high as it was for him in Dallas, given the committee approach and severe downgrade at o-line, so it will always be a question leading into games how the touches will be split until we learn something meaningful this off-season. I personally tend to avoid drafting players in committee roles if the upside doesn’t outweigh the price on draft day and the player doesn’t have stand-alone value. That value is probably more determined by your gumption to gamble than anything else, because it isn’t out of the realm of possibility (at least right now) that Henry gets the goal line work.
Who Will Step Up in the Receiving Game?
The NFL community has been excited to see what the league would make of Dorial Green-Beckham, who is currently coming into his second season. We know he has the speed and measureables to succeed in the NFL, but will (can) he put it all together and translate it into something meaningful? Maybe under Robiskie we will see him flourish. He put up encouraging numbers last season with 32 receptions for 549 yards and four touchdowns, even though he only started 5 games.
Rishard Matthews was added during the offseason and could be a player who can provide immediate security for Mariota in the receiving unit. We’ve seen flashes from Matthews that might suggest he’s capable of attracting a lot of targets on quick and intermediate routes since he’s not afraid to go up for contested catches. But going into his fifth season, we’ll have to see if he can put it together into something meaningful.
The team also drafted Tajae Sharpe, who was recently reported to be running with the first-team at practice. He has the frame to box out defenders to make catches at 6’2 and 194 pounds and had a productive senior year at Massachusetts with 111 receptions in 2015 to back it up. He’s also been credited as one of the best route runners in his class, which may be the reason why he’s getting a chance with the first team this early. That or the team is getting impatient with DGB. Sharpe’s main knock, however, is the quality of his opponents in the FBS.
Whether it’s DBG, Matthews, or Sharpe, there’s an opportunity for someone to step up in the receiving unit and produce with the likes of Harry Douglas, Kendall Wright, and Justin Hunter, all of whom have issues with consistency, remaining on the depth chart.
As of right now, seems that Delanie Walker is the most proven big-play threat in Mariota’s arsenal. Tipped passes count, right? Walker put up numbers similar to wide receivers last season and ranked ninth in receiving at the end of the year with 94 receptions on 133 targets (70.7 catch percentage) for 1088 yards and six touchdowns while only starting in 10 games (15 games played).
Even though he’s seen an increase in targets, receptions and TDs over the last three seasons, Walker will be 32 in August going into his 11th season. We’ve most likely seen Walker at maximum output and he is most likely primed for regression in 2016, but still has value at a shallow position in fantasy.
While I may be optimistic beyond 2016, I’m not expecting much from Tennessee this season in 2015, but there are several opportunities for fantasy production at the skill positions. Depending on how your team looks, I wouldn’t be afraid to invest in Mariota, Henry, DGB, or Sharpe in dynasty leagues. Green-Beckham and Sharpe could also be late-round fliers in re-draft leagues. Additionally, if I selected Mariota outside of Two-QB leagues, he wouldn’t be drafted to function as my starter and not until later rounds. DeMarco Murray could end up reliably producing in Tennessee at a great value in re-drafts, but based on the state of his offensive line, much like the rest of the team, it’s far from a sure-thing.