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Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) passes as he is pressured by New England Patriots linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley (51) in the first half of a preseason NFL football game on Aug. 17, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn.
Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) passes as he is pressured by New England Patriots linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley (51) in the first half of a preseason NFL football game on Aug. 17, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn.|James Kenney | Associated Press
NFL

Fantasy Life NFL Preview: 2019 Tennessee Titans – Will Marcus Mariota take the next step?

Aden Ware

The Titans surprised people with an impressive turnout despite coming in third in the division. Tennessee finished 9–7 and were just one win away from securing a playoff berth. Despite the success of the team, there weren’t a lot of useable players for fantasy owners in 2018.

Off-Season Changes

The big coaching change for the Titans is that offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur left town to go be the head coach in Green Bay. The team also didn’t acquire any big names (unless you count Adam Hunphries as a big name) and secures mostly linemen and defensive players in the draft as well as highly touted rookie A.J. Brown to add to their wide receiver corps in the second round. This was a good unit last year and will be going into 2019 with more or less the same cast of characters.

Fantasy Outlook

Last year when I wrote this team up I said they were one of the most intriguing teams in the league because so much was uncertain. Shockingly enough I think that’s still true this year. Marcus Mariota had another really bad year. However, most of that was due to injury. Not just the games he sat out for, but his ability to actually throw the ball was severely compromised with nerve damage to his elbow. I have no idea if Mariota will take the next step or not this year. I do know that, even though I acknowledge his down year was from injury, I am not going to ride into the season with Mariota. He’s had too many chances and hasn’t delivered for fantasy owners. However, I will also acknowledge that a year being healthy, with the addition of Brown and a healthy Delanie Walker and another year with head coach Mike Vrabel, Mariota could finally step it up. That’s why I like him where he’s going in drafts: un-drafted. We can wait and see what happens in the first few weeks and maybe put in a free agent bid if he’s flashing the way we all think he can.

The next position is also highly murky to me for fantasy owners. The same two guys are back in the backfield — Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis. Last year these guys were going pretty close together and this year they are not and I have no idea why. Henry is going as RB 21 in the fourth round while Dion Lewis is being ignored and going as running back 56 in the 13th Round. Yes, Henry finished the season as RB 14 with 1,059 rushing yards while Lewis ended the season as RB 31 with 517. I won’t argue with that, so, why am I not sold on Henry? Because we’ve been through this before. For starters, Henry was horrible last season. Don’t let the big flashy game fool you. More than half of Henry’s production came in the last four games and literally a quarter of it came in one game. The first 12 games of the season he never topped 58 yards.

Now, some people are going to say, “oh well now they know they have to ride Henry to win so he’s going to get more volume.” And to that I say – so what? First off, it’s a stretch to say that because they won some games with big carry numbers for Henry means they’ll ride him next year. They beat Philly, Dallas and New England with a grand total of 25 carries across those three games. That’s just eight carries a game and they beat three very good teams. Secondly, they lost the biggest game of the year to the Colts where he touched it 16 times. Even if I were to concede that they will ride him this year, that doesn’t mean he’s going to be very good. He has a game on his record where he carried the ball 28 times and guess how many yards he got — 51! He had 28 carries for only 51 yards and no touchdowns. I like Henry as a player, but all of these arguments propping him up as this top tier guy are getting out of hand. Throughout the season Lewis was more efficient than he was and is going to catch more passes. I’m not saying take Lewis over Henry, but I am saying I think this is going to be more of a split than people think and this wide a gap in draft season is going to wind up looking silly. Lewis is who I’m drafting just because I don’t think it’s wise to take a guy in the fourth based on presumed work load.

The next mystery box is Corey Davis and I still don’t know what to think about this guy. Last year I said he was completely dominant in college but missed the combine and his rookie year was full of injuries. This year I’m saying the exact same thing. He played all 16, but his quarterback situation was awful. Yes, stud wide receivers should be QB proof, but even if Davis is a future stud he was still essentially a rookie. Remember his first year he was out for more than half of the year. Last year was his first year healthy but he had a new coach and offensive coordinator to adjust to as well as an injured QB who couldn’t grip the ball. Despite all of that he still finished the year as the WR 27 with 65 catches for 891 yards. He also showed us big flashes of what he was capable of giving us two games with more than 100 yards and a touchdown, again, despite his QB. I don’t know what to do with Davis this year, but I do love his ninth round ADP. I’m taking shots on him every draft I can because I do think he can win you your league, he’s flashed that, the talent is there, it’s just up to him and Mariota to take this next step up together.

I’m not drafting any of the other wide receivers. Even if Mariota does step it up I don’t think this offense can support multiple wide outs, especially since the next best guy on the team is a rookie. If you’re into shallow catches close to the line as dump offs, Humphries can be interesting but that’s not really my think. I do, however, really like Walker. Walker is one of my favorite values at tight end going in the 12th round of drafts. The tight end position is gross this year and if you can’t get a top guy like Travis Kelce or George Kittle and you can’t snag a high upside guy like OJ Howard or Vance MacDonald, then old reliable is the way I want to go at the end of my draft.

2019 Outlook

The Titans may not have the best team on paper. Their skill positions are all pretty questionable and they have a questionable quarterback. However, Vrabel has shown he knows how to win and he’s not afraid to win ugly at all. This team is likely to be third in the division again, but if things break right they could still manage to be a playoff contender. Remember they were one game away last year with an unhealthy quarterback.

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