The 2017 NFL regular season has concluded, so it’s time to briefly examine the state of each team’s skill positions for fantasy purposes with an eye towards next season. Having covered all of 2017’s non-playoff NFL teams, it’s time to review the rest, with the next squad being:
Tennessee Titans (9-7)
Marcus Mariota took a large step backward in 2017, with just five games where he accounted for multiple scores after compiling 10 such contests the year prior. Mariota’s cause was not helped by a severe hamstring injury that resulted in one missed contest and restricted mobility in several others (though he still managed a healthy 5.2 yards-per-carry (YPC) on the season and a career-high five rushing touchdowns). With second-year wideout Corey Davis on track to enter training camp healthy, receiving specialist Dion Lewis now in the fold, and a new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur (formerly of the Rams) calling the shots, Mariota should be better set up to replicate or even surpass his 2016 breakout. I would be shocked if Mariota’s sub-par 2017 ends up being nothing more than a speed bump and would feel comfortable taking him as a back-end QB1 with upside in fantasy drafts this Summer.
Despite logging just one game with more than 66 rushing yards in 2017, the Titans were stubbornly committed to DeMarco Murray as their lead back for the majority of the season before an MCL tear suffered during a Week 16 loss to the Rams knocked him out for the remainder of the season. With Murray out, Derrick Henry was finally given the starters workload his advocates had been pining for since he had been drafted, and the results were mixed. In his first career NFL start, Henry put up 117 total yards and a receiving score on 29 touches against the Jaguars, though most of that came on a 66-yard reception, and he averaged a paltry 1.8 YPC. In the Titans’ wild-card matchup the following week, Henry ran rampant for 191 total yards and a touchdown on 23 touches as his team dismantled the favored Kansas City Chiefs before being shut down in the AFC semi-final matchup against the New England Patriots (Henry had just 49 total scoreless yards on 15 touches in that matchup). Henry performed well enough during the season for the Titans to feel comfortable releasing Murray last March, but it didn’t prevent the team from bringing in Dion Lewis on a four-year $23 million free agent contract. Finally healthy and coming off a career season that saw him put up over 1,000 total yards and average 5.0 YPC with the Patriots, Lewis is a legitimate threat to Henry’s workload and fantasy RB1 potential now and in the future. My initial take on the Titans backfield sees Henry in a two-down thumper role in the mold of Jordan Howard, while Lewis handles the majority of the passing game work with some carries sprinkled in. Interestingly, Murray is still a free agent as of this writing, and at 30-years old, isn’t completely over the hill yet as he is still just two years removed from a 1,200-yard rushing campaign.
Despite regressing in nearly every stat category, Rishard Matthews led all Tennessee wideouts in receiving yardage for a second year in a row, and was a bit boom-or-bust with just five contests where he had at least 70 receiving yards and/or a touchdown, and eight where he was held out of the end zone and posted 50 receiving yards or fewer. While a hamstring injury that caused Matthews to miss Weeks 12 and 13 was widely viewed as the primary culprit for his slow second half of 2017, it’s also apparent his days as the Titans’ no. 1 wideout are close to over. The Titans were hopeful Eric Decker could inject a steady veteran presence to their passing game after signing him to a one-year $3.85 million deal last June, but that backfired as he caught just one touchdown pass after crossing the goal line 49 times over his last five non-injury shortened seasons as a starter (2011-2015). The Titans took Corey Davis with the fifth overall pick in last year’s draft with visions that he would ascend immediately to the top of the wideout depth chart, though a hamstring injury of Davis’ own that caused him to miss most of the preseason put the kibosh on those plans. Davis did make it back onto the field in time for the Titans’ season opener, though he re-aggravated the injury after just the teams’ first two games and missed the ensuing six. Finally returning to the Titans’ active lineup in Week 9, Davis put up more than 48 receiving yards just once the rest of the regular season. Decker was not re-signed by the Titans, which clears the way for Davis to begin 2018 as a starter and it’s only a matter of time before he usurps Matthews as the top Tennessee wideout; if that isn’t already the case when training camp commences this Summer. The small-but-speedy Taywan Taylor, who was also drafted a year ago (third-round) is another candidate for a second-year leap assuming he is given a larger role in the offense.
Delanie Walker ended up being the Titans’ clubhouse leader in catches and receiving yards last season despite laboring through various lower body injuries throughout the year (yet did not miss any time). A dependable target during his time in Tennessee, Walker has not posted fewer than 800 receiving yards in any of his four campaigns with the Titans. Walker turns 34 this August, and should be in line for one more season of mid-tier TE1 production, figuring to be no worse than the second or third option in the Titans’ passing tree. Second-year man Jonnu Smith (chosen in the third-round of last April’s draft) is held in high regard as Walker’s replacement for when the veteran moves on in the near future, though the former is still recovering from a torn MCL suffered in the Titans’s Divisional Round playoff loss to the Patriots. Smith could have significant fantasy value as early as this season should an injury befall Walker.