This series provides a brief overview of the each NFL team’s 2018 season, and the state of their skill positions for fantasy purposes with an eye towards the upcoming campaign and possibly beyond. I will be reviewing each team in the reverse order of the final 2018 standings. Next up … Tennessee.
Tennessee Titans (8-8)
Since looking like a star on the rise in 2016 (finishing as fantasy’s QB11 that year), former second overall draft pick Mariota (2015) dropped to QB16 in 2017, and QB27 this past season. While part of Mariota’s struggles can be attributed to injury (he’s yet to play a full 16-game slate at the NFL level), the 25-year old signal caller’s overall consistency when on the field still leaves much to be desired, having scored fewer than 14 fantasy points in 40 percent of his 55 career starts. We know Mariota is capable of putting up fantasy quarterback stats with the best of them, as we saw in the Tennessee’s 2018 wins over Philadelphia (Week 4), Dallas (Week 9), and the New York Jets (Week 13). It’s just a matter of staying on the field and putting together a string of productive starts. Nothing about Mariota’s underlying 2018 numbers says he can’t be successful. Among quarterbacks who started at least 13 games, Mariota finished fifth in completion percentage, and tied for ninth in yards per attempt (though his averaged yards gained and adjusted net yards ranked in the bottom third of the NFL). Heading into the final season of his rookie deal, Mariota’s career is at a crossroads, as a successful season likely buys a lucrative new contract with Tennessee, whereas a continuation of recent struggles results in a one way ticket out of town next March. Given we don’t really know which Mariota is going to show up this year, it’s hard to recommend him as more than a QB2 in formats that require just one starter at the position, though the upside is there if he can take the next step in becoming the franchise player Tennessee expected him to be by now.
Given Mariota’s fragility, the team struck a deal with Miami to take Ryan Tannehill off their hands. That gives Tennessee a much more capable backup than anyone could wish Matt Cassel or Blaine Gabbert to be. A former Top 10 draft pick himself (2011), Tannehill could potentially find himself on a redemption campaign via 2019 starts if Mariota’s health once again fails to cooperate or his overall on-field play doesn’t improve.
With DeMarco Murray having retired following the 2017 season, it appeared Henry would finally be unshackled for good and be free to take over the Tennessee backfield. That thought didn’t last long, however, as the team saw fit to sign ex-New England Patriot Lewis during 2018 free agency (four years, $20 million), leaving it to be anyone’s guess as to what the division of labor would be going forward. Henry ended up operating as the nominal “starter,” though he averaged just 11.5 touches and 48 total yards per contest over Tennessee’s first 12 games. Then, starting with Week 14’s demolition of Jacksonville, a tectonic shift occurred over the team’s final four games, where Henry averaged 151.5 total yards via 22.5 touches per contest. While Henry did finish as the points per reception (PPR) overall RB16 on the season, it’s worth noting that 111.8 of his 201 fantasy points came in those aforementioned four contests, while his legendary 99-yard touchdown skews his 4.9 yards per carry average by 0.5. Having now witnessed what happens when the ball is repeatedly placed in Henry’s belly, the Tennessee coaching staff should feel empowered to feed the former second round draft pick (2016) consistently. What keeps Henry’s upside capped at the RB1/RB2 borderline is pass catching, as he’s averaged just 13 receptions per season since entering the NFL three years ago, and as long as the team is paying Lewis, I don’t see that changing.
Speaking of Lewis, he crushed his Tennessee debut in Week 1 with 110 total yards and a score, though quickly found out the grass isn’t necessarily greener outside of Foxboro, Mass. Fr0m Week 2 onward, Lewis eclipsed the 70 scrimmage yard threshold just twice, and crossed the goal line only one more time. Turning 29 in September, Lewis appears maxed out as an expensive passing down back at this stage in his career, and will likely only garner significant playing time in contests that Tennessee falls behind on the scoreboard early.