Preseason - 2021 Tennessee Titans Outlook
Tennessee Titans Outlook
After going 9-7 each season from 2016 to 2019, the Titans pushed their record to 11-5 with an AFC South title. Mike Vrabel went 29-14 in his first three years as head coach while reaching the postseason in back-to-back seasons. All seven years of his coaching experience in the NFL came on the defense side of the ball. Vrabel played in the league for 14 seasons at linebacker. His ties to New England and three Super Bowl titles were a big part of his path to a head coaching job.
Tennessee jumped to 4th in points scored (491), and 2nd in yards gained. They scored 89 more points than in 2019. The Titans finished with the best offense since the early 90s, with Warren Moon leading the show.
Todd Downing takes over as the offensive coordinator after working as Tennessee's tight end coach in 2019 and 2020. He's been a coach in the NFL since 2005. He led the Raiders' offense for one season in 2017.
The Titans promoted Shane Bowen to run the defense, which came a year after not having a defensive coordinator. Over the last three seasons, he worked as a linebacker coach for Tennessee. Bowen has five seasons of coaching experience in the pros at the age of 34.
The defensive side of the ball declined for the second straight season. The Titans allowed the ninth-highest number of points (439 – 108 more than 2019) while finishing 28th in yards allowed.
Tennessee lost two key players (WR Corey Davis and TE Jonnu Smith) off their offense and two starters (CB Desmond King and DE Jadeveon Clowney).
Davis showed more explosiveness and consistency last year after struggling to fulfill his expected value after getting drafted in the first round in 2017. He set career highs in receiving yards (984) and touchdowns (5) while matching his 2018 season in catches (65). Davis posted four impact games (7/101, 8/128/1, 11/182/1, and 4/110/1). He missed two games with a Covid issue.
Smith has improved his stats each year in the NFL. He set career bests in catches (41), yards (448), and touchdowns (8) despite receiving only 65 targets. His season started with 18 catches for 221 and five touchdowns over four games, but Smith failed to score over 12.00 fantasy points over his last 12 games (including the playoffs). He gained over 35 yards in one contest over this span.
King added value to the run defense with some success blitzing the quarterback. When at his best over his first three seasons with the Chargers, King made 189 tackles with 6.5 sacks, 17 defended passes, and four interceptions.
Clowney continues to underachieve in the pass rush (32 sacks in 83 career games) while making his fourth franchise change since 2018. Over the last two seasons, he missed 13 starts. His game does play well in run support.
The Titans added DE Bud Dupree and WR Josh Reynolds in the offseason.
Dupree missed five games last season due to a torn ACL in his left knee. He delivered 19.5 sacks over his previous 27 games while being a liability in most seasons in run support. He continues to miss too many tackles.
Reynolds worked as the 3rd/4th wide receiver for the Rams over the last four seasons. His catch rate (50.8) over his first three seasons. Last year, Los Angeles gave him more chances close to the line of scrimmage, leading to a bump in his overall production (52/618/2).
The only other player of value lost was DT DaQuan Jones, who signed with the Panthers. His play worked well against the run over the past two seasons while offering minimal sacks (eight over his last 92 games).
Three of their first four selections by Tennessee in the 2021 NFL Draft came on the defensive side of the ball (CB Caleb Farley, LB Monty Rice, and CB Elijah Molden).
Farley brings a press coverage skill set to the Titans with the speed to cover his receivers over the long field. He is a former quarterback with limited experience playing at cornerback. His success at college came from his physical talents, but Farley can't push higher without improving his technique and his feel for play development in tight quarters. With first-round pedigree, he has a boom or bust feel.
Rice has a do you job mentality with excellent timing and feel for his responsibilities against the run. His vision is a significant plus, which offset his lack of impact speed. Rice should be a productive player at the next level on early downs.
Molden has the foundation skill set to be a top cornerback, but his only missing trait is his overall speed. He plays with vision and excellent cover skills, and the ability to support the run. Molden should excel over the short areas of the field and in the red zone. His lack of size (5'9" and 192 lbs.) is a concern, and top wide receivers with speed will test him in deep coverage.
T Dillon Radunz came to Tennessee via a second-round pick. His game should fire in a quick-hitting run game where his first step and power play well. His range looks limited, putting him at risk when facing pass rushers outside his frame. Radunz projects better at guard than at tackle.
The Titans invested in a pair of wide receivers in the fourth and sixth rounds – Dez Fitzpatrick and Racey McMath.
Fitzpatrick gives Tennessee a wideout who will test a defense deep with jump ball ability in the end zone, but his release and hands limit his explosiveness. His lack of quickness and route-running point to minimal value over the short areas of the field. Fitzpatrick won't create in the open field and make good reads on option routes.
McMath needs to clean up his release and route running to take advantage of his plus speed. His hands and ability to catch in tight quarters look to be assets. He'll struggle with press coverage while owning a limited flight plan. McMath does project well on special teams.
DE Rashad Weaver and S Brady Breeze were the Titans' other two additions in the fourth and sixth rounds.
Weaver packs a winning punch, which is the only club in his bag that disrupts after the snap. He won't win with speed or quickness, and his willingness to fire can lead to mistakes against the run. His game projects better on early downs where his power will disrupt and create sneaky value in sacks.
Breeze plays well when attacking the line of scrimmage against the run, but he will short circuit if meeting big bodies. His cover skill doesn't project well, and speed will be a problem at the next level. Breeze plays with vision and an excellent feel for play development. In his rookie season, he may have to earn his keep in the coverage game.
The Titans moved up a notch to second in the NFL in rushing yards (2,690) with 26 touchdowns and 20 runs over 20 yards. Their ball carriers gained 5.2 yards per rush.
Tennessee slipped to 23rd in passing yards (3,826) with 33 passing touchdowns and seven interceptions. Their quarterbacks gained only 7.9 yards per pass attempt with only 44 completions over 20 yards. The Titans' offensive line allowed 25 sacks.
LT Taylor Lewan
Lewan has been a top player at his position over his six seasons in the league. Last year he missed 11 games with a right shoulder issue and a torn ACL in his right knee. His best value comes in pass protection while showing strength in run blocking in most of his years in the league. Lewan is a former first-round draft pick (2014).
LG Rodger Saffold
Saffold signed a four-year $44 million contract with the Titans in 2019. His game was elite from 2012 to 2014 as a pass protector while developing into an excellent balanced player over his next four seasons. Since arriving in Tennessee, Safford showed more risk in pass protection while having a high floor in run blocking.
C Ben Jones
Jones now has seven straight years on his resume, where he's been a league-average player or better in all areas. Jones hasn't missed a game over his past seven seasons after being drafted in the fourth round in 2012. In 2020, Jones allowed minimal pressure and no sacks.
RG Nate Davis
The Titans added Davis in the third round in 2019. He finished as a liability in his rookie season in all areas. His run blocking improved last year, where it can now be considered better than the league average. Davis still allows too much pressure on the quarterback.
RT Dillon Radunz
Tennessee may ease Radunz into action in his rookie season. They wasted a first-round selection on T Isaiah Wilson in 2020, forcing the Titans to place another early draft bet on the offensive line this year. Radunz has experience at tackle with more value in run blocking early in his career. I expect him to be a liability if he does indeed start.
The left side of the Titans' offensive line ranks near the top of the league, with a player of value at the center position. Defenses will attack the quarterback on the right side until Davis and Radunz show growth in pass protection. Overall, the Titans should run the ball well again while seeing an increase in sacks allowed.
Tennessee ran the ball 51.9 percent of the time in 2020 while offering explosiveness in scoring in the passing game. Ideally, the Titans want to play well defensively while running the ball when playing from the lead.
QB Ryan Tannehill, TEN - Quality Backup
Over his 28 starts for the Titans, Tannehill has 18 wins and 10 losses with two trips to the postseason. Last year he set a career-high in passing touchdowns (33) while offering his best production on the ground (43/266/7). Tannehill finished eighth in quarterback scoring (390.55 fantasy points) in four-point passing touchdown leagues. He averaged 255 combined yards per game despite Tennessee attempting the third-lowest number of passing attempts (481).
Tannehill scored over 29.00 fantasy points in six matchups (29.15, 31.95, 34.30, 32.45, 39.75, and 30.60), with five of these games coming at home. Twenty-five of his 40 scores came at home. He passed for over 300 yards three times.
Fantasy Outlook: His receiving core took a hit in the offseason by losing WR Corey Davis and TE Jonnu Smith, and the Titans continue to lack depth and strength at both wide receiver and tight end. A.J. Brown has a high ceiling, but Tannehill will struggle to find open receivers in many games. In the early draft season, he ranks as the 14th quarterback drafted, which is too high based on the structure of the Titans' offense. I expect a drop of 12 to 15 touchdowns with dull production in passing yards. At best, Tannehill is a bye-week cover with backend QB2 value.
Other Option: Logan Woodside, DeShone Kizer
RB Derrick Henry, TEN - Stud (low risk)
The Titans barely used their running backs in the passing game (36/219/2 on 56 targets). On the running side, Tennessee led the NFL in running back rushing yards (2,414) thanks to a league-high in rushing attempts (472). They scored 17 touchdowns on the ground for the second straight year.
In each year in the NFL, Henry improved on his output in rushing yards, along with his rushing attempts. In 2020, he had the fifth-most rushing yards (2,027) in NFL history for a single season on a league-high 378 attempts. Henry had 16 runs over 20 yards, and four of those carries reach the 40-yard mark. He 47 touches over his past 47 games.
His best two games (22/264/2 with two catches and 34/250/2) came against the Texans. Henry had gained over 100 yards in seven other matchups while delivering over 200 yards in one other game (26/215/2 and two catches). He averaged a career-high 5.4 yards per rush.
Fantasy Outlook: Of the seven other running backs to rush for over 2,000 yards, Barry Sanders had the smallest regression in rushing yards (562 – 2,053 in 1997 and 1,491 in 1998) the following season. Henry is horseback, with a short opportunity in the passing game. The lack of talent at wide receiver should lead to fewer big plays. He has the makings of a first-round bust based on the direction of this offense.
WEEK 9 UPDATE: Henry suffered a broken bone in his foot and is expected to miss the remainder of the season. One of the great RB runs in history comes to a premature end...
RB Darrynton Evans, CHI - Fantasy Handcuff
In 2018 in college, he worked more a change of pace back (179/1187/7), which led to 6.6 yards per rush and minimal chances in the passing game (12/87/1). In 2019, Evans developed into a lead runner with value on three downs (1,678 combined yards with 23 touchdowns and 21 catches on 276 touches). His best game came in Week 2 against Charlotte (19/234/3).
Evans attacks quickly after the snap with the idea of making big plays. His movements in space will threaten every level of the defense. He'll break tackles with the moves and quickness to beat defenders to the hole. Evans needs to improve as an inside runner. I expect him to hold his own in pass protection while having the upside feel in the passing game.
A hamstring injury cost Evans 11 games in his rookie season. He finished with only 81 combined yards with a touchdown and two catches on 16 touches.
Fantasy Outlook: Evans brings plus speed and change of pace value. The Titans will get him on the field, but he projects more as an upside handcuff with a minimal opportunity out of the gate.
Other Options: Jeremy McNichols, Brian Hill, Mekhi Sargent
RB Jeremy McNichols, PIT - Sleeper (undervalued)
McNichols is already in the top-15 in running back targets and now with the loss of Derrick Henry should be even more involved in Tennessee's new pass-heavy offense. View McNichols as a solid add with RB3/FLEX value in PPR leagues.Injury Status: Injured Reserve
AP is 36 but still looked quite effective last season, punching in seven TDs for the lowly Lions. He won't see a ton of targets but Peterson can be a decent first and second-down option behind an elite Titan's offensive line.
WR A.J. Brown, PHI - Solid/Safe Pick
The wide receiver opportunity for the Titans increased over the past two seasons. Their wideouts accounted for 69 percent of Tennessee's passing yards, with about 59 percent of the team's completions.
Over his first two seasons, Brown gained over 1,000 yards each year (52/1,051 and 70/1,075) while scoring 19 touchdowns in 30 games. In the offseason, he had surgery on both knees. Even with an explosive feel and an improving catch rate (66), Brown doesn't have the opportunity to match the elite wide receivers in the game.
He gained over 100 yards in four contests (6/153/1, 4/101/1, 7/112/1, and 10/151/1) when he picked up nine of his 13 catches over 20 yards. Brown had over five catches in five of his 14 starts.
In his career, he gained 17.4 yards per catch, with 13 of his 122 catches gaining 40 yards or more.
Fantasy Outlook: Brown finished 12th in wide receiver scoring (248.50 fantasy points) in PPR leagues despite missing two games, which was nine spots higher than 2019 (217.30 fantasy points). With a dropdown at WR2 in Tennessee, his freedoms in the secondary could be less, but Brown should see more targets by default. His early ADP (22) as the fifth wideout draft points an impact player. His next step should be 90 catches for 1,300 yards and a floor of 12 touchdowns.