|By Shawn Childs, Wednesday, August 30, 2023|
2023 Tennessee Titans Outlook
After going 9-7 each season from 2016 to 2019, the Titans pushed their record to 11-5 and 12-5 with two AFC South titles. Last season, Tennessee finished with its first losing record (7-10) since 2015. Mike Vrabel went 48-34 in his five years as head coach, reaching the postseason from 2019 to 2021. All four years of his previous 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 fell to 28th in points scored (298) and 30th in yards gained. They scored 121 fewer points than in 2021 and 193 less than in 2020.
Tim Kelly takes over as the Titans' offensive coordinator after working as Tennessee's pass game coordinator in 2022. He ran the Houston Texans' offense from 2019 to 2021. Kelly has nine years of coaching experience in the NFL, with eight coming in Houston.
This Titans gave Shane Bowen a third chance to run their defense. Over his previous four seasons, he worked as a linebacker coach for Tennessee. Bowen has six seasons of coaching experience in the pros at the age of 36.
Tennessee's defense fell to 14th in points allowed (359 – five more than in 2021) and 23rd in yards allowed.
Their defense lost LB David Long (MIA) and DT DeMarcus Walker (CHI) to free agency. They signed DE Arden Key, LB Azeez Al-Shaair, and CB Sean Murphy-Bunting to the defensive side of the ball. TE Austin Hooper found a new home with the Raiders. The only other change came on the offensive line. G Nate Davis moved on to Chicago, while G Andre Dillard signed a three-year deal for $29 million to return to left tackle.
The 2023 NFL Draft class for the Tennessee Titans was about improving their offense. They added two offensive linemen – T Peter Skoronski (1st) and T Jaelyn Duncan (6th).
Skoronski played left tackle in college, but his future for the Titans appears to be at guard, at least early in his career. He has a high foundation in his skill set that helps him win with power blocking in the run game. Any risk in pass protection comes from away from his frame while needing to improve his plan after the snap.
Duncan is a second player for Tennessee with experience at left tackle who projects to be a better player at guard. His flow and movements give him upside in pass protection. He must improve the finish of his blocks and add nastiness to his game. Duncan can be pushed off his mark by pass rushers while struggling vs. defenders transitioning well from speed to power.
In the second round, the Titans took another flier on their future quarterback (Will Levis). He comes to the NFL with a big arm and the size (6'4" and 230 lbs.) teams look for in a pocket passer. Levis has a quick release with a willingness to stand tall under duress. His most significant need is improving his timing and rhythm of passes over the short areas of the field that start with better footwork. He played through some injuries last season, hurting his overall stats.
The final pieces added were RB Tyjae Spears, TE Josh Whyle, and WR Colton Dowell.
Spears has a good feel for a developing opening at the line of scrimmage while offering the moves and wiggle to make defenders miss in the open field. He must improve his patience and fire after the initial handoff. His hands and value in the passing game appear to be limited, along with his pass protection skills.
Whyle has to improve his blocking and release vs. press coverage. He projects as a pass catcher while having a reasonable floor in his route running. Whyle will win his share of jump balls with a feel of how to get open in zone coverage and down the seam. His lower body does need some work to improve his play strength.
Dowell isn't close to being NFL-ready in his route running, but he can get off the line of scrimmage vs. press coverage. His speed and quickness grade well for his size (6'3" and 210 lbs.). For now, he projects as a deep threat with potential scoring value at the goal line.
The Titans fell to 13th in the NFL in rushing yards (2,131) with 16 touchdowns and 13 runs over 20 yards. Their ball carriers gained 4.4 yards per rush.
Tennessee slipped to 29th in passing yards (3,227) with 16 passing touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Their quarterbacks gained 7.1 yards per pass attempt with only 41 completions over 20 yards. The Titans' offensive line struggled again with sacks (49 – 47 in 2021).
LT Andre Dillard has yet to earn a starting job in the NFL despite getting selected 22nd overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. He came off the bench in 2019 and 2021, with most of his snaps coming at left tackle. Unfortunately, he missed 2020 with a torn biceps while only seeing 58 snaps last season due to a broken forearm.
Incoming rookie Peter Skoronski is slated to start at left guard, where he should excel in run blocking. His high pedigree gives him an opportunity to hit the ground running.
The center and right guard positions are in full rebuild mode, with no one standing out to provide an edge. RT Nicholas Petit-Frere struggled in his first season after Tennessee drafted him in the third round in 2022.
The Titans want to run the ball, but their offensive line ranks well below the league average while having two potential assets. If Dillard plays up to his first-round value and stays healthy, Tennessee should hold its own on the left side of its line.
QB Ryan Tannehill - Bye Week Fill-in
Since arriving in Tennessee in 2019, Tannehill has a 36-19 record with three playoff appearances. The injury to Derrick Henry in 2021 led to him seeing a slight bump in pass attempts (531) from 2020 (481).
Last season, he missed five matchups with an ankle injury, leading to regression in his role in the run game (34/98/2). Tannehill averaged only 27.1 passes, but 16.5% of his completions gained 20 yards or more. He threw for fewer than 200 yards in six games. His only outcome of value came in Week 11 (330/2). Tannehill has been sacked 80 times over 29 starts in 2021 and 2022.
Fantasy Outlook: With a questionable offensive line and below-league-average receiver options, Tannehill falls to the have-nots area of fantasy drafts at the quarterback position. He tends to be better than a game manager when on his game, but this offense appears to be moving in the wrong direction. At best, 3,500 passing yards with about 25 combined scores and some help in rushing stats
QB Will Levis - Dynasty Only
Over his last two seasons at Kentucky, Levis completed 65.7% of his 5,232 yards with 43 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. He rushed for 376 yards and nine touchdowns in 2021 in 107 carries, but his value as a runner was severely diminished last year (72/-107/2).
After passing for more than 300 yards in three of his first four games in 2022, the rigors of the SEC led to him failing to gain more than 230 yards via the air in his next seven starts while averaging only 23.7 pass attempts.
Fantasy Outlook: Levis should have the inside track to win the backup quarterback job based on his ability to move the chains with his arm. He'll also have a closer skill set to Ryan Tannehill, making it easier for Tennessee to run the same offense with him behind center.
QB Malik Willis - Not Draft Worthy
In the new age of the NFL, more teams are looking for a mobile quarterback who offers a run/pass option to their game. Over two seasons at Liberty, Willis rushed for 1,922 yards on 338 carries with 27 rushing touchdowns. However, his completion rate (62.4) needs work, and interceptions (12) were an issue in 2021. He gained 8.5 yards per pass attempt, leading to 5,107 passing yards with 47 touchdowns over his final two seasons in college. However, over his last three games in 2021, Willis completed only 49.0% of his 104 passes for 698 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions while facing Louisiana, Army, and Eastern Michigan. He also struggled to run the ball over his final six starts (72/223/4 – 3.1 yards per rush).
Willis can drive the ball when given a clean pocket, thanks to his plus arm strength. He also showed touch on deep passes. His challenge at the next level is reading defenses and making throws on time under duress. Willis needs plenty of work on his mechanics. NFL defense will force him to beat them via the pocket, where tips balls and his inaccuracy will become a problem early in his career. When given a chance to run, Willis will be dangerous in the open field. However, I expect him to struggle with passing touchdowns in the red zone.
In his rookie season, he completed 50.8% of his passes for 276 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions. Willis gained 123 yards on 27 carries with one score.
Fantasy Outlook: Willis looks more like a project, with the keys to his development coming from improved footwork in his setup when passing the ball and learning to read defenses. I'm also concerned about his long-term durability due to his expected high number of runs. In 2023, he'll battle Will Levis for the backup quarterback job.
RB Hassan Haskins - Not Draft Worthy
Tennessee added Haskins in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft. After a couple of quiet seasons at Michigan (182/997/10 with six catches for 40 yards over 18 games), he seized the Wolverines' starting job last season. Haskins finished with 1,458 combined yards with 20 touchdowns and 18 catches on 288 touches. Despite an excellent opportunity, he gained only 4.9 yards per rush and 7.3 yards per catch.
Haskins is another big back (6'2 and 230 lbs.) who relies on his strength and power to make plays. His quickness and overall top-end speed don't look impactful, putting him into the grinder category. Haskins has limited experience in pass protection, but he should improve in his area with more experience and coaching.
In his rookie season, Haskins struggled on early downs (25/93) with 11 catches for 57 yards.
Fantasy Outlook: His ceiling in the passing game is extremely low, requiring him to gain more snaps via an injury to Derrick Henry. Haskins will compete for the backup running back role in Tennessee this year, but Spears had the inside track on him due to his pass-catching ability.
Other Options: Julius Chestnut, Jonathan Ward, Charles McClelland
UPDATE: HASKINS is unlikely to play in 2022 after being placed on the Commisioner's list.
RB Derrick Henry - Stud (low risk)
The mystique of delivering a second great season after rushing for over 2,000 yards continued with Henry in 2021. He was well on his way to another productive year (1,091 combined yards with 10 touchdowns and 18 catches) over eight starts while still having a shot at 2,000 rushing yards (219/937/10). Unfortunately, a foot injury put him on the shelf for his final nine games. Tennessee worked Henry early and often, leading to him receiving 29.6 touches per game. He was on pace to catch 38 balls for 327 yards, which would have been career-highs in both areas. The only strike for Henry was his drop in yards per rush (4.3) and lower number of big plays (three runs over 20 yards – 16 in 2020).
Last season, he was on pace to set a career-high in touches (382 – 23.9 per game) if Henry didn't sit out Week 17 with a hip issue. The Titans had him on the field for 62.5% of their plays, compared to 66.4% in 2020. He rushed for more than 100 yards in nine starts, highlighted by another monster game vs. the Texans (32/291/2). Henry set a new top in catches (33) and receiving yards (398) despite having no catches over his first two contests. He finished with six plays gaining 40 yards or more.
Fantasy Outlook: Henry ranked fourth in running back scoring (305.80) in PPR formats with at least 22.00 fantasy points in eight matchups. Over the past four seasons over 55 games, he rushed for 6,042 yards and 56 touchdowns on 1,249 carries, with 88 catches for 872 yards and two scores. Henry comes off the board this year as the seventh running back with a late second-round ADP in 12-team formats. His bump in value in catches helps his floor, and no other back in the NFL should get more touches. I don't like his offensive line, but Henry remains a beast with the ball in his hands. Let's go with 1,700 combined yards with 16 touchdowns and a chance at 40 catches.
RB Tyjae Spears - Sleeper (undervalued)
In his second senior year at Tulane, Spears gained 1,837 combined yards with 21 touchdowns and 22 catches. His season ended with eight consecutive games with more than 100 yards rushing, highlighted by his final start (17/205/4) vs. Southern Cal. Over the first three games, he only had 26 carries for 91 yards with two catches for 32 yards, but Spears did score four times. Over his college career, he gained 6.8 yards per rush and 11.8 yards per catch.
Fantasy Outlook: Tennessee needs a young developing back behind Derrick Henry, and Spears looks ready to offer change of pace value. In 2021, Dontrelle Hilliard gained 322 combined yards with four touchdowns and 21 catches on 43 touches off the bench. Spears should fill that role as their RB2 in 2023. With an injury to Henry, Spears has the talent to be a Top 15 RB in the league.
WR DeAndre Hopkins - Solid/Safe Pick
D-Hop gives the Titans something they were desperately lacking: a legitimate WR1 skill set. Although the volume won't be as high as we'd like to see, Nuk's target share should fall in line with his career figures. That gives him solid WR2 value on a week-to-week basis. Not to mention, the Titans also have a favorable scheduel per FullTime Fantasy's Strength of Schedule Tool.
FANTASY OUTLOOK: A healthy Hopkins should contend for top-25 numbers. Even in a lesser offense like Tennessee's. We think Ryan Tannehill is underrated and smart enough to know where his bread will be buttered. Look for D-Hop to exceed 130 targets and be a solid fantasy WR2 target.
WR Treylon Burks - Bye Week Fill-in
Over his three seasons at Arkansas, Burks gained 16.4 yards per catch, with growth in his scoring in 2020 (7) and 2021 (12) over 21 combined games. He set career-highs in catches (66), receiving yards (1,104), and touchdowns (12) in his final season. Burks finished his college career with 146 catches for 2,399 yards and 19 scores while chipping in with 38 rushes for 222 yards and one touchdown.
Burks is a physical wideout (6'3" and 225 lbs.). Arkansas sometimes used him out of the backfield, leading to some surprising big plays with his legs. Much of his action came past the first 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, where Burks won with his size and speed. Despite a 4.55 time in the 40-yard dash at the 2022 NFL Combine, he showed the ability to outrun defenders over the long field. Burks will be a mismatch problem for defenses at the next level, but he needs better quarterback play to help his overall production.
In his rookie year, Burks missed six games while battling various injuries (lower leg, wrist, ankle, foot, toe, concussion, and groin) in training camp and during the season. Despite limited snaps (22 and 25) over his first two games, he surprised in Week 1 (3/55) and Week 2 (4/47) when considering his negative training camp reports. Burks only caught six of his 11 targets for 51 yards over the following seven matchups (four missed games). He flashed in Week 11 (7/111) and Week 12 (4/70) while finishing the year with only nine catches for 110 yards and one score over four contests.
Fantasy Outlook: UPDATE: DeAndre Hopkins was signed by the Titans so this puts a damper on the Treylon Burks breakout season, mostly due to opportunity share and target volume.
In the early draft season in the high-stakes market, Burks ranks 38th at wide receiver. His spring reports have been positive about his workouts with Ryan Tannehill, and he is the clear-cut top receiving option for the Titans. The long list of injuries last year is a concern, but most of the issues were minor. At the very least, Burks should have between 100 to 110 targets, pointing to 65 catches for 900 yards and six to eight touchdowns while adding some stats in the run game. I like his ceiling, and Burks will be much better in 2023.
WR Nick Westbrook-Ikhine - Deep-league Only
Surprisingly, Westbrook-Ikhine led Tennessee in wide receiver snaps (680) in 2021 despite making seven starts. He finished with 38 catches for 476 yards and four touchdowns on 57 targets. His best two games came in Week 11 (7/107) and Week 18 (4/78/1) while having three targets or fewer in 10 contests.
In 2022, Westbrook-Ikhine worked as the Titans' WR in most weeks. Unfortunately, his output (25/397/3 on 50 targets) failed to match his previous success despite more time on the field. He only had one game (5/119/2) of value all year. Tennessee looked his way four times or fewer in 14 of his 17 contests.
His best season (54/995/6) came in 2016 at Indiana. Westbrook-Ikhine caught 138 of his 226 targets for 2,157 yards and 15 touchdowns over 40 career college games.
Fantasy Outlook: Tennessee expects Westbrook-Ikhine to open up as their WR2 in 2023. His size (6'2" and 210 lbs.) creates potential scoring upside in the red zone, but the Titans won't give him enough targets to allow him to be fantasy relevant in too many games. Westbrook-Ikhine only offers short replacement value while being challenging to time.
WR Kyle Philips - Dynasty Only
Last summer, Philips drew some attention in the high-stakes market in early September due to his potential to win the Titans' slot wide receiving role. His season started with six catches for 66 yards on nine targets, but injuries (shoulder and hamstring) derailed the remainder of his season (only two catches for 12 yards on four targets).
Over four seasons at UCLA, Philips caught 163 passes for 1,821 yards and 17 touchdowns on 256 targets. His catch rate (63.7) doesn't stand out for someone working close to the line of scrimmage (11.2 yards per catch).
Fantasy Outlook: Tennessee wants him to win a starting job as an inside receiving option, pointing to a 60-catch opportunity if Philips can stay on the field for 17 games. For now, he is only a player to follow in the fantasy markets until his role is more defined in the regular season. As a result, Philips will go undrafted in most 12-team formats.
UPDATE: Phillips will open the season on IR. He's off the redraft radar entirely.Injury Status: Injured Reserve
WR Chris Moore - Not Draft Worthy
When the wide receiver cupboard was dry for the Texans in 2022, Moore emerged as a late-season starter. He caught 27 of his 40 targets over his first 11 games, leading to 314 yards and two touchdowns. His best showing came in Week 14 (10/124), but Moore could not duplicate his success over the final four weeks (4/42, 2/25, 3/21, and 2/22).
Moore has been in the NFL since 2016, but he only had 68 catches for 738 yards and six touchdowns over his first 73 games. Last season, he set career highs in catches (48), receiving yards (548), and targets (74).
Fantasy Outlook: Moore will compete for a WR3 role with Tennessee in 2023, with a chance to surprise in a couple of games. His lack of a career resume puts him in the free-agent pool in all formats.
TE Chigoziem Okonkwo - Sleeper (undervalued)
Despite a short resume (77/717/8 on 117 targets) over 30 games at Maryland, Okonkwo handled himself well in his rookie season after getting selected in the fourth round in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Tennessee gave him only 15 targets over his first 10 games, leading to eight catches for 172 yards and one score. His big play ability showed over three games (1/48, 1/41, and 1/31), giving him an increased opportunity over the final seven games. Okonkwo helped fantasy teams in four weeks (4/68, 6/45/1, 4/54, and 3/42/1) while doing most of his work much closer to the line of scrimmage (11.6 yards per catch). Over this span, he averaged 4.4 targets with an improved catch rate (77.4).
With seven of his 32 catches (21.9%) gaining 20 yards or more (three reached the 40-yard mark), Okonkwo offers a unique skill set to the tight end position. He has plus speed (4.52 40-yard dash at the 2022 NFL Combine) with a powerful frame that is a bit undersized (6'3" and 240 lbs.) for the blocking part of the tight end position. His route-running development will determine his ceiling in his NFL career.
Fantasy Outlook: In a way, Okonkwo has a lot in common with another Maryland tight end (Vernon Davis). The Titans will give him all he can handle in 2022, as they need another playmaker on the field to help their offense. Okonkwo is the 13th tight end selected in May in the high-stakes market. His tools look explosive, and he will be one of the few tight ends in the league who can turn a short pass into a long touchdown. His natural progress should be 60 catches for 800 yards with a floor of five scores.
TE Josh Whyle - Not Draft Worthy
Whyle saw his targets rise over his final three seasons (33, 41, and 55) in college, but he failed to make an impact in any year in his receiving production (28/353/6, 26/332/6, and 32/326/3).
Fantasy Outlook: His pass-catching upside is higher than any other tight end on the Titans' roster, giving Whyle a reasonable chance to repeat his college stats in his rookie year with the Titans.
Other Options: Trevin Wesco, Kevin Radar, Thomas Odukoya
PK Caleb Shudak - Not Draft Worthy
Last year, Tennessee scored 34 touchdowns while creating 24 field goal chances. The Titans will have a new kicking option this year, and the battle starts between Caleb Shudak and Trey Wolff.
Shudak has one year of experience at Iowa. He made all 36 of his extra-point tries, with an 85.7% success rate on his 28 field goals.
Wolff kicked well in his freshman season at Texas Tech (40-for-41 in extra points and 20-for-22 in field goals). Unfortunately, his struggles in 2020 (1-for-5 in field goal attempts) led to him losing his job for the remainder of the year and in 2021. Wolff bounced back in his senior season (41-for-42 in extra points and 21-for-25 in field goals) to earn a chance with Tennessee. In his college career, he made only nine of his 15 chances from 40 to 49 yards while making both kicks from 51 yards.
Fantasy Outlook: There is no reason to target a Titans' kicker this year, as all options have to prove their worth before landing on fantasy rosters.
UPDATE: Shudak was released by the club in August.
PK Nick Folk - Bye Week Fill-in
The Titans traded a late pick to New England for Nick Folk, who has been a steady if unspectacular option for the Patriots. Tennessee won't score a ton of TDs but should be around league-average or better in field goal attempts.
Folk is a decent streaming option, particularly when the Titans are playing the Colts or Texans.
Tennessee - Not Draft Worthy
The Titans allowed the fewest rushing yards in 2022 (1,307), with nine touchdowns. Ball carriers gained 3.4 yards per rush while averaging 22.9 rushing attempts per game.
Unfortunately, Tennessee fell to last in passing yards allowed (4,671), with quarterbacks tossing 29 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Their defense delivered 39 sacks.
DE Jeffery Simmons continues to pressure the quarterback with an edge defending the run. Missed tackles tend to hurt his finishing power. Over the past two seasons, he has 16 sacks and 13 defended passes. DE Denico Autry delivered 17 sacks in his two seasons with the Titans while seeing an improvement in his run defense last year. He is a rotational player who will start the season at age 33. DT Teair Tart has yet to earn full-time starting snaps, but he did improve in the pass rush and defending the run in 2022. His ceiling isn't that high, but Tennessee doesn't have a rising star ready to take his job.
LB Harold Landry comes off a year with career-highs in tackles (75) and sacks (12). Unfortunately, those stats came in 2021. He missed all of last season with a torn ACL. The Titans signed him to an $87.5 million contract in March of 2022. LB Monty Rice handled himself well vs. the run, leading to 66 tackles in his second year. He has yet to secure a sack in the NFL. LB Arden Key should chip in with some sacks.
S Kevin Byard has been an excellent run defender and tacker in his career. He'll give up some touchdowns while making up for this shortfall with interceptions (nine over the past two years) and defended passes (19 in 2021 and 2022). S Amani Hooker remains a below-par player for his position. CB Kristian Fulton still hasn't reached his potential after getting drafted in the second round in 2020. His completion rate against is above average, but receivers still make too many big plays. CB Roger McCready had 84 tackles, one interception, and eight defended passes in his rookie season. Receivers beat him for seven scores, but most of the receptions again him went for short yards.
Tennessee only has two top players on their defense unless Harold Landry regains his previous form. Half of their secondary has risk, creating too many down weeks and plays for their pass defense. Their run defense ranked highly in back-to-back seasons, but the nose tackle position and two inside linebackers suggest regression. The Titans' defense ranks 28th, heading into June drafts.