Team Previews: 2018 Tennessee Titans
Team Previews: 2018 Tennessee Titans

This article is part of our Team Previews series.

THE SKINNY
Even though the Titans made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2008, the team's offense was underwhelming despite some promising pieces. With a new coaching staff in place and greater emphasis on the team's younger weapons, this whole unit is filled with post-hype fantasy sleepers.

THREE THINGS TO KNOW

COREY TO THE HOUSE
Corey Davis didn't make the immediate impact the Titans were hoping for after they selected him with the fifth overall pick in last year's draft, though his poor performance – 34 catches for 375 yards in 11 games – can be attributed in large part to a hamstring injury. Finally healthy, he flashed his tantalizing potential with a pair of touchdown grabs in the divisional round to provide a silver lining in Tennessee's season-ending loss to the Patriots. He didn't register a regular-season touchdown as a rookie, but Davis' 6-3, 209-pound frame and 46 receiving scores over his final three years at Western Michigan suggest he's going to take plenty of balls to the house in 2018. Rishard Matthews and tight end Delanie Walker are still on hand as reliable targets for quarterback Marcus Mariota, but the second-year wideout dwarfs both of them in terms of upside. Six other wide receivers have been drafted with top-six picks since 2007. One was Justin Blackmon, who suited up for just four games in his second season and hasn't played since. The average Year 2 production for the other five is 1,216 yards and 9.4 touchdowns. Even two-thirds of that output would make Davis a fantasy factor in his sophomore year, so keep this nugget in mind when evaluating both Davis and Mariota heading into the coming campaign.

THUNDER AND LIGHTNING IN THE BACKFIELD
Thanks to his downhill running style, Derrick Henry was able to wear down defenses last season. The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner consistently broke off big second-half runs and powered his way to six touchdowns, including one during a 156-yard effort against the Chiefs in the wild-card round. DeMarco Murray clearly lost a step in 2017, but the since-departed veteran was still an important piece of the offense given Henry's shortcomings in the passing game. Having graduated from the Bill Belichick school of running back committees, newcomer Dion Lewis knows how to help keep his quarterback upright and is adept as both a runner and receiver. Henry will get the goal-line looks and most of the rushing workload, but Lewis is more than just a third-down back. Lewis actually finished with 896 rushing yards on 180 carries with the Patriots last year compared to Henry's 744 yards on 176 attempts, though the former benefited from decreased attention given the multitude of other weapons in New England's offense. Henry should be the first of the two off the board in standard formats and possesses a higher ceiling given his ability to serve as a true bell cow, but their PPR values are close to even with both players primed to eclipse 1,000 yards from scrimmage.

NEW COACH, NEW APPROACH
Mike Mularkey guided the Titans back to prominence, but winning one playoff game wasn't enough for him to retain the head coaching job, which now belongs to Mike Vrabel. While the former NFL linebacker should help on the defensive side, the team's biggest coaching addition from a fantasy standpoint was offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, who will take over play-calling duties. LaFleur wasn't charged with the task as coordinator of the Rams last season, but big things are expected from Sean McVay's disciple given the worst-to-first offensive turnaround that took place in Los Angeles. Much of that success was credited to LaFleur, who served as Matt Ryan's quarterback coach during the quarterback's 2016 MVP campaign and also played a big hand in Jared Goff's improvement. Though already an established starter, Marcus Mariota still has plenty of room for growth. If LaFleur helps maximize the signal-caller's potential, the entire Tennessee attack should benefit in much the same way the Falcons and Rams offenses did over the past two campaigns. If the Titans come out of the gate hot, don't hesitate to buy low on as many of the team's skill players as possible. Those who did so with the Falcons in 2016 and the Rams in 2017 certainly didn't regret it.

PIVOTAL PLAYER: Marcus Mariota
Mariota failed to live up to high expectations in 2017, but his strong performance in the playoffs helped reignite optimism in advance of his fourth season. The 24-year-old boasts an elite combination of precision passes and timely scrambling, so he should flourish with passing guru Matt LaFleur calling the plays.

BAROMETER
RISING: Derrick Henry
Henry's playoff success suggests he's ready to serve as the team's workhorse. Dion Lewis will siphon some snaps, but Henry's physical style could help him earn 20 touches per game behind one of the league's best offensive lines.

FALLING: Delanie Walker
It's better to give up on a guy one year early than one year late. Walker will be 34 when the season starts, and Tennessee's offense is expected to emphasize wide receivers more and tight ends less under Matt LaFleur.

SLEEPER: Taywan Taylor
The Titans traded up to grab Taylor with the 72nd selection last year, but veteran Eric Decker earned most of Taylor's projected playing time in the slot. With Decker gone, Taylor's due to make some big plays.

KEY JOB BATTLE – NO. 3 WIDE RECEIVER
Incoming offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur helped direct a Rams offense that allowed three receivers to have fantasy-relevant seasons in 2017. Should his Titans offense be managed in a similar fashion, there could be an opportunity for a receiver below Rishard Matthews and last year's No. 6 overall pick, Corey Davis, to make a name for themselves. Taywan Taylor is probably the favorite to win the No. 3 job, but Tajae Sharpe's performance in the 2016 preseason was impressive enough to give him some chance of beating the odds. Michael Campanaro, who was signed in free agency, and Deontay Burnett, who flourished as the top receiver at USC last fall, wait in the wings, and both are dark horses to win out as well. It wouldn't be a complete surprise if it took until late in the preseason for someone to emerge, but this battle will all but likely come down to Taylor versus Sharpe.

KEY ACQUISITIONS:
Dion Lewis – RB (from Patriots)
A versatile and productive back when he can stay healthy.

Blaine Gabbert – QB (from Cardinals)
A younger upgrade at backup QB from the departed Matt Cassel.

Malcolm Butler – CB (from Patriots)
Established contributor who should help shore up a shaky secondary.

Rashaan Evans – LB (Rd. 1, No. 22 – Alabama)
Run-stopping replacement for free-agent departure Avery Williamson.

Luke Falk – QB (Rd. 6, No. 199 – Washington State)
Potential reserve tabbed with the same pick as Tom Brady was in 2000.

KEY LOSSES:
DeMarco Murray – RB (FA)
The injury-riddled veteran was outplayed by Derrick Henry last season.

Eric Decker – WR (FA)
His lone campaign in Tennessee featured only one touchdown.

Matt Cassel – QB (to Lions)
A competent veteran backup quarterback with a low ceiling.

THE INJURY FRONT
Corey Davis, WR – Davis missed most of the team's offseason workout program with an undisclosed injury, which could make Titans fans a little queasy considering his rookie year was compromised by an offseason injury that persisted five weeks into the regular season. However, it doesn't sound like the receiver is dealing with anything as severe as that hamstring dilemma he dealt with last year, as Davis is expected to be ready for the start of training camp.

Rishard Matthews, WR – Like Davis, Matthews was absent from spring workouts with an undisclosed injury. Also like Davis, Matthews' injury is considered minor, but he's still tending to it as training camp opens. Matthews has so far avoided the PUP list, but his situation will be one to monitor moving forward.

Tajae Sharpe, WR – The fantasy darling of the 2016 preseason, Sharpe's sophomore campaign was washed away by a fractured foot the receiver initially suffered last June but then aggravated in the 2017 preseason finale. Sharpe ultimately spent all of last season on injured reserve, but he was cleared for football activities well before the start of the Titans' offseason program. Actively participating in team drills throughout the spring, Sharpe looks to be entering training camp at full health.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sasha Yodashkin
Sasha has been contributing NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB and Tennis content to RotoWire since 2015, with an emphasis on DFS. He is a huge New York sports fan who has been playing fantasy sports since middle school.
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