2016 fantasy football depth charts: Tennessee Titans
(Editor’s note: As we lead up to the season, Director of PFF Fantasy Jeff Ratcliffe is breaking down each team’s depth chart from a fantasy perspective. Catch up on the work so far here.)
The Titans are a team in transition, with Mike Mularkey taking over at head coach and promising a brand of football that harkens back to the “exotic smashmouth” offense that he ran during his days with the Steelers.
Mularkey has a potential franchise quarterback to build around in Marcus Mariota. It was a bit of a bumpy ride for Mariota in his rookie season. He certainly showed flashes of fantasy potential, posting the third-most fantasy points in Week 1 and rumbling for an 87-yard touchdown against the Jags in Week 13. Mariota also struggled mightily, taking a sack on 26.2 percent of his pressured dropbacks, which was nearly five percent higher than the second-highest rate, Brian Hoyer’s. He also had a league-low 293 yards on deep balls, and completed just 20.4 percent of passes over 20 yards in the air. But no one expected him to come into the league and perform at an elite level. The simple fact is that Mariota’s fantasy ceiling is quite high and the Titans took steps to improve the offensive line, adding OT Jack Conklin in the first round of this year’s draft. Mariota is a sneaky bet to break out this season.
However, the Titans receivers aren’t exactly the league’s most impressive group. Entering camp, Kendall Wright and free agent signee Rishard Matthews are fairly cemented as starters with the third receiver job still up in the air. Wright topped 1,000 yards in 2013, but scored just two touchdowns and finished 31st among receivers in fantasy scoring. Injuries and a tendency to freelance on his routes have also negatively impacted Wright over the last two seasons.
Tennessee Titans projected 2016 offense with 2015 grades:
Matthews comes over from Miami, where he was sneaky productive last year. Over the first eight weeks of the season, he racked up 500 yards and four scores on 33 catches and sat tied with Amari Cooper for 21st among wide receivers in standard fantasy scoring. Slated to play the “Z” receiver, Matthews has deeper fantasy appeal this season. It wouldn’t be a complete shock if he ended up leading the team in receiving.
The third receiver spot is shaping up to come down to a camp battle between second-year man Dorial Green-Beckham and rookie Tajae Sharp. Green-Beckham got off to a relatively slow start last season, but he really picked things up down the stretch with two 100-yard performances in the last five weeks of the season. However, Sharpe was ahead of Green-Beckham in offseason practices and he’s expected to open camp as a starter. While some have tried to write this off as a “motivational tactic,” there is very real smoke with the potential to end up as fire in this situation. Sharpe is a strong route runner who was very productive at UMass. Fantasy drafters will want to keep a close eye on this battle before expending a middle-round pick on Green-Beckham.
Last season, the Titans’ most-targeted player wasn’t a wide receiver. Delanie Walker led the team, and all tight ends, with 130 targets. For the season, he ranked fifth among tight ends in standard scoring and third in PPR formats. Walker was especially effective after the catch, forcing 16 missed tackles, which tied for the position high. He was also second among tight ends in deep ball targets with 17. Walker figures to take a hit in volume this season, but he’ll still a healthy chunk of the targets. He remains a solid TE1 option.
At running back, the Titans took steps to upgrade in the offseason, trading for DeMarco Murray and drafting Derrick Henry. Murray’s 1,800-yard 2014 campaign seems distant in the review mirror following his ugly stint in Philly where he averaged just 3.6 yards per carry. Initially, it looked as though he’d be in line for a heavy workload, but that all changed after the Titans selected Henry in the second round of April’s draft. The expectation remains that Murray will be the lead back, but Henry will certainly get his touches in this committee situation.
Henry checks in at a massive 6’3, 247 pounds, yet still managed to run and impressive 4.54 in the combine 40-yard dash. This rare combination of size and speed helped him lead all draft-eligible running backs with 28 runs of 15-plus yards, but it should be noted that he did rack up 396 carries. The major concern with Henry is his one-dimensional running style. He displayed a lack of lateral agility with a position-low 7.2-second three-cone drill at the combine. He also struggled in pass protection and had just 15 catches over the last two seasons. In this committee situation, Murray projects as more of a back-end RB2 with Henry on the fringes of the RB3 conversation.
[Where will Murray go in fantasy drafts, and will it be worth it? How much value will Henry steal? Check out our PFF Draft Master tool and try a mock draft, complete with offensive line grades, full projections and all the PFF data.]
Dexter McCluster is also in the mix as a passing-down back and offensive weapon. He’s unlikely to get much work as a runner, but his presence will somewhat limit Murray’s targets as a receiver. McCluster isn’t on the fantasy radar in standard leagues, but might be a viable PPR fill-in at points this season. That being said, his fantasy upside is very limited.
On the defensive side of the ball, Jurrell Casey is coming off a solid year where he finished as fantasy’s No. 18 defensive lineman. He remains a high-floor, low-ceiling DL2 option. At linebacker, Wesley Woodyard was frequently the Titan’s top tackler last season, but his lack of a three-down role makes him a less than ideal fantasy asset. Third-year man Avery Williams is the better fantasy bet in Tennessee. He’s likely to play all three downs, and could be quite productive in Dick LeBeau’s defense. Consider him an LB3-plus option.