Six years since the Titans last reached the playoffs and coming off a 2-14 record hardly makes any one feel good. But there are legitimate reasons to expect improvement in Tennessee that starts this season. And for a team that comes off such a bad year, there are several fantasy relevant players here already.
New head coach Ken Whisenhunt brought along Jason Michael from San Diego to help run the offense but the parts were just not there in 2014. True – they spent their second round pick on Bishop Sankey as the first running back taken (just one spot before Jeremy Hill) but he under performed the entire year. The quarterback became a turnstile with four different players taking turns. Jake Locker had what would become his final hurrah and sixth-round pick Zach Mettenberger looked very much like a rookie in over his head.
The receivers naturally struggled and the lone bright spot was Delanie Walker’s career best 890 yards on 63 catches to lead the team. But the Titans have recharged and renewed. Taking Marcus Mariota with the second overall pick should pay off for years to come so long as he can make the transition from the nuclear explosion known as the Oregon offense to the NFL game. To his benefit, Mariota was also a tremendous runner as well and that will serve him well. It will also serve fantasy owners enough that he could flirt with a rare rookie quarterback fantasy start if he even comes close to the 700+ rush yards he cranked out in college.
Bishop Sankey remains the primary back but that may not last. The Titans used their fifth round pick to bring in David Cobb who can supply short yardage and relief for Sankey at the minimum. Since Sankey has already been a bust for his first season, that will whip up the hype among fantasy leagues for what the rookie back might accomplish. Even more than Cobb, the second round pick of wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham has already fanned the flames of rookie excitement. The 6-5, 237 product out of Missouri will likely cost more than he’s worth as a rookie if only because he has to learn a new, more complex offense after sitting out of football for a year. Throw in a rookie quarterback and there is even more reason to be cautious. His dynasty value is a far different matter though.
The Titans have to incorporate new players who are upgrades. But they still are young and need to learn the ropes on a team that was only 2-14 last year. It is still very much a rebuilding effort but at least there are more pieces in place now.
Marcus Mariota, Quarterback
Rare that a rookie quarterback is a fantasy starter as a rookie but this is one worth watching. Mariota was the 1.02 pick and he has to learn the NFL game and taking snaps from under center and all the other differences from that wide-open spread scheme he ran at Oregon. But aside from his astronomic passing stats in college – 105 touchdowns over the last three years against only 14 INT – he is also a very good runner. He gained over 700 yards as a runner each season in Oregon and scored a total of 29 rushing scores (15 just last year). The Titans are in the second season of Ken Whisenhunt’s offense and the pieces are there to take a step up. Mariota inherits Delanie Walker, Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter plus fellow rookie Dorial Green-Beckham. While he’ll no doubt go through a learning curve this year, his rushing ability makes him very interesting. His schedule is decent and the Titans are planning on using him like “Russell Wilson”. Worth watching and a fair spec pick for QB depth.
Bishop Sankey, Running Back
No need to sugarcoat it. The first running back drafted in 2014 was a major disappointment when he only ran 152 times for 569 yards (3.7 YPC) and just two touchdowns. He only caught 18 passes all year. As a runner, he topped 50 yards in just four games. At 5-10, 209 he has prototypical size but the production was never there. The Titans have asked him to add some weight and insist that he has a better grasp of the offense. But the Titans also drafted David Cobb with their fifth round pick and the 5-11, 229 lb. and he’s built for inside the tackle work. He may end up taking away more than complementary carries from Sankey if he doesn’t show improvement. Sankey is a risk this year and has to hold off Cobb to retain fantasy value.
David Cobb, Running Back
Cobb was taken in the fifth round and the 5-11, 229 lb. back comes in as a power runner that the Titans mistakenly thought Shonn Greene could be. Cobb was productive for the Minnesota Gophers and ran for 1626 yards and 13 scores just last year. But he has minimal experience as a receiver and he ran a 4.7/40 that says pretty much anyone can run him down in the NFL. But all he has in front of him and a starting gig is Bishop Sankey who was a major disappointment last year despite far more pedigree. The problem here is that Marcus Mariota could end up like Cam Newton and steal short yardage touchdowns. That would really hurt Cobb who will at least help out in short yardage. Be leery of this situation until Cobb shows he can play in the NFL and beat out Sankey for significant carries.
Dexter McCluster, Running Back
McCluster’s first season in Tennessee wasn’t much different than the four he spent in Kansas City. He only ran for 131 yards with a 3.3 YPC and scored just once – as a receiver. He led Titan backs with 26 catches for 197 yards and never produced any real fantasy value. No reason to expect more with the Titans drafting David Cobb to add to the mix.
Kendall Wright, Wide Receiver
Wright enters his fourth NFL season but his first year under HC Ken Whisenhunt saw his drop from 94 catches in 2013 to only 57 last year. Wright has openly complained about his lack of involvement in the offense though in fairness the new offense was installed in 2014 while spinning through four different quarterbacks – none of which who will be starters this year. His upside seems capped in this offense and he is not entirely happy. With new players brought in under the current coaching regime, Wright is likely playing out his rookie contract to go elsewhere.
Dorial Green-Beckham, Wide Receiver
There is plenty to like about this 6-5, 237 lb. WR who ran run a 4.5/40. He can tower over any defensive back and grab a pass. He can outrun most of the them. He’s a good blocker and should win most any one-on-one matchup he gets. The Titans drafted Marcus Mariota with their first pick and then grabbed DGB with their second to ensure that their new quarterback has a potential start wide receiver to grow with. He is first starting wideout drafted under second-year HC Ken Whisenhunt. There are some who believe he could become the top wideout from this draft class eventually. But – there is more to consider. He only played two years at Missouri where he only totaled 87 catches over two seasons and never more than 883 yards in a season. He did score 12 times in 2013. but He was twice arrested for marijuana in Missouri and allegedly pushed a woman down several stairs. He was dismissed from Missouri and went to Oklahoma where he had to sit out the season because of transfer rules. So DGB has not played since 2013. That brings risk since he has not played in a game in over a year and a half and has at least potential baggage. He’ll be a boom or a bust. Even if he breaks out, it will likely be next year since he has to learn the NFL game with a rookie quarterback.
Harry Douglas, Wide Receiver
Douglas spent six seasons in Atlanta and turns 31 years-old this year. He was as good as 85-1067-2 in 2013 when he subbed for both Julio Jones and Roddy White when they were injured. He’s been stuck as the distant #3 though and now comes to Tennessee where he will get a chance to start over the disappointing Justin Hunter. But the rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota throws risk into what Douglas can accomplish in 2015 since there are several good targets for passes and Mariota might just take off and run anyway. Worth watching but Douglas should have more challenge turning in fantasy relevance than he did in Atlanta.
Justin Hunter, Wide Receiver
The second round pick from 2013 continues to disappoint and his first season in the new offense only resulted in 28- 498-3 and he missed the final four games with a ruptured spleen last year. A new quarterback could help but so far Hunter drops too many passes and has yet to take suggest that he’s even an average quality #2 wide receiver in the NFL. He’s nothing more than fantasy depth. Hunter is expected to lose his starting spot to Harry Douglas.
Hakeem Nicks, Wide Receiver
Nicks is just 27 but after two good seasons in NY, he hasn’t been more than an injury-prone disappointment for the last three years and only last one season in Indianapolis with a chance to be a starter and play for Andrew Luck. Nicks isn’t as fast as he once was and will only play out as depth for the Titans that they may never need to access. No reason to draft.
Delanie Walker, Tight End
Walker led the Titans with 63 catches for 890 yards and four scores and the second season of Ken Whisenhunt’s offense means everyone already knows the scheme. Walker ended #4 in the NFL among tight ends with 890 yards but that stat will be very hard to hit in 2015. The rookie QB Marcus Mariota will end up running on some plays that might have otherwise go to a tight end. And Mariota will have Dorial Green- Beckham who is five inches taller than the 6-0 Walker so height in the red zone won’t favor him. Plus as is common, Walker’s stats really declined later in the season as the scheme became installed and other receivers become available. He only scored once in the final 12 games and topped 54 yards just twice in those weeks. He’ll have consistent numbers for 2015, just not likely with the occasional big game.