Juggernaut Index, No. 28: The Tennessee Titans
We're entering the fourth and possibly final year of the Jake Locker era in Tennessee, and, so far, you'd have to say the pre-draft scouting reports were prescient. Locker was always billed as an excellent athlete, a mobile quarterback with abundant arm strength. These things are clearly true. But the weaknesses he displayed as a collegiate QB remain part of his NFL profile.
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Here's a review of Locker's major negatives from his Pro Football Weekly write-up, prior to the 2011 draft:
- Questionable football instincts and timing
- Inconsistent ball placement, accuracy
- Very average career completion percentage
- Too quick to tuck and run, and physical run style invites injuries
So yeah, they pretty much nailed it. Every other scouting source did, too. Back in 2010, the big worries with Locker were accuracy, efficiency and injury-risk, and he hasn't erased any of those concerns. Locker's career NCAA completion percentage was just 54.0, and it's only 57.2 with the Titans. His net yards per attempt has declined in each NFL season. He's also suffered three significant injuries over the past two years — it was a left shoulder in 2012, then right hip and right foot (Lisfranc) in 2013.
Locker isn't under contract beyond the upcoming season — the team declined to pick up his fifth-year option — so he's playing for his NFL life, auditioning for everyone. Honestly, his setup isn't terrible. Tennessee has rebuilt its offensive line into an impressive group (at least on paper), while assembling a decent-if-not-deep receiving corps. The team also hired noted quarterback rehab specialist Ken Whisenhunt as head coach, which seems like a win. You might recall the fine work he did in San Diego last season, reanimating Philip Rivers. If Whiz can't wring a little improvement out of Locker, then perhaps Jake is unfixable.
As a fantasy asset, Locker is strictly for the deep-league crowd — seriously deep leagues, like with 18 teams and/or multiple QB spots. In standard formats, he's simply a bye-week sub, a guy you might add for a friendly match-up. There isn't anyone threatening him on the Titans' depth chart, not with Charlie Whitehurst and LSU rookie Zach Mettenberger as Plans B and C. Mettenberger is a moderately interesting dynasty option, but he's coming off an ACL injury, not likely to make noise until 2015.
Third-year receiver Kendall Wright is coming off an outstanding PPR campaign, having caught 94 balls for 1,079 yards on 140 targets in 2013. Wright finished with only two touchdowns last year, a function of his chain-moving slot role — he led all NFL receivers in slot receptions last season (63), per Pro Football Focus. This year, there's talk of him expanding his role, lining up inside and out. But fantasy drafters shouldn't give Wright credit for things he hasn't yet done. I'll continue to view him as a WR3 in standard leagues, bumping him in PPR.
Justin Hunter flashed talent at various points in his rookie season — he went 6-109-1 at Oakland, then 4-114-1 at Denver — but he was quiet more often than not. He's a gifted player with excellent size (6-foot-4), capable of winning single-coverage battles. When you're looking for upside receivers in the later rounds, keep him in mind as a low-risk/high-ceiling target. Nate Washington is still on the scene in Tennessee and coming off a decent year (58-919-3), but we've seen his best. Michael Preston figures to be the No. 4 wideout for a team that won't deliver three ownable fantasy receivers.
Delanie Walker had the best season by far of his pro career last year (60-571-6), but he still wasn't a top-12 fantasy tight end on a per-game basis. Someone in a 16-team league will probably have to own Walker, but that person doesn't have to be you. I wouldn't draft him ahead of emerging talents like Ertz, Reed, Eifert and Green.
The Titans released Chris Johnson back in April, a move that surprised no one. CJ was due to receive $8 million in 2014, which is roughly $4 million more than the market eventually decided he was worth. He might very well remain a productive player for another season or three, but he's no longer the all-world, record-setting talent who wowed us in '09. So the team understandably moved on. That's the NFL.
Shonn Greene is still lurking on the roster, but ... well, c'mon. Greene is a plodder entering his age-29 season, coming off knee surgery. He's a short-yardage guy by default, because he's incapable of long yardage. You can ignore him on draft day. Dexter McCluster was added to this team's backfield mix via free agency, and the widespread expectation is that he'll see a limited number of carries, with perhaps 60-70 targets as a receiver. It's easy to imagine him playing the Danny Woodhead role in Whisenhunt's offense, or something like it, which would put him on the fantasy map. But still, he's not the guy to target in this backfield.
Tennessee spent a second-round pick on Bishop Sankey back in May, making him the first running back off the board. Sankey was a hugely productive back in the Pac-12, rushing for 3,309 yards and 36 touchdowns over the past two seasons at Washington, averaging 5.5 YPC. More than one well-respected draft analyst didn't completely love Sankey's tape — he doesn't have breakaway speed, nor uncommon power — but I'm a fan of his work. For one thing, he clearly outperformed a sketchy O-line, particularly in 2012. He reads gaps well and has more elusiveness and tackle-shedding ability than you may have been led to believe. Sankey also hauled in 61 receptions for 553 yards over the past two years, so he can be helpful in the screen game.
I can't promise you that Sankey will be a full-workload RB in year one, but the kid has a relatively unobstructed path to 235-250 touches. He's the first rookie I'd target in fantasy drafts, no question. I'll sign off on his current Yahoo ADP (74.9, RB21). Again, this team's offensive line isn't going to be a liability. Sankey is a solid second back for a fantasy roster.
Tennessee's defense was perfectly mediocre last season, ranking middle-of-the-pack all over the board. Don't mess with this D/ST, unless the matchup is unusually appealing. Bernard Pollard (99 tackles) and Jurrell Casey (10.5) are approved for use in IDP leagues, but I won't give you a hard sell on any other Titans.
2013 Tennessee Titans team stats: 22.6 PPG (NFL rank 19), 231.9 pass YPG (22), 22 pass TDs (20), 118.4 rush YPG (14), 28.9 rush attempts per game (10), 33.3 pass attempts per game (23)