If a few things break just right for this team in 2012 — if key players can simply perform at levels they've reached before — then the Titans could be looking at a tremendous season. Tennessee has the potential to be a fantasy powerhouse, piling up yards and points and highlights.
But if things break wrong? Uh-oh. The Titans' offense has flaming-train-wreck downside. This roster has some unusually volatile fantasy assets, so we have a wide range of potential outcomes for the team.
Kenny Britt is clearly the most unstable of all Tennessee skill players, yet he's also one of the most talented receivers in the league. Thus, Britt presents the ultimate risk/reward dilemma, both in real-life and in fantasy. He recently met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in New York to discuss his most recent run-in with the law, the eighth of his three-year pro career. Britt is likely facing a multi-game suspension, plus he's still rehabbing from multiple knee surgeries — you'll recall that he suffered a season-ending ACL/MCL injury in Week 3 last year.
Every possible red flag is attached to this player, and there's really no reason to think he'll be available in the opening weeks. Still, when Britt is right, he's a remarkably useful wideout. Before the injury last season he delivered a pair of 100-yard games, scoring three times. You can't simply cross Britt's name off your cheat sheet, because the man could be a second-half monster for fantasy purposes.
Bottom line: I'm giving Kenny Britt a five-percent chance of leading all receivers in per-game scoring, and maybe a one-percent chance of getting arrested for an incident involving cannibalism. I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN WITH BRITT. And neither do you. And neither do the Titans. This carnival ride isn't for everyone, but it might be worth the wait. Britt's current average draft position is 82.0, so the price isn't so bad. If your seventh-round pick is a bust, that shouldn't torpedo your fantasy season.
The rest of Tennessee's receiving corps is respectable enough, even if no one can match Britt's big play ability (or his unique brand of crazy). Nate Washington is coming off the best season of his seven-year career (74-1023-7), finishing as the No. 16 wideout in standard fantasy scoring. He saw 121 targets in 2011, which was roughly 25 more than he'd been accustomed to getting in the Titans' offense. If he's going to repeat his production from a year ago, he'll need to catch almost everything thrown his way, because it seems unlikely he'll have quite as many opportunities. Washington isn't a pricy player at the draft table (ADP 104.9, WR40), so I can't really accuse anyone of paying for a career-year.
Baylor rookie Kendall Wright is typically selected 18 picks (and seven receivers) after Washington, and he's found his way onto several of my rosters in early drafts and mocks. Tennessee offensive coordinator Chris Palmer had some encouraging words about Wright, back when the first-round pick reported to camp:
"I don't think anyone ever left a practice thinking that he was lost. I've been fortunate in my career ... Andre Johnson was a rookie, had 975 yards. Terry Glenn was a rookie, had 90 catches. So I felt good about those guys. And I feel good about Kendall and what he can do.
"I think he's a very quick individual and he's going to be a star in this league."
So that works. It's reasonable to view the Titans' selection of Wright as a hedge against Britt's potential for implosion. Kendall can play, and he'll see the field immediately. He looked good in his preseason debut, for what it's worth, catching three balls for 47 yards. With an ADP in the 120s, the price is right.
Damian Williams figures to be the next man up in this receiving corps, and he's the last wideout who rates a mention in this particular Juggernaut post. When Britt checked out last season, Williams emerged as a low-impact fantasy option, a guy who could give us 60-something yards and an occasional touchdown. If he's going to become a viable fantasy pick-up in 2012, it's going to require an injury or two elsewhere on the depth chart.
[Note: If I were at all optimistic about Tennessee tight end Jared Cook, this is where I'd write about him. However, I used up all my Cook enthusiasm in 2010 and it hasn't been replenished. He definitely looks the part of an impact fantasy asset, and he's in a contract year if you care about such things. But Cook is also entering his fourth season as a fantasy sleeper, so he's fooled us before. Tight end is such a deep position that it's tough for me to make a case for this guy, except in 16-team leagues — and even there, I don't think I'd actually snag him.]
The Titans have a notable position battle raging at quarterback this preseason, as 36-year old Matt Hasselbeck attempts to hold off Jake Locker. If exhibition stats mean anything in this fight, then we have to score Round 1 for Locker, decisively. In a loss at Seattle on Saturday, Hasselbeck received the starting nod, but he threw a pair of interceptions, the first of which was returned for a score. That pick wasn't entirely his fault — two receivers arrived at the same place, both looking for the ball — but the result was undeniably poor. Locker, playing with the junior varsity, delivered much better numbers than Hasselbeck: 7-for-13, 80 yards. He also led a scoring drive at the end of the first half, and he worked well with Wright. Neither QB looked like a star, and nothing has been settled here just yet.
Locker was legitimately impressive in limited duty as a rookie, appearing in five games, posting a QB rating of 99.4, and tossing four TD pass without committing a turnover. There's a rushing component to Locker's game that Hasselbeck can't match, and that trait obviously plays well in fantasy. Locker also holds the edge in arm strength and overall athleticism, if not in experience.
These were a few of head coach Mike Munchak's comments following the preseason loss to the Seahawks:
''I think overall, as the season progressed last year, Jake was coming on real strong last year. He kind of picked up where he left off in training camp. That's why there's a competition,'' Munchak said. ''If he didn't close the gap, there wouldn't be a competition and Matt obviously would be starting. I think he's closed the gap.''
The fantasy community has largely ignored both combatants in this QB catfight, allowing Locker and Hasselbeck to slip beyond pick No. 150. It's certainly worth taking a flier on Locker late in drafts — he offers more statistical upside, and his skill-set seems a better fit for an offense that will reportedly add run-'n-shoot elements. This could be a pass-heavy, vertical-strike team in 2012. It's much easier to imagine this team making big plays downfield with Locker at the controls than with Hasselbeck.
We know without a doubt that Tennessee's backfield will feature plenty of this dude in the year ahead...
...but we don't yet know which version of Chris Johnson we're going to get.
In the first two years of Johnson's pro career, he averaged 5.3 yards per carry and was a clear threat to go the distance every time he touched the ball. He routinely embarrassed would-be tacklers in the open field, then ran away from them. CJ established the single-season scrimmage yards record just three years ago, gaining 2,509 total yards on 408 touches. When he's at his best, Johnson is a must-watch athlete, a highlight waiting to happen.
But he hasn't exactly been at his best over the past two seasons. Last year, following a protracted contract dispute, Johnson was a wreck. These were his rushing totals over the first nine weeks of the season: 24, 53, 21, 101, 51, bye, 18, 34, 64.
And at that point, many of his owners were cooked.
It's not as if Johnson made up for his yardage shortcomings by visiting the end zone, either; he only broke the plane once in the first half of the season for Tennessee. Sure, he hauled in a few passes en route to a 57-catch season, but he almost never delivered a big play. Johnson struggled to win one-on-one match-ups when isolated against defensive players. He was brutal to watch, brutal to own. His O-line drew criticism, but, to my eyes, Johnson himself seemed to be the real problem.
Just take a look at this clip of Johnson from '09 and tell me you ever once saw him do something like that in 2011.
Of course there are plenty of reasons to expect a rebound from CJ in the year ahead, the first being the fact that he's coming off a normal offseason. He did himself no favors last year, statistically speaking, by distancing himself from the team throughout camp. There have been a few promising reports on Johnson over the summer — rededicated, added muscle, running hard, blah-blah-typical-camp-hype-blah — but anyone who owned him last year will want to see evidence of his revival before investing again. I'm not too panicked about the evolving Titans offense where Johnson is concerned, as he can clearly be an effective weapon in the passing game. If Tennessee is taking deep shots regularly (and effectively), running lanes should open.
Johnson been a mid-first round selection in early fantasy drafts (ADP 6.4), and, well ... I just haven't been able to pull the trigger at that price (except in mocks, which don't really count). When his name is next in queue, I tend to grab one of the elite QBs. If he ever fell to me at the turn, maybe I'd talk myself into the pick. Handcuffers will note that Javon Ringer is again his back-up.
Tennessee's defense was a middle-of-the-pack group last season for fantasy purposes (No. 17), and it ranks as such entering the year. You might stream these guys eventually, but it won't happen in September. The Titans open their season with games against New England, San Diego, Detroit and Houston. MLB Colin McCarthy is the top IDP to target here, and cases can be easily made for CB Jason McCourty (105 tackles) and DE Kamerion Wimbley (7.0 sacks, 63 tackles).
2011 team stats: 20.3 PPG (NFL rank 21), 89.9 rush YPG (31), 257.1 pass YPG (12), 29.58 yards/drive (16), 0.122 turnovers/drive (16)
Previous Juggernaut posts: 32. Miami, 31. St. Louis, 30. Indianapolis, 29. Jacksonville, 28. Cleveland, 27. Arizona, 26. Seattle, 25. Minnesota, 24. Tampa Bay, 23. Buffalo, 22. New York Jets, 21. Washington, 20. Oakland, 19. San Francisco, 18. Kansas City, 17. Cincinnati, 16. Denver