Juggernaut Index, No. 28: The Tennessee Titans

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Andy Behrens
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Get fired up for "exotic smashmouth" football, Titans fans. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Get fired up for “exotic smashmouth” football, Titans fans. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The Juggernaut Index is our annual ranking and review of NFL teams for fantasy purposes — repeat: FANTASY PURPOSES. Here, we concern ourselves with a franchise’s likely contributions to the fantasy player pool. We are not concerned with projected wins and losses. Instead, we’re focused on yards and points. As always, we’re beginning with the league’s least useful teams, working our way toward the elite fantasy juggernauts.

[Yahoo Fantasy Football is open for the 2016 season. Sign up now!]

Let’s begin with the good news: Marcus Mariota is legit, a franchise cornerstone at the game’s most important position. Mariota is smart and selfless, a dynamic dual-threat QB. If a team can get only one thing right, hopefully it’s the quarterback.

Of course if a team literally gets only one thing right, then it probably isn’t very good. And that brings us to the Tennessee Titans, a squad that won just three games last season while finishing with a scoring differential of -124. Tennessee has an exciting 22-year-old quarterback behind center, but his receiving corps is mostly dreadful, his young O-line is perhaps the league’s worst, and his defense allowed 26.4 points per game last year. Without question, the Titans have serious issues.

But before we discuss Tennessee’s various flaws, let’s return to Mariota. He posted a 91.5 passer rating in his first pro season, completing 62.2 percent of his throws and tossing nearly twice as many TD passes (19) as interceptions (10). He also ran for 7.4 yards per carry and two scores, flashing the rushing talent that made him such an unfair quarterback at the collegiate level. Mariota missed four full games due to injury, but he certainly showed us enough in the dozen he played. Entering his second year, he’s an ascending player with a clear chance to emerge as an every-week fantasy QB. He wasn’t accurate or effective on deep balls as a rookie, but we have to assign some blame to his unimpressive receivers. If Mariota’s head coach is being straight with us…

…then the kid is going to deliver a profit on his Yahoo ADP (112.2). In a healthy year, it’s not hard to imagine Mariota delivering, say, 3800 passing yards, 550 rushing and 30 combined TDs.

Marcus Mariota mingles with fans. (Getty Images)
Marcus Mariota mingles with fans. (Getty Images)

Mike Mularkey has described Tennessee’s offense as “exotic smashmouth,” which means … well, no one is entirely sure what it means. But it’s probably going to involve a whole lot of running and little exoticism. To that end, the team dealt for DeMarco Murray back in March, then drafted Heisman winner Derrick Henry in April. Before the addition of Henry, most of us considered Murray a strong candidate to return to RB1 status, based strictly on projected volume. The Titans’ offensive line play was disastrous last year, but the team at least addressed that shortcoming in the offseason (Ben Jones, Jack Conklin) and we can reasonably expect this offense to massively increase its rush attempts. However, Henry is a serious threat for a huge workload. He might just be a more gifted runner than Murray, and his combine performance, for a player his size (6-foot-3, 247), was insane. Obviously he won’t see the mile-wide running lanes that he did at Alabama, but he’s a powerful dude with terrific top-end speed (not the same as 40-speed) capable of punishing pro defenses. Murray is the presumptive starter, but that designation mean nothin’ in the NFL. Here’s what the team’s OC has had to say about workload distribution in this backfield:

“I believe in just doing whatever we have to do, whatever is necessary to win the game,’’ [Terry] Robiskie said. “Obviously we’ll have it situated going into the game, and figuring, ‘Hey, we want to go this way or go that way.’ If we get to going in the game and some guy gets the hot hand and that’s what it takes to win the game then that is what we are going to do. We are not going to sit down before the game and say, ‘So-and-so has to have 20 carries, or he has to touch it 25 times.”

The key words in that blurb, clearly, are “hot” and “hand.” Henry is simply a monster when he gets rolling. Don’t be surprised if the rookie and the vet see a similar number of touches this season, with Murray and Dexter McCluster as the primary pass-catching backs. Antonio Andrews, Bishop Sankey and David Cobb are presumably battling for roster spots.

When Mariota drops back to throw and he’s not eyeing a running back, his options are less than ideal. Veteran tight end Delanie Walker led this team in every important receiving stat last season, by wide margins. He hauled in 94 passes for 1088 yards and six scores on 133 targets, ultimately finishing as the fifth highest scoring player at his position and leading all tight ends in receptions. It’s easy to say that a player won’t repeat a career year, but I really don’t expect a catastrophic drop-off for Walker. He remains a trusted target in a receiving corps with no truly dynamic options. Free agent acquisition Rishard Matthews figures to start for Tennessee, but we aren’t drafting him. Kendall Wright returns to his slot duties after an injury-plagued season, and second-year receiver Dorial Green-Beckham is struggling to leapfrog fifth-round rookie Tajae Sharpe on the pre-camp depth chart. Not good. DGB has appeared on various preseason sleeper and breakout lists, largely because he looks the part of a dominant downfield/red-zone threat. But he’s an inexperienced player who’s had issues with drops and route-running. He’s a fantasy tease, hardly a lock to deliver a big year. In mock drafts, someone always seems to like Green Beckham a whole lot more than I do — like, by three or four rounds. If he breaks out in a big way in 2016, he’ll be someone else’s fantasy success story, not mine. Walker is the only Titans pass-catcher I’ll be happy to own.

Following a lousy season, Tennessee’s defense wasn’t ranked as a top-20 unit by any member of the Yahoo fantasy crew. The Titans D ranked No. 25 in total takeaways (19) last year and they allowed a zillion points. Avoid them in any fantasy league with fewer than 32 teams.

2015 Offensive Stats & Ranks
Points per game – 20.5 (25)
Pass YPG – 266.9 (8)
Rush YPG – 92.4 (26)
Yards per play – 5.3 (21)
Plays per game – 67.7 (5)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32) Cleveland, 31) San Francisco, 30) Philadelphia, 29) Baltimore, 28) Tennessee