By The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson
Transaction: The Tennessee Titans sign RB Dion Lewis to a 4-year deal
2018 Fantasy Outlook: When RB Derrick Henry ripped off a 156 yard rushing performance against the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card round, many of us believed Henry was primed to be the bell cow in Tennessee for 2018 and beyond. He actually led the Titans in rushing last season despite the presence of veteran DeMarco Murray. Murray’s injured-plagued season led the Titans to release him, effectively handing the reigns over to Henry.
And then free agency happened. The Titans are seemingly assembling Patriots South with the additions of CB Logan Ryan last year and now head coach Mike Vrabel, CB Malcolm Butler, and now RB Dion Lewis. Lewis has been part of the Patriots backfield rotation for the last three seasons. He had a great start to 2015, starting as RB8 through the first six weeks of the season. Then a torn ACL derailed his season. As a result, he missed the first half of 2016 and struggled to regain his spot in the Patriots rotation. 2017 was an uphill battle, but battle he did, en route to a RB15 season. From Weeks 10 through 16, he was RB6. Lewis, despite his size, can ball and the Titans recognize that.
Lewis is the perfect compliment to the bigger Henry. Henry can bruise through the line on early downs while Lewis handles passing downs and mixes in on early downs to keep the defenses honest. The downside? Henry’s stock doesn’t rise as much as many of us hoped. And I think that’s okay. Just because the fit seems perfect doesn’t mean it’ll be a seamless transition. Free agents who switch teams typically struggle in the early parts of the season — and sometimes for the whole season — which opens things up for Henry to keep the train moving.
Back to Lewis though. When the Titans cut Murray, they cut 92 total receptions over the last two seasons. Lewis could easily match that total over a two year period, potentially breezing past it. New Titans offensive coordinator Matt LeFleur spent 2016 in Atlanta with Kyle Shanahan and the high-powered Falcons and 2017 with Sean McVay and the high-powered Rams. Both utilize their running backs in the passing game to a great degree. Lewis will fit in well playing the lightning to Henry’s thunder.
If I’m ranking the two of them now, I will probably have Lewis ranked slightly higher because of his pass catching prowess and where I think he will finish the year. I would rather invest in Henry however. I think he’s the back to own in the early part of the season. Then I can flip him at his peak value and buy low on Lewis for the remainder of the season. Of course, this is just conjecture. Without having seen any preseason games, it’s hard to know for sure how the Titans and their new look offense will work the two backs into the scheme. Here’s what I do know: Marcus Mariota makes both their jobs easier and one of them should eclipse 1,000 rushing yards as a result. I’m betting that’s Henry, but Lewis should approach 1,300 total yards with about 50 catches. That puts both in the RB2 conversation and that’s hardly something to be mad about.