A Look Inside: 2021 Tennessee Titans

The Wrath of the Titans. No, not the Sam Worthington movie. This concept is actually more intimidating than Liam “Zeus” Neeson, The Kraken, and the Titans. It’s the 2021 Tennessee Titans offense. Last year, the Titans were 4th in total yards per game (396.4), 2nd in rushing yards per game (168.1), and 4th in points per game (30.7). What if they got even better this year? Is that possible? The Titans were 23rd in passing yards per game and just added Julio Jones. Yes, THAT Julio Jones. You didn’t forget about Julio Jones, did you?  (There was a certain Julio Jones article on Club Fantasy’s website when he was still in Atlanta.) One of the best wide receivers in the last decade could take the Titans to new heights. Let’s explore each position on the Titans offense, shall we?

Note: You can follow the entire Look Inside series with this link and you can watch the full No Punt Intended episode on Youtube below with special guest Luke Sawhook, Social Media Manager for some of the biggest #FantasyFootball sites and host of Hooked on Fantasy!

Quarterbacks

Ryan Tannehill will be in his second full season as the starter for the Tennessee Titans. In 2019, he took over for Marcus Mariota in Week 6 and has not looked back. Tannehill started from Weeks 7-17 and was the QB3 in that timespan. He had a miraculous 7.7% TD rate (2nd in the league) and was a top-10 QB in eight of the 10 weeks. A vast majority of the fantasy football community figured it was a fluke. He was written off as “oh, it’s Ryan Tannehill” and became an afterthought in 2020 fantasy drafts.

Tannehill proved to all of his nay-sayers that his 2019 season was no fluke. He finished as the QB7 last year and nearly mirrored his astronomical TD % from 2019 with a 6.9% in 2020, which was #3 in the league. He’s had back-to-back outstanding seasons in which he was a top-7 QB. So obviously, he’s going to be really expensive in 2021 drafts.

FALSE. Tannehill is going as the QB13 in the 9th round (according to fantasyfootballcalculator.com as of July 7, 2021). Add Julio Jones to this offense and the sky is literally the limit. He’s being projected for more than 400 fantasy points by yours truly, without really bumping up his per-game average, while heading into this 17-game season. That is top-5 upside.

We have to recognize the potential downside here though. The Titans just do not pass the ball very much. They only had 485 pass attempts last year, ranking 30th in the NFL. Only the Patriots and Ravens passed the ball less than the Titans. That’s an improvement from 2019 though, as the Titans were 31st in the league in 2019 with only 448 pass attempts (The Ravens had 440). It’s clear this low volume attack, which could potentially see an uptick though as their OC Arthur Smith is now in Atlanta, literally runs through Derrick Henry. Tannehill needs to keep the TD efficiency up to realize that upside. Otherwise, he would be a streaming option at the position like his ADP reflects.

Running Backs

Derrick Henry season is almost upon us. Henry led the league in 2020 with over 2,000 rushing yards. Yes, he joined the illustrious 2k club. He also added 17 touchdowns and finished the year as the RB3. Henry finished as RB3 despite his work in the passing game being non-existent within this Titans offense. He was super consistent too, given those circumstances. Henry was a weekly RB1 last year in .5 PPR scoring more than any other running back not named Alvin Kamara and Dalvin Cook. He also was a top-24 RB in all but two of 16 games and had three #1 overall finishes. None of this was a fluke.

Henry led the league in rushing in 2019 as well, finishing with 1,540 rushing yards and 18 total touchdowns. This landed him as the RB5 on the year in full PPR leagues. In .5 PPR Leagues, Henry had nine weeks in the Top 10 and finished #1 overall in two of those weeks. That’s five #1 finishes in the last two years. Henry’s ADP is currently at 1.03 as the RB3. He’s expensive this year but he’s had back-to-back top-5 finishes as evidence as to why he should be drafted there.

The downside with Derrick Henry, as everyone in the dynasty community loves to point out, is age. He will be playing fantasy football as a 27-year-old RB next season. That’s the vaunted RB cliff that is having a lot of people in the dynasty community run for the hills. He also has 686 carries in his last two seasons. The wheels could undoubtedly fall off this season. However, age is also just a number.

Henry might be 27 and has had a heavy workload for the last two years, but he only has 1,182 carries in his five-year career. To put that into perspective, Ezekiel Elliott has 1,413 carries in that same five years. Before Shaun Alexander won the MVP in his year-28 season, he already had 1,347 carries. The same goes for Adrian Peterson before his MVP season as a 27-year-old. Peterson had 1,406 carries before his age-27 season, where he had 348 carries and 2,097 yards. Long story short, it can be done. Henry has not shown any signs of slowing down, at all.

Jeremy McNichols and Darrynton Evans should see a good majority of the third-down work on this team. However, given the very small RB market share pie, there’s not much stock in drafting either player. They are really only interesting if something unfortunate were to happen and that’s not something to project here.

Wide Receivers

There are three wide receivers to chat about from the Titans. They are A.J. Brown, Julio Jones, and Josh Reynolds. Josh Reynolds does not really have much significance though unless something happens to the other two. He’s only being projected by yours truly for 63 targets and likely to finish 4th on the team in targets. The focus of this section will be on A.J. Brown and Julio Jones.

A.J. Brown made a big splash as a rookie in 2019. He was a physical specimen on the field that was very rarely able to be tackled. From Weeks 7-17 in 2019, he was the WR7. Those weeks were specifically chosen because those are the weeks that Ryan Tannehill took over as the starter in 2019 (see above). The community was skeptical that Brown could repeat that kind of performance in 2020. I mean after all; the Titans only passed the ball 448 times and Brown only had 52 receptions (which he turned into 1,000+ yards). However, he proved his doubters wrong last year in 2020.

Brown was the WR4 in 2020 from Weeks 5-17. He was hurt in Week 1, missed the next two weeks, and then had a Week 4 bye week. He had 11 receiving touchdowns despite only 12 red-zone targets. That’s fewer than Russell Gage (16) and 40 other players. A.J. Brown had the same number of red-zone targets as J.D. McKissic. It’s fairly reasonable to assume that there could be room for more and thus a double-digit TD outlook is reasonable for Brown. The issue could be the number of total targets. Brown got a 25% target share last season and that that was only 106 total. The Titans are a low-volume passing offense and a presence like Julio Jones casts some doubt on what Brown’s ceiling actually is. However, if you give this man 125 targets, he should return on that WR7 ADP investment.

Julio Jones going to the Titans is an astronomical shift in the balance of WR power. The Titans go from a team that lost Corey Davis and Adam Humphries, to a team that can now start A.J. Brown and Jones opposite of each other on every play. What does this mean for Jones’s fantasy outlook? It’s hard to say. Jones, who was hurt last year, was coming off of six straight top-7 finishes in his career. He most likely won’t be getting that 160-target volume though that he was capable of every year in Atlanta. However, he is the kind of force that should demand at least 25% of the target share (120-135 projected targets) on this team.

There are also 192 vacated targets from Corey Davis, Adam Humphries, and Jonnu Smith leaving town. In this role last year, Corey Davis had 92 targets and five touchdowns in 14 games. Davis isn’t in the same league as Julio Jones. Jones should still be the yardage monster that’s he’s been throughout his career and that should still give him top-10 upside.

Touchdowns are the mystery for Jones. While the Falcons were settling for FGs from Younghoe Koo, one of the best kickers in the league, the Titans are one of the best red-zone offenses in the league. Jones has averaged six TDs a season over his career. An improved situation should offer more opportunity. As the WR14 in ADP, he’s well worth the risk.

Tight Ends

There is really only one player worth noting here — Anthony Firkser. Firkser is free in drafts and has a good shot of being the third option on the team. Between Firkser and Jonnu last year, they combined for 118 targets. If the TE position does get another 20-25% of the targets, Firkser should see a majority of those targets and thus, be a good dart throw at the back end of drafts. People aren’t excited about him anymore after the Titans traded for Julio Jones but there is still top-12 potential here. Firkser is worth your consideration at the end of drafts.