Despite Tennessee being a playoff team, 2017 was a step backwards
for Marcus Mariota as a fantasy quarterback. The team added multiple
receivers in the NFL draft, but ranked 28th in the league in total
pass attempts. But with Mike Mularkey gone as head coach and replaced
with Mike Vrabel, there’s some reason for optimism.
2017 was a QB2 season for Mariota and that was somewhat salvaged
by his rushing production. Mariota threw 15 interceptions to just
13 touchdowns and produced his lowest passing touchdown rate of
his career. He did manage 312 rushing yards and the extra points
from his five rushing TDs largely kept him from being a bust.
Vrabel’s offensive plans are largely unknown, but the addition
of Matt LaFleur to the staff as offensive coordinator immediately
raised eyebrows. LaFleur led the Rams offense in 2017 and helped
Jared Goff go from a bottom-tier quarterback to seemingly competent.
Goff finished 2017 as the QB12 and with another season with his
young WR corps, there’s hope that Mariota could rise beyond
that level. He’s yet to produce a top 12 QB season, but
a new offensive system in 2018 can only help, making Mariota a
bounce-back target and a good late-round target in your draft.
The exit of Demarco Murray seemed to be the opening needed to
make Derrick Henry a viable RB1, but the free agency addition
of Dion Lewis and team’s insistence that it will likely run a
committee approach, have put a damper on the off-season hype train.
Henry had a rollercoaster of a 2017. He posted four games with
more than 15 fantasy points, but he also had five games with fewer
than 3 points. His usability was entirely tied to whether he scored
a touchdown and while he did manage to score 6 TDs, he was likely
a disappointment for those who drafted him as a RB3.
For the most part, Henry spent 2017 as either a RB1 or a bust,
which makes it clear that he has a potentially high ceiling if
he finds himself with a heavy workload. But, once again, he enters
the season with questions surrounding his place on the depth chart.
It seems logical to assume Henry will see the bulk of his work
on early downs as Lewis is a more adept pass-catcher. Will he
finally emerge or will he underperform again? At his current ADP
of RB17, the acquisition price seems a bit high, but if reports
continue to cause him to slip beyond RB 24, there’s a chance he
outperforms his draft position and finally delivers for fantasy
Coming into last season, Dion Lewis was arguably the least talked
about running back in Patriots camp. Excitement surrounded Mike
Gillislee and Rex Burkhead because of their new contracts and
their projected usage. While both came out the gates hot, by Week
6, it was Lewis getting a heavier workload. 2017 marked Lewis’
first 16 game season which inevitably led to him setting career
highs in several areas. 180 carries, 896 yards, and 9 total touchdowns
were all high-water marks for the 27 year old back. His 32 receptions
were the second best of his career.
Now Lewis joins a new team and new OC Matt LaFleur suggests the
backfield will operate with Henry and Lewis as 1A and 1B. If this
turns out to be the case, Lewis could have standalone flex value.
In PPR leagues, Lewis is the running back to own as a potential
RB2. In standard leagues, he’ll likely have RB2 value only
if Henry underperforms on the field or misses time with injury.
When projecting RB value, it largely comes down to usage and Lewis
appears to be in the same boat as guys like Theo Riddick and James
White - strong in PPR, but probably a fade in standard.
It wasn’t a great start for the number 5 pick in the 2017 NFL
draft. Davis only managed 65 targets and 34 receptions for 375
yards and no touchdowns during the regular season. But as a top
5 pick, there’s reason to believe Davis will move up to the WR1
spot with the team. But if he continues to play second fiddle
to Rishard Matthews, LaFleur’s usage of his WR2 will give plenty
of opportunity for the 23 year old. While some of the usage was
skewed because of injuries, the Rams’ WR2 received 16.41 percent
of the team’s targets last season.
The other reason for optimism is Davis’usage in the playoffs.
In the Wild Card round, he received 7 targets, but exploded in
the Divisional round against New England when he turned 8 targets
into 63 yards and 2 touchdowns. If the playoff usage is a sign
of growing trust between QB and WR, Davis could be in for a heavy
workload in 2018.
If Davis is the WR1 in Tennessee, he’ll have value as a
low-end WR2 with a WR3 floor. If he’s the second option
out wide, there’s some question about how high his ceiling
can truly be, but he should have some flex value. His current
ADP sits at WR33 in the 7th round. At that price, he’s likely
a risky pick for teams relying on him as a weekly starter, but
if he’s drafted as a WR4, he could be a steal.
Matthews is an annually undervalued wide receiver passed up for
more “exciting” options. As it stands, Matthews is
the top wide receiver option for an offense bringing in a new
offensive coordinator who proved that he can improve the passing
game. 2016 was the highlight year for Matthews when he finished
as the WR11 in standard scoring, but even with a step back in
the offense and new receivers brought in, Matthews finished as
the WR36 last season.
In just 14 games, Matthew put up a WR3 season. And in those 14
games, he put up four double-digit fantasy performances. While
he’ll never be a highlight reel WR1, Matthews has proven
flex value and now has shown some level of success with two teams.
If he can command the 18 percent target share given to LaFleur’s
WR1 in 2017, he’ll easily outperform his WR55 ADP.
Taywan Taylor was the lesser known rookie wide receiver on the
Titans in 2017 but he was seventh in targets (28) on the team
and two players have now left the franchise which should open
up some additional opportunities. What stands out for Taylor during
his rookie season is his 14.4 yards per reception average. This
ranked second on the team behind only Rishard Matthews.
The addition of Dion Lewis likely means that Taylor won’t
get all of the targets vacated by Demarco Murray, but the loss
of Eric Decker should give Taylor a few extra looks. In typical
12-team leagues, Taylor is exclusively a player to watch, in case
of injury. But his deep play potential makes him an exciting waiver
add, if the coaches call his number.
Delanie Walker is the epitome of a safe tight end play. Despite
his age, Walker continues to be one of the highest targeted players
at the position and maintains the most reliable option for Marcus
Mariota. 2017 was Walker’s 4th straight season with at least 800
receiving yards and he ranked 3rd in the NFL in targets for a
TE and 4th in receiving yards. The lack of touchdowns (3) capped
his fantasy upside but he maintained consistent value without
scoring and was one of the few non-TD dependent TEs. If 6 fantasy
points is the baseline target for the position, Walker exceeded
that threshold 9 times during the season.
At some point, age will catch up to the 33 year old, but as long
as he’s a major part of the offense, he’s going to have serious
value at a weak position. Walker was surpassed in scoring by five
others at the position, but only out targeted by two. Assuming
his targets remain, there should be an expectation that his TDs
return to the 6 or 7 range. If that’s the case, he’ll jump right
back into the top 5 by season’s end.
Jonnu Smith had two exciting early weeks in 2017 before largely
falling out of relevance. But at season’s end, Smith was
sixth on the team in targets and receptions. As a fantasy asset,
he’s entirely a handcuff for Walker who can be safely left
on waivers in all redraft leagues. But be quick to pull the trigger
if Walker gets injured because he could take over a very valuable
role in the offense.