As the mercury rises and we inch closer to the open of training camps, our resident fantasy football sickos, Brad Evans and Liz Loza, will profile their favorite booms/busts of every NFL team. Today’s topic: The Music City Miracles.
Brad – COREY DAVIS. Among last year’s NFL rookie bunch, Davis was one of my pet players. His prototype WR1 build/size, expanded route tree, reliability and college consistency no matter competition level triggered salivary glands. In his first year he flashed sporadically, totaling employable PPR numbers against Oakland (Week 1) and the Rams (Week 16). In between, he was hamstrung, quite literally. His time off (five games) and subsequent slow recovery corked his development. As a result he gained little separation and his overall production sagged, evidenced by his WR79 finish in fantasy points per game.
Healthy and sharp during OTAs and minicamp, Davis could undergo a Melvin Gordon-like Year 1-to-Year 2 transformation. Davis, identical to Gordon, failed to find the end-zone in his rookie season. This fall, 6-8 end-zone splashes could be in order. Without a ton of competition, he could garner 21-23 percent of the target share. If that materializes, Davis hums to the tune of 70-925-7.
Liz – COREY DAVIS. Since arriving in Nashville in 2013, Walker has put up TE1 numbers. That sort of longevity, assuredly, deserves snaps. However, at 33-years-old and with third-round pick Jonnu Smith nipping at his heels, a changing of the guard is imminent. Nabbing Walker in the seventh round of twelve-team exercises is paying top-dollar at peak value. Selecting the ascendant Davis in the sixth, on the other hand, demonstrates savvy.
While his rookie campaign underwhelmed, it’s important to remember that Davis missed precious preseason reps due to a hamstring injury and then spent much of the season struggling to stay healthy. It wasn’t until the second week of the postseason that the Western Michigan alum flashed, converting 5 of 8 targets for 63 yards and 2 TDs.
Positive reports out of OTAs suggest he’s building on the momentum that began earlier this year. With a full offseason under his belt, and a new coaching staff installed, Davis is primed for a sophomore season breakout… assuming, of course, that he can stay healthy.
Belly up to the bar. Do you prefer to PAY UP for Derrick Henry (37.0 ADP, RB19) or PAY DOWN for Dion Lewis (53.1 ADP, RB25)?
Liz – DERRICK HENRY. In full disclosure, I plan to fade this backfield at their current ADPs. Here’s why: Henry, a bruiser, represents the power attack Terry Robiskie favored. But Lewis’ skill set appears better suited for the zone-blocking philosophy that Matt LeFleur plans to install. This is shaping up to be an equitable time share.
So why not choose the shiny new toy at a discounted price? Because I don’t believe he can maintain a consistent 1B workload over a sixteen-game season. Last year he stayed on the field, but Belichick employed a four-back rotation. The Titans don’t have that kind of depth at the position. Meanwhile, Henry has proven that he can create (1.81 YCPC), remain efficient (4.2 YPC), and catch when given the opportunity.
Bottom line: Both of these backs are versatile talents whose aesthetics bely their multi-hyphenate potential, but only one of them has proven durable. I’ll pay more for that guy.
Brad – DION LEWIS. Despite his pint-size (5-foot-7, 195 pounds), Lewis is deceptively powerful, ultra versatile and a lubricated weasel between the tackles. The ease in which he slithers through tight spaces and dodges initial contact ranks among the game’s elites. Last season, he posted an identical YAC per attempt as Henry (3.2, RB4) and ranked No. 1 in tackles avoided per attempt (0.23) among running backs with at least 50 carries according to Pro Football Focus. Throw in his top ranked catch percentage (91.4), No. 1 standing in yards created per touch (2.56), 5.4 yards per carry versus base fronts and top-10 slotting in red-zone rushing success rate (59%), and Lewis might be the most underappreciated back in fantasy. His baseline skills are everything owners seek. Most promising, he already feels comfortable in Matt LeFleur’s zone-featured system.
The transition from New England, which set the pace in run-blocking efficiency per Football Outsiders and PFF, to Tennessee is an obvious downgrade. Still, the Baby Blues have the pieces to be an above average unit. It may take time for the freshly installed scheme to sink in, but if everything melds by the end of September, Henry and Lewis would form an intimidating 1-2 punch. Even if the regular season starts off rocky, Lewis is more than capable of totaling useful RB2 numbers given his overall evasiveness.
On roughly 40-45 percent of the opportunity share (12-14 touches per game), Neon Dion may land close to his RB15 finish (.5 PPR) in 2017. Grab all the shares you can.
After he stepped back last year in his statistical development, OVER or UNDER final QB finish for Marcus Mariota 15.5? (Over = outside top-15; Under = inside top-15)
Brad – UNDER. Through a megaphone, I blasted my adoration for Mariota this time last year. He made significant strides in 2016, added weapons and looked every bit like a player ready to enter the upper-echelon. Then, the season got underway. He chipped in the occasional gem and continue to gash defenses on play-action, but dramatic declines in red-zone and downfield efficiency caused his numbers to labor. His receivers, besieged by injuries and ineptitude (TEN rank No. 24 in receiver target separation), helped him little. In the end, his QB19 finish wasn’t even in the parking lot of the top-five declarations some balding ninnyhammer made.
However, the arrow is pointing up for the Pineapple Express. LeFleur did wonders for Jared Goff in Los Angeles and many, me included, hope Mariota can experience a similar transformation. With Lewis on roster and a healthy Davis to target, the passer, who isn’t rehabbing an injury this offseason and has worked on refining his mechanics, should return to the QB11-QB13 range. He’s an excellent draft day value at his 126.9 ADP (QB14).
Liz – OVER (barely). Matt Ryan produced the best statistical year of his career under Kyle Shanhan in 2016. Jared Goff managed QB1 fantasy numbers under Sean McVay in 2017. The Titans’ new OC Matt LaFleur worked under both of those men in back-to-back years. So, hooray, he hails from an impressive coaching tree. On the other hand, the offense constructed by these creative geniuses is also uber-complex and one of the most difficult to learn.
Mariota was touted by scouts as being easy to coach, but it remains to be seen whether or not he can pick up such a dense playbook in a limited amount of time. It sure flustered Matt Ryan in 2015. Plus, I’m not sure Mariota has enough weapons to make an immediate about face. LaFleur has committed to improving Mariota’s stance and footwork, and the young signal caller’s future appears bright under this new regime. But evolution takes time.