Titans pressing fantasy questions: Marcus Mariota rockets to the moon

Aiming for Marcus Mariota in the middle rounds is a heady move. (AP)
3-Point Stance: Believing in a DeMarco demise is a fool’s errand

As the mercury rises, Brad Evans and Liz Loza will tackle pressing fantasy questions tied to every NFL team. Read, ponder and get a jump on your offseason research. Wednesday’s topic: The Tennessee Titans

At or near 100 percent entering camp (leg), Marcus Mariota (95.7 ADP, QB8) is set to rock Nashville with added weapons to an already robust offense. OVER/UNDER final QB rank this fall 8.5?

Liz –  OVER. After an impressive sophomore campaign in which he produced the fifth most fantasy points per dropback, Marcus Mariota figures to have plenty of fantasy owners saying “mahalo” in 2017. After all, he’s been granted the top-three wishes on any young QB’s list: a formidable offensive line, a fierce run-game, and a “robust” collection of pass-catchers.

Come on. Loaded is a potato skin from Bennigan’s… not the Titans’ receiving corps. Sure Tennessee added depth, but a 30-year-old receiver coming off of hip and shoulder surgeries and rookie who wasn’t able to run at the Combine don’t scream prosperous.

Admittedly, Mariota was able to do plenty with less last season, remaining poised in the pocket and efficient in the red zone (61%). That’s why he’s my QB9. To assume, however, that he’s going to pass for 1,000 more yards or triple his number of rushing scores is a bit far fetched. Don’t be distracted by the noise. Otherwise, you’ll end of paying for hype instead of harvest.

[Fantasy Football is open! Sign up now]

Brad – UNDER. YEEEE (EXPLETIVE) HAW!!! Start-to-finish, Mariota is about to unleash a thunderous Hawaiian punch on the league. Last season’s breakthrough was only the undercard. Recall in that campaign he was the third-most valuable fantasy passer Weeks 5-12. Over that span he completed 67.4 percent of his attempts, averaged 259.1 passing yards per game, 29.8 rushing yards per game and tallied a 25:3 TD:INT (two rushing) split. Overall, his red-zone and deep-ball tosses were stunningly pinpoint.

Digging deeper, Mariota’s achievement was summarized by considerable efficiency. The run-heavy Titans featured three-wide receiver sets just 42 percent of the time, well below the 60 percent league average, yet he still blossomed. Yes, he floundered often after halftime (87.5 QB rating) and struggled in losses (80.1 QB rating, 6.7 YPA), but those were growing pains of an emerging superstar. With Corey Davis and Eric Decker now in the mix, I suspect offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie to veer away from the ground-and-pound and implement more spread formations.

Well-protected behind a top-flight offensive line and supported by a pair of stud running backs, Mariota has all the ingredients needed to climb the ladder in 2017. If he experiences no setbacks in his broken leg recovery, investors are looking at a top-five passer who should finish in range of 4,000 passing yards, 300 rushing yards and 31-33 total touchdowns (2-3 rushing). He is criminally undervalued.

Derrick Henrylooks faster, and is no doubt hungry” according to TitansOnline.com’s Jim Wyatt. The comment along with expectations DeMarco Murray takes a step back has prompted many in the fantasy community to shell out a mid-round pick for the sophomore back. Is Henry’s speculated ascension NEWS or FAKE NEWS?

Brad – FAKE NEWS. Murray’s expected demise is greatly exaggerated. Even conspiracy theorist quack Alex Jones, arguably the king of ‘Fake News,’ would agree.

It’s outlandish how high Henry is going in early drafts. On the surface, he’s a complementary rusher in the same vein as greenhorns Kareem Hunt (99.3 ADP, RB38) and James Connor (194.8, RB63). Most detrimental, his advanced profile – No. 51 in juke rate?! – is simply meh. Ultimately, though Robiskie’s conservative play calling may unspool somewhat given the upgrades at receiver, the Titans will continue to lean on their workhorse, as they should.

Murray performed terrifically last year. Earning 73.9 percent of the opportunity share, he ranked top-10 in evaded tackles and yards after contact per game. He also benefited from numerous light fronts (21.8 percent of the time) behind a formidable offensive line (No. 4 in run-blocking per Football Outsiders). Adding Decker and Davis will only increase exploitable opportunities.

Henry criers argue his elevated role down the stretch last year is a harbinger of carries to come. Murray’s workload may see a slight reduction, but it’s highly likely a 70-30 or 65-35 split materializes in his favor. His pass-catching and red-zone presences will also be unchanged. Mike Mularkey’s admission DeMarco is the clear-cut No. 1 back in late March only confirms the belief. Unequivocally, he’s a top-10 rusher worthy of a late first-round pick in any format.

Liz – NEWS. After touching the ball nearly 350 times in 2016 and entering his age-29 season, it’s entirely possible that DeMarco Murray’s load may begin to lighten this coming fall. The Titans have him under contract through 2019, but there is a potential out at the end of this season, which could work in the younger back’s favor.

Even if Murray remains the team’s workhorse, Henry’s role is likely to increase. After all, Tennessee spent a second-round pick on him. And he fared well in his rookie outing, especially impressing against stacked fronts with 3.1 YPC in heavily pressured situations.

It’s additionally interesting to note that down the stretch, Henry was deployed at the goal line more frequently than Murray, averaging a higher number of red zone carries (2.8/game) from Weeks 12-17. While Murray remains a top-ten option, there’s no denying Henry’s upside. In fact, he may be this year’s most valuable handcuff.

PICK YOUR POISON. Among Titans targets which profits most handsomely this season based on current ADP: Delanie Walker (96.1 ADP, TE9), Eric Decker (92.1, WR43), Corey Davis (83.1, WR39) or Rishard Matthews (130.6, WR53)? 

Liz – WALKER. Of the Titans’ pass-catching weapons, he’s the most proven. Targeted a whopping 102 times and producing a 65-800-7 stat line, Walker was the fifth best fantasy player at the position in 2016. While his opportunities figure to decline given the additions of Decker and Davis, his sure-handedness (he recorded the second fewest – 6 – drops last year) and rapport with Mariota make him a dependable pick at an otherwise inconsistent position. FF: 57-693-6

Brad – DECKER. Scoring a waterproof dog hammock at 69 percent off on Amazon Prime Day is the fantasy equivalent to stealing Decker at his current 90-plus ADP. The prominent red-zone target, healthy after hip and shoulder surgeries, is slated to carve out a giant role inside the 20. It’s doubtful he entices 22-plus percent of the overall targets share given the mouths to feed, but he should churn out a very useful WR3 line, at a minimum, in 12-team and deeper leagues. Remember, Mariota tossed laser-guided balls near the goal line last year. Decker’s 6-foot-3 height and knack for getting open will attract the QB’s eyes. A final output in the ballpark of 65-875-8 is very doable. Think of him as the AFC’s version of Davante Adams.

Chuck passes at Brad and Liz follow them on Twitter @YahooNoise and @LizLoza_FF