While many of our RBBC teams tend to raise more questions than have answers, we look at the 2019 Tennessee Titans as one of the easier two headed backfields to predict. The reason? The backfield in Tennessee has two very clearly defined roles between the elite pass catcher Dion Lewis and the downhill bruiser Derrick Henry.
There weren’t many better redemption stories than the one authored by former Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry. After a disappointing first half of the season, he broke out in a massive way in week 14, posting excellent numbers to finish the season and propelling many fantasy teams to championships. The evidence was there, though, as early as week 9. Before the bye week, Henry was averaging a paltry 39 yards per contest, good for 3.25 YPC, and a single TD, but following the bye, his efficiency immediately improved with a four game stretch that saw him nearly double his season total and increase his efficiency to 4.5 yards per carry.
Then week 14 happened. The 238 yard, 4 TD performance against a reeling Jacksonville defense kicked off a four week stretch where he had no fewer than 84 yards on the ground and nearly a TD each week. It’s important to take the monster performance with a grain of salt, but the peripheral numbers showed he seemed to figure out a few things.
Henry’s counterpart in the Titans offense, Lewis was actually given the Lions share of touches early on, recording 12.2 rushing attempts per game on top of 41 targets through week 10. Unfortunately for Lewis, he struggled in the run game, averaging less than 3.5 yards per carry, and ceding early down touches to Henry at a time that he was heating up. He maintained a stranglehold on the passing downs, but that was much as we expected. Lewis’ bottom line of 155 touches and 517 yards was far from dominant, and is probably where we’d caution that regression is coming. Don’t expect that kind of share of the attempts in 2019.
But can we expect a similar output in the passing game? I think health is his only enemy in terms of target share. As one of the better passing game targets on the roster (only slightly behind perennial disappointment Corey Davis and the oft injured Delanie Walker) we can expect a similar number of targets (65-80) and his elite catch percentage means he’ll be a PPR gem in the 13th round (his current mock draft ADP).
Our biggest concern for this backfield is where Henry ultimately ends up being drafted. Currently going in the 4th round, he offers very little PPR upside, so he’s the kind of boom-or-bust back who’s TD dependency makes him a scary lead back in fantasy. While we do expect him to handle 250-300 touches, he may post a few duds as players of his ilk tend to do. In the 13th round, Dion Lewis is the real target in this offense. With a history of performances that make me think 2018 was a bit of an outlier, he’s still a threat to steal touches if Henry reverts to the sub 4YPC runner he’d been over the bulk of his career. If his ADP advances too far, then his value takes a hit, but both of these backs should prove to be fantasy producers in 2019.
- Derrick Henry | 265 Ru. Attempts, 1190 Ru. Yards, 10 TDs, 15 Rec. and 100 Receiving Yards.
- Dion Lewis | 120 Ru. Attempts, 45 Ru. Yards, 1 TD, 60 Rec, 360 Rec. Yards, 3 Rec. TDs
In a bit of a shocker, veteran Tennessee receiver Rishard Matthews and Titans leadership has agreed to his release. While Matthews has underwhelmed this season due to injuries to himself and to Mariota, this comes as a bit of a surprise as Matthews has been the teams most consistent receiver for years.
With a healthy need for wide receivers, I doubt it will be long for Matthews to find a home, making this a situation to watch.
Likewise, Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor should receive a bump in target share. Both players have the kind of talent that offensive coordinators love to showcase, but it will require a healthy QB to be fully realized. Out of the gates, I’d expect Davis to see a slight uptick in targets, so a 8-10 target day against an Eagles defense that’s 22nd against opposing wide outs in fantasy terms is not an outrageous prediction. In a pinch, Taylor could be a flex play too, but don’t expect world beater numbers.
It was a busy weekend with NFL action featuring several story lines that may or may not make your life easy as you prepare for your drafts. As we continue to inch towards D-day, we’ll continue to review the position battles and injury updates to help you navigate the potential pitfalls.
Tampa Bay vs Tennesee Titans
Suspended Jameis Winston showed why he’s still the best quarterback on the roster with his 13 for 18 performance, putting up a stout 226 yards and 2 TDs. DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans both saw down the field targets as their 4 combined cathes went for over 100 yards.
On a more concerning note, rookie running back Ronald Jones continues to lose ground to incumbent starter Peyton Barber as he managed only 2 yards on 4 carries. It’s been a bit of a slow start to his NFL career as he continues to make headlines for a lack of pass protection and efficiency. Peyton Barber is seeming like a more consistent weapon in the backfield. At their current ADP, you should be targeting Barber in redraft leagues.
On the other side of the football, Mariota wasn’t asked to do as much, but his 80 yards on 4 completions wasn’t too shabby.
In the absence of Corey Davis and Rishard Matthews, it was Taywan Taylor that garnered all the attention as he took his 4 receptions for 95 yards and a TD. If Matthews is forced to miss time, Taylor could be a nice deep sleeper target, or waiver wire add if you drafted early.
Unfortunately, not much headway was made in the running game as both Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry were ineffectual again with neither one doing much on the ground. While it’s mostly a blip on the radar, it’s a backfield I have highlighted as one to avoid. Aside from Lewis in PPR leagues, this backfield is one that I’m not keen to take a chance on at their current ADPs.
25. Arizona Cardinals
Similar to Dallas, this top heavy roster has failed to produce beyond it’s run game and Larry Fitzgerald for years. Both Johnson and Fitzgerald are fairly safe bets, but who else on the roster can you trust. Newly signed QB Sam Bradford has never wowed me, but his efficiency may help support a 2nd QB if he can stay healthy. That, of course is the million dollar question… can he stay healthy?
Players worth Drafting: David Johnson (ADP 3), Larry Fitzgerald (ADP 33), Christian Kirk (ADP 182)
In ESPN mock drafts neither Bradford or Rosen are being selected with any regularity, further muddying the waters beyond the two players being selected early. Kirk is a buzzy rookie, but the rest of the roster seems to be off of the radar. Of course, if Bradford gets hurt, Rosen could be a sneaky waiver add; his profile certainly looks like that of an NFL starter.
Deep Sleeper: While Kirk was my first choice, the buzz surrounding him is loud enough now that Ricky-Seals Jones is currently being overlooked as a potential breakout candidate. A WR in college, Jones certainly profiles as a pass catching TE, and only his ability to pass block can keep him from seeing meaningful snaps in the passing game.
24. Washington Redskins
Like many of the teams in this range, turnover at the most important position in football, the quarter back position, could mean any number of things. Will Alex Smith continue to throw the ball down field after reinventing himself in Kansas City last year? Can the post hype potential of guys like Josh Doctson finally be realized?
Worth Drafting: Derrius Guice (ADP 40), Jordan Reed (ADP 85), Chris Thompson (ADP 99), Jamison Crowder (ADP 100), Alex Smith (ADP 129), Josh Doctson (ADP 137), Paul Richardson (ADP 174)
It was a strange season for Washington last year. Despite the heroic efforts of Kirk Cousins, the offense never really found a rhythm, and the ADP data suggests that no one really knows who will emerge as a top 25 WR. Alex Smith has made a career out of making the safe play, so expecting a return to last years gun slinging ways is a bit pre-mature, but Jordan Reed may be the biggest beneficiary if he can stay healthy. Odds are he won’t, but Smith tends to turn TE’s into elite fantasy options, and Reed has the talent to be a top 5 TE this season.
Deep Sleeper: While Alex Smith will have to gain some chemistry with his new team, 2nd string TE Vernon Davis is already intimately familiar with the former first overall pick. I expect Davis to have a healthy amount of snaps in this offense, and while he’s been mostly quiet since leaving San Fransisco, the TE is still a great athlete and he’s turned in his best seasons with Smith at the helm. For just about nothing, he has Top 15 potential (at the TE position).
23. San Fransisco 49ers
One of the busiest teams in the last year and a half, the 49ers went out and got what they consider a cornerstone pairing with Jerick McKinnon in the backfield to go with QB Jimmy Garoppolo. While the defense is expected to be better, this offense should continue to evolve into the high flying machine that Kyle Shanahan tends to put together.
Players Worth Drafting: Jerick McKinnon (ADP 28), Pierre Garcon (ADP 71), Jimmy Garoppolo (ADP 104), Marquise Goodwin (ADP 106), George Kittle (ADP 164), Matt Brieda (ADP 186)
Expecting the passing game to be any kind of consistent may be asking a bit too much. While Garoppolo figures to be a very good QB, the stable of receivers isn’t highlighted by any big names, and Jimmy G is just as likely to adopt the Tom Brady method of finding who’s open rather than forcing it to one or two guys. Garcon is a safe bet for consistent targets, but beyond him, there’s no guarantees for season long success.
Deep Sleeper: George Kittle seemed to fade a bit when Garoppolo came into the offense, but a few decent weeks at the end of the season rejuvenated the breakout rumors. With another season in this offense, the young TE is expected to see the bulk of the snaps at the position, and with a passing game orchestrated by Shanahan, we could see a big year at a relatively inexpensive price tag for the 2nd year TE.
22. Jacksonville Jaguars
After turning in a dominant season, riding the strength of it’s rushing game and defense, the Jaguars return in 2018 featuring many of the same strengths and weaknesses. Beyond the obvious stud in Leonard Fournette, this is a team that could warrant it’s own article with all of the moving parts. As always, the Jags figure to surprise in a few more areas this year.
Players Worth Drafting: Leonard Fournette (ADP 11), Marqise Lee (ADP 118), Austin Sefarian-Jenkins (ADP 166)
The list of players being drafted, as noted above, may seem smaller than one would like, but part of the problem is that beyond Lee, the passing game features a handful of guys who have little on their resume. With the mercurial Blake Bortles set to start under center again, it’s always a question of who outside the top guy can he support? I’m a fan of Keelan Cole, if only because he helped me secure a championship, but there’s a lot of middling talent on this team that could be both fantastic or awful.
Deep Sleeper: Austin Sefarian-Jenkins is one of my favorite picks to bounce back this year. After failing spectacularly to cash in on the hype, it was learned he was struggling with some kind of alcohol or drug abuse and he set about getting clean. Recently, he explained that, now sober, he’s in the best place he’s been in years and he’s ready to bring it full circle. I’m willing to give the guy a 2nd chance, as his talent excites me.
21. Tennessee Titans
When the season started last year, many fantasy pundits, myself included, had several Titans queued up as breakout candidates. Unfortunately, despite a playoff birth, most of this teams fantasy studs took a step back, hamstringing teams that relied heavily on players like the recently retired DeMarco Murray and 3rd year QB Marcus Mariota. With a new coaching staff looking to rejuvenate a team with plenty of talent, there’s optimism that this year could be the breakout last year should have ben
Players Worth Drafting: Derrick Henry (ADP 47), Delanie Walker (ADP 63), Dion Lewis (ADP 70), Corey Davis (ADP 77), Rishard Matthews (ADP 140), Marcus Mariotta (ADP 141)
Knowing how much talent Mariota has around him, it’d be a shock to see him continue the trend of regression. Corey Davis is no longer dinged up and Rishard Matthews continues to be an underrated workhorse. Throw in that the coaching staff is now better suited to pull the most out of him and the run game has a two headed monster that’s above average in all aspects of the game, and Mariota is one of the hottest break out commodities in Fantasy.
Deep Sleeper: This team has invested heavily in weapons for Mariota, and none were as successful out of college as 2017 first round pick Corey Davis. Unfortunately for him, the season started off poorly and injuries limited him to just 9 starts and 34 receptions. The talent is certainly there, and a full offseason should work wonders for the teams top receiving threat. While not a traditional “deep” sleeper, his value is a potential top 15 WR is something that can’t be overlooked.
20. Seattle Seahawks
A team in turmoil, the Seahawks had one real bright spot in 2017, and that would be Russell Wilson. There’s no doubting the former 2nd round pick any longer as he’s proven to be one of the leagues top QB’s, both in real life and in fantasy. Where the team lacked any continuity was in the run game. Porous offensive line play combined with a lackluster running back group (Chris Carson not withstanding) led to a season of “run for your life” stats that didn’t translate to success elsewhere. Improved O-line (even if just slightly) and a shiny new convertible in the backfield in Rashaad Penny, and one can be optimistic that there’s some new life in Seattle in 2018.
Players Worth Drafting: Doug Baldwin (ADP 34), Rashaad Penny (ADP 39), Russell wilson (ADP 50), Chris Carson (ADP 167), Tyler Lockett (ADP 170)
Whether you believe Penny is a true three down back or not, the truth is that his handling of 1st and 2nd down should provide some protection from Wilson, who no longer has Jimmy Graham to throw to. Doug Baldwin is the real deal in the slot, and Tyler Lockett has some upside, but this offense may have a handful of late round picks that turn into fantasy gold.
Deep Sleeper: The aforementioned Rashaad Penny is garnering much of the buzz in the backfield, but Chris Carson may offer the best value of any Seattle back. Prior to his injury, he was more effective than anyone else on the roster, and seems to have recovered well from the injury that ended his year. With Pete Carroll promising a return to smash mouth ground and pound football, Carson could be a fine sleeper if Penny isn’t all he’s been advertised (which is always a concern with rookie running backs).
For years it seemed that the elite fantasy running back was going the way of the dodo thanks to backfield committees and an increased reliance on the passing game. That seems to be shifting back slightly with NFL teams hitting on several early round running backs in recent seasons, and using their top guys in the passing game an increasing amount. Still, the offseason presents a handful of roster shakeups that need to be reviewed to understand their impact.
San Fransico 49ers Sign Jerrck McKinnon
The noise from the Jimmy G show drowned out the success that San Fransisco had with their backfield last year, and it’s likely to be the case again this year. With Jerick McKinnon taking over for the departed Carlos Hyde, the question is how much of a workload can we expect the new starter?
Last year he showed flashes of being a well rounded back, capable of running on first down, but in a Kyle Shanahan offense, it could be his pass catching ability that seperates him from the field. While it’s unlikely he challenge for a spot in the top 5, it’s well within reason to expect a top 10 finish with some monster weeks sprinkled in.
Cleveland Browns Sign Carlos Hyde
This signing is a little harder to guage, as Hyde leaves San Fransisco as a workhorse and arrives in a backfield with an established pass catcher in Duke Johnson. You may be surprised to know that Duke Johnson finished 4th in both targets and receptions by a back, so to expect Hyde to step in and syphon large amounts of passing down targets may be a bit of a reach.
It’s more likely that he’ll see early down work and a major roll back on targets, with usage mirroring more closely what Isaiah Crowell experienced. Will he do more with the touches than the mercurial Crowell did? That remains to be seen, but it’s likely that he’ll be drafted off the strength of his 2017 numbers rather than the expectation that he’ll fall out of the top 10 and finish with a good 50 fewer points in 2018.
Tennesse Titans Sign Dion Lewis
I’d forgive you if you thought this signing wasn’t nearly as important as others I could have cited here, but you’d be wrong. This is a match made in heaven as Lewis is one of the NFL’s premier 3rd down backs, and he’s being paired with a two down bruiser that should keep him fresh and on the field.
A high efficiency pass catcher, Lewis has hauled in 80% of targets sent his way in his career, and while New England’s backfield has never been a sure thing, Tennessee is likely to use him in a more consistent and predictable manner. His floor looks something like 45 catches for 400 yards and 4 touch downs, and whatever else he gets on the ground (it won’t be much) but the potential is there in an evolving offense for a 75 target year. Don’t target him in the early rounds, but if you can snag him in the mid to late rounds, he could be a valuable PPR asset.
New England Patriots Sign Jeremy Hill
Sure, we’ve heard this story before, as recently as last season when the Patriots threw a bunch of money into the backfield in the form of Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee. Burkhead turned into a fine Patriot, and is likely to split third downs with James White, but no one seemed to capture that early down roll that was left when LeGarrette Blount went to Philly.
In comes a former early round fantasy stud, Jeremy Hill. After averaging 5 yards per carry as a 22 year old rookie, his contributions seemed to wane more each year, culminating in a 2017 that saw him as the third option in the backfield for a team that seemed to miss use it’s backs all year long. Still only 25 years old, Hill has the chance to take over lead back duties in a Patriots backfield that doesn’t feature any other game breakers. Sure, he could just as likely find himself cut before the season starts, but I’d bet he catches on in New England.
Oakland Raiders Sign Doug Martin
Okay, so what if I seem to think the Muscle Hampster is going to have a bounce back year every year. The truth is he’s still an incredibly gifted runner between the tackles, and he’s leaving Tampa Bay where success has been difficult to come by with any consistency from any of that teams star players.
Instead, he finds himself in a backfield competing for early down touches against two uninspiring backs. While Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington both had their moments, neither one has the pedigree that Martin has. He’s shown the ability to bounce back before, and I expect a solid season out of him this year.
Honorable Mentions: Last year I was all in on the Jets as a sneaky source of fantasy contributions.This year, I’ve tempered my expectations, but the signings of Thomas Rawls and Isaiah Crowell mean there will be an open competition for the first two downs. Also in New York, the Giants have added Jonathan Stewart to it’s backfield, likely in an attempt to gain some kind if spark. It’s crowded with Gallman, Perkins, and Darkwa in the wings, but when Stewart is healthy, he’s a fantastic early back.
So maybe I’ve beaten a dead horse a bit on the bounce back and sleeper picks for QB’s… after all how many are really going to get drafted? Still, there has to be a line in the sand for elite QB1 options and the rest of the group. Who (aside from Joe Flacco… who I will refrain from including in this article) has the potential for a breakout, top 10 season?
Least Risk: Philip Rivers – Los Angelas Chargers – Rivers slots in on my ranks around the 14th spot, meaning he only has to leap four of the QB’s ahead of him. While age is certainly a concern amongst gunslinger type QB’s like Rivers, there’s little evidence that he’s slowing down. It’s clear that, despite the return of Keenan Allen and excpected return of Travis Benjami, LA is committed to giving Rivers more weapons as they drafted one of the best wide outs in the 2017 draft in Mike Williams. Coupled with a capable run game, Rivers is locked and loaded for a massive year.
A Little Risk: Marcus Mariota – Tennessee Titans – If you’re convinced that the Titans are going to ease Mariota back into the playbook following his season ending injury, then by all means, pass on the talented QB. Adding Corey Davis doesn’t seem like they’re committed fully to a run-first scheme, although they certainly want to remain balanced. The upside through the air is modest at best as Mariota still conforms to the NFL game, but his ability to make yards on the ground keep defenses honest and give him space to work. Don’t be alarmed if he starts slow, he’ll be well worth the pick by the end of the season.
Most Risk: Andy Dalton – Cincinnatti Bengals – We’ve heard this one before; Andy Dalton is poised to break out. It certainly doesn’t help having to play fantastic defenses in the ACF North but with John Ross and AJ Green, Dalton has two exceptional burners, and newly aquired RB (via the draft) Joe Mixon rounds out an already formidable backfield capable of catching passes. It may be a bit of a stretch as we can expect a boring, balanced offense in Cincy, but I won’t be surprised if he catches lightning in a bottle to push that top 10 group.
It’s a simple fact that today’s NFL features a large number of teams that have shifted philosophies away from three down backs and towards a two or three back committee. This fact impacts fantasy preperation in two different ways: 1. It adds value to players like Marshawn Lynch who will dominate the touches in the backfield and 2. it creates a shroud of mystery around backfields with two good or great backs.
If you’re smart (lucky) enough to sift through the conjecture and select a back that emerges from a committee to workhorse (eg. Lamar Miller over Knowshon Moreno in 2014, or Moreno over Montee Ball in 2013) then you’ll avoid the fantasy pit that can suck your whole team in if you’re wrong. You can mitigate this risk by correctly evaluation these situation and valuing backs correctly.
Committee’s to Avoid
Cincinnati Bengals: Much like last years pre-season hype surrounding Giovanni Bernard, Jeremy Hills usurping of the throne has created a false sense of security in the Bengals backfield. If you look at the fantasy performance, Hill bested Bernard in Yards (1100 to 650) but he scored at roughly the same clip, only cresting 15 points a handful of times in PPR formats and averaging less than .05 points better per touch than Bernard. If you think the Bengals are going to just hand over the reigns to Hill you’d be wrong. Bernard will still be a big part of the offense, and may actually carry better value in PPR leagues due to his 3rd down ability. The chance for him to steal the starting job back from Hill is very real, so this is a backfield I’m staying away from at all costs if I can.
Arizona Cardinals: Andre Ellington had a rough year, but much of that could be attributed to the overall inconsistency in Arizona’s offense last year. The problem for Ellington is that they added RB David Johnson in the draft who should push Ellington for starting time and will likely eat into his production. Ellington was nothing to write home about without a young stud waiting in the wings and I’d argue that his value takes a steeper hit this year with a player who could potentially replace him as the starting RB.
Detroit Lions: One of the more underrated draft selections, Ameer Abdullah may not be running Joique Bell off the field, but his ability should keep Bell from being the defacto guy on all three downs in Detroit. A team that likes to throw the ball, there may not be as many touches for Bell to retain his value, causing me to avoid him at his current ADP.
Tennessee Titans: Bishop Sankey was a huge disappointment for fantasy owners who drafted him last year after being the first back selected in the NFL draft. He struggled to find holes and never really live up to the pre-season hype. The Titans went out and revamped each of their skill positions, adding Marcus Mariota, David Cobb, and Dorial Green-Beckham signaling a shift in offense. Sankey’s underwhelming performance and questions around his ability to transition to the NFL game could open the door early for Cobb to steal the starting spot. I would avoid Sankey in drafts and maybe look at Cobb late if he falls far enough.
New York Jets: This team seems to be a mess in the backfield every year. The experiment to add Chris Johnson did nothing to foster competition, and Chris Ivory plodded off with the starting role. Despite having a solid yet unspectacular year, the Jets showed they have little faith in him by adding cast off’s Stevan Ridley and Zac Stacy to compete. All three are capable NFL backs, but none of them are three down workhorses. If Ridley can hold on to the football, he may have the best chance to steal the bulk of the carries, but this is a committee I won’t touch with a ten foot pole.