2020 Fantasy Preview: Tennessee Titans

Bryan Sweet continues the 2020 Team Preview series with a fantasy-focused look at the Tennessee Titans.

Tennessee Titans


The 2019 Tennessee Titans exceeded the expectations of even the most optimistic fans despite finishing at 9-7 for the fourth consecutive season.  The Titans traveled to Gillette Stadium and knocked off the reigning Super Bowl Champions New England Patriots in the Wild Card Round of the NFL playoffs, and then did the unimaginable and bullied the #1 seed Baltimore Ravens to reach the AFC Championship Game. Ultimately their Cinderella run ended at the hands of the eventual Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs, but the Titans were a dominant team down the stretch. 

The Titans fielded the 12th-best offense in 2019 (5,805 total yards), bolstered by Derrick Henry’s NFL-leading 1,540 yards on the ground.  Perhaps surprisingly, Tennessee also led the NFL in yards per pass attempt (8.8 YPA), likely due to the fact that Baltimore was the only team to pass less than the Titans in 2019.  Rookie WR A.J. Brown was a pleasant surprise for the team and fantasy players alike, leading the team in receptions (52), receiving yards (1,051), and receiving TDs (8).  Ryan Tannehill rejuvenated his career in Tennessee, leading the NFL in yards per attempt (9.6), passer rating (117.5), and yards per completion (13.6) over his 10 regular-season starts.

The Titans underwent a myriad of personnel changes throughout the 2019 season, but the offensive unit that advanced to the AFC Championship Game remains primarily intact.  The biggest change comes along the offensive line as former first-round pick Jack Conklin will now be manning one of the tackle spots in Cleveland.  Currently, Dennis Smith is projected to start in the spot vacated by Conklin, but the Titans did draft Isaiah Wilson in the first round, a highly-touted tackle out of the University of Georgia.  There is a chance he steps into the starting role sooner rather than later. Tannehill remains under center and Henry remains the stalwart at running back.  Brown, Corey Davis, and Adam Humphries will be the primary receiving options along with some combination of Jonnu Smith and Anthony Firkser at tight end.  Offensive depth at the skill positions is a concern as the Titans have no notable depth at QB, RB, or WR beyond those mentioned earlier.




Ryan Tannehill
ADP: 153, QB21

Ryan Tannehill’s resurgence was so dramatic he was awarded the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award; the only time I can remember when the award was not given to a player returning from injury.  Tannehill took over for the struggling Marcus Mariota during the team’s week six shutout loss to the Denver Broncos and never relinquished the starting role.  If we project Tannehill’s performance from the 10+ full games he played over a 16-game season, Tannehill would have set career highs in yardage (4,387), passing touchdowns (35) and passer rating (117.5) against just 9 interceptions.  Tannehill also chipped in 185 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns to further bolster his fantasy numbers.

However (isn’t there always a however), Tannehill’s numbers over the Titans three playoff games tells a different story.  Tannehill attempted just 60 passes in three full games, completing 36 for a paltry 369 yards and five touchdowns.  Those numbers, projected to a full 16-game season, would be 1,968 yards and 26 TDs.  The big question is, “Which Ryan Tannehill will we get in 2020?”


Best Case Scenario

Tannehill continues the torrid pace he set in the regular season and approaches or exceeds 4,000 yards and 30 TDs.  The Titans finally breakthrough for double-digit wins under Mike Vrabel and host a playoff game as AFC South champions.


Worst Case Scenario

The coaching staff tries to replicate the success Tennessee had in the 2019 playoffs and goes almost exclusively to a run-oriented offense.  Tannehill puts up numbers reminiscent of his last two seasons in Miami and struggles to find a home on fantasy rosters.


2020 Projection: 440 attempts, 290 completions, 3,610 yards, 24 TDs, 11 INTs, 40 carries, 180 yards, 2 TDs.


Running Back


Derrick Henry
ADP: 8, RB7

It is confounding how it took four seasons for someone to finally discover, “Hey, this Derrick Henry guy is pretty good.  Let’s see how he does with a full workload.”  That resulted in Henry leading the league in rushing yards (1,540), carries (303), and rushing touchdowns (16 – tied with Aaron Jones), and he was the primary driving force behind Tennessee’s run to the AFC Championship Game.  Henry joined Ezekiel Elliott as the only member of the 300-carry club in 2019 – a number that has drawn concern from fantasy players over the years.

Generally speaking, running backs see a decline in fantasy production the year following 300 carries either due to workload limitations, injury, or just wear and tear on the human body.  Fortunately, we have a recent example in Elliott.  In 2018, Elliott had 304 carries but only saw a small decrease in total yardage (226 total yards) but increased his TD output (5 more TDs in 2019).  Henry’s case is very similar to Elliott’s heading into his post-300 carry season; limited threat to his touches, a run-focused attack, and youth (Henry will be 26 when the 2020 season begins, Elliott was 24 at the start of last season).


Best Case Scenario

Henry maintains a high-volume workload and gets worked into the passing game even more, leading the NFL in total yards and finishing as the RB1 in fantasy.


Worst Case Scenario

Henry sees a dip in production following the largest workload of his career and continues to be phased out of the passing game in favor of rookie Darrynton Evans.  Henry maintains RB1 status but does not live up to his draft position as an elite RB.


2020 projection: 297 carries, 1,396 yards, 12 TDs, 29 targets, 23 receptions, 189 yards, 1 TD.


Darrynton Evans
ADP: 163, RB66

When Mike Vrabel took over head coaching duties for the Titans in 2018, Dion Lewis joined the team to pair with Henry in what many thought would be a “Thunder and Lightning” attack reminiscent of Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne with the New York Giants.  However, Lewis never really found his groove in Tennessee and he was cut following the 2019 season.

Heading into the 2020 NFL Draft, many expected the Titans to acquire an RB to offset the loss of Lewis but it was mildly shocking when Tennessee used a third-round pick on Darrynton Evans from Appalachian State.  Evans profiles as the perfect complement to Henry in Tennessee’s offense as he is a competent receiver out of the backfield and had an excellent performance at the NFL Combine (4.41-second 40-yard dash, 37-inch Vertical, 20 Bench Press reps), reinforcing the explosiveness he displayed in college.

Evans should immediately slot in as the team’s primary receiving back and may even handle some kick and punt return duties during his rookie season.  Evans can handle some early-down work to give Henry some breathers, but his size (5’ 10”, 203 pounds) may hinder his effectiveness on carries between the tackles.


Best Case Scenario

Evans immediately steps into the third-down running back role and some early-down work and lives up to his third-round draft stock.  He provides a spark on special teams and significantly outperforms the numbers Dion Lewis put up in a similar role in 2019.


Worst Case Scenario

Evans is overwhelmed by the level of competition in the NFL after three years in the Sun Belt Conference and never grows comfortable with his role.  His output is no better than what Lewis was able to accomplish, casting doubt on his selection as a day two pick in the NFL Draft.


2020 projection: 82 carries, 361 yards, 2 TDs, 37 targets, 22 receptions, 173 yards, 1 TD.


Wide Receiver


A.J. Brown
ADP: 43.2, WR18

Despite being on an offense that attempted the fewest number of passes outside of Baltimore, A.J. Brown became the first player in nearly 50 years to accumulate at least 1,000 receiving yards AND average 20+ yards per reception.  Brown was targeted 84 times last season, but his target share between Marcus Mariota and Tannehill is telling.  Brown saw 23 of Mariota’s 160 attempts (14.3%) and 61 of Tannehill’s (21.3%), showing Tannehill’s confidence in Brown as the season wore on.  Brown was also a load to bring down, racking up the sixth-most yards after the catch among wide receivers with 465 yards and tied for fourth among receivers with eight touchdowns.  Brown also chipped in a rushing touchdown along with 60 rushing yards for good measure.

Brown has become the clear-cut #1 wide receiver on the team and should remain a viable part of the offense in 2020.  Despite the low-volume passing game, Brown projects to see enough targets to remain in the WR1 conversation for fantasy this season.


Best Case Scenario

Brown improves on his rookie numbers with a full season of Tannehill at quarterback.  Brown soaks up 100+ targets and secures double-digit touchdowns en route to a second consecutive Pro Bowl selection.


Worst Case Scenario

Brown remains the focal point of the passing game, but the volume isn’t there to support him as a consistent fantasy producer.  The extra attention from defenses limits his upside as he fails to reach the lofty expectations set following his rookie season.


2020 Projection: 108 targets, 71 receptions, 1,089 yards, 8 TDs; 3 carries, 36 yards, 0 TDs.


Corey Davis
ADP: 183, WR74

Corey Davis has been a bit of a disappointment over his first three seasons given he was the #5 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.  Davis has been unable to find the endzone consistently (six career touchdowns) and has only a 57% catch rate thus far for his NFL career.  After being the de facto #1 wide receiver on the team, Davis lost that role as a result of the emergence of A.J. Brown.  Unfortunately for Davis, this also resulted in a drop in production from 2018.

Davis will still start opposite Brown in 2020 and is an excellent downfield blocker, so there doesn’t appear to be any reason for the team to exclude him from the weekly gameplan.  Unfortunately for Davis, Tennessee employs a run-heavy approach which will lessen his opportunities even more.  This looks like a make-or-break year for Davis and his future with the team. Davis finds himself on the PUP list to begin camp as he recovers from offseason toe surgery but is expected to be ready for Week 1.


Best Case Scenario

Davis takes advantage of the attention Brown demands and displays the traits that made him a top-five pick in 2017.  Davis sets career highs in yardage and TDs and lands as a solid WR2 in fantasy with some WR1 weeks sprinkled in.


Worst Case Scenario

Davis is slow to recover from surgery and sees his opportunities in the passing game reach a new low.  The Titans part ways with Davis following the season.


2020 Projection: 64 targets, 37 receptions, 514 yards, 3 TDs.


Adam Humphries
ADP: 191, WR81

The Titans paid handsomely for the services of Adam Humphries before the 2019 season (4 years, $36 million), a seemingly high price for a slot WR.  Humphries did exactly what was asked of him, however, catching better than 78% of his targets and converting first downs on 54% of his receptions.  This made Humphries a much better NFL player than a fantasy player and a late-season injury led to the lowest output of Humphries’ career.

No one can predict injuries, so a fully healthy season from Humphries should translate to better production. But Tennessee’s offense is so dependent on the run that it’s hard to rely on Humphries as a fantasy option barring something happening to either Davis or Brown.


Best Case Scenario

Humphries sees an uptick in targets with a fully healthy season and the departure of veteran TE Delanie Walker.  Humphries parlays the extra opportunities into a solid if unspectacular season and helps the Titans to the playoffs for a second straight year.


Worst Case Scenario

Humphries continues to see nothing more than short or intermediate opportunities to gain first downs and grind the clock.  Humphries is an asset to the Titans but can’t be trusted by fantasy players as anything other than an emergency option.


2020 Projection: 62 targets, 47 receptions, 474 yards, 2 TDs.


Tight End


Jonnu Smith
ADP: 155.2, TE17

Jonnu Smith has improved in every statistical receiving category over his first three years in the league and there are reasons for optimism for another bump in production heading into 2020.  First, Tennessee cut veteran tight end Delanie Walker following the 2019 season after two injury-shortened seasons.  Second, Smith saw a nice uptick in targets per game once Tannehill took over as the team’s starting quarterback (1.33 targets/game with Mariota vs. 3.46 with Tannehill).  Finally, he is in a contract year and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent heading into the 2021 season.

Smith is also an athletic specimen, measuring in at 6’3” and 248 pounds and was clocked at 4.62 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the 2017 NFL Combine.  The team views Smith as a legitimate receiving threat as well, splitting him off the line to get a better matchup for him at times throughout each game.

Unfortunately, Smith is stuck in a low-volume offense which limits his upside.  Even a 10% increase in production would likely keep Smith out of the TE1 ranks.


Best Case Scenario

Smith sees his target share grow again absent Delanie Walker and Tajae Sharpe, pushing his opportunities up for a fourth straight season.  Smith capitalizes on his increased chances and has his best season to date, making him a weekly TE1.


Worst Case Scenario

Smith sees a marginal uptick in opportunity and turns in another quality season but one void of serious fantasy consideration.  Smith is a streaming option at the position for fantasy players, but can’t be trusted on a week-to-week basis.


2020 Projection: 64 targets, 47 receptions, 603 yards, 5 TDs.



Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.