Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire
Before we dive into the fantastic fantasy prospects of Mr. Lewis, I’d like to pose a question to you intelligible readers: when you are asked to name a “true three-down back”, or a “bell cow back”, what name or names immediately come to mind? Surely star backs such as Christian McCaffery, Kareem Hunt, and of course Todd Gurley would come up quite frequently. Why? Because these are the backs that we as fantasy owners set-and-forget; these are the guys with constant workloads, that we all love to ride when our sights are set on that glorious first place prize. What if I told you that Dion Lewis has out-touched all three of these fantasy stalwarts over his last two games, and if not for a 31 touch performance in week 8 by Gurley, the last three weeks as well? Well, he has, having amassed a staggering 21 touches per game on average over weeks 7, 9, and 10. One of the hardest commodities to find in fantasy football is a true high-usage back (20+ touches per game) and it seems Mike Vrabel has created one in Dion Lewis, and right under our noses no less.
I’m sure right about now you’re wondering whether this volume is truly indicative of Lewis’ projected workload in subsequent weeks, or just an aberration. Well, a quick examination of the Titans’ past three games shows there is little in the way of game flow or matchups to intimate Lewis’ newfound workload was merely a flash in the pan. The Titans week 7 loss to the Chargers saw Lewis rack up 19 touches: 13 rushes and 6 receptions. Logically, the Titans shifted to a more pass-happy approach considering they were down for a good majority of the game. Alternatively, the team’s week 9 victory over the Dallas Cowboys saw Lewis amass a heftier 23 touches, but with 19 of those as rush attempts as the team was ahead for most of the game.
This trend continued in week 10, as the Titans cruised to an easy victory over the New England Patriots, and Lewis accordingly saw 20 of his 22 touches come in the form of rush attempts. From looking at his touch distribution and volume these past three weeks, it’s clear Vrabel wants Lewis involved in both the ground game and through the air. As such, Lewis’ workload should continue to be independent of game flow, or matchup for that matter, given the widely varying level of defensive talent and scheme of the team’s three most recent opponents.
In case I haven’t bludgeoned you with enough proof of Lewis’ new workhorse status, let’s take a quick look at his most recent snap counts as well. In weeks 4-7, Lewis’ snap percentage hovered around 65%, while that of his plodding teammate Derrick Henry sat around 35%. Flash forward to the Titans’ two dominant victories post-bye, and we see Lewis’ percentage has risen to a hefty 80% average while Henry’s dropped to around 23%. For reference, the aforementioned Kareem Hunt has averaged about an 80% snap count as well this season, while a player like Melvin Gordon has seen the field on only about 3/4 of his team’s snaps. Lewis is not only seeing the field with the frequency of a true workhorse RB but, as we ascertained, he is being given a workhorse share of touches as well.
Ok, yes, Lewis has every opportunity to be a difference maker for the rest of the fantasy season, but can we realistically expect him to produce like other workhorse backs such as Kareen Hunt, CMC, and Melvin Gordon? Well, not quite. Despite receiving the majority of the Titans’ RB touches, Darrick Henry continues to pose a threat to Lewis’ ability to score TDs, with the duo roughly splitting the team’s running back red zone touches of late, and the Titans offense remains several ticks below those of Hunt, Gordon, and other studs. However, things aren’t all bad in the TD department: Lewis should be due for some positive TD regression as he only has three between his rushing and receiving duties on the year, and the team faces a relatively light schedule to close out the year outside of matchups with Houston and Jacksonville.
So in summary, we have a versatile back in Lewis receiving a stud’s workload, regardless of the opponent or game flow, with a relatively easy schedule moving forward and room for positive TD regression. Does that sound valuable to you? It sure does to me! If you’re lucky enough to be a Lewis owner, congratulations, hold on for dear life; if not, however, I’d try and take advantage of his relatively low-key profile and deflated value to add the 6th year veteran for the stretch run. In Lewis, I believe you could be adding roughly the 13th most valuable running back for the rest of the season, right on par with Nick Chubb. If that’s the case, Lewis could just be your one-way ticket to a fantasy championship.