Kickoff: Monday, September 14th at 10:20 PM ET
Location: Empower Field at Mile High, Denver, CO
Betting Odds: DEN -1.5, 41 total via Oddsshark
Ryan Tannehill (Sit)
Ryan Tannehill was so much better in Tennessee than he was in Miami that he was awarded the Comeback Player of the Year despite starting 11 games for Miami in 2018. Tannehill played in 11 games for Tennessee in 2019, starting 10, and amassed 2,742 yards and 22 TDs against just six interceptions, and chipped in 185 yards and four TDs rushing. Extrapolated over a 16 game season, that would be nearly 4,000 passing yards and 32 TDs with an additional 270 rushing yards and 5 rushing TDs. Those numbers are reminiscent of his senior year at Texas A&M for which he became the 8th overall selection in the NFL Draft. Then the playoffs rolled around. Tennessee knocked off New England and Baltimore before falling to Kansas City in the AFC Championship game, but Tannehill’s numbers in those three games were putrid. COMBINED he went 36-60 for 369 yards and five TDs with 40 rushing yards and one TD. If we project those numbers over a 16-game season we’re left with 1,968 passing yards, 26 passing TDs, 213 rushing yards, and five rushing TDs. Denver was in the top half of the NFL in pass defense in 2019 but was just 25th in takeaways with 17. The healthy return of Bradley Chubb along with newcomers Jurell Casey and A.J. Bouye should keep Denver’s defense around the top 10 for the 2020 season. That combined with Tennessee’s run-heavy attack makes Tannehill an unattractive option for Week 1 and is an easy sit for fantasy managers.
Derrick Henry (Start RB1), Darrynton Evans (Sit)
It took the front office and coaching staff of Tennessee four years to turn the reins fully over to Derrick Henry and he responded by leading the NFL in rushing yards (1,540) and tied for the league lead in rushing TDs (16). Henry is seldom used in the passing game although he did snare 18 passes for 206 yards and two TDs, those end-of-season numbers are skewed somewhat by a 75-yard catch-and-run in Week 1. Henry is the focal point of the offense, rightfully so, and should continue to see 20-30 carries a game as long as the score doesn’t get out of hand. Henry does take a slight hit in PPR leagues, but he should still finish as an RB1 in Week 1 and can be started with confidence. Rookie third-round selection Darrynton Evans is just about the only other RB likely to see time in Tennessee’s backfield and it is expected to be only sparingly. Evans demonstrates good hands out of the backfield, but he likely won’t get enough opportunities to make an impact for fantasy managers. Evans is a nice handcuff for anyone who drafted Henry but is a non-factor for Week 1.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
A.J. Brown (Start WR2), Corey Davis (Sit), Jonnu Smith (Sit)
A.J. Brown burst onto the scene as a rookie with 100 receiving yards in his first game as a pro and continued on that path to the tune of 1,051 yards and eight TDs for the season. Brown quickly became Tannehill’s number-one target and his impressive open-field moves and tackle-breaking ability caused headaches for defensive coordinators trying to gameplan for Brown and Henry. Despite Bown’s impressive rookie campaign, he too often was a disappointment for fantasy managers (eight games with under 50 yards and only one TD in those games) and this, combined with Tennessee’s penchant for running the football, makes Brown no more than a WR2 for this week. Corey Davis has been a bit of a disappointment since commanding the #5 overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft. Davis only commands 5-7 targets a game and has trouble finding the end zone. Davis seems destined to find a new home following this season and there is no reason for him to see your starting lineup this week. Jonnu Smith has the athletic profile to be a matchup nightmare and could move into a prominent role in Tennessee’s offense this season. Smith’s upside is evident but the run-heavy offense limits his ceiling. Smith should finish somewhere in the middle of the TE2 rankings for Week 1 and is a candidate to sit unless he’s your only option.
Drew Lock (Sit)
Despite starting just five games in 2019, Drew Lock enters 2020 as a QB with his arrow firmly pointing up. Lock is surrounded by talented pass catchers at all the skill positions and showed enough last season for Denver to hand over the offense to him. Lock’s first test in 2020 will be against a Tennessee defense that struggled against the pass in 2019 landing in the bottom third in most defensive passing categories. The Titans lost Jurell Casey, Logan Ryan, and Wesley Woodyard but hope newcomers Vic Beasley and Jadaveon Clowney will help offset those losses. Lock is too much of an unknown for fantasy managers to trust in Week 1 as anything other than a low-end QB2 in leagues that allow for two QBs. In traditional leagues, Lock is a fine bench stash to see if he develops but an easy sit this week.
Melvin Gordon (Start RB2), Phillip Lindsay (Sit)
Melvin Gordon stayed in the AFC West following his departure from the Chargers as the Broncos offered him a two-year, $16 million contract. Gordon has proven himself to be a solid contributor both on the field and for fantasy managers despite missing four games each of the last two seasons and splitting time with Austin Ekeler. Gordon is projected to be the team’s primary RB and should continue with similar production as he experienced with the Chargers. Expect Gordon to finish in the upper RB2 ranks and be a fine starting option for the opening week for fantasy managers. Despite back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons from Phillip Lindsay, the Broncos sent a clear message that they don’t consider him a starting RB with the signing of Gordon. Lindsay did struggle in the passing game, dropping 10 percent of his targets and also failed to convert most of his third-down and red zone opportunities. Lindsay should serve as a fine complimentary piece to Gordon and may see opportunities throughout the season as a flex option for fantasy managers but this is not one of those opportunities. Pass on Lindsay unless you’re desperate in your flex for Week 1.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Courtland Sutton (Start WR3/FLEX), Jerry Jeudy (Sit), Noah Fant (Sit)
Courtland Sutton quickly became Lock’s favorite receiver and for good reason. Sutton is an incredibly physical receiver that has the “my ball” mentality to win contested catches and plays much taller than his 6′ 4″ frame with his incredible leaping ability. Despite facing the opposition’s best defender most of the season, Sutton still finished with 1,112 yards and six TDs to finish squarely in the WR2 ranks. Although better weeks are ahead, if the Titans can control the clock with their running game, Sutton’s opportunities will be diminished due to the lack of offensive possessions. Sutton could creep into the bottom of the WR2 tier but he’s a better fit as a WR3 or flex option in Week 1. Lining up on the opposite side of Sutton will be rookie Jerry Jeudy, considered by many to be the best WR in a loaded draft class because of his precision route-running. If Sutton is Denver’s #1 WR, Jeudy should be considered the 1a and should have many weeks of startable production. While it’s not unheard of for rookie WRs to make an immediate impact, it’s best to temper expectations for Week 1 given the opponent and lack of a typical offseason. Jeudy might end up as a low-end WR3, but a place on the benches of fantasy managers would be a prudent approach. Much like his counterpart on the Titans, Noah Fant has tantalizing athleticism that was on full display at times last season. His speed presents difficulties for LBs and he knows how to use his big frame to shield defenders. Fant is likely to end up as a TE2 on the season and I can see a similar finish in Week 1. Fant, like Smith above, looks like a middling TE2 for this week and can only be recommended if he’s your only option.
-Bryan Sweet (@FantasyFreakTN on Twitter)