The Titans wrapped up 2013 finishing 7-9, but went only 2-4 in their division and only beat one team with a winning record. Failing to make the postseason for the fifth consecutive season, they dumped Mike Munchak as their head coach in favor of Ken Whisenhunt this offseason, looking to improve a team that has been below league average in terms of total offense over the past three seasons.
2014 Titans Schedule
|1||@||Kansas City Chiefs|
|14||New York Giants|
|15||New York Jets|
Always use caution when looking at schedules going forward, but Tennessee does get a solid draw pretty much all season. A lot of those teams in their back half project as going in either direction this season, so they could run into a few dumpster fires along the way. Of course they’ll need to avoid being one as well, which is part of the reason why Whisenhunt was brought in. Here’s a look at the ten offenses that he’s been attached to as head coach or offensive coordinator and their splits.
[table id=172 /]
As you can see, last season with San Diego was unlike most of the teams he’s been associated with and actually syncs up more in line with Mike McCoy’s history. Outside of having a fledgling Ben Roethlisberger from 2004-2006, Whiz has been more than happy to throw the football around. Having Kurt Warner for his final surge aided that pass heavy approach, as well as a few real disasters to finish his stint in Arizona, so it is possible that he wants to be more balanced than he’s been in the past and may bring some of what he did a season ago when San Diego overachieved themselves.
Locker’s Last Life
The Titans have had five different leading passers over the past five consecutive seasons. From Vince Young, Kerry Collins, Matt Hasselbeck, and Ryan Fitzpatrick, the last man standing from that group is still Jake Locker. Locker was part of a trio of quarterbacks to be selected after Cam Newton in 2011 in the first round and the others –Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder– have already been disposed of by their clubs. Here’s what Locker has done in relation to those two quarterbacks thus far using the Career Graphs App available at RotoViz.
Locker didn’t start a game until his second season, but has improved in efficiency areas in each of his first three seasons, but those steps have been small due in large part to him being unable to stay on the field due to a plethora of injuries. The most games Locker has appeared in any season is 11 and he has struggled in a division which has been down as a whole the past three seasons.
When he was on the field last year, it was a mixed bag. He sported the 11th worst mark (7.8) in adjusted yards per aimed attempt (AY/AA), but also had four starts with 15 or more fantasy points. He has more fantasy potential than most think because of how effective he is with his legs. 27.6 percent of his fantasy total came from rushing statistics, which was the seventh highest percentage.
Factoring in his stellar offensive line, serviceable receiving unit, and the additions of a few pass-catching backs to go with his mobility and there’s enough there to believe that he can salvage his career, at least for fantasy purposes. Justin Winn also points out that there’s still enough in the red to treat Locker as a potential trap this season.
Both are true which is why Locker is being priced accordingly in the streaming pile of quarterbacks. Given my nature to pursue a stable of late round quarterbacks that can run, Locker will undoubtedly find his way onto some of my teams because of the Titans’ schedule. If he falters immediately, the little capital at all invested allows for you to cut bait. If he does show signs of stability early on, don’t be afraid to grab him off of waivers if he’s there.
Underrated WR Corp?
One of the other intriguing things about Locker is that Tennessee potentially has an underrated group of receivers with a young vertical playmaker in Justin Hunter, a veteran in Nate Washington, a strong inside player in Kendall Wright and a solid tight end in Delanie Walker. As a whole, there are some decent options here, and nearly all will be owned this season in fantasy.
Hunter has a very small sample, playing 30 or more snaps in only five games all season as a rookie. When he did see the field, he made noise, scoring a touchdown once every 85 snaps, which was the 10th best ratio at receiver last season.
Hunter is a big time vertical threat, seeing 39 percent of his targets on throws 20 or more yards downfield, converting three for scores. In extremely limited time with Locker, he caught four of seven targets for two scores, but hauled in only 40 percent of his targets (14 of 35) from Ryan Fitzpatrick. Part of that is on him because he struggled with some drops in limited action, putting five of his 41 targets on the ground.
Whisenhunt has had no issue going vertical with the football in nearly all of the stops he’s made in the NFL. He’s also been around some pretty good young receivers such as Santonio Holmes, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and just recently, Keenan Allen and has been effective at getting them the ball. Hunter has a shiny new toy feel for some in fantasy circles, but in casual leagues he’s coming off the board extremely late. If we’re talking about a player who can beat his ADP and turn into a potential starter on your roster, he’s a better buy at his cost than both Terrance Williams and Kenny Stills.
As good as Hunter was, Washington could still be a potential road block in his path to a breakout. He was mildly effective in fantasy, notching four top 24 PPR scoring weeks, the same numbers as T.Y. Hilton and Michael Floyd, but was disappointing on an efficiency level. Titans’ quarterbacks posted a 58.2 rating targeting Washington, which was good for 87th in the league and he struggled to connect with Locker. Outside of Kenny Britt, Locker had his worst adjusted yards per attempt totals when looking for Washington.
[table id=173 /]
*Min 10 targets
There’s no doubt Washington will hang around because Hunter is still a splash play target at this stage in his development. Other than stealing a few snaps away in potential two receiver sets, he’s not a major threat to Hunter’s viability in fantasy circles, but should provide a few frustrating weeks for the owners who have a piece of this passing game elsewhere.
Wright was a stud from the slot last season. Per Pro Football Focus, he totaled the second most targets from the slot (86) and his 63 slot receptions led the entire NFL. Those short grabs aided in his strong yards after the catch (YAC) totals as his 583 YAC was good for the fifth most in the league. He had five or more receptions in 12 games last season, which was tied for the third most in the league.
All of that didn’t equate to fantasy magic, however as even though Wright was consistent in catching the football; he wasn’t consistent in scoring high end fantasy points. Even in PPR leagues, Wright failed to make the kings of consistency list at receiver, with only seven top 24 weeks. That’s because thus far in his career, he’s had a tough time finding the end zone, converting only six of his 158 career receptions for scores so far. In terms of scoring rates, those numbers are the ninth worst in terms of receptions and 12th worst in terms of targets over the past two seasons.
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He’s converted just five of 23 red zone targets for scores through two seasons, parallel to the six for 26 that he converted in college. Eddie Royal had an outlier red zone season a year ago under Whisenhunt, but counting on screen passes in the red zone to have a year over year success rate seems counterintuitive and other slot options on his prior teams didn’t yield similar red zone results.
Another knock is that even though he had those high yards after the catch numbers, they were mostly from a culmination of volume as he was still 82nd in yards per reception at 11.5 per grab. Over the past two seasons, Wright has only 23 receptions that have gone for over 20 yards (14.6 percent of his catches), which is the same total as Greg Olsen.
The bottom line with Wright is that you either believe that he’s going to have just enough positive touchdown regression that will keep him as a strong WR2 or you believe that negative volume regression will force him down to a WR3 or lower. His 2013 season was a major outlier in terms of PPR scoring, something that has happened on average only once every four seasons in the league, so don’t bank on an identical season happening again no matter which side of the coin you fall on.
Walker is intriguing because Locker was effective throwing him the football, especially in the end zone. The downside is that if Hunter emerges and Washington hangs around, Walker could be the odd man out. Walker finished as 11th overall scorer at tight end last season, but had only five top 12 scoring weeks and only two of which came with Locker. Using the Games Splits App available at RotoViz, look at his splits with Locker and Fitzpatrick.
The noticeable difference is the target volume stretched out for a full season. That’s problematic in conjunction with Whisenhunt, because only once in ten years has a tight end had more than 68 targets in a season. Also, only once has a tight end scored more than five touchdowns in a season. For 2014, Walker will be similar to Washington, having sporadic fantasy usage that is best left for streaming at the tight end position.
Titan Run Game
Tennessee invested a second round draft pick in Bishop Sankey this spring and he projects to be the most involved in this backfield. Sankey was a player that had tons of production out of college rushing and receiving the football and ripped up the combine. Sankey has really high end comparables as a prospect, but his 2014 fantasy values lies in his usage and if he’ll be utilized as the workhorse back that he displayed he can be. With his versatility in both facets as a runner and receiver, and this offensive line being one of the better units in the league, it wouldn’t be a surprise for Sankey have a fantasy season similar to that of Giovani Bernard or less from a year ago in terms of overall touches, trading a handful of receptions for carries.
As far as rookie backs go, he’s the top selection for drafts and paying anything past the fourth round is a solid purchase. All of the running back timeshares under Whishenhunt prior to 2013 were injury related situations.
He also could be a player that has potential to be uninvolved near the goal line, as Shonn Greene and Jackie Battle accounted for 14 of the 15 running back attempts a year ago inside the five yard line. Battle was ineffective, converting only one of seven for a touchdown before Greene returned, so pay him no mind. Greene has seen his yards per carry drop three consecutive seasons and only averaged seven attempts per game last season, so short yardage duty is his only true spot to make a significant impact despite what you’re hearing now. He may open the season as the starter, but all that will do is create a solid price point on purchasing Sankey.
The last piece of this offense that shouldn’t be totally forgotten about is Dexter McCluster who was given a three year; $9 million deal this offseason. By now, we all know that his signing likely means he will be utilized in a similar fashion to how Danny Woodhead was a year ago under Whisenhunt, but to what degree remains to be determined. Looking at McCluster’s career so far and his final two seasons of college, there’s a good reason to believe that he’s been a misused player so far.
[table id=175 /]
Outside of 2011 when Jamaal Charles was lost for the season in week two, McCluster has been used as a receiver that dabbles at running back rather than a back who moonlights as a receiver. Everything above points to that being a mistake, and in his once NFL stint carrying the football, he was effective at 4.5 yards per attempt. Woodhead led the Chargers in red zone targets in 2013, something I wouldn’t bank on this season in Tennessee, but McCluster does carry sneaky value for leagues that award return yardage and is undervalued in PPR leagues if he is eligible at running back.
2014 Fantasy Relevant Projections
Best Option to Crash through their projection without injury: Sankey – Sankey will go as his volume goes and if that volume turns out to be that of a true lead back, he’s very likely going to return value on his draft spot in the fourth round plus.
Biggest Risk to fall through their projection: Wright – if Hunter makes a sizeable jump overall and McCluster and Sankey are involved in the passing game, Wright’s volume overall could take a hit since he’s not likely to score a lot of touchdowns even with positive regression.
Best Waiver Wire Option: McCluster – he’s likely going to skate through most leagues but has some value for those forfeiting the position early on in PPR leagues.
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