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How the Titans-Ravens Upset May Alter Fantasy Outlooks


Saturday’s AFC Divisional Playoff Game between the Titans and Ravens may have been much more than just the biggest upset of the NFL season.

It was also an event that might have quickly changed perceptions about two prominent players in the early part of 2020 fantasy football drafts and altered some thoughts about them as keepers a bit.

The NFL playoffs are when guys truly show what they are made of. For Lamar Jackson, that may have not been a good thing. For Derrick Henry, expectations will now soar to even greater heights.

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Clipped Wings?

As soon as the current fantasy football season ends, owners look ahead to next year and start speculating on how seasonal drafts may turn out. They also begin to consider who their prime keeper selections should be.

I presented my first one-man mock draft well ahead of next season on Seahawks.com with early 2020 season outlooks in mind. This was just before Week 17 of the regular season, and at the time, Jackson had finished nearly 100 points ahead of the second-highest producing player at quarterback. I pinpointed him as my sixth overall selection, with the reasoning that the “wait until later” rules of drafting a QB did not apply to him. Jackson was a completely distinctive player who we had never seen the likes of before as a running/passing hybrid.

But then Tennessee defensive coordinator Dean Pees may have changed the way we should view Jackson heading into next season. He accomplished what no other opponent had been able to during the regular season: He contained Jackson, and his players completely frustrated the leading MVP candidate. The Titans intercepted Jackson twice, forced him to fumble, and sacked him four times.

Jackson still did throw for 365 yards and a TD and rushed for 143 yards. But he built that much of that production as he played from behind, an unfamiliar role for him. The one scoring pass came late and made the score look closer than the game really was. When it mattered most, the Tennessee defenders forced him to run laterally frequently and limited any major plays as a runner. They also harassed and outmuscled a mostly mediocre Baltimore receiving corps.

This was the first time all season that Jackson had to operate in catch-up mode. Fantasy players may seem encouraged that he piled up quality totals while doing so. But the Titans were the team that finally slowed Jackson down, and film of this week’s game is going to be a very hot commodity among defensive coordinators this season, especially in Baltimore’s division and conference.

One of the clichés that we always hear about the NFL is that it is a “copycat” league. It sure is true. Once a team finds a successful formula, it gets followed. Now opponents have a map/blueprint for containing Jackson. If it remains effective, we could indeed see a decline in his overall production next season.

The Ravens, however, must go to work immediately themselves to bounce back from the loss to Tennessee and build out a more complete offense. It became clear they cannot only rely on their running game and occasional heroics from their tight ends to truly succeed when it matters. If Baltimore can improve their wide receiver corps this offseason, Jackson could develop into more of a frequently effective thrower. He has the arm and the tools to do so. But he needs much better WRs to help him out.

There is a real possibility Jackson could come back to the QB pack next season. We will have to see how the Ravens address his receiving personnel in the offseason. For now, some of the regular season shine has been scratched off of him. He was exposed when it counted most, and that has to be a concern heading into next season. Some other opponents may not even let him pile up good catch-up numbers if his supporting cast does not improve. Right now, you have to feel a little less confident about Jackson than you did two weeks ago. I might drop him out of the first round in my early mocks now. For keeper purposes, he is still a No. 1 guy to retain in many cases, but decisions regarding him now become tighter.

 

I Pity the Opposing Fools

Meanwhile, Derrick Henry trampled the Ravens just as he did the Patriots in the Wild Card Game, becoming the first player in NFL history with two games of 175 yards or more in the same postseason, among other notable marks he has set.

I have taken to referring to the Titans new superstar as “Clubber Henry”, because as Burgess Meredith said about Mr. T in Rocky III, “he’s a wrecking machine, and he’s hungry!” Now that Jackson has been contained and eliminated, Henry stands alone as the most unstoppable force in pro football.

In my Seahawks.com one-man mock draft, I had tabbed Henry as the eighth pick overall. But after seeing him roll over the Patriots and Ravens like they were the Bengals and Dolphins, I have to seriously consider him as the No. 2 or 3 pick overall.

Christian McCaffrey is clearly the No. 1 player overall for unmatched versatility, and Michael Thomas may be the safest pick in the game after him. But Henry, even though he is not known for his receiving abilities, can definitely outproduce anyone else you might offer up after that. After battling inconsistency in previous seasons, improved offensive line play, a stabilized QB situation, and as one Titans insider recently told me, increased confidence have been the factors to elevate Henry to new, elite heights.

Henry is a completely unique blend of size and speed. His monster rushing totals and frequent scoring opportunities make up for any perceived lack of pass-catching acumen. Every so often, too, Ryan Tannehill will dump off to him and Henry will turn the flat pass into a big gainer.

Henry has been more consistent than Saquon Barkley, and has played through injuries this season. He has more upside than Ezekiel Elliott. There is no WR other than Thomas who I would take over him. Besides McCaffrey, I don’t see any other RB who strikes me with quite as much upside for next season. If it’s my pick at No. 3 in a seasonal league this summer, Henry is my guy for sure. And he is a lock as a No. 1 keeper. I need nothing else to sell me on that after his breakthrough regular season and even more impressive postseason run so far.

Of course, this is all assuming Henry returns to Tennessee. Henry is a free agent after the season, but I anticipate the Titans may franchise tag him and he'll be behind that outstanding offensive line for another year. Tannehill is also a free agent but they should tie him up to a longer-term deal, as QB is a position where it is much harder to replace a key player.

Henry is one win away from taking the Titans to the Super Bowl. Next season, I will bank on him to get me to my dynasty championship games, and yours.

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