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Tannehill Back with Titans: Fantasy Impact

The deal is done. No, not a deal to make Tom Brady the quarterback of the Titans. He prefers Florida apparently. Instead, it is the deal to keep Ryan Tannehill with the team for four more seasons at $118 million.

Not only did this move make the most sense but it also freed up the franchise tag to use on Derrick Henry. Henry is obviously one of the best running backs in the league but he plays at a position where teams don’t really want to commit to long-term financially. Unlike the Dallas Cowboys' handling of Dak Prescott, Tennessee handled this situation perfectly. This can only lead to good things in 2020.

The Titans look like an early favorite to make a run at the AFC Championship, but how good can this offense be and, more importantly, what are the fantasy implications?

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The Bruiser Is Back

Derrick Henry coming back can only be a good thing. He was the leading rusher in the NFL in 2019 with 1,540 yards on 303 carries. He belongs in a Titans uniform. After compiling monster numbers in the playoff run, Henry was going to be back. With all the questions of possibly ending up in Houston or somewhere else, this was the only foreseeable outcome which made sense. With Ryan Tannehill behind center, Henry dominated to the tune of over 100 yards/game average. Gaining 237 yards in Week 17 to gain the rush title was just a bonus. Or a gift from the Texans, like Brett Favre did for Michael Strahan.

After his finish as the fantasy RB3, Henry is again a top-five play in 2020. Although the loss of Jack Conklin hurts, the bruising nature of Henry and his ability to separate after getting through the line will allow him to continue his successful run started last season. Henry doesn't get involved in the passing game much with fewer than 20 receptions in each of his four NFL seasons, he did set a new high with 206 receiving yards. He has the ability to take it to the house on any given screen pass and the Titans released Dion Lewis, so we will see if another capable back is brought in to replace him.

 

Tannehill's Targets

At this point Corey Davis is an afterthought. Despite being the fifth overall selection in the 2016 draft, he amassed just 601 yards on 43 receptions and two TD last season. He has not done much if anything in his time. Even after the switch to Tannehill, it was rookie A.J. Brown who found the connection. Davis could be an ok WR two for the Titans, but this is a run first team. A WR two here does not have the value of the same position on a team like the Rams or the Buccaneers. At best Davis is a low end WR three for fantasy. Someone worth taking if you can get him in the ninth round. But don’t go much higher than this or you could get burned like his dynasty owners did in his rookie draft.

A.J. Brown, on the other hand, is a great candidate to finish as a top-12 receiver in 2020. The 225-pound tank from Ole Miss had a good finish to his rookie season. After a slow start, Brown managed to finish with 1,051 yards on only 52 receptions. His 20.2 yards/catch was near the top in the NFL and his eight touchdowns were more than even DeAndre Hopkins had in Houston. At an even six feet tall, Brown is not going to out-jump defenders for the ball. What he is going to do is rip the ball out of the air and run through you like you weren’t even there. He is a physical receiver who make contested catches. In an offense where his chances will be limited due to the run-heavy aspect, his yards after the catch are a major factor in his success. 20.2 yards/catch is most likely sustainable long term. But he was garnering more attention as he became more comfortable. This comfort level will lead to him getting more and more looks and he will become less reliant on the incredible yardage numbers. If he can sustain an average of 15 yards while also adding 30 receptions to his total, his WR10 finish of last season could be the ceiling for him in 2020.

The tight end position took a hit last week when Delanie Walker retired. But it was his time. After a wonderful tenure in Tennessee after leaving San Francisco, Walker walks away after two seasons marred by injury. In the first of those seasons, Jonnu Smith was unable to provide any relief for the team. With Ryan Tannehill in 2019, Smith took a step up in production. Much like the rest of the team, Smith seemed to be revitalized by the switch to Tannehill. After his disappointing first two seasons in the league, it was good to see him come to life in 2019. With 35 receptions and 439 yards, Smith doubled the production he had in his first two seasons combined. This bodes well for him turning into the TE1 for the team moving forward.

In a league full of young could-be tight ends, Smith is near the top of the list for expectations in 2020. Compared to others like Ian Thomas and T.J. Hockenson along with newly-demoted David Njoku when it comes to the next crop. Jonnu Smith is at the top of this list. He could find his way to the top of this group and as his production has not been stellar as of yet, his draft price will not reflect this ability to rise. You can likely get him either as the last pick of your draft or even as a free agent afterward. If you are able to do so, Smith will be a steady force at the position that allows you the ability to stock up elsewhere rather than drafting someone like George Kittle or Travis Kelce early.

 

A Fresh Start (Again)

The last and most important piece to the fantasy puzzle in Tennessee is the newly-minted Ryan Tannehill. After coming in to start for the Titans, Tannehill was the QB7 the rest of the season. If you take the entire season into account, Tannehill finished as the fantasy QB22 despite starting only half the year. That was only two spots lower than Baker Mayfield, who started all 16 games for the Browns. While not showing his arm talent in the playoffs, he did so in the regular season with multiple games of 300 yards and multiple touchdowns. He also showed his mobility with 185 yards on the ground and two games with multiple rushing touchdowns. This ability was feared long lost after ACL injuries to both legs in Miami. With Henry threatening to bust out a long run at any time and A.J. Brown patrolling the field, defenses are not going to key on Tannehill as a threat. He won’t get you the massive rush yards of a Josh Allen or Lamar Jackson, but he is good enough to get you half that and chip in some extra fantasy points each week.

While those other players run at the detriment to the pass at times, Tannehill does both well. He led the NFL with 9.6 yards per attempt and 13.6 yards per completion in 2019. A.J. Brown and Jonnu Smith are only getting better so this number was not a fluke but one which may be replicated. Don’t necessarily expect Tannehill to have a magical season like 2019 but as his comfort level in the offense grows, he will too. Is he a great quarterback? No. But he is the perfect one for this team and this offense.

Names like Jackson, Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers are still going to be the quarterbacks taken at the top of drafts. For better or worse, people still draft them high. But if you want a quarterback who will go late in drafts and is easily capable of finishing in the same range as all of these guys, look to Ryan Tannehill. The weapons are there. The offense is perfect. He is a great option late in drafts for those of us who wait on a quarterback.

The Titans are a bunch of solid pieces. Some could turn out to be great. Even if they don’t though, the floor is high. They are not the fun high-flying offense of the Chiefs. They are a run-first team but the pieces are in place for a great fantasy season, even for the receivers. When looking in drafts at who to take, make sure not to overlook the Titans. Too many people have done just this, and it has not ended well. Ask the Patriots and Ravens.

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