2021 NFL Draft Guide: Homer Corner - Tennessee Titans
Published: Aug 24, 2021, 5:13 AM EDT
The year was 1997. I was seven years old.
I chose violence.
I woke up and decided to spite my family — a bunch of New York Giants fans. I told them I was a Titans fan. The reaction from a room full of Long Islanders was puzzling and probably could have gone viral on TikTok in present day.
I’m a sports mutt. I was born in New York and moved to Pennsylvania at an early age. All jokes aside, I love my family and am blessed to have been raised a Yankees fan. I’m also a helpless 76ers fan, because my local cable provider in the Poconos blacked out the MSG network in the early 2000’s. But I guess it would have been worse as a Knicks fan, ha! When I saw Steve McNair and Eddie George bulldozing through people, the rest was history. It’s been a roller coaster ride for the past 20-plus years as a fan of the two-tone blue.
I want to take a minute to praise GM Jon Robinson, who helped pioneer a culture turnaround over the past five seasons. He helped bring a winning brand of football back to Nashville. It was very dark and ugly for a few years following the Vince Young/Jeff Fisher debacle.
After living through the Ruston Webster era, I truly appreciate Robinson’s aggressive approach and his obvious theory of assessing the ceiling of a player. Nobody is perfect. There is always volatility (more than you realize) in the NFL and in fantasy football.
I live 90 minutes North of Philly and most of my friends are Eagles fans. Howie Roseman…. Woof. Titans fans are spoiled to have a competent GM who actively addresses team needs. Each offseason, Robinson rationally glues together the best team on paper and let’s “football guy” Mike Vrabel do the rest. This man had his first draft at the helm of the franchise in 2016 and left with Derrick Henry, Kevin Byard and Jack Conklin. Boom. Sold. Robinson surely had some duds, but he took a chance on a guy like Jeffrey Simmons, knowing the entire world would trash the selection for the next five months. Simmons is now turning into a top-three defensive tackle in the league and is a wrecking ball defensively. Robinson took the same high upside, “have to be patient” approach with Caleb Farley in 2021. You’ll probably call BS on me, but after J-Rob didn’t pick a receiver until the fourth round in this year’s draft, I fully expected Julio Jones to be in two-tone blue this season. The entire offseason shaped up to make perfect sense and it was masterfully done by Robinson. Kudos to you, Jon Robinson.
Ryan Tannehill — Look, it’s time to get rid of the stigma that Tannehill is a bad quarterback. There are many REAL reasons why RT17 was stuck with that label from his playing days with Miami. Those Dolphin teams had minimal offensive talent, terrible offensive line play and of course, ADAM GASE! In fact, Tannehill averaged more passing yards-per game during his tenure with Miami. However, most of them featured predictable, negative game scripts while trailing in most games. His offensive line was downright awful in Miami. He was sacked a whopping 58 times in 2013. In Tennessee, Tannehill took over for Marcus Mariota in 2019 and turned into one of the best quarterbacks in football. It was hard to believe for many that his immediate spark lit a flame all the way to the AFC Championship.
“But he’s due for regression in 2020.” Stop it, you’re a hater.
Tannehill played 16 full games in 2020 and his numbers BARELY dipped across a larger, full sample size. Across 26 regular season starts since taking over for Mariota, Tannehill has thrown for 55 touchdowns and just 13 interceptions. He “only” averages just a tick over 230 passing yards per game, which is largely due to Derrick Henry and this top-three rushing attack. in terms of volume and efficiency. However, in 2020, the Titans ranked second in red zone scoring percentage, and via Warren Sharp, scored 0.93 points per minute, which led the NFL. I am not too worried about losing Arthur Smith as OC. Tannehill will have more control at the line of scrimmage during his second full season in charge. Don’t get me wrong, Corey Davis was great last year. But in addition to “YAC Monster” A.J. Brown, general manager Jon Robinson brought in future hall of famer, Julio Jones, the original YAC Monster himself! Defenses will truly have to pick their poison between this pair of stars while attempting to slow down Derrick Henry. Julio helps boost Tannehill’s already elite play-action game and will make those third-and-long situations much easier in 2021.
Tannehill has sneaky fantasy value with his legs, especially in the red zone, which gives him possible top-five QB upside. RT17 dumped in seven rushing touchdowns last season and added four more during his ten starts in 2019. A slept-on key to Tannehill’s success in 2021 will be the return of all-pro left tackle Taylor Lewan. If you toss out last season’s small sample, Lewan’s career PFF pass-blocking grade is 79.5, which would have ranked 18th among all tackles who played at least ten games last season. To put that into perspective, no Tennessee tackle had a pass blocking grade over 69.8 in 2021. I am drooling at the thought of these play-action slant patterns with these two superstar receivers and a healthy Lewan protecting RT17’s blindside.
I’m expecting a lateral move at worst for Tannehill this season. He finished 2020 as a top ten fantasy quarterback and should be considered a low-end weekly QB1 with high-end upside. Tannehill will be part of a great leverage TEN stack each week in the DFS world during weeks when King Henry is chalk.
Derrick Henry — Objectively, Derrick Henry is a top three fantasy football running back. In my opinion, he’s the safest RB on the board due to his durability and very high floor. Compared to the other offenses that Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara (part of the consensus overall top four) are catalysts in, the Titans are the best and most consistent by a considerable margin. As mentioned previously, the Titans are the second-best red zone team in the league and score at a rapid pace. Henry’s opportunities inside that 20 yard-line alone give him the highest floor among anyone in fantasyland. Would I take Henry first or second overall in PPR formats? Probably not. Would I call you crazy to do so? Again, probably not. However, in standard scoring (if you’re still playing in a good old late 90’s format where you get NO points for receptions, Henry is squarely in that first overall pick conversation. If you’re worried about a lighter workload, even if Henry had 1,000 LESS rushing yards last season, he would have still been a top ten fantasy RB in any scoring format. Many around the industry are partial to drafting Kamara over Henry in 2021. To each their own, I can’t argue with it. But I’m keeping an eye on the New Orleans quarterback battle between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill. If Hill (for some reason) wins the starting job, not only will he steal goal-line touches, but Hill could cap Kamara’s ceiling as a receiver as well. During a four-game stretch without Drew Brees last season, when Hill was the starter, Kamara logged three straight games with two catches or less. That’s a troublesome indicator and I would be prone to taking Henry ahead of Kamara in traditional snake formats if he wins the gig. Ah, the luxury of drafting in September and not early August.
The Other RB’s
I was super excited to finally see a healthy Darrynton Evans this season, the kid can fly, and would have had every chance to snag the change-of-pace role behind Henry. Unfortunately, the second-year burner out of Appalachian State was injured during Tennessee’s preseason opener with Atlanta. Head coach Mike Vrabel is ohhhhh so crystal clear with the media (sarcasm), making it difficult to put a gauge on how severe the injury is. Whether it’s Evans, Brian Hill, Mehki Sargant or Jeremy McNichols, you’re rostering one of these guys in rounds 12-20 of your draft as a premiere handcuff to Henry. They carry minimal to no value otherwise if Henry plays a healthy 16-game season.
A.J. Brown — Another guy who “they” said couldn’t replicate his 2019 success. Derrick Henry, a competent quarterback (sorry Mariota stans — and trust me, I was a big one) and a decent scheme makes it extremely easy for great receivers to become elite. I’m genuinely not concerned about Jones digging into Brown’s usage. Both will command such a large amount of the team’s target market share and are so extremely good after the catch that it simply doesn’t matter. Much like Tannehill, I expect a lateral move at worst for Brown this season. In fact, I think he could fair even better. Again, not a knock-on Davis, but Brown was the surefire Alpha last season and defenses treated him that way with frequent bracket and shaded coverages. He’ll see much less of that with Jones on the other side this year.
Brown ranked ninth in target market share (27%) last season (via RotoGrinders), but just 24th in targets in the Titans’ run-oriented offense. Brown’s YAC per reception average of 6.2 (PFF) ranked second out of any receiver with at least 75 targets. That illustrates his elite after-the-catch ability. I believe Jones will benefit Brown and not become a detriment to his fantasy output. I’ve been targeting Brown as high as the late second round in best ball and PPR formats.
Julio Jones — If Julio stays healthy, this is going to be a fun season. Davis was only 16 yards away from 1,000 receiving yards with the Titans last season and there is no reason why Julio and Brown can’t accomplish that feat in 2021. Julio played in nine games last season. If you take away the two more that he exited early due to injury, he still averaged a 30% target market share, which is what I fully expect him to command with the Titans. Jones’s 15.1 YPC ranked eighth in the NFL among any receiver with at least 50 catches last season. Despite nagging injuries, he was still on pace for 1,300 yards. His National Fantasy Football Championship (NFFC) ADP is 45.95, which makes him a late fourth-round selection in a 12-team league. I think that’s totally fair. He has second-round upside especially if (God forbid) Brown misses any time. Julio is still as good as advertised on a per-game basis. The question is, how many games can Tennessee get out of him? Cheers to hoping it’s 17 or more. *cracks beer*
Josh Reynolds — Reynolds was quietly very productive with the Rams last season, as he racked up 55 catches for 683 yards. I was low-key excited for this signing. I typically never overreact to bad camps, but there’s been a ton of negative feedback circulating from credible Titans’ beat writers over the past four-to-six weeks. Reports were that Reynolds was dinged up in practice early this week, which makes things even more murky. My glass is still half-full here. Reynolds is worth a late-round flier in best ball drafts and could warrant a very late pick in traditional leagues, especially if you are a Jones or Brown owner, as a receiver handcuff in this high-powered play-action offense.
The Other WR’s
The Good: Chester Rodgers and Marcus Johnson are having great camps and have both proven to be league-average WR four-or-five’s in the NFL. I think one, or perhaps both make the roster.
The Bad: Dez Fitzpatrick has been terrible in camp. There have been rumors of him being cut before the season starts.
The Dreamer: Racy McMath has drawn rave reviews from his colleagues. He ran a 4.34 40-yard dash at LSU’s pro day earlier this year.
None of these guys are fantasy relevant except McMath or Fitzpatrick in deep dynasty leagues. Unless some crazy volatility comes into play, one could be a waiver-wire add in the second half of the season.
Anthony Firkser — Unless you’re a Titans fan, you’d never know Firkser is a fan favorite. I was so pumped when he hauled in that 2020 touchdown pass in Gillette against the Patriots that I almost launched my Yuengling Lager straight to New England. Geoff Swaim will definitely get some snaps, but Firkser, the Harvard product, is the fantasy relevant tight end on this roster. With Jonnu Smith out of the picture, Firkser has a serious opportunity in front of him. He’s squarely a TE2 in fantasyland this season and is a viable weekly streaming and DFS option. I think in a ceiling year, you could sell me on 60 catches and eight touchdowns from Firk. Having two monsters on the outside will really open the middle of the field for him to operate. Realistically, I think 45 catches, five-to-six touchdowns, 500-600 yards is totally reasonable in 2021. Firsker has the best hands on the team not named Julio or A.J, and you can take that to the bank.
Overall, I am bullish that this team will not be any worse than it was last year. The public is focused on the departure of Arthur Smith. But I think the arrivals are more important. Not being any worse than the previous year is typically a good thing in the NFL when you lose a coordinator and two handfuls of skill-position players.
I think the ceiling is still incredibly high. Although there are many new faces to incorporate on the defensive side of the ball, it quite literally cannot be worse than the 2020 version. In a year or two, the league will be talking about the “no-fly zone” of Caleb Farley, Elijah Molden, Kristian Fulton and elder statesman Kevin Byard in center field. The quiet addition of Janoris Jenkins and a healthy Bud Dupree could do wonders for what was historically one of the worst third-down defenses in NFL history. It was painful to watch.
Two huge 2020 J-Rob duds included absolutely nothing, and I mean ABSOLUTELY NOTHING from Jadeveon Clowney and Vic Beasley. I still admire and understand the high-upside, low risk gambles. You should too, instead of saying “I told you so.”
Fans, let this be a reminder that the Titans won the AFC South with a historically bad defense, ZERO pass rush and no all-pro left tackle Taylor Lewan. I’m crossing my fingers for a good bill of health this season and for the Titans to win a dozen regular-season games in 2021.