2020 Tennessee Titans fantasy football team preview: Is a top-10 finish in the cards for second-year beast, A.J. Brown?

The Yahoo Fantasy analysts will preview all 32 NFL teams between now and the eventual start of the 2020 draft season. Here, we’ll tackle pressing fantasy questions, #FantasyHotTaeks, and team win totals. Next up, the Tennessee Titans.

Is Derrick Henry more likely to finish as the overall RB1 or fall outside the top 10?

Matt: Unfortunately, we just can’t project Derrick Henry for the type of passing-game volume that a back would need to push for such a finish. Henry isn’t some LeGarrette Blount-type, net negative as a receiver but the fact remains that no coaching staff has ever decided to use him much through the air. Could that suddenly change in 2020? Perhaps. And receiving back Dion Lewis was shown the door. Yet, we need to see that to truly project a finish like this. Without that, Henry is more likely to finish as RB11 simply due to touchdown variance, rather than smash all the way to RB1 overall.

Dalton: In 12 games after Ryan Tannehill took over at QB, Henry totaled 1,695 yards with 15 touchdowns while playing through a legitimate lower leg injury. Dion Lewis has since left (the team seemingly replaced him with rookie Darrynton Evans, but the depth chart couldn’t be thinner after the third-rounder), and Henry quietly ranks top-five in yards per target among RBs over the last three years, so there’s plenty of reason for him to be more involved as a receiver in 2020. Given he’s the league’s best runner with the ball in his hands who also happens to be in a terrific situation, Henry is far likelier to finish as the overall RB1 than outside the top-10. In 0.5 PPR, he might even be the favorite to finish No. 1.

Andy: Look, Henry is an absolute terror as a ball-carrier and he’s a decent bet to go back-to-back as the NFL’s leader in rushing touchdowns. He needs to be drafted as a top-10 running back in every format. But finish as the No. 1 overall RB in half-PPR scoring? No, not gonna happen. Henry’s career-high in receptions in any season is just 18. Thirteen different backs caught at least 50 passes last year and four of them finished with double-digit touchdowns. I like Henry as much as anyone, but he’s not about to outscore the entire field.

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What's your bold prediction for ascending star A.J. Brown, and how high would you draft him?

Andy: As of this writing, four of the five Yahoo fantasy rankers slot Brown at WR13, a remarkable level of agreement. It should go without saying that Brown has a very good shot at a top-10 positional finish. He was a devastating big-play weapon last year. Tennessee made great use of Derrick Henry’s on-field gravity, using play-action as well as any offense in the league. I think we can take Brown’s terrific receiving performance over his final eight games in 2019 — 30 REC, 703 yards, 5 TDs — as a best-case scenario for the year ahead. He’s not likely to be a volume pass-catcher, because the Titans ranked next-to-last in pass attempts last season (448). But Brown is an elite home-run threat who should produce a significant yardage total while reaching the end zone 8-12 times. If you don’t view him as an early third-round fantasy pick, you’ll never land him.

Dalton: Brown was second behind only Michael Thomas in yards per route run last season and also finished top-three in yards per catch, YAC per catch and Passer Rating when targeted, all as a rookie who inexplicably slipped to the middle of Round Two. Brown also finished #2 in fantasy points per target and #1 in Production Premium. Any likely regression should be offset by greater volume in Year Two as the now clear alpha in Tennessee’s passing attack. While the Titans are no doubt a run-heavy team, Brown also benefits from Ryan Tannehill appearing to be 100% the real deal, and defenses will primarily focus on teammate Henry, an advantage few if any other receivers with his physical skills possess. I have Brown ranked as a top-10 WR, and my bold prediction is he finishes top-five.

Matt: There’s little doubt in my mind A.J. Brown can find his way into the top-12 wide receivers. He’s clearly a complete stud, dominating the competition as a rookie while playing a true No. 1 X-receiver role for the Titans. He gets off the line of scrimmage well, separates at all levels, and plays like a bully. The Titans won’t throw the ball enough for him to push for the NFL lead in targets but there’s little on the wide receiver depth chart beyond him. A young talent with a secure target share is the perfect breakout buy in fantasy. He’s a perfectly sensible third to early fourth-round selection.

Is Ryan Tannehill a viable fantasy starting QB or only a backup/Superflex option?

Dalton: Make no mistake, a QB who’s coming off a season in which he got 9.6 YPA, has emerging beasts as his WR1 and TE1 while also possessing the ability to run has fantasy QB #1 upside. Because the Titans project to be so run-heavy to go along with certain regression (no quarterback is that good), I split the difference and rank Tannehill as my QB10.

To quickly recap his 2019: Tannehill finished with a historically great CPOE, was #2 in fantasy points per dropback, and was #1 in AY/A, Production Premium, and True Passer Rating. During 100 dropbacks using play-action, he recorded a 143.3 Passer Rating, and Tannehill’s second half YPA (10.1) was roughly equivalent to a fantasy baseball hitter posting a 1.300 OPS after the All-Star break (Tannehill also threw for 17 TDs and added four rushing scores over those eight games).  

During the modern era, only Kurt Warner (9.9 in 2000) had a season with a higher YPA than Tannehill’s 9.6 last year. Warner also had a 5.2 INT% with that aggressiveness, whereas Tannehill produced a 2.1 INT%. And again, Tannehill also runs! Even in a loaded QB class, he should absolutely be considered a viable fantasy starter.

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Matt: Tannehill is going to fall into the “priority streamer” category for me. The early season schedule is complicated (Denver, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Buffalo in four of the first six weeks) so he might not hit his ceiling often to start the year. But he still gets six games against his mostly cupcake AFC South opponents in Houston, Jacksonville, and Indianapolis. When Tannehill faces a soft secondary that he can shred on the play-action, you’ll feel comfortable using him as a top-10 option. That was how he made his money to end 2019. Tennessee just doesn’t throw the ball enough to make him a weekly option.

Andy: Tannehill’s reemergence was one of the NFL’s best stories of 2019, no doubt. He led the league in passer rating (117.5) and Y/A (9.6) while completing 70.3 percent of his throws. Tanny also ran for four scores and passed for 22. He was great. I’m not gonna say he can’t sniff the top-12 at his position, because he can get close simply by staying healthy for 16 games. But there’s almost no chance he’ll attempt even 500 throws, given the run/pass mix we expect to see from Tennessee. Quarterback is simply a loaded spot, featuring plenty of dual-threat players and guys likely to put the ball in the air 550 or more times. I can’t draft Tanny as a fantasy starter in leagues of standard size and shape, but he’s clearly of interest in deeper formats.

Tennessee Titans 2020 projected depth chart

#FantasyHotTaek

Andy: Jonnu Smith is finishing as a top-10 (8?) tight end this year. It’s happening. He’s an exceptional athlete, even by NFL standards, and he won’t have any challengers on the depth chart. It’s not at all uncommon for tight ends to really emerge in their fourth or fifth seasons, so Smith is right on schedule. The tight end landscape is wide open after the top four; with just a little red-zone luck, Smith has a chance to be an every-week fantasy option.

OVER/UNDER on 8.5 Win Total from BetMGM

Dalton: The upgrade from Marcus Mariota to Tannehill proved massive, and this is a team that held a 10-point lead in the AFC Championship game with a running back who could score 20+ touchdowns and a QB who’s a sneaky dark horse MVP candidate, so give me the OVER here. I’m not entirely sold on Mike Vrabel as a coach (but do like the continuity there and at offensive coordinator), and it’s typically better to fade teams coming off a deep postseason run, but this number (8.5) is reasonable, and it helps to get to play the tanking Jags and the Bill O’Brien-led Texans 25% of their schedule. Even with the added juice (-139), I like the Titans OVER.

Follow Matt: @MattHarmon_BYB

Follow Dalton: @daltondeldon

Follow Andy: @AndyBehrens

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