2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Tennessee Titans
The Titans might have been at zero in the giveaway-takeaway category last year, but there was plenty of turnover in Tennessee this offseason. A new coaching staff led by former Chargers playcaller and Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt is the biggest change in Music City after Mike Munchak couldn't put together a playoff berth in three years with the Titans.
Whisenhunt will rely on old friends on his coaching staff -- most notably Ray Horton -- to morph the defense into a 3-4 scheme, just like he did when the two worked together in Arizona for two years. He'll also rely on new philosophies in his offense after being part of the brain trust in San Diego's rebound 2013 season. That should mean more hurry-up offense and more use of a quick-twitch, change-of-pace running back, which he acquired when he signed Dexter McCluster this spring.
Where Whisenhunt needs to make things happen is at quarterback, where Jake Locker faces a make or break season. Locker got off to a hot start in 2013 before injuries -- especially a broken foot -- curtailed his season. The Titans added two quarterbacks -- perennial backup Charlie Whitehurst and sixth-round pick Zach Mettenberger -- which suggests Locker will have a good chance to start and keep the job so long as he doesn't get hurt, which has been a problem for him over his career. If he can't get going then Whisenhunt will re-live the quarterback pains he had in Arizona.
Late-round flier ... Justin Hunter
The best receiver on the Titans is Kendall Wright , and Nate Washington has a history with Whisenhunt going back to his days in Pittsburgh. But Hunter has two things on his side: Youth and speed. Whisenhunt mentioned a number of times already this offseason how a long touchdown catch by Hunter led to a Titans win over the Chargers last season, putting him in the coach's mind back then. Now that they're on the same side, Hunter's been asked to put on weight (up 15 pounds so far) and dive into the playbook (he says he's much further ahead than he was 12 months ago). The upside is through the roof on Hunter after he made four of his 18 catches count for touchdowns last year. He should have numerous chances to contribute for Tennessee in 2014. He's a late-round gamble.
PPR stud ... Kendall Wright
Wright grinded his way over 1,000 yards last season, catching 94 passes in the process. That's great for a second-year receiver. What's not great is scoring only two touchdowns and getting thrown at just eight times in the red zone. For a guy who had 139 targets last year, that's lame. Maybe the coaches can look at that and improve Wright's situation, but the reality is that he's a "hands" man as his speed hasn't translated to the pro game thus far (only one play good for 40-plus yards in two seasons). And because he's not huge, his red-zone work can be contained. So while it might make Wright a little unappealing in standard leagues, his reception totals can't be ignored. Catching 5.1 passes per game on average over two seasons will do that for you (he caught five-plus passes in 12 games last season). Don't forget about or underrate him in your PPR leagues.
Don't draft ... Dexter McCluster
|Chris Johnson||321 (279 car., 42 rec.)||40.6%|
|Kendall Wright||94 rec.||11.9%|
|Shonn Greene||83 (77 car., 6 rec.)||10.5%|
|Delanie Walker||60 rec.||7.6%|
|Nate Washington||58 rec.||7.3%|
Everyone outside of the Kansas City area sees McCluster as the next Danny Woodhead after Woodhead totaled over 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns with Whisenhunt's Chargers in 2013. But everyone inside the Kansas City area has seen McCluster play for the past four seasons and knows better than to draft him with a meaningful Fantasy pick. McCluster's best season was an 844-yard, two-score campaign in 2011 when the Chiefs lost Jamaal Charles to a torn ACL early on. Over four seasons, he's averaged 11.4 rush yards and 25.9 receiving yards per game with only six career scores. Though he might play the "Woodhead role" for the Titans, he doesn't have Woodhead's track record of success. Whisenhunt does have a very good track record of using running backs as receivers, but McCluster shouldn't be considered worthy of a Fantasy roster spot until we see him successfully involved in preseason play. 'Til then, he's off limits outside of deep PPR leagues.
Three of the Titans' first four games are on the road against AFC playoff teams (at Kansas City, Cincinnati and Indianapolis). That doesn't make for an easy start, to say the least. The poor Titans are also the only AFC team to play the Ravens and Steelers in consecutive weeks -- not even the Browns or Bengals get that dubious honor, and they are in the AFC North with them! There isn't a whole lot else that screams trouble for the Titans, so it can't be looked at as a tough schedule, even though it's technically a second-place slate. Week 12 is at Philadelphia, where Whisenhunt has had some great success in recent years. And Week 16 is a cherry matchup at Jacksonville.
Training camp battles
Does Jake have it locked up? There could be a chance that rookie Zach Mettenberger could push Locker for the starting job if Locker is slow to perform in camp and Mettenberger (who is coming off a torn ACL) catches fire. Even if it doesn't happen before Week 1, the Titans could make a move to Mettenberger before the end of the season (they have a Week 9 bye), be it by choice or because of injury. Whatever the case may be, no one is drafting any Titans quarterbacks in standard leagues.
How will the running back workload shake out? Whisenhunt has typically put his running backs in situations to succeed, but rarely has had one do everything. That's probably going to be the case in Tennessee where rookie Bishop Sankey will split with physical runner Shonn Greene and "air" back Dexter McCluster . Training camp and preseason performance will go a long way in determining how much rope each one will get in their three-way tug O' war.
How much playing time will Delanie Walker get? Walker's playing golf this summer: He's got the starting job pretty much to himself but has to prove he's worth keeping on the field play after play after play. Whisenhunt is a former NFL tight end who has really come around on using the position in his offenses. As recently as 2009, tight ends caught 5.9 percent of his team's completions. That number has ticked up every year since, landing at a huge 25.9 percent of the Chargers' completions last season. Sure, Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green had plenty to do with that, but Whisenhunt instituted a large chunk of tight end work in Arizona in the years prior without prominent players in place. Walker is in good shape and should play close to every down.
The combination of Whisenhunt and Bishop Sankey will be big for Fantasy owners. Whisenhunt got wiser with the Chargers, running a very good no-huddle offense that called more plays per game (66.3) than any other team he previously called plays for over his last nine years. That included a jump in running plays called by Whisenhunt -- 27.9 per game -- the most he's called in his last seven years, including every single season he was with the Cardinals. What makes this all the more intriguing is that Sankey ran in a similar up-tempo, run-heavy offense last season at Washington. He finished fourth in the country in rushing as a result. There's no chance Whisenhunt is going to chuck everything he learned last year in San Diego and let Locker throw a ton. You have to like Sankey's chances of totaling a large amount of yardage, and if he can oust Shonn Greene from his duties, then the touchdowns will be there too. Count on Sankey to deliver over 1,400 total yards and at least six scores, even if Greene is involved.
Injury report: Shonn Greene (knee), questionable for start of training camp. ... Jake Locker (foot), questionable for start of training camp. ... Zach Mettenberger (knee), probable for start of training camp.