Fantasy Football: Is There a Tennessee Titans Wide Receiver Worth Rostering This Year?
In outer space, they say no one can hear you scream.
Pretty chilling thought, right? This might seem like a horrific sci-fi sentiment, like something that HAL 9000 casually reminded you of while trapping you outside the airlock. Really, though, there is a fascinating science behind how sound operates in a total vacuum -- like space. With no air particles to carry the vibrations of a voice, there literally is no way for any sound to exist in space.
Value in fantasy football, like sound, cannot exist in a vacuum.
Any transaction a team has a ripple effect that cascades to its other players and their value to us in fantasy. This means that one winner of the Tennessee Titans’ trade of wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham was literally every other wide receiver on his team. His trade should open up more opportunities for the likes of Kendall Wright, Rishard Matthews, and Tajae Sharpe in 2016.
But does this make any of them worth rostering in your fantasy league, or is the Tennessee depth chart still a fantasy black hole?
The Eagle Has Landed
Prior to his trade, our algorithms on numberFire had projected the titanic, young DGB for 712 receiving yards and 4.66 touchdowns on 46 receptions with Tennessee. That means his absence will lead to a whole bucketload of value that can be spread elsewhere throughout the Titans’ receiving options.
But will this really benefit any of the Titans’ wideouts to the point that you should consider drafting them this year?
When we say that you can’t assess value in a vacuum, this also means that players’ values are not just the potential amount of points they will score this season. We also have to factor in cost to acquire those players, or in this case their average draft position (ADP). If you were to spend the value of the 50th-best player in order to draft the 100th-best player, that would not be proper value. We want to find players valued at or under their actual potential.
The table below shows the Titans’ remaining receivers and compares our numberFire projected rankings to their ADP among 106 drafted wideouts, per Fantasy Pros. I also compared the rankings to show how much each is overvalued or undervalued currently. Any players going outside the 106 drafted wideouts are valued at WR107.
The most obvious value play here is Matthews, who our algorithms have as a number-four fantasy wide receiver in 12-team leagues; yet, in many places, he is being selected as a seventh wide receiver on a fantasy roster. Besides him, Sharpe is still slightly undervalued as well.
No one outside of deep leagues would recommend drafting Justin Hunter, Harry Douglas, or Andre Johnson at this point. It’s worth noting right now, though, that our projections have the former two inside the top-100 of fantasy wideouts, when that’s apparently an unpopular view among drafters.
One Small Step, One Giant Leap
Of the receivers left in DGB’s wake, Matthews and Sharpe are the most undervalued on average. But why should you draft them, what should you expect, and -- if you’re going to -- when should you take them?
Rishard Matthews has been an analytics darling on this website for a while now. The former seventh-round selection of the Miami Dolphins had a fairly anonymous go of things over the first three years of his career, posting a 16-game average of around 27 catches per season and a yards-per-reception mark of 11.47. Matthews was reliable in 2013, catching 41-of-64 targets for 448 yards, but nothing flashy. He also seemed to be a product of a depleted depth chart, being one of just four receivers Miami kept on its initial 53-man roster; it seemed that he was earning usage by default.
Then 2015 came and Matthews broke out for a 15.40 yards per reception mark and increased his touchdown usage. He suffered an injury to his ribs that shelved him on injured reserve for the last five games of the year, but the table below shows the 16-game statistical pace he was on last season.
At that pace, Matthews would have scored around 132 standard scoring fantasy points (195 in PPR), good for the 27th-best mark (28th in PPR) among fantasy wide receivers. He was better on a per-game basis than Randall Cobb and Golden Tate in fantasy scoring last year, and even better than Travis Benjamin and Michael Floyd in their supposed breakout years.
In 2016, Tennessee is going to be gearing themselves toward the run (“exotic smashmouth” for the win), but Matthews should provide a reliable target in the intermediate areas for a promising passer in Marcus Mariota. If he can sustain a yards-per-reception over his career 13.00 (we project him for 13.48 this year), he should remain a low-ceiling, high-floor flex option that can be acquired for pennies on the dollar. Based on numberFire’s FireFactor rating, we believe you should be selecting Matthews in the mid-ninth round of your fantasy drafts; on average, he’s going in the late 20th round.
A Still More Glorious Dawn
Tajae Sharpe is the major wild-card for the Titans. As a fifth-round rookie, we don’t exactly know what to expect.
I’ve written about the wide receiver hit rate by draft round in the past, but it appears that the Titans are unconcerned with pedigree when it comes to Sharpe, who also comes out of the University of Massachusetts (not a football powerhouse) and has small hands that caused pre-draft concerns for some scouts. Still, if it’s concern you want with Sharpe, all of his NFL Combine measurables were lackluster (as you can see in the MockDraftable spider-chart below), especially for his size.
Sharpe stands 6’1”, weighs just under 200 pounds, and ran just a 4.55 40-yard dash with poor explosion scores (33 1/2” vertical jump, 114” broad jump). He is like Ben Obomanu or Torrey Smith's body with the lacking athleticism of Brian Quick or Kelvin Benjamin -- who are 25 to 45 pounds heavier and three to four inches taller. Sharpe unfortunately did no agility drills at the Combine, but we can see his precision and fluidity in his route-running acumen, which is the reason he earned the starting wideout label early this offseason over more impressive talents like Green-Beckham and Hunter.
This polish was a big reason that he was heavily targeted in his final year at UMass, earning the fourth-highest target market share among Division I wide receivers last season with 176 targets (most among wide receivers). He caught 63.1 percent of them, albeit for a mediocre 11.88 yards-per-reception.
Our algorithms at numberFire project a similar usage and production for him this year, with an 11.91 yards per reception on around 37 catches this year. He’ll likely work in the short areas and be a chain-mover for this passing offense, but those short possession receivers can earn major target loads; on the off-chance he gets more heavy dump-off usage, he’s well worth a fantasy draft pick. He’s essentially going undrafted, outside the 25th round, but we peg him as worth a 15th-round selection.
While no Tennessee Titans receiver will likely be a fantasy game-changer this year, there are still values to be had in the middle and late rounds of your fantasy drafts with this team. The probability of these players’ success is difficult to estimate; but if we never search for deep values, the chance of success is zero.