Fantasy Football: Can Corey Davis Live Up to His Draft-Day Cost?
It’s August, which means we are well into rookie hype season. We get constant updates on how impressive first-year men like Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook and Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon have looked in their preseason games, but one rookie we haven't heard much from is Corey Davis.
The Tennessee Titans wide receiver has certainly flashed his potential, but he barely got a few weeks of practice in between ankle surgery and a recent hamstring injury. Reps at this time of year are important for a rookie wide receiver still learning a new playbook, while also building on-field chemistry with quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Davis was the first wide receiver selected in this past year's NFL Draft, and despite the speed bumps, his average draft position (ADP) has settled in at the start of the 10th round in standard 12-team leagues. So, this begs the question, how will Davis fit into the Titans offense, and is he a worthy mid- to late-round pick?
Last season, the Tennessee Titans were all about the ground game.
They had the fifth-fewest pass attempts and were the seventh-slowest team, as measured by seconds per play. This run-heavy approach is a key component of head coach Mike Mularkey’s exotic smashmouth system. With a mobile quarterback, an elite offensive line, and an excellent pair of running backs in DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, this approach shouldn't change much.
A concerning statistic for Davis' usage is that the Titans ran the third-fewest three-receiver sets last season. Already losing valuable practice reps due to injury, it will be tough for Davis to beat out proven veterans such as Eric Decker and Rishard Matthews for a starting role in two-receiver formations. And that's without even realizing that Davis is already facing a steep learning curve as he transitions from Division III football to the NFL.
Tennessee's overall usage of their wide receivers also does not bode well for the rookie's fantasy value. Overall, wide receivers were simply not targeted at a high rate in the passing game, which is highlighted in the tweet below.
How each team distributed targets by position in 2016: pic.twitter.com/LuD6iu3D6J
— TJ Hernandez (@TJHernandez) August 18, 2017
Davis' upside gets limited once more when looking at Tennessee's running back red zone usage from last season. The Titans targeted their running backs inside the 20-yard line at the second-highest rate, with Murray leading the team in targets. So, the low usage for wide receivers may indicate that Davis' upside isn't as high as drafters think.
If that wasn't enough, the dearth of receiving options for Mariota to choose from complicates things for Davis, as well.
Matthews built a rapport with Mariota down the stretch last year, commanding 8.75 targets per game during the final eight games and was extremely efficient. Among wide receivers with at least 50 receptions, he ranked in the top 10 in Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) per target with a mark of 0.80 (the league average for receivers in 2016 was 0.66).
If you're unfamiliar with NEP, it's our in-house metric which shows how many expected points are lost or gained on a play. A nine-yard completion on 3rd-and-10 is different from a nine-yard pickup on 3rd-and-8 -- NEP accounts for that by tracking the expected points a player adds to their team's total over the course of a season. You can read more about it in our glossary.
Decker was signed during the offseason and has proven to be one of the league’s most elite touchdown scorers throughout his career -- his 8.25% touchdown rate puts him in the range of proven touchdown machines like Dez Bryant and Rob Gronkowski. And before getting injured early in 2016, he commanded at least 115 targets four years in a row. He should pair well with Mariota, who, during his brief career, has been an excellent touchdown producer himself -- his career 5.50% touchdown rate is equivalent to Tom Brady's career rate.
Additionally, the Titans still have incumbent tight end Delanie Walker on the roster, whose 72.51 Reception NEP ranked fourth among tight ends with at least 60 receptions in 2016. He's been a big part of Tennessee's passing game for a while, too -- he's seen at least 100 targets in each of the last three years.
Let's not forget that Davis wasn't the only wide receiver the Titans selected in the draft, either. They traded up to select Taywan Taylor in the third round, and he's already impressed at practice while running with the first-team offense since Davis is on the sideline with that hamstring injury.
The 2016 Titans were a slow-paced, run-heavy offense that didn’t often target their wide receivers, especially in the red zone. That's already a difficult situation for a rookie wide receiver to walk into, but it gets even more difficult when we consider that he's missing valuable practice time.
Davis is facing an uphill battle, competing with Decker, Matthews, Walker, and potentially even Taylor for targets. It'll be tough to expect him to get the requisite volume needed to put together a true breakout campaign, and without any sign of consistent touches, he'll be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis.
Davis’ collegiate resume is impressive, so it wasn't shocking to see him be the first receiver off the board last spring during the NFL Draft. The talent is there, but there's not a clear path to an opportunity at the moment. That all being said, the rookie pass-catcher is overvalued at his current ADP and shouldn't really go off the board until much later in drafts, being a player worth of stashing on your bench.