Fantasy Football: Will Corey Davis Break Out in 2018?

Davis showed some flashes late last season. Can he take things up a notch in his second year?

Corey Davis came into his rookie season with high expectations after being drafted fifth overall by the Tennessee Titans. He ran into a few hiccups that slowed down his production, including an early-season injury, and he wasn't helped by an offense that was allergic to passing, checking in with the fifth-fewest attempts.

In fantasy football, Davis was basically unusable, totaling just 34 catches for 375 yards and no touchdowns. Despite that, he still carries pretty good value heading into 2018.

At an average draft position of 67th overall (WR28) in standard leagues, according to Fantasy Football Calculator, is Davis a high-upside guy worth targeting, or is he fool's gold?

2017 Season Review

Last year, Davis suffered a hamstring injury early in season, and it kept him out for five weeks. That didn't help the rookie and quarterback Marcus Mariota get on the same page.

When Davis returned in Week 8, the Titans did get him heavily involved in the offense, but it didn't amount to much production, at least in the regular season. Below are volume statistics for Davis from Week 8 through the Divisional Round playoff loss to the New England Patriots (11-game sample size).

Targets/Game Offensive Snap Rate Team Target Share
6.1 79.20% 19.4%

In a crowded Titans passing attack, it is encouraging to see Davis hold such a high snap rate and team target share as a rookie, especially since the first half of his season was derailed by an injury. He brought an element to the Titans' offense with his size and speed.

When we look at what 2017 could have been for Davis, his average depth of target (aDOT) was 11.8 yards, and he saw a total of 764 air yards on his season total 65 targets ( per Davis accounted for 25% of the Titans total air yardage last season. Those are numbers to get excited about, and it tells us that the Titans recognize Davis' big-play ability.

One area of surprise for Davis last season was that he was unable to find the end zone (in the regular season), and he saw only five red zone targets for player with his build (6'3" and 209 pounds). Touchdowns was Davis' middle name in college as he scored 46 of them over his last three years at Central Michigan Chippewas. We did see Davis find the end zone twice in the Titans' postseason loss to the Patriots, and hopefully that leads to more touchdown dances in 2018.

But the volume metrics are the big takeaway for Davis as Tennessee showed a desire to get him on the field and get him involved when he was healthy over the second half of 2017.

New Offensive System

The Titans cleaned house after their playoff loss, and with the removal of Mike Mularkey and Terry Robiskie, the exotic smashmouth offense goes out the door with them. This system was a fantasy nightmare for wideouts as the Titans were among the bottom-five in pass attempts and bottom-four in terms of total offensive plays last season. Below are the Titans offensive ranks covering the two years Murlarkey and Robiskie ran the offense.

Year Pass Att. League Avg. Titans Rank Offensive Plays League Avg. Titans Rank
2017 496 546.5 28th 974 1013.7 29th
2016 504 571.7 28th 1008 1022.9 22nd

Tennessee has brought in a young and new-era coaching staff that includes offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur. LaFleur was a part of the two historic offenses over the last two seasons in both the Los Angeles Rams (2017) and the Atlanta Falcons (2016). While he didn't necessarily call plays for those two teams, he was in a great position to learn from great offensive minds in Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan.

LaFleur will have play-calling duties in Tennessee, and ostensibly that boosts the outlook for the Titans' pass catchers. While we don't know exactly what LaFleur's coaching tendencies are as a play caller, it's unlikely the Titans are going to call fewer pass plays. If they upped their pass attempts to even just a league-average amount, it would be a signifcant boost to what they've done the last two seasons.

Not only did the Titans bring in an new coaching staff, but they also let go of Eric Decker, who accounted for 83 targets last season. Between the new offensive system and the targets available from Decker's departure, Davis could approach 100 targets in 2018.

In Good Company

Being drafted in the top 10 in the NFL draft puts Davis in an impressive class of wide receivers. When you pair his draft spot with his pedigree coming out of college, it's hard not to get excited.

Davis' production at Western Michigan was about as good as it gets as his college dominator rating -- which is stat used by that accounts for the player's percentage of his college team's total receiving yards and receiving touchdowns -- put him in the 96th percentile.

Over the last ten years, there have been 10 wide receivers who were drafted in the top 10 of the NFL draft who played at least 12 games in their second NFL season. Here's what those 10 wideouts did in Year 2.

Player Year TAR REC Team Target Share YDS TD PPR WR Ranking
Amari Cooper 2016 132 83 22.1% 1,153 5 14
Sammy Watkins 2015 96 60 20.6% 1,047 9 20
Mike Evans 2015 148 74 27.7% 1,206 3 22
Tavon Austin 2014 44 31 8.5% 242 0 78
A.J. Green 2012 164 97 30.4% 1,350 11 4
Julio Jones 2012 128 79 20.8% 1,198 10 11
Michael Crabtree 2010 101 55 20.2% 741 6 34
Darrius Heyward-Bey 2010 65 26 13.2% 336 1 88
Calvin Johnson 2008 150 78 29.5% 1,331 12 3
Ted Ginn Jr. 2008 93 56 18.9% 790 2 33

Besides a few outliers, the types of players included on this list are extremely talented dudes who have had very productive careers. Seven of these players were able to see a market share of at least 20.0% in their second seasons, and those seven guys parlayed that into an average PPR finish of WR15.

While it can be argued that Rishard Matthews is the Titans' number-one receiver, Davis has already shown he can draw a good target share with Matthews in the fold. Remember: Davis saw 19.4% of Tennessee's targets from Week 8 on, including two postseason outings, a 20.0% market share is definitely in reach. In fact, it could be selling Davis short.

2018 Outlook

With a solid role when he was healthy in 2017, natural progression and a new offensive system, the upside is there for Davis to make a jump forward in 2018. He's reportedly been ballin' out this offseason.

The biggest hurdle that could hold him back from a full breakout is likely the target competition between Davis, Matthews, Delanie Walker and Dion Lewis. But the Titans drafted Davis to be their number-one guy, and the pendulum could start swinging that way this fall.

With Davis being drafted as the WR28, the market is bullish on him after a quiet rookie season, but he has the ability to outperform that draft cost.