Fantasy Football: Positive Regression Is In Store for the Tennessee Titans' Passing Game
Last year, a lot of fantasy analysts were on two third-year quarterbacks -- Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston -- to break out. In hindsight, however, we should have been on a pair of second-year quarterbacks -- Carson Wentz and Jared Goff -- instead.
For Mariota specifically, it truly was an abysmal year. He led his team to a 9-6 record, but the 24-year-old saw a decline in passing yards (3,232) while throwing half as many touchdowns (13) and six more interceptions (15) than in the prior season.
What went into that poor performance, and what can we expect from him and his pass-catchers in 2018?
Entering 2017, Mariota had a 5.5% touchdown rate, which was equivalent to Tom Brady's career rate. With the addition of touchdown machine Eric Decker in free agency and talented young receiver Corey Davis in the draft, fantasy gamers' excitement was understandable.
Decker and Davis combined to score one touchdown, though. Davis in particular was especially inefficient in his rookie year, but he has nowhere to go but up, and all reports out of camp have been positive. Decker, meanwhile, managed just 35 receiving yards per game. With Decker's inefficient play out of the mix, more targets can be funneled to an improved Corey Davis and Mariota's two most effective weapons over the course of his career: Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker.
Mariota also dealt with some injuries of his own, playing through a quadriceps injury as the Tennessee Titans battled for a playoff spot and up until the team's postseason loss. He also left the Titans' Week 4 game with a hamstring injury, missed the following week, and was notably hampered by it for at least the next three weeks.
After rushing for 116 yards in his first 4 games, Mariota managed just 14 in his first 3 games post-injury. In fact, reports indicated that the hamstring injury (and slow recovery from his surgically repaired ankle) affected his play the rest of the season.
It's important to remember that when healthy, Mariota was playing well last year. Through his first three games before the Week 4 injury, Mariota averaged 17.2 fantasy points per game in standard scoring. This was in spite of the fact that two of those three games came against the Jacksonville Jaguars and a healthy Seattle Seahawks defense. Mariota was on pace for 410 rushing yards as well, which would have been the highest mark of his three-year career.
As mentioned before, Mariota's touchdown rate absolutely collapsed in 2017. The result of that? An extremely lopsided touchdown split that saw the Titans finish as the only team to score a higher percentage of touchdowns on the ground (56.25%) than they did through the air.
Don't expect this to continue, though. In fact, a recoil in Mariota's favor should be expected, as teams with a more extreme rushing to passing touchdown split than the 2017 Titans over the past decade reverted back to normalcy, as they scored 60.1% of their touchdowns through the air the following year.
With the aging Decker out of the mix and Davis returning for what could be a breakout sophomore campaign after missing all of preseason and a good chunk of the regular season due to hamstring injuries, Mariota will have a strong group of weapons to work with in 2018. More importantly, Mariota himself will have a healthy offseason to improve and learn under offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, whose play action usage could benefit Mariota and the passing game.
First thing McVay & LaFleur did for Jared Goff was spike his play-action passing to highest rate in league (30%), up from 14% under Jeff Fisher. Let's hope LaFleur does same for Mariota. #Titans https://t.co/aR47vFpJP3
— Evan Silva (@evansilva) July 10, 2018
They say a rising tide lifts all boats. With Mariota's touchdown rate likely to spike, and Decker's removal from the offense concentrating targets elsewhere, all of the Titans' primary pass-catchers (Davis, Walker and Mathews) should be guys to roster in fantasy football as a result. Even Taywan Taylor is a fine late-round dart throw as a candidate to be this year's Nelson Agholor.
So buy now, and don't miss the boat on the Titans' offense.