TITANS // DOLPHINS OVERVIEW
The Titans travel to Miami as the rare road favorite this week, taking on a Dolphins squad that has one of the most underwhelming rosters in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Titans have a solid defense, an up-and-coming offense, and a great offensive coordinator in Matt LaFleur (coming over from the Rams). The biggest difficulty in projecting this game is the change in defensive coordinator on the Titans from Dick LeBeau to Dean Pees. Last year, the Titans ranked fourth in rushing yards allowed, first in yards allowed per carry, and first in fewest rushing touchdowns allowed — but LeBeau has always favored an extra safety in the box, forcing teams to the air. That could change this year, as Pees has always structured what I call a “tight” bend-but-don’t-break — with the old Patriots mindset of forcing the opponents to take short gains and march all the way down the field with mistake-free football, but with a more aggressive approach than the Patriots defenses tend to have. Tennessee faced the most pass attempts in the NFL last year, and that balance should shift as the new defensive look takes shape.
TITANS RUN OFFENSE
Pro Football Focus rates the Titans as having a top-five offensive line, and LaFleur is going to build on what he learned from Shanahan and McVay in terms of stretching the defense and applying pressure from multiple looks, angles, and levels. This should open up running room quite a bit more than the Mike Mularkey “exotic smashmouth” approach, and should create opportunities for more explosive plays.
The “easy way out” on this Titans backfield is to say that Derrick Henry will take early downs and short-yardage work, while Lewis will soak up third downs and obvious passing situations. I’ve been reading this sentiment a lot from DFS and even NFL writers, but that’s not what Titans coaches or beat writers seem to think. I am going into this game expecting each back to play about 55% of the snaps (with them sharing the field at times), and I’m expecting LaFleur to build on the blueprint that the Saints gave the league last year: giving Henry anywhere from 12 to 22 carries (with three to five targets mixed in), and giving Lewis six to 12 carries and five to eight targets. While there is a chance that each guy can produce under this setup (it’s easy to forget that Lewis averaged over 14 carries per game for the Patriots last year across their last 11 contests, and punched in six touchdowns on the year with a strong 4.98 YPC mark), we should head into the season viewing each guy as a much stronger play in tourneys than in cash games, until we see how each guy is being used. Miami was perfectly average against the run last year, ranking 17th in yards allowed per carry — though they did allow the ninth-most rushing touchdowns and the third-most running back receptions.
TITANS PASS OFFENSE
The public DFS perception of the Dolphins’ pass defense is that it is #bad, after they allowed elevated touchdown reception numbers last year, but this unit finished above-average in receiving yards, air yards, yards after catch, and average depth of target against wide receivers, and they finished top 10 in fewest touchdowns allowed to wide receivers — at an average of 0.69 WR receiving touchdowns per game. Dolphins stud corner Xavien Howard allowed a completion rate of only 52.5% last year, while ranking ranking 15th (out of nearly 150 corners with at least 100 coverage snaps) in passer rating allowed. While the LaFleur / Corey Davis combo has me excited for some monster weeks, Davis is going to have a tough time this week. Same goes for preseason darling Taywan Taylor (whose playing time is weirdly uncertain heading into the year, after he played hardly any snaps with the first-team offense during preseason), while Rishard Matthews is coming back from a late-summer knee surgery. On the road, in a new offense (i.e., “unpredictable workload distribution”), this passing attack needs to be taken off the board in cash games. Talent and scheme still make this a worthwhile consideration in tourneys, with Davis likely sliding into a role that will yield seven to 10 targets most weeks, and with Matthews/Taylor providing spiked weeks from time to time.
Delanie Walker appears set to battle through his toe injury and step onto the field for a matchup against a Dolphins defense that got absolutely flamed by tight ends last year, allowing the second-most touchdowns and the most receiving yards to the position. Over the last four years, these are the only tight ends in the NFL who have topped 1000 yards in a season:
Rob Gronkowski (3x)
Greg Olsen (3x)
Last year, the Dolphins allowed 999 yards to the position. Incredible.
DOLPHINS RUN OFFENSE
Last year, the Titans ranked fourth in rushing yards allowed, first in yards allowed per carry, and first in fewest touchdowns allowed…but as mentioned above, LeBeau’s “safety in the box” defense is gone. That defense not only led teams to avoid running the ball against Tennessee, but it also forced teams to throw to the running back all the time, as Tennessee finished last year allowing the second-most receptions and the most receiving yards to running backs. If the Titans’ defense were set to stay the same, this would actually provide a very sneaky boost to strong pass-catcher Kenyan Drake, as his receiving skills are superior to those of old man Frank Gore. As things stand, however, we head into this game uncertain exactly how the Titans’ defense will aim to funnel action — and while we can comfortably peg them as an above-average run-stopping unit, this does not indicate that they will remain a boon to pass-catching backs. Although Kenyan Drake finished second in the NFL last year in Elusive Rating among RBs, and finished first in yards after contact per attempt (per PFF), the Dolphins have made it clear that they plan to split the workload between Drake and Gore. Drake has all the talent in the world and is a worthy tourney play, but he’s as likely to see 14 carries and two catches as he is to see 19 and six — against what still needs to be considered a stout run defense.
DOLPHINS PASS OFFENSE
While the scheme change will impact expectations agains the Titans’ pass defense moving forward, Week 1 gives us a great opportunity to “watch and see what to expect in the future,” as the Dolphins provide limited utility for our fantasy rosters, with DeVante Parker dealing with a finger issue (and struggling mightily through camp previous to the injury), Albert Wilson joining the team as the result of a front office decision without the coaching staff being involved or having any firm ideas on how to use him, and with noted checkdown artist Ryan Tannehill limiting the upside of Kenny Stills.
The one player who stands out to me on this side of the ball is Danny Amendola, who is somehow going overlooked in the DFS community. Multiple beat writers for the Dolphins have suggested this summer that Amendola will lead the team in receptions this year, and while his history of injuries makes this unlikely, he does have enough “Jarvis Landry” to his skill set to be able to fill about 70% of the role that Landry left behind. For as long as he is healthy, we should expect Amendola to soak up an average of around seven targets per game from the slot. Landry also saw the third-most targets in the NFL last year inside the 10-yard-line, and Amendola’s “junk” skill set (i.e., being able to get open and/or make plays in tight, crowded areas of the field) will help him to capably fill that role as well. Only two teams allowed more wide receiver touchdowns than the Titans last year.
As excited as I am for this Titans offense in 2018 (backed up by close to 50% exposure to Corey Davis in the Best Ball Championship), I will likely leave this offense alone outside of deep tourney shots and Delanie Walker. I toyed with the idea of using Davis on my main DraftKings roster simply because of how affordable he is (and absolutely, his upside makes him viable in tourneys), but his floor in this matchup is still lower than I want near any roster I am using in cash games, high-dollar tourneys, or single-entry tourneys. I’ll also leave Lewis and Henry alone on the massive majority of my bankroll until I see this offense on the field. If this week set up differently, I might take a shot — but given all the value this week (and given the massive score this means we will need in Week 1 in order to take down a tourney), I’m happy to shed low-floor plays on my core roster(s). The big standout on the Titans is Delanie Walker, who feels like he will somehow go overlooked in spite of what a tremendous matchup this is. If Delanie misses, Jonnu Smith becomes an immediate plug-and-play as a high-talent backup who would immediately step into a big role. (Though don’t hold your breath. Delanie is a noted warrior, and is unlikely to miss.)
On the other side of this game, I like Drake a decent amount as a tourney play, simply because of his talent and the fact that I can see Tannehill checking the ball down to him often, but the uncertainty in this matchup with the defensive coordinator change in Tennessee, along with the uncertain workload distribution, are enough to leave me feeling unsafe about him. I wouldn’t argue against a tourney shot on the upside of Kenny Stills or (if he plays) DeVante Parker, but each is truly a shot-in-the-dark play. And finally, I like Amendola as a salary-saver with an underrated floor and solid upside on both DraftKings and FantasyDraft, where his PPR skill set should play nicely.
Actually, not “finally.” I get the feeling I will get asked on Twitter about Mike Gesecki. Gesecki should open the season in a near every-down role at tight end for the Dolphins, but he has struggled throughout training camp to adapt to the professional game. He has awesome measurables and a nice touchdown ceiling, so I wouldn’t argue against a shot on him if you feel like taking it, but he’s not for me, as I’m always looking for quite a bit more certainty than that.