My goal with the Offseason Preview series is to get caught up with each team’s 53-man roster, offensive and defensive schemes, team needs, and offseason capital within a 10-minute read. The basics will be at the top -- cap space, draft picks, cut candidates, notable departures -- and the film and analytics takes will be at the bottom. I hope to write these in a way that they’re referenceable throughout not just free agency and the NFL Draft, but also the 2021 season as we look into weekly matchups. The offseason is the time for me to get outside of our fantasy football bubble and learn more about what’s going on at the other positions. You can read the rest of my 2021 Offseason Previews here and can follow me on Twitter (@HaydenWinks).
Titans 2020 Recap
Offensive coordinator Arthur Smith was in his play-action bag, leading to top-five finishes in points scored (4th), passing EPA (2nd), rushing EPA (2nd), and percentage of red zone trips ending in a touchdown (2nd). A sturdy offensive line opened lanes for Derrick Henry’s 2,000-yard rushing season and allowed Ryan Tannehill to set up career years for A.J. Brown and Corey Davis. The entire system was tailored beautifully, but the defense couldn’t hold up for a legit playoff run. Free agent signings busted along the defensive line (31st in adjusted sack rate) and CB Adoree’ Jackson didn’t suit up until Week 15 (28th in passing EPA defense). The edge rushing issue hasn’t been solved going into 2021, and now the offense will be looking for Arthur Smith, Corey Davis, Jonnu Smith, and other replacements. It’s likely that the Titans’ window to win a Super Bowl has temporarily closed.
Titans 2021 Offseason
Titans Cap Space
$1.9 million (19th)
Titans Draft Picks
1.22, 2.53, 3.86, 4th, 5th, 6th, 6th, plus compensatory picks
Titans Cut Candidates
CB Malcolm Butler ($10.2M cap savings)
Titans Depth Chart
% of Passes
RB (Early Down)
RB (Third Down)
Offensive Coordinator: Losing Arthur Smith is going to be a big deal. His offense was sick (perfectly tailored to the strengths of his skill talent), and new OC Todd Downing’s one year as play-caller (2017) ended in the No. 23 scoring offense and a firing. The core of the Titans’ offensive identity will remain intact as this is an in-house promotion, but I’m dubious that the bread and butter of game-planning will be as smooth under Downing’s watch, particularly with Corey Davis, Jonnu Smith, Adam Humphries, and Anthony Firkser all being free agents. It’s easy to picture the Titans’ run-heavy approach failing in today’s NFL after an offseason filled with moving parts. There’s almost no way the Titans repeat their No. 4 rank in points scored next season, and it’s possible that they finish outside of the top-12.
Passing Offense: Under Arthur Smith, Ryan Tannehill led the NFL in play action rate (36%) and averaged 2.8 more yards per attempt on them, the fourth largest discrepancy among QBs. Tannehill is more accurate and athletic than other “system quarterbacks”, but some regression is to be expected after finishing No. 2 in passing EPA against the fifth-easiest strength of schedule last year. Who starts at tight end and receiver alongside A.J. Brown will ultimately determine Tannehill’s projection. The good news is that all five offensive line starters are signed for 2021. Despite LT Taylor Lewan only playing five games last year, the Titans ranked 11th in adjusted sack rate. It’s one of the better units in the league.
Rushing Offense: With all five linemen returning, Derrick Henry is set for another potential huge season assuming he can hold up following 397- and 321-touch seasons. Henry was the RB3 (19.9 PPR points per game) on RB9 fantasy usage last season despite only being targeted 31 times, unfortunately a career high. 2020 third-rounder Darrynton Evans will be a third-down option and insurance to Henry. He’s free in fantasy drafts but has a path to RB2 production in the event of a Henry injury.
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% of Plays
Defensive Coordinator: The Titans didn’t name a defensive coordinator last year, and let inexperienced LBs coach Shane Bowen call plays. Injuries largely contributed to Tennessee’s No. 24 scoring defense, but it’s fair to question the vanilla-ness of the play calling. A lot of their coverages weren’t disguised and they only blitzed on 29% of plays despite generating the second-worst pressure rate (17%). Quarterbacks were able to pick apart the Cover 2 base defense with ease, and the run defense wasn’t much better (18th in rushing EPA). With Bowen now officially promoted to DC and with edge rusher remaining a top concern, there’s no reason to believe the Titans won’t be one of the league’s ten worst defenses in 2021.
Passing Defense: 2020 free agent acquisitions Jadeveon Clowney and Vic Beasley combined for zero sacks. That’s why the Titans finished 31st in adjusted sack rate and 28th in passing EPA defense last year. Both players are gone, leaving 2018 second-round speed rusher Harold Landry and little else at the position. Edge rusher remains a short- and long-term need. The defensive back depth chart looks good on paper, however, but injuries plagued their cornerback rotation last year. 2017 first-round CB Adoree Jackson (4 games) and 2020 second-round slot CB Kristian Fulton (7 games) will hopefully join veteran CB Malcolm Butler, SS Kenny Vaccaro, and high-end FS Kevin Byard for more games in 2021. Even with better injury luck, this group will be left out to dry if the Titans can’t figure out how to apply more pressure.
Rushing Defense: Four-year starting LB Jayon Brown is a free agent, leaving 2018 first-round Rashaan Evans and 2019 sixth-round David Long as starters. They’ve been replacement-level players early in their careers and are unlikely to fix the Titans’ No. 18 rushing EPA defense. It’s a secondary need, although the front office wouldn’t mind giving these players another chance of proving themselves as long-term options. The defensive interior is headlined by emerging star DT Jeffery Simmons, the 2019 first-rounder. He’s a force against the run and pass, but more bodies are needed around him with starting NT DaQuan Jones unsigned. Nobody left on the roster has the run-clogging tools Jones possessed last year. Finding that one-tech replacement is a primary need.
Titans Team Needs
1. Outside Receiver - Given the Titans’ cap situation, Corey Davis is likely a goner in free agency. With no other starting-caliber option on the current roster, the Titans are in the WR2 market. In a balanced offense already featuring one of the league’s ten best receivers, it’s possible the Titans look towards the draft to fill this need.
2. Tight End(s) - The Titans used two or more tight ends on 50% of their 2020 offensive plays. They currently have zero tight ends with meaningful NFL experience signed for 2021 with Jonnu Smith and Anthony Firkser heading for free agency. One blocking and one receiving tight end are on the wish list.
3. Edge Rusher - Last year’s acquisitions Jadeveon Clowney and Vic Beasley combined for zero sacks. It’s back to the drawing board when it comes to finding edge talent. The Titans must improve upon their No. 31 adjusted sack rate to be legit AFC contenders. Finding a meatier edge rusher to pair with 2018 second-round speed rusher Harold Landry makes the most sense.
4. Defensive Tackle - Last year’s starting one-tech DaQuan Jones is a free agent, so the Titans will be looking for a thicc defensive tackle to pair with elite three-tech Jeffery Simmons. With Simmons providing a pass-rushing element, the Titans can prioritize a run defender with this spot.
5. Slot Receiver - The Titans released Adam Humphries. Even with Tennessee’s 12-personnel obsession, a slot receiver was used on 48% of the Titans’ 2020 pass attempts. A cheap veteran or Day 3 receiver would do the trick here. It’s a secondary need.
2021 Fantasy Football Rankings
Consider these my way-too-early 2021 fantasy football ranking ranges ahead of free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft, and here’s where each player ranked in PPR points, expected PPR points, and PPR points over expected last year.
Derrick Henry (RB1) - Not including the playoffs, Henry has 718 touches over his last two seasons. Is his workload sustainable going into his age-27 season? Perhaps, but even if he can hold up, Henry has to overcome expected red zone regression and the loss of OC Arthur Smith. The Big Dog has a little more risk in PPR leagues than his top-six ADP suggests.
A.J. Brown (WR1) - Assuming Corey Davis finds more money outside of Tennessee, Brown is looking at receiving that elite workload that he didn’t have last year when he saw WR34 fantasy usage. Adding more targets to his plate should offset any downgrade in play-calling. The 24-year-old has a reasonable shot at finishing ahead of last year’s WR13 per-game ranking. He was the fifth-most efficient fantasy receiver in the NFL last year and third in yards per route run.
FA Corey Davis (WR3) - Landing spot will be key, but for now, Davis belongs in WR3 land. He was the WR27 per-game last year and likely signs as a No. 1 receiver on a below-average offense. Going from No. 2 target to No. 1 likely takes away some of his elite efficiency. Davis was the WR8 in PPR Points Over Expected Per Game (+3.7) last year. That’s not happening again.
Ryan Tannehill (QB2) - Tannehill could be losing his play-caller, No. 2 receiver, No. 3 receiver, and both of his tight ends this offseason. Only the QB10 per game with everything clicking, Tannehill is someone to tread lightly with in fantasy. The good news, if any, is that his left tackle Taylor Lewan should be back following last year’s torn ACL.
FA Jonnu Smith (TE1/2) - Smith’s eight red zone touchdowns in 2020 led to a TE11 per-game finish on TE15 fantasy usage. A 26-year-old free agent with 74th percentile adjusted SPARQ athleticism, Smith will find a starting role regardless if it’s in Tennessee or elsewhere.
Darrynton Evans (RB5) - The 2020 third-rounder only appeared in five games as a rookie but only faces Jeremy McNichols in the No. 2 RB competition this offseason. Evans was an analytics sleeper as a prospect, checking production, athleticism, and early-declare boxes.
FA Adam Humphries (WR8) - Already a low-ceiling player, Humphries’ bankability in the slot has been complicated by concussions. The 28-year-old has never cleared 850 yards in a season.