Season in Review – Tennessee Titans

By James Fotheringham (@nflhypetrain)

Next up in our review series is the Tennessee Titans.


Before the season the Tennessee Titans were one of those teams that nobody really thought much about. They were “just a team” who were too good to be bottom of the pile in the AFC South, but behind the Texans and Colts. When Andrew Luck announced his retirement, hopes grew, but the prospect of DeShaun Watson on offence, JJ Watt on defence and strong teams in other divisions, making the playoffs via a wildcard look difficult.


The Personnel:


The Coaching team lost OC Matt LaFleur to the Packers which led to Arthur Smith being promoted from the TE coach role. Otherwise, nothing changed. Mike Vrabel was HC, Jon Robinson GM and Dean Pees DC.

On Defence the team had 5 rookies in the final roster, but mostly the team was led by veterans Jurrell Casey, Kevin Byard and Logan Ryan with developing stars Rashaan Evans, Harold Landry and Jayon Brown all stepping up. Kenny Vaccaro and Malcolm Butler began their 2nd seasons at the Titans while Cameron Wake joined from Miami.

On Offence the team added AJ Brown in the 2nd round of the draft to pair with Corey Davis (taken in the 1st round last year). They also grabbed Adam Humphries from Tampa Bay and retained Delanie Walker for another year. Walker went down very early and so Jonnu Smith and Anthony Firkser shared to load. Ryan Tannehill joined from Miami so act as backup to Marcus Mariota (who started the season with a rather short leash). The Running back duo of Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis were retained while the offensive line was improved by the addition of Roger Saffold from the Rams to join Jack Conklin, Taylor Lewan and co. Henry and Lewis were okay in 2018 but Henry only just scraped over 1000 rushing yards and his utilisation stopped him from reaching his full potential. A lot of experts doubted he’d be able to become elite but as the season unfolded, he exploded.


The Regular Season


Cast your minds back to the conclusion of week 6. The Titans had just been shutout 16-0 by the Denver Broncos to drop to 2-4. The Bills, Jags and Colts had each got the better of them and wins away against the Browns and the Falcons were the only high points. Marcus Mariota was struggling and the team as a whole only scored more than 20 points in 2 games (those in which they won) and had 3 games scoring 7 points for fewer.

During and after the loss in Denver the Titans switched QB and put Ryan Tannehill under centre and that decision was key in turning around their season. They went on to in 6 of their next 7 games to move to 8-5 and in a fight with the Texans for the AFC South. In 10 starts and 2 relief games, Tannehill would complete 201 passes for 2,742yds and 22TCs with only 6INTs. A 117.5 passer rating and completion percentage over 70% was a revelation for the Titans while he was also able to rush 43 times for 185 yards and 4TDs. This support and change in playing style caught teams off guard and gave Derrick Henry the room and licence to run.

Image Credit – Chipermc, Wikimedia

Tannehill made the team a passing threat and brought relevance to the likes of 2nd round pick AJ Brown, 2018 1st rounder Corey Davis and the Delanie Walker replacements at TE in Jonnu Smith and Anthony Firkser. Brown grew throughout his rookie season and became a serious big play threat. Even more so when Henry got into his stride. Brown managed to break the 1000yd reception plateau with 1,052 on 52 receptions, with many of them being more than 20yards. 8 TDs made him an invaluable asset and he was ably backed up by Davis and Humphries.

Dion Lewis was largely ineffective all year. With enough good passing options Lewis was left as more of a backup and a decoy while Derrick Henry ran the show. Henry never had more than 3 targets, so all his work was done on the ground, but after 9 weeks he had only had one game with over 100 rushing yards. Fantasy owners weren’t feeling to need to trade for him and even though the team was improving, nobody could foresee what was coming. In week 10 at home to Kansas City, Henry had 188 rushing yards on 23 attempts and his first multiple TD game of the season. Up to that point he’d had 644 yards and 6TDs in 9 games. This game was the turning point as the 35-32 win (mostly on Henrys back) was the start of a 4 game win streak in which Henry would amass 641 scrimmage yards and 7TDs and each of the 4 games would see him rush for over 100 yards. It was an incredible run which made them the form team going into their crunch divisional game against the Texans.  

Image Credit – Walker Kinsler, Wikimedia

The week 15 head to head was critical as it effectively decided whether then Texans would win the division or whether the Titans would overhaul them. With the Steelers currently in the wildcard spot, whoever lost would be in a scrap to make the post-season. The Texans were off form, totally the opposite to the Titans but DeShaun Watson and co secured a 24-21 win. the Titans were left scrapping with the Steelers for the final wildcard and a loss to the Saints (with Derrick Henry missing from the line-up) the following week proved not to be critical as the Steelers loss to the Jets gave Tennessee the jump on them based on strength of opponent. The Titans then had a simple “Win and in” game against the already playoff bound Texans. An easy 35-14 win against a below strength Houston sealed the deal. A 9-7 record and with the 2nd wildcard spot they’d go in as the 6th seeds in the AFC.


The Post-Season


If seeing the Patriots lose the Dolphins and fall into the Wildcard round (much to the benefit of the Chiefs) wasn’t surprising enough, then what happened at Gillette Stadium certainly was. Very few analysts gave the Titans a chance. They squeaked in on the last day as the final wildcard, have Ryan Tannehill as their QB and weren’t a top 5 defence. Meanwhile the Patriots have Brady and Edelman, a top 3 defence and Belichick in control. 

In the regular season Derrick Henry totalled 1,505 rushing yards on 303 attempts and a (tied) league leading 16TDs. In the post season, he looked unstoppable. He had 34 attempts for 182 yards and a TD against the Patriots, while the defence stifled an increasingly annoyed Patriots offence. Ryan Tannehill only completed 8 passed (from 15 attempts) for 72 yards and a TD but that was all he needed. Anthony Firkser caught the 12 yard pass in the first quarter before Henry took in in from the 1 yard line just before half time to see the Titans into a 14-13 lead. A stalemate second half was finally broken when Logan Ryan picked off Brady with 9 seconds left and took it to the house to cue wild celebrations nationwide.  

Image Credit: Will Newton/Getty Images

The upset against the Patriots was incredible and many anti-Patriot fans were quick to get behind them, but very few people would have said they had a chance against the top seed Baltimore Ravens and Lamar Jackson. Once again, the Titans proved the world wrong. Derrick Henry again would star with 30 rushes for 195 yards at 6.5yrds per carry. He did get a TD, but it was neither rushing, nor receiving. A 3 yard loop ball to Corey Davis on a trick play was probably the moment where the game was won. The defence held, what some argue was the most potent offence in the NFL, to just 12 points while on offence Ryan Tannehill got them over the line without really doing much.

Tannehill only completed 7 passes, but 2 of those were touchdowns. First to Jonnu Smith to set the tone early and then followed up by Kalif Raymond as they took a 14-0 lead. 2 Field goals for the Ravens brought them back into it but the trick play from Derrick Henry to Corey Davis took the wind out of the Ravens. Only minutes later Tannehill was rushing the ball in himself and at 28-6 with less than 20 minutes to go, it was over. The Ravens would get one back through Hayden Hurst, but it was too little too late.

The AFC Championship game against the Chiefs wasn’t the matchup expected on most people’s brackets, but with the Titans on form and Patrick Mahomes being Patrick Mahomes, it was going to be fun to watch. A heavy run offence vs a heavy pass offence and in the end, despite the Titans taking 10-0 and 17-7 leads, the Chiefs did what they have done so often, and scored a succession of TD’s to swing the balance in their favour. A Greg Joseph field goal and a Derrick Henry 4 yard TD run gave the Titans a perfect start to the game. The response from Mahomes to Hill kept it tight but the 10 point lead was restored when lineman Dennis Kelly caught a pass from Tannehill when labelled as an eligible receiver. Another trick that worked a treat.

After that, it became the Patrick Mahomes show. 4 TD’s in 12 game minutes including a short pass to Hill, a dazzling run, a rush from Damien Williams and a 60 yarder to Sammy Watkins finished off the Titans. At 35-17 with 7:33 left on the clock it was a mountain to climb. Tannehill did get another TD to Firkser but with the team behind, he was being forced to throw more. He had 209 yards and 2 TDs with no INTs but with Derrick Henry limited to under 70 rushing yards the Chiefs got the job done and would go on to the Superbowl.


Conclusions


At no point in the season did anyone truly think the Titans would be in the AFC Championship game. They just kept surprising people and after years of not realising his potential, Derrick Henry has finally shown how elite he can be. No shadow from Demarco Murray, no split responsibilities with Dion Lewis and a QB that is capable of running and providing an alternative which keeps the opponents guessing.

It’s hard to say what they need to concentrate on in the off season since the only thing that stopped them was the brilliance of Patrick Mahomes. They had a good young secondary who are learning fast, a pass rush which maybe could use a fresher set of legs (but are still playing to a high level) and some good special teams’ players. On offence, if Henry stays healthy and the likes of Davis and Brown keep developing and the Smith/Firkser combo can evolve into the long term replacements for Delanie Walker then it’s hard to suggest what else they can do. The O-Line is great, and Ryan Tannehill has been a revelation. The big decision is whether the Titans see him as their future. Tannehill is a UFA this off season and it will depend on contracts and cap space whether he returns. I’d be very keen to keep him on as low level deal as he is willing to take if I was the GM. The foundations of something great are there. I’d like to see Tannehill to AJ Brown for another year.

New Orleans Saints v Tennessee Titans
Image Credit: Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

After the loss to the Chiefs Dean Pees announced his retirement (again) and so the team will need a new defensive co-ordinator next season. Their defence was a big reason why Derrick henry was able to be so dominant. There is still room for improvement as they gave up 20+ points on 8 occasions in the regular season and they need to figure out a way of stopping Mahomes, but the signs are positive and maybe a the new DC can tip them over than edge.

It will be interesting to see how they cope next season with the new weight of expectation and teams targeting Henry and Brown, but if you are a Titans fan then this has been a season to remember and you have some exciting times ahead. #TitanUp      

F10Y – NFC and AFC Championships 19-20 Look ahead

by Lawrence Vos (@NFLFANINENGLAND and @F10YRetro)

This will be the 22nd time that the conference championship will be a regular season rematch. The advantage has gone to the home team winning 13 of 21 rematches. The last team to gain revenge for a regular season loss by winning a conference championship was the the 2013 Seahawks who beat the 49ers – a game that featured a touchdown from Marshawn ‘Beast Mode’ Lynch. 

Now I’m not going to be popular if you like to do the tomahawk or if you support a team with a red helmet, but I am going for a Titans v 49ers Super Bowl. Below I have provided some narrative on the two teams I think are going to make it to the 54th annual festival of football.

AFC Championship – Tennessee Titans @ Kansas City Chiefs

Photo caption: Andrew Nelles / Tennessean.com

H2H – Chiefs lead all time series 29-24. Both are 1-1 in Super Bowl playoffs, and one win for the Titans in 1962 in double overtime when they were known as the Dallas Texans. Titans have won last four matchups by a combined 22. 

Titans 2019 record to date – 11-7 

  • Could become the first team in NFL history to beat their same conference division winners in a single season having dispensed the Texans Week 17, then the Patriots and the Ravens. 
  • If we include the Houston Oilers records, along with the Titans then this is the franchises 6th conference championship game – three for the Oilers – one from being in the AFL in 1967, two consecutive between 1978 and 1979, both as Wild Card entries, and both ending in defeats to the eventual Super Bowl winning Pittsburgh Steelers. 
  • As the Titans they reached two AFC title games in 1999 and 2002, beating the Jags in 99 and losing to the Raiders in 02. This will be the Titans 3rd AFC Championship in their 21 year existence as the Tennessee Titans.
  • They have of course played in one Super Bowl – 34 suffering one of three of the most heartbreaking losses in the finals history as Mike Jones the St Louis Rams LB tackled WR Keyin Dyson at the one yard line as the Titans looked to tie up the game in the dying seconds. 

Last decade – In the past 10 seasons the Titans haven’t won their division, and including this season are 3-1 in the playoffs. 

Outside of this season the Titans only playoff win in the past 17 seasons was in 2017 against none other than the Kansas City Chiefs. 

So what are the top 5 strengths of the Titans

Photo caption: Cbsnews.com
  • The running game and namely the hottest running back in the NFL Derek Henry. Henry became the first back in NFL history to record three consecutive 180+ rushing games. something that Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and even Jim Brown never managed.
  • Ryan Tannehill’s efficiency. From the point he replaced the ineffective Marcus Mariota this season Tannehill ended the 17 game slate with the highest rating in the league. Tannehill is an accurate passer 62.5% lifetime and 70.3% this season.
  • Jurrell Casey – You gotta love this defensive tackle who has started 137 of 139 games for the Titans. the four time pro bowler has recored 5 or more sacks for the last 7 seasons, and registered his first two playoff QB takedowns against Lamar Jackson last week. Casey has been twice voted the Titans Walter Payton Man of the year and he coaches a women’s flag football team made up of Titans WAGs. 
  • Head coach Mike Vrabel (pictured above) – This might be Vrabel’s first post season as a head coach but he won three rings as a player for the new england patriots in just a four year stretch. He has to be the only NFL player to have caught 12 touchdown passes on 12 career catches. 

Titans weaknesses 

  • Their field goal kicking.The team is 8-18 on field goal attempts
  • Pass rush – No player has more than 9 sacks and 1st round rookie dl Jeffrey Simmons had only two regular season sacks. 
  • Playoff experience – This is Tannehill’s third career playoff game and his only post season in his career. 

Keys for a Titans win 

  • Goes without saying feeding Derek henry the ball often – 25-30 carries and the Titans can dominate time of possesion and keep Mahomes off the field
  • Special teams tackling – The spark the Chiefs had last week was caused by a big Mecole Hardman kick return. If Haardman or Tyreek hill can find creases it means longer drives needed. 
  • Get the ball to the biggest playmaker. AJ Brown electrified as a rookie WR in the regular season, but he has been used as a decoy for two consecutive games to get a safety or corner to stay away from the line of scrimmage. Now is the time to unleash AJ in all his glory. 

NFC Championship – Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers

Photo credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

H2H – Packers lead the series 36-31-1. They have met 7 times in the playoffs the 49ers winning 3. The last time the 49ers recorded a shutout against the Packers was in 1954. The teams did meet in the 1997 NFC Championship – the Brett Favre and Reggie White led Packers beating the Steve Young led 49ers 23-10 in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. 

49ers record to date – 14-3 

  • Back in the NFC Championship for the 16th time – with 6 wins and 10 losses. Made three consecutive NFC Championships 2011-2013 with Alex Smith and then Colin Kaepernick. They lost Super Bowl 47 in 2013 to the Ravens. Weird fact on this game the last scoring play was a safety by the 49ers – Ravens  punter Sam Koch running out the back of the endzone. The 49ers team then featured Frank Gore who ran for 110 yards on the day. 
  • The Niners are 5-1 in Super bowls, having won 4 with Joe Montana who didn’t throw an interception in any of the three games, Super Bowl 24 in fact remains the biggest blowout game when they beat the Broncos 55-10. 
  • In the past 10 seasons the 49ers have won their division three times and are 6-3 in the playoffs. The last time they won their division before this season they mad it to the Superbowl. 
  • 49ers are the surviving 1 seed and only home team to host two playoff games this season. 

Top 5 strengths of the 49ers

Photo credit: Kyle Terada – USA TODAY Sports
  • Adaptability to their surroundings – they had a better road record than home record – going 7-1 on their travels. Wins ranged from a 9-0 grinder in a quagmire in Washington to outlasting the Saints 48-46 in the game of the season in New Orleans. 
  • The surprise of the running game. the team finished 2nd in rushing yards per game behind a combo of Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert, Matt Breida and even jeff bison, just don’t ask jimmy Garoppolo to run – his 1.3 yards a carry is Dan Marino Esque. Don’t forget about Kyle Juzchck who is arguably the best FB in football
  • Grab a teabag and put the Kittle on. All Pro TE George Kittle led the team in targets, receptions, and was the only Niners to go over 1000 yards in the air. His 5 tds paced the team. Kittle’s catch against the Saints was easily a top10 highlight of the season. 
  • Pass rush – the 49ers registered 48 regular season sacks and followed up with six lashes of Kirk Cousins last week. The biggest name is rookie Nick Bosa, but the leading regular season sacker was Arik Armstead with 10 and two forced fumbles. in their regular season matchup the 49ers had 5 sacks of Aaron rodgers on his 33 attempts. 
  • The offensive line – Veteran LT Joe staley and mauling 2nd year right tackle Mike McGlinchey (pictured above) are not getting the headlines, neither made the first or second all pro rosters but they are solid bookends and RG Mike Person is one to look out for as a late bloomer. The team averaged 4.6 yards a carry in the regular season and paved the way for 47 rushes last week. 

Weaknesses 

  • Kicking game has become a bit of a risk. Robbie Gould who was injured for three weeks has missed 8 of his 31 attempts after foil 33 of 34 last season. Fortunately for the 49ers Gould has never missed a field goal in 8 post season games. 
  • Penalties by the defense – The team committed the 7th most penalties in the regular season and need to cut down on giving up cheap yardage. 
  • Wide receivers – Its a grab bag of talent with the 49ers ball catchers – no one is a dominant number one. Trade aqusition Emmanuel Sanders has registered 36 catches and 3 tds in red and gold – good but not great. This can be a 49ers advantage as Jimmy G will likely look for Deebo Samuel early and often but there is no guarantee he has a gig receiving game. 

Keys for a 49ers win 

  • Keep bringing the heat all game long. Joey Bosa looked as fresh in the final two minutes against the Vikes as he did in the opening 2. Aaron Rodgers is 36 and uses more of his smarts than he does his feet to move the ball. 
  • Run the ball and wear down the packers defensive line. It might be Mostert or even Breida that gets the lions share of carries whoever carries the ball they need to keep hold of the rock
  • Game planning – Kyle Shanahan lives every day with the numbers 28-3 etched in his mind after taking a 25 point lead in the Super Bowl as the Falcons offensive coordinator before being Bill and Tommed. Lesson learnt Shanahan will take no lead for granted and will want to showcase his play calling in front of a fired up home crowd. 

Enjoy the games tonight, for some this week is better than Super Bowl Sunday. We have a top seed, a bottom seed and two teams that are #2 in their conferences.

Photo credit: Albert Dickson/Sporting News

Sit back, grab your popcorn, and have a blast.

All hail King Henry of Tennessee

By Alex Lewis (@alexlewis226)

Image result for derrick henry crown
Image Credit: Will Newton/Getty

Enforced, beheaded, died, enforced, decleated, taken-for-a-ride.

Derrick Henry, or King Henry as most now know him, is an animal on the field with the ability to physically dominate anybody that goes within touching distance of a football field.

You can stack the box, employ the National Guard, or even put extra-men on the field and ill bet you any money or commodities that he still falls forwards for a seven-yard gain.

Sure, Christian McCaffery will get you 1000 touches a game, and Aaron Jones can get you four touchdowns in Jerry World, but Derrick Henry is the true definition of power back.

His build is totally unique at the position; 6 foot 3 inches, 250 pounds and absolutely rapid in the open field, it’s literally no wonder that defensive backs barely slow him down.

To try and describe it, take the biggest wardrobe you have, have it placed at the top of a steep hill and then wait for it at the bottom with a hard hat on.

That’s what it is like trying to stop King Henry when he’s at top speed, so give Earl Thomas some slack for turning around rather than face a tackle.

Point is, that the running back in Tennessee should be the highest paid in the league for at least four years.


“But Henry isn’t nearly as good in the passing game like Christian McCaffery?”

Image result for derrick henry
Image Credit: Evan Habeeb

The biggest knock on King Henry and his crown as the best running back, is his inability/lack of experience in catching the ball out of the back field as a dual threat.

And to a degree, that’s a relevant point, teams are far less likely to stack the box against someone like Christian McCaffery knowing the damage he can do on a screen play.

Despite Henry’s improvement this year with 200+ receiving yards for the first time, including a 75-yard touchdown, it doesn’t take much to see that Henry is not as much of a threat when the ball is pulled out of his belly.

However, if you put your Bill Belichick hat on for a second, you can quickly see that this lack of action in the passing game is in fact potentially protecting him from Todd Gurley syndrome.

The LA Rams have lost a large chunk of their investment in Gurley as his body has failed to fully live up to the rigours of his second, big contract.

Over the first four years of his career, Henry had a total of 861 touches of the ball during regular season football in Tennessee, in comparison, Todd Gurley racked up nearly 1233 total touches over that same spell.

That lack of touches in his early career wasn’t intended as an attempt to conserve his body, but by chance, and with the touches unlikely to go much higher than this year, Henry might be the back most likely to give you the most of a big, long-term contract.  


“But surely Saquon Barkley deserves a bigger contract when it becomes time?”

Image result for derrick henry
Image Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not so sure about this either.

I absolutely love Barkley, he’s an unbelievable athletic freak, a homerun hitter and all-round generational talent.

But not only does he have some of the risk of too many touches leading to injury like I described earlier (he missed three games through injury this season) but he is also in a up and down franchise.

Henry plays for the Titans who have been well coached, well run and unbelievably consistent with their performance since he arrived.

He has a top-10 O-line, a head-coach who is persistent with the run game and is going to be there for a long time, and a cast of players on the outside who demand coverage and attention.

Saquon Barkley has none of that, and the chaos around the organisation has meant that his rookie season, and any strong performance last year has come from his own herculean efforts.

It’s not his fault – but in his situation, with so miles already on the milometer, Henry still seems a better shout.


“But surely teams will eventually catch onto him game-in and game-out?”

Image result for derrick henry
Image Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

This is the big one.

Can Henry still dominate when teams know exactly what is going to happen next season?

And the answer is yes. 100% yes. Don’t bother asking again, yes.

Ryan Tannehill has been effective in the play-offs but overall pretty ineffective, and yet against the incredible defences of both Bill Belichick and Jon Harbaugh, with the ball only going to one person, Henry still recorded at least 180 yards rushing.

Everyone knew that Henry was getting the ball and yet time and time again he found himself into the second level of the defence.

This is what gives him the edge over LeVeon Bell or Ezekiel Elliot, his ability with his direct style to run through you even with the right call and scheme.

Set up how you like.

Put your biggest linebacker in the A-gap or build a concrete wall between the centre and the guard, it doesn’t matter what you do, this Titans Train is rolling with Henry at the wheel and it isn’t stopping for anybody.

Deep Deep Deeep Fantasy Sleepers: Part 2

by Rob Grimwood – @FFBritBaller

I love deep diving in fantasy football. It’s one of the many areas within the industry that I just love researching. From favourable roster positions to raw, unearthed talent – trying to scrap around in the bargain bins of fantasy football to find the next Alvin Kamara,  Adam Thielen or even Odell Beckham who was overlooked by fantasy owners in 2014; deep diving is certainly one of my favourite offseason past times.

It’s been a fruitful offseason of scouting for me too, so much so I had to split this article into two parts! The first part featured the likes of Dylan Cantrell, WR (L.A Chargers), Deon Yelder, TE (Kansas City Chiefs), Chris Conley, WR (Jacksonville Jaguars) and Darren Waller, TE (Oakland Raiders) and part two will offer up 4 more super deep sleepers that are not to be ignored late on in your drafts!

Let’s dig in!

Dexter Williams – Running Back, Green Bay Packers

Sure, Aaron Jones is the bell cow in Green Bay, I hear you. But, Jones doesn’t come without injury concerns. Of his two seasons to date, Jones has never completed more than 12 games in a regular season. This is mostly down to a reoccurring grade 2 knee sprain which has flared up on 3 different occasions.

ajones

If Jones does go down injured in 2019, or isn’t able to sustain his 49 rushing yards per game career average, the natural reaction will be to assume Jamaal Williams is the next guy up for the Pack, but that may not be the case. With a career average of just 3.7 yards per carry over his two years in the league baked in with mediocre-at-best receiving statistics (52 receptions for 472 yards, 9.1 per rec and 2 TD’s); I for one wouldn’t be surprised if new Head Coach Matt LaFleur decided to put trust into one of his drafted guys instead, Dexter Williams.

Dexter Williams was apart of the highly successful 2018 Notre Dame Fighting Irish team that managed to be one of the 4 teams that qualify for the College Football Playoffs. Despite missing 4 games because of undisclosed personal matters, Williams returned on week 5 for the Irish and ended the season with 995 rushing yards (6.3 per carry) with 133 receiving yards off 16 receptions with 13 total touchdowns. 

Although he didn’t blow anyone away at the combine, his 40 time was fine (4.53s) and he managed 17 bench reps which was better than what higher picks Damien Harris (16), David Montgomery (15) and Benny Snell (16) managed.

Williams is a between the tackles kind of back, funnily enough, MockDraftable have him compared the best to none other than teammate Aaron Jones, thus confirming that if Jones was to miss time, it may well be Dexter that becomes the most productive ‘Williams’ in the Green Bay running back room.

His strengths coming out of college is that he possesses great vision and is a clever runner, especially when gaps are forged for him. To be successful in the NFL, he’ll need a good o-line in front of him to provide those needed gaps. The Packers offensive line is considered to be a top 10 line in the league, so the opportunity is there for Williams to be successful should the chance occur.

 

Alex Barnes – Running Back, Tennessee Titans

Who an earth is Alex Barnes, I hear you say. Well folks, Alex Barnes may well be the next Phillip Lindsay. An undrafted free agent rookie hailing from a small-ish school in the Big 12 conference who had 1,355 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns for Kansas State in 2018. Yes, that’s more than Devin Singletary (1,348), Miles Sanders (1,274) and David Montgomery (1,216) who are all highly regarded prospects and were all drafted.

His stats were not too dissimilar to Lindsay’s final college season in 2017, but Barnes is quite the opposite when it comes to physical attributes. At 6’1 and 225lbs, he is built from the same mold as Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson, and Melvin Gordon. If you were drafting all four today solely on combine performances, Barnes wouldn’t be out of place alongside these big hitters.

Melvin Gordon Lev Bell David Johnson Alex Barnes
40 Yard Dash 4.52s 4.60s 4.50s 4.59s
Bench Press 19 24 25 34
Broad Jump 126 118 127 126
Shuttle 4.07s 4.24s 4.27s 4.10s
Vertical Jump 35.00 31.50 41.50 38.50

The situation for Barnes in Tennessee isn’t a bad one either. Despite Derrick Henry breaking out somewhat towards the end of the season, I still can’t help but get the impression the Titans are still undecided if Henry is their man.

Henry’s breakout game came in week 13 where he went on to finish the remainder of the season to break through the 1,000-yard rushing marker (1,059), however, 585 of those yards came after week 12 which means the Tennessee rushing game in the first two-thirds of the season was pretty non-existent.

They were quick to act on Barnes after the draft too, picking him up just over a week after the NFL draft was completed and was seemingly a high profile UDFA with multiple teams reportedly interested.

With Dion Lewis likely to remain in a pass-catching role and no other backs of significance on the depth chart in Nashville (David Fluellen, Jeremy McNichols, and Dalyn Dawkins) Alex Barnes may well be a household name for fantasy owners in the near future if he makes it onto the 53-man roster in late August.

John Brown – Wide Receiver, Buffalo Bills

John Brown may legitimately be the WR1 for the Buffalo Bills. Sure, as can Robert Foster and Zay Jones, I hear you, but have either of those receivers had over 1,000 yards receiving over the course of a season? No. In fact, Zay Jones’ best season in 2018 saw him rack up 652 receiving yards and just for the record, Foster had 541 yards and 3 scores in his one and only season to date.

I’ve always liked ‘Smokey’ Brown. Ever since his tantalising 1,003 rec yard and 7 touchdown season for Arizona in 2015, but it’s the injuries that have kept him from repeating those numbers. In his last two seasons of his rookie contract for the Cards, Brown only started 11 games, but when he did play, he still was able to perform to a high standard as he managed 13.3 and 14.2 yards per reception average in those seasons respectively.

smokey
Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, however, Brown was able to play the majority of the campaign and started 15 games in his one-year prove-it deal with the Baltimore Ravens. Despite performing admirably in 2018 and somewhat ‘proving it’ with 715 yards off 42 receptions (17.0 yards per reception) and 5 touchdowns, the Ravens clearly had plans to centre the future passing offense through the young guns which rang true when they drafted college standouts Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin instead of re-signing Brown.

But the saying goes “another man’s trash is another man’s treasure” and I believe that to be true for the Bills when they grabbed Brown in the free agency. Let’s forget the past for a second and focus on the strengths of Brown and his new quarterback, Josh Allen. 

Am I over-enamoured with Allen’s ability to be a quality NFL QB? Not particularly. But one thing that does impress me, along with the masses, is his arm strength. We saw it at the combine, you remember, the nigh on 70-yard cannonballs he was effortlessly floating into receivers arms. Well, what does that weapon require? A fast receiver who can get down the field. John Brown is one of the fastest players in the league when he’s at full fitness and could still likely hit his 4.34 40 time from his 2014 combine.

I’m buying in. Maybe not so much in PPR league formats as I don’t think Brown will be peppered with targets, after all, the Bills brought in possession receiver Cole Beasley for that role, but definitely as a “last pick dart throw” and definitely in standard-scoring leagues. I for one, will not be surprised if John Brown is a regular starting receiver on your rosters come fantasy playoff time in December.

Geoff Swaim – Tight End, Jacksonville Jaguars

This is the third tight end I am talking about during these 2 articles which just goes to prove you don’t have to spend a high draft pick on one of the top tight ends. It’s a volatile position where anyone of about 25 players can finish as a top 10 tight end in 2019 for fantasy football.

You can add Geoff Swaim into that mix too, mainly because he has been gifted a fantastic opportunity over in Duval county. Fellow newcomer and starting quarterback Nick Foles has had good success in the past when throwing to tight ends too; In his second stint in Philadelphia, Foles built a good rapport with superstar Zach Ertz, whilst also working with Travis Kelce at the Chiefs in 2016 and Jared Cook with his time as a St Louis Ram in 2015.

Swaim spent the majority of his rookie contract in Dallas firmly in the shadow of Jason Witten and didn’t get an opportunity to show any kind of attacking prowess until last season whilst Witten entertained us from the commentary booth instead of on the field.

Even then, Swaim found himself having to split targets with fellow tight ends Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz, and even though he wasn’t the biggest producer out of the three, he was the most consistent with an 81.3% catch rate – which was also the highest on the team and 14th best in the league.

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Photo Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

This year, Swaim is taking those safe hands to pastures new where there is only an unproven rookie in Josh Oliver to contend with on the depth chart for pass-catching duties out of the tight end position.

In fact, the whole receiving core in Jacksonville is up for debate. With no clear WR1, no proven hot hand in the receiving game and a new quarterback with a proven track record of success throwing to tight ends, Geoff Swaim could be a sneaky pickup for fantasy players despite not having the best career-to-date statistics. Opportunity is king for fantasy tight ends and Swaim may well be the endzone target the Jags are crying out for.