By Joe Busky
It started with the first pick in the 2015 NFL Draft in Chicago. I was there when I saw the Titans begin to build the offense poised for explosion this coming 2017 season. The Tennessee Titans opted to draft the dual threat quarterback out of Oregon named Marcus Mariota. They made a splash next offseason rescuing the elite runner DeMarco Murray from the inept Philadelphia offense. They proceeded to draft two massive bodies in Jack Conklin and Derrick Henry in the 2016 draft.
The plan became clear after the draft: Run the ball down the enemy’s throat behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. Pro Football Focus ranks the Tennessee line at #4 currently.
Last season, we saw this plan pan out with pleasing results. DeMarco Murray reignited his career in a big way and became one of the steals of many drafts last season. 1300 yards on the ground and another 400 on the ground with 12 total touchdowns earned him top 5 status by the season’s end in standard scoring.
Marcus Mariota took a huge step forward last season posting an impressive 26:9 TD:INT ratio and finishing just outside the top 10 in scoring for QBs. Richard Matthews became the beneficiary of Mariota’s rise, posting career highs in yardage with 945 yards and 9 touchdowns as well.
Last, but certainly not least, Delanie Walker continued to prove his top 5 tight end status posting 800 yards with 7 touchdowns.
This offseason the Titans granted Mariota with two new weapons: Eric Decker and 5th overall pick Corey Davis. Potentially giving Mariota 4 quality targets in Decker, Matthews, Walker, and Davis. Not to mention the insurance a quality offensive line and healthy running game gives you.
What does this all mean to you on draft day? Value! I am buying these talents this draft season and so should you. Marcus Mariota is currently being drafted as the QB12 in the 9th round. Don’t reach for the likes of Russell Wilson in the 7th round and leave Delanie Walker, Emmanuel Sanders, or Danny Woodhead on the board. Mariota is top 10 potential, and you can sit back and wait for him in 9th.
DeMarco Murray is the bell cow of this offense. At Fourth and Long FF, we are believers in volume being king. Murray will get his 15+ carries and figures to make the most of them. He’s worth the early 2nd round pick. You don’t need to take both, but if you doubt Murray’s durability, Derrick Henry is a good option in the 7th round.
These 3 solid receivers are steals Richard Matthews most likely will be unable to repeat the numbers from his career 2016 campaign, but he will outperform Kenny Britt and Sterling Shepherd. Grab Matthews in the 12th round, absolute steal.
I understand the reluctance on Eric Decker in the 8th round due to his injury concerns, but as the top receiver on a high-powered offense he has the ability to reignite his career in Tennessee as Murray did last season.
Corey Davis is the best rookie on paper going into the season. He has the cast around him to back that up this season and presents great appeal in the 9th round with his high ceiling.
Delanie Walker is a top 5 tight end. Repeat that. Again. Do not overlook Walker; he is durable and very consistent unlike the more talented Jordan Reed. There are concerns about his share of the offense with the addition of Decker and commitment to the run. The good news is Walker is a great red zone target for Marcus Mariota and he's proved that posting 6 and 7 touchdown seasons with Mariota.
As you can see in the target breakdown above, Decker and Davis have the opportunity to seize volume from Tajae Sharpe, Kendall Wright and Harry Douglas. With the emergence of Decker, we will see Matthews volume go down slightly was well.
Tennessee will be a fun team to watch and cheer for this season. Injuries are always a red flag and there may be one mouth too many to feed in the limited passing game, but the risks are worth the rewards. Buy a share of this offense at a great value or you will miss the fireworks.