This article is part of our Team Previews series.
The Titans have to do a better job of putting their star players in a position to succeed. Only 76.8 percent of Corey Davis' targets were catchable last season, good for just 59th best in the league. Meanwhile, Derrick Henry saw the highest average number of defenders in the box of all running backs in the league.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
MARIOTA PREPARES FOR THE MARATHON
Marcus Mariota has yet to live up to his draft pedigree and fulfill his potential as a franchise quarterback for the Titans. In large part, that's been due to injury. Since being taken second overall in 2015, Mariota has battled two knee sprains, a hamstring strain and, most recently, a pinched nerve in his elbow. As a result, he's never appeared in all 16 games in a season, and even when on the field, was often less than 100 percent. In an effort to change that, Mariota used his diet and offseason workout program to bulk up and is reportedly five to 10 pounds heavier approaching the coming campaign. The Titans also have recognized they can do more to support Mariota, adding both protection along the offensive line and upgrading his receiving weapons in an effort to unlock his upside. Guard Rodger Saffold was signed to a lucrative four-year deal, and a third-round draft pick was spent on guard Nate Davis. The receiving corps was bolstered as well, with the addition of Adam Humphries and promising second-rounder A.J. Brown. While Humphries will likely work underneath in a slot role, Brown could provide support as another big-play threat after averaging 15.8 yards per catch during his college career. With Mariota not under contract beyond the 2019 campaign, it's now or never for the signal-caller.
BREAKOUT ON TAP FOR DAVIS?
Corey Davis took a statistical step forward in 2018, but was still unreliable on a week-to-week basis. More specifically, nearly 43 percent of his 891 receiving yards came in just three games, and he also failed to surpass 50 yards in 10 contests. That inconsistency wasn't the result of his failure to emerge as the team's alpha receiver, however, as not only did his number of targets nearly double, but his target share of 26.4 percent ranked eighth among all receivers in the league. He also turned in strong showings in key metrics such as air yards and end-zone target share, in which he ranked 18th and 13th, respectively. In order to take a step forward this season, Davis will need to become more efficient in turning his volume into production. Partly as a result of being on the receiving end of 101 pass attempts from Blaine Gabbert, Davis posted only a 58 percent catch rate. The addition of Adam Humphries and A.J. Brown could work to Davis' advantage, freeing up space on the outside for him to work more effectively down the field. Given the way the Titans pounded the run game late in the season, there has to be concern that there simply won't be enough volume for Davis to emerge as a fantasy force, but on the plus side, his cause in 2019 will be aided by a healthy Marcus Mariota.
A WELL-GROUNDED OFFENSE
The Titans may have found their offensive identity at the conclusion of the 2018 season. Across the last five games – a span in which the team went 4-1 – Tennessee passed the ball just 134 times as opposed to rushing it 142 times. The team's offseason moves also seemingly doubled-down on a ground-and-pound approach, with its notable investments in the offensive line. The Titans also used four of their six draft picks on defensive players and signed pass rusher Cameron Wake in free agency, which puts them in a better position to limit opposing attacks. While competing in low-scoring slugfests may prove effective in winning football games, it won't necessarily be helpful to the statistical upside of key contributors. After running the fourth-fewest offensive plays in the league last season, volume could be even harder to come by in 2019. A focus on the ground game presumably would benefit top back Derrick Henry, but his efficiency likely would take a hit in that scenario as teams could continue to stack the box against him, betting on frequent run plays. More troubling perhaps would be the outlooks of the likes of Marcus Mariota, Corey Davis, Adam Humphries and Delanie Walker, who would all need to perform with supreme efficiency to provide bankable fantasy dividends.
PIVOTAL PLAYER: Derrick Henry
Henry eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his career, thanks in large part to surpassing the 15-carry mark in four consecutive games to close the season. He'll need to maintain that heavy usage in the ground game to meet increased expectations, as he was targeted just 18 times in the passing game last season.
RISING: Marcus Mariota
Mariota combined for just 31 touchdowns over the last two seasons. However, he used the offseason to build strength and get healthy, and is now surrounded by the most talented pass-catching corps he's had at his disposal.
FALLING: Taywan Taylor
Taylor showed glimpses of big-play potential in 2018 and also saw his targets double. That said, the Titans invested heavily in potential replacements this offseason, adding both Adam Humphries and A.J. Brown.
SLEEPER: Jonnu Smith
Top tight end Delanie Walker heads into his age-35 season recovering from an ankle injury. While Smith didn't produce much in Walker's absence, he now has two seasons under his belt and remains a gifted athlete.
KEY JOB BATTLE – NO. 2 WIDEOUT
A.J. Brown and Adam Humphries may be competing for slot duty roles in training camp, though even if Brown plays outside, the pair likely will vie to be the second-most targeted receiver in the Titans' passing attack behind Corey Davis. Both will be in their first season with the team, and gaining a rapport with Marcus Mariota in training camp will be vital, given the lack of pass volume in the team's offensive scheme.
RYAN TANNEHILL – QB (from Dolphins)
Will be a serviceable backup behind Marcus Mariota.
ADAM HUMPHRIES – WR (from Buccaneers)
Steps into a slot role after posting a 76-816-5 line in 2018.
A.J. BROWN – WR (Rd. 2, No. 51 – Ole Miss)
Should immediately start outside opposite Corey Davis.
JEFFERY SIMMONS – LB (Rd. 1, No. 19 – Mississippi State)
An elite prospect but coming off an ACL injury.
CAMERON WAKE – DE (from Dolphins)
Still getting to the quarterback at the age of 37.
LUKE STOCKER – TE (to Falcons)
Posted a few solid performances in the absence of Delanie Walker.
BLAINE GABBERT – QB (to Buccaneers)
Will continue his career as a backup, reunited with Bruce Arians.
JOHNATHAN CYPRIEN – S (FA)
Still unsigned after being sidelined last season due to a torn ACL.
THE INJURY FRONT
Delanie Walker, TE – Walker has been working his way back from a severe ankle injury that he suffered in the first week of the 2018 season. There had been concerns he may not be ready to go for training camp, but he wasn't be placed on the preseason PUP list and didn't seem limited in his first live reps. That's good news, but the soon-to-be 35-year-old isn't likely to repeat his 23 percent target share from the 2017 season due to the offseason additions of A.J. Brown and Adam Humphries. While Walker was considered a top-flight option at tight end the last time we saw him on the field, it's time to adjust expectations heading into the 2019 campaign.
Jonnu Smith, TE – Coming off two of his strongest performances in Weeks 10 and 11, Smith's 2018 season ended prematurely Week 14 due to an MCL injury. While he was seen running after OTAs in early June, Smith managed light rehab work at mandatory minicamp. He upped his activity level further by running routes on a side field at the start of training camp. If he continues his trajectory, Smith has a chance to emerge as the top tight end on the team in his third professional season, given Delanie Walker's recent injury history.
A.J. Brown, WR – The Titans spent the 51st overall pick on Brown in the 2019 NFL Draft, though his tenure with the team got off to an inauspicious start when he suffered a hamstring injury during OTAs. While he was able to return for mandatory minicamp, he again injured his leg to kick off training camp, slipping during an individual drill. If he can just get healthy, Brown could be in line to step into the Titans' No. 2 receiving role (behind Corey Davis) and emerge as a productive rookie this coming season.