The Tennessee Titans rode Derrick Henry almost all the way to the Super Bowl, leaving us with a vision of the Titans running first, second, and then when they’re done running, they run it third. But, the Titans can’t let Derrick Henry run the football a billion times a contest lest he snaps in half. Henry is a big boy, but nobody can handle over 30 carries per game for a whole year. That leaves it to Ryan Tannehill to throw the football more than we remember. If Tannehill’s target volume grows, that gives us some great sleeper and breakout options, as well as a surprising bust.
Sleeper – Jonnu Smith, Tight End (TE16, 135 overall)
Jonnu Smith didn’t get a whole lot of targets last year, even with Ryan Tannehill at the helm. Under Tannehill, he averaged 3.6 targets per contest, but what he did with those targets is what makes him an intriguing 2020 sleeper for the Tennessee Titans. On a per-target basis, Jonnu was one of the most efficient tight ends in the league after Tannehill took over as the starting quarterback. We all hope that the Titans pass more and give Jonnu more opportunity. Why? On a per-target basis, Jonnu Smith was one of the most efficient tight ends in the league with Ryan Tannehill last season.
Starting when Ryan Tannehill took over (week seven), Jonnu Smith had the fourth-highest yards per target, the eighth-highest yards per reception (which combine to give him the fourth-highest yards per target), and the third-highest fantasy points per target. That likely comes on the back of the fifth-highest touchdown rate under Ryan Tannehill. All that is to say: if Jonnu Smith gets the target, he will be a fantasy football force. The targets are the hard part, unfortunately.
Breakout – Ryan Tannehill, Quarterback (QB19, 130 overall)
It’s hard to say that Ryan Tannehill didn’t already break out last year. The 2019 Comeback Player of the Year doesn’t have an ADP that matches his torrid pace last season as the starting quarterback. Starting in week seven, when Tannehill took over for Marcus Mariota, he ranked as the #2 quarterback on a weekly basis. The Tannehill naysayers will point out that he cannot continue his efficiency. While that may or may not be true, he also can’t continue his extremely low attempts per game pace.
Tannehill threw the ball 27 times per game in his starts, which comes out to 432 pass attempts over the course of a sixteen-game season. Only four quarterbacks have thrown the ball less than 435 times in a sixteen-game season in the last decade. Rather, I should say: Russell Wilson has done that three times and Colin Kaepernick did it once. For both these players, taking off and running was a crucial part of their success. While this is true for Tannehill, it isn’t true to the same level as Wilson and Kaepernick. The Tennessee Titans will obviously need to pass more in 2020, which will offset Tannehill’s obscene efficiency.
Bust – A.J. Brown, Wide Receiver (WR14, 36 overall)
I like A.J. Brown. I really do! I think that he’s an extremely talented receiver who has a chance to undo the entire “nobody can be this efficient” narrative. Mostly because the part that gets whispered when people say that is, “unless they’re really, really good.” That was true of Tyreek Hill, of Alvin Kamara, and of Brown’s teammate, Derrick Henry. Brown is extremely talented, and his superb efficiency could be a byproduct of that. At this point, we don’t know if what he did was unsustainable or if it was because he really can run away from an entire team if he so chooses.
I don’t think he’s truly a bust, I think he ends the year as a top-fifteen wide receiver and everyone who drafts him is going to be happy with him. He is, however, irksome. On average, he is the #15 wide receiver off the board. He is going ahead of players who have more assured volume and more assured production. Namely, he should not go ahead of D.J. Moore and JuJu Smith-Schuster, both players with 150 targets well inside their range of probability this year. Remember, Brown paced out for just 98 targets under Tannehill last season. If he gets a 25% bump, he’s still staring being about 25 targets shy of D.J. Moore and JuJu Smith-Schuster squarely in the face.