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Breakout Candidate: Marcus Mariota and the Titans’ Offense

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Breakout Candidate: Marcus Mariota and the Titans’ Offense
By Nick Adams @Grizz15E with @HardKnock_FF

 

Every year there are a few teams that have offensive outbursts that catch everyone a little bit
off guard. If only we had a crystal ball and could forecast those teams around, say, August—you know,
when your fantasy draft is probably happening—we could use that information to dominate our
leagues. Well friends, I’ve got good news and bad news for you. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do have
a pretty good candidate for this year’s breakout team—the Tennessee Titans. And that means their
quarterback, Marcus Mariota is primed for a big season.


Tennessee’s offense was not good last season. The Titans made the playoffs in 2017 despite an
offense that ranked 19 th overall in yards (5024) and points scored (334/20.8 per game). Marcus Mariota
regressed significantly from his 2016 campaign, and the running game ranked only 15 th despite an
outstanding offensive line led by All-Pro Jack Conklin and 2014 NFL Offensive Player of the Year Demarco
Murray. Head coach Mike Mularkey and his “Exotic Smashmouth” scheme got canned after the season,
and the Titans brought in former Patriots and Texans linebacker Mike Vrabel as the head coach.
The biggest benefit to bringing in Vrabel as the head coach is that he, in turn, hired Matt Lafleur
away from the Rams to assume the role of offensive coordinator. Lafleur held the same job with the
Rams in 2017, a season which saw L.A. improve from worst-to-first in scoring offense, and QB Jared Goff
became one of the NFL’s best young passers. Lafleur also served as QB coach with Atlanta in 2016
during Matt Ryan’s MVP season, and with Washington from 2010-2013. During that time he was
instrumental in Robert Griffin III’s Rookie of the Year campaign, and the development of Pro Bowl QB
Kirk Cousins. Mariota is likely to improve significantly under Lafleur because he has the physical tools
and has shown the ability in the past to be an above average QB.


Marcus Mariota stands to benefit the most from the team’s decision to hire Matt Lafleur, but
that is not the only factor that leads me to believe Mariota will have a breakout season. First, we’ve
seen Mariota perform at a high level before. The former number two overall pick in 2015 put up 26
touchdowns and only 9 interceptions in 2016, his second season in the league. That season ended with
a broken leg in Week 16, costing Mariota the entire 2017 offseason. With a full offseason of work this
year, Mariota should be much more sharp and confident entering 2018.


Another reason I expect big things from Marcus Mariota this season is the outstanding play of
the Titans offensive line. Pro Football Focus ranked the Titans O-line the fifth best in the NFL last year.
Four starters return, including 2016 All-Pro left tackle Jack Conklin. That should help the Titans balance
their offense and keep Mariota upright throughout the season.


The third reason to buy stock in Marcus Mariota is the talent around him this year. Former first
round pick Corey Davis is entering his second season. Davis missed a significant portion of his rookie
year with a hamstring injury but will likely see an uptick in production this year based on a combination

of improved offensive scheme (due to new coaching staff) and a general trend of improved play among

WRs in years 2-4 after poor rookie seasons. Another addition is RB Dion Lewis, who brings a dual threat
(88 career receptions) to pair with lead back Derrick Henry. Delanie Walker continues to play at a high
level at tight end, and second year man Jonnu Smith is a potential breakout candidate as well (more on
Jonnu Smith in an upcoming article). Rishard Matthews has been solid if unspectacular, and Taywan
Taylor and Tajae Sharpe are both capable receiving prospects, although I would not roster them at this
point. All told, there is enough talent around Mariota at the playmaking positions to expect Matt Lafleur
to be able to craft a big improvement on offense this year.


Tennessee’s schedule will lend itself to a resurgence by Mariota as well. The Titans open with
two nice matchups. Week One they are at Miami (28 th in Defensive DVOA/20 th in Fantasy points allowed
to QBs), and they host Houston in Week Two (23 rd /28 th ). They do face Jacksonville twice, which will be
weeks to consider sitting Mariota, but they have a particularly juicy five-game stretch that includes:
@DAL (25 th def. DVOA/18 th QB fantasy pts allowed); vs NE (31 st /26 th ); @IND (27 th /23 rd ); @HOU; and vs NYJ
(18 th /29 th ). Should you find yourself in the fantasy playoffs in weeks 14-16, you will have to contend with
a road game at Jacksonville. But you also get the Giants (24 th /32 nd ) in Week 15 and Washington
(11 th /11 th ) in Week 16. Washington lost Bashaud Breeland and is not likely to be as strong in the
secondary as they were last season. In my opinion, Mariota faces a weaker than average schedule for
the upcoming season.


Finally, for the dynasty players, something I always keep in mind is a player’s contract situation.
Marcus Mariota is in the fourth year of his rookie deal. He is set to make about $7.7m this year, and the
Titans have already picked up the fifth-year option for 2019, at around $21m. Mariota will be entering a
contract year in 2019, and assuming he stays healthy, is likely to either get a huge deal from the Titans
or leave in free agency. Either way, at 24 years old, he is a very safe investment over the next few years,
and in my opinion will have QB1 value into his 30s. Now is the best time to get in on Mariota, as his ADP
and thus his price in trade will probably never be lower than it is right now.


Sometimes we just can’t predict when a player will explode (see Keenum, Case). But I think all
the signs are pointing to a big year from the Titans, and specifically Marcus Mariota. His current ADP is
111 (14 th QB) in dynasty formats, and 137 (16 th QB) in PPR redraft per fantasyfootballcalculator.com.
With that said, you should be able to target some stud skill position players and still grab Mariota at a
spot in the draft that makes him a value pick. Don’t be surprised if he ends up as a QB1 this fall and you
are raking in your friends’ buy-ins.

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