QB Matt Hasselbeck
Hasselbeck was quietly efficient in his first year in Tennessee, remaining healthy for an entire season for the first time in four years and having his most productive year since the 2007 campaign. By season’s end, he had accumulated 3,571 passing yards to go along with 18 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, good enough to finish the season as the 18th ranked fantasy quarterback. While that was reasonably impressive and he exceeded expectations, a closer look reveals that Hasselbeck’s play began to decline starting in Week 5. He threw for 1,152 yards, eight touchdowns and three picks in the first four weeks but just 2,419 yards, ten touchdowns and 11 interceptions over the final 12 weeks of the year. In 2012, Hasselbeck will need to hold off 2011 first-round pick Jake Locker, who was impressive in limited playing time as a rookie, in order to retain his hold on the starting quarterback job. In essence, drafting Hassselbeck as your fantasy backup is a major risk given the uncertainty as to whether he will beat out Locker and retain it for the entire season. Couple that with his lack of upside and it seems clear that Hasselbeck is waiver wire material in 2012, despite the potential explosiveness of the Titans offense.
QB Jake Locker
Taken with the 8th overall selection in the 2011 draft, Locker spent most of his rookie year learning behind Matt Hasselbeck. He showed some playmaking ability in the three games that he received meaningful playing time, especially on the ground, running for 56 yards and a touchdown on just eight carries. As a passer, Locker’s accuracy is his biggest issue as he completed just 34 of 66 attempts although he did avoid throwing any interceptions. In 2012, Locker will be given an opportunity to unseat Hasselbeck to earn the starting position. While it seems likely that the team will open the season with Hasselbeck under center, Locker figures to get playing time given Hasselbeck’s injury history and declining play as the 2011 progressed. Unless he wins the job in camp, Locker should be avoided in redraft leagues but he is a decent prospect in dynasty leagues.
RB Chris Johnson
After a disastrous 2011 season that featured a holdout and the worst production of his four-year career with just 1,047 rushing yards and four touchdowns, it is hard to find a running back with more polarizing fantasy prospects than the Titans Chris Johnson. Although Johnson agreed on contract terms with Tennessee in time to start on opening day, he showed up out of shape and was not the explosive player that he was during the first three years in the league when he ran for 4,598 yards and 34 touchdowns. Although some of his troubles could be laid at the feet of the team’s offensive line, Johnson looked disinterested and appeared to run tentatively, often times failing to hit the hole hard and turn up field. Removing three solid performances against three of the worst run defenses in the league (Carolina, Tampa Bay and Buffalo), Johnson managed just 574 rushing yards and 9.7 FPts/G in his other 13 contests. The question is can Johnson bounce back in 2012? He has little competition for touches and the supporting cast at the skill positions has been upgraded so defenses will not be able to focus on shutting him down as much as they have in the past. Along the offensive line, Steve Hutchinson was signed to shore up the left guard position but troubles remain at center. While some may view Johnson as a boom/bust pick, he is unlikely to perform worse than he did last season and he has tremendous upside. Expect him to produce at a rate somewhere between what he did in 2010 and 2011, good enough to be taken as a low-end RB1.
RB Javon Ringer
Ringer has backup up Chris Johnson for each of the last two seasons and he enters his fourth year in the league in 2012. Barely used in 2010 with just 58 touches, Ringer actually carved out a bigger role with Johnson struggling last season, getting 87 touches in twelve games before a broken hand ended his season. While it was nice to see the Titans’ coaches use him more, his performance was ultimately disappointing as he averaged just 3.1 yards per carry and 6.7 yards per reception. This is the final year of his rookie contract so Ringer will need to have an impressive performance to earn a new deal but second-year player Jamie Harper will be given an opportunity to unseat Ringer as Johnson’s backup. Ringer is nothing more than a handcuff and maybe not even that in 2012.
RB Jamie Harper
The Titans used a fourth-round pick on Harper in the 2011 draft and he played well in training camp, pushing Javon Ringer for the backup role behind Chris Johnson. While Harper lost that battle, he took over for Ringer in Week 15 who was lost for the year with a hand injury. With the Titans having entrusted Ringer with just 153 touches over his three-year career and witnessing him average just 3.1 yards per carry last season, Harper will get every chance to unseat him for the right to earn the few morsels that Johnson leaves on the table. Monitor this situation in the preseason.
WR Kenny Britt
After a string of inconsistent performances over the first year and a half of his career, Britt finished the 2010 season strongly, recording 15 receptions for 302 yards and 2 touchdowns over his final three games and igniting hope that he was ready to put together a breakout performance in his third year in the league in 2011. That seemed to be happening with Britt posting 14 receptions for 271 yards and three touchdowns in his first two games of 2011 before he suffered tears to his ACL and MCL that ended his season in Week 3. Britt has clearly exhibited enough talent to be an upper tier receiver in the league but injuries, maturity, and off-field issues have prevented him from reaching his potential. In 2012, Britt figures to be the Titans number one wide receiver but he carries enormous risk from a fantasy perspective. The Titans quarterback situation is in flux, Britt had to undergo a second knee operation in May and his off the field issues are too numerous to list. Did we mention that Nate Washington is coming off a career season, the team used its 1st round pick on Kendall Wright and tight end Jared Cook was lights out over the final three games of last season?
WR Nate Washington
After a pair of middling seasons in Tennessee, Washington finally began to justify the contract the Titans gave him to leave Pittsburgh prior to the 2009 season. Given additional playing time and utilized as a focal point of the offense when Kenny Britt was lost for the season in Week 3, Washington had career highs in all receiving categories with 74 receptions for 1,023 yards and seven touchdowns, finishing the year as the 14th ranked fantasy wide receiver and proving that he wasn’t quite the one-trick pony most made him out to be (yours truly included). Put your hand up if you saw that coming. Despite his production and role as a returning starter, Washington isn’t getting much love from the fantasy prognosticators with his ADP sitting in the mid-fifties. While Washington will clearly see fewer targets with Britt back in the lineup and the addition of Kendall Wright, he figures to represent decent value on draft day. Britt was forced to undergo a second operation to correct the knee damage he suffered last season (torn ACL and MCL) while Wright is an unproven rookie who will need to get up to speed with the Titans playbook. Washington is a long shot to replicate his production from a year ago but he is far from the afterthought that most are making him out to be. Draft him as a WR4.
WR Kendall Wright
The Titans used a 1st round pick to acquire Wright and the plan is for the Baylor product to step into the slot role on opening day. Highly productive in college with over 4,000 receiving yards in his career and 14 touchdowns in 2011, Wright is known for his shiftiness and ability to make tacklers miss in the open field. A less than stellar 40-yard dash time at the combine caused his draft stock to fall but he improved on his time at his pro day. In Tennessee, Wright figures to be 4th in the receiving pecking order behind Kenny Britt, Nate Washington and Jared Cook and that doesn’t bode well for his fantasy prospects in 2012. He is worth nothing more than a late round flier in redraft leagues but is a solid prospect in dynasty leagues, especially those that employ the PPR scoring system.
WR Damian Williams
Williams didn’t do much to excite fantasy owners in his rookie season in 2010, posting modest totals of 16 receptions for 219 yards, but played surprisingly well last season after being inserted into the starting lineup for Kenny Britt when he was lost for the year in Week 3 with a torn ACL and MCL. In 13 games as a starter, he caught 43 passes for 568 yards and 5 touchdowns. While his production exceeded expectations, it wasn’t enough to prevent the Titans from using a 1st round pick on the wide receiver position, acquiring Kendall Wright in the draft. The acquisition of Wright coupled with the return of Britt ensures that Williams will open the season in a reserve role and is now stuck behind three players (including Nate Washington). That means Williams is only worth owning in dynasty leagues and his value is even questionable in those formats given the age of the players ahead of him on the depth chart.
TE Jared Cook
He is in a contract year and played well at the end of last season. There is little explanation as to why the Titans chose to ignore Cook’s talents for much of the year as he was targeted just 55 times over the team’s first 13 games (4.2 per game). The coaching staff finally made him a bigger part of the game plan over the final three weeks and Cook responded, catching 21 of his 26 targets for 335 yards and a touchdown. Of course, that meant nothing to his fantasy owners who by then were either bounced from the playoffs or too scared to start him. By season’s end, Cook had amassed 49 receptions for 759 yards and three touchdowns, good enough to finish as the 14th ranked tight end. Consider him a low-end TE1 for 2012 with the potential to sneak into the top five if the Titans make a concerted effort to get him involved on a consistent basis.