Sleepers, Busts and Bold Predictions: The 2023 Tennessee Titans
Welcome to Sleepers, Busts and Bold Predictions for the 2023 fantasy football season. All summer, our analysts, two at a time, will preview all 32 NFL teams for the upcoming season. We’ll pick a pair of sleepers, a pair of busts and a pair of bold predictions. Sometimes they’ll be the same pick! Sometimes they will directly disagree! And that’s fine. Today: The Tennessee Titans.
2023 Sleepers, Busts & Bold Predictions: Tennessee Titans
Makowitz: Treylon Burks
While some are high on Burks entering year two, his WR37 ADP suggests that many aren’t. With Robert Woods gone, Burks will step into the No. 1 receiver role without competition in Tennessee, and he’ll have a full, healthy offseason under his belt with Ryan Tannehill. That should allow him to take the next step that he showed flashes of last year.
Burks accumulated 1.8 yards per route run in 2022, a slightly above-average mark, but that number jumped up to 2.1 from Week 11 to Week 18. He also saw his route participation vault to 83% during the last three games, up from about 60% for all other games. In short, underlying metrics suggest Burks improved and was more involved as the year progressed. Combine that with his extra opportunity and he should easily be a startable fantasy receiver.
Fornek: Tyjae Spears
One player who qualifies for sleeper status with the Titans in 2023 would be third-round draft pick Tyjae Spears. The former Tulane running back is coming off a season that saw him carry the ball 231 times for 1,586 yards and 19 touchdowns. Spears finished the 2022 season with the sixth-most yards after contact (1,052), tied for 18th in carries of at least 15 yards (21) and 34th in missed tackles forced (63). Spears also provides a receiving element to his game, catching a combined 53 passes in his last two collegiate seasons. There are some concerns about the health of his knee, but that is more of a future problem that shouldn’t hinder his ability to produce in his rookie season. If the Titans want to manage some of the workload for Derrick Henry as he creeps closer to his age-30 season, then expect Spears to emerge and take some of the load off of him next season.
Makowitz: Not Derrick Henry
At this point, the arguments against Derrick Henry rely mostly on either poor offensive line play or the 29-year-old machine breaking down. I won’t bet on injury, even if he’s handled an ungodly amount of work in the past several years, and shouldering the load behind a lackluster offensive line isn’t new. The Titans’ O-line was supposed to be awful last season – and certainly was for parts of the year – but Henry’s greatness masks a lot of issues.
He led the NFL in carries against stacked boxes and in percentage of total rush yards coming after contact, yet he still pounded his way to over 1,500 yards and 13 touchdowns on a solid 4.41 yards per carry. In short, defenses have been doing everything they can to slow down King Henry for years, and as long as he’s been healthy, they have had virtually no success, regardless of any other factors. This isn’t a bust pick. It’s a “no he’s not a bust” pick.
Fornek: Derrick Henry
Cue up another offseason of predicting the decline of Derrick Henry. Time will tell if this is the season that the fantasy industry finally gets it right. Over the last four seasons, Henry has handled an absurd 1,249 carries and 88 receptions. Despite the massive workload, the veteran running back has played in at least 15 games in three of those four seasons. According to FTN’s advanced stats, the veteran running back posted a respectable 27% breakaway run rate and tied for seventh in the NFL with 15 runs of 15-plus yards. This prediction is based on the fact that at some point Henry’s body will either fall apart or the Titans will start easing up on him. Henry will be 29 years old and entering the final year of his contract going into the 2023 season so the Titans could just decide to run the wheels off him. Or Tennessee can start evaluating the future in the form of Tyjae Spears or Hassan Haskins. This prediction is a vote for the latter.
Makowitz: Chigoziem Okonkwo Is a Top-7 Tight End
The top seven tight ends — Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, T.J. Hockenson, George Kittle, Kyle Pitts, Dallas Goedert, Darren Waller — stand out as talented, big-name fantasy options, but Chigoziem Okonkwo is equipped to join that club. As mentioned above, Tennessee has a shortage of elite offensive weapons and opposing teams are going to continue to sell out to stop Derrick Henry. Behind Treylon Burks, they’ll need a second option in the passing game.
Okonkwo ranked third in the NFL and first among tight ends with a whopping 2.8 yards per route run, but he only ran a route on 30% of Tennessee’s dropbacks. That number increased to 43% after Week 7 and he participated in 50% or more of the Titans’ routes in three of his last four games. Tennessee even showed a willingness to involve him in the screen game last season, attempting to get the ball into the freak athlete’s hands in any way possible. Now, Austin Hooper and Geoff Swaim are gone, leaving the second-year tight end firmly atop the depth chart with ample opportunity to get more involved.
Fornek: Treylon Burks Finishes as a Top-20 WR
The Titans severely lack talent at the wide receiver position, which puts Treylon Burks in a prime position to break out in his second season. Burks played just 11 games in his rookie season, finishing with 33 receptions for 444 yards and one touchdown. However, the advanced stats paint a good picture for Burks heading into his second year. According to FTN’s advanced stats, of the players with at least 48 targets, Burks finished 22nd in aDOT (12.1 yards) and 18th in yards after catch per reception (5.0). Burks also finished tied for 15th in 40-yard receptions (3) despite having just 48 targets. The only other players in the top-25 with fewer than 70 targets are strictly field stretchers Kalif Raymond and DJ Chark.
The Titans did nothing to improve their receiving corps heading into 2023, leaving Burks as the unquestioned WR1 heading into the season. If he can stay healthy, he will get a massive volume of targets. That, combined with his dynamic ability after the catch, could push him into the top-20 wide receivers by the end of the season.