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The Mularky Continues — Tennessee Titans Fantasy Impact


By Alan Satterlee, DFW Senior Writer and Co-Owner, @Speedkills_DFW

Technically Mike Mularkey is a new coach — at least here by DFW standards as we break down the impacts of new coaches in the NFL (DFW has a fantasy recap of the coaching changes in Cleveland, Miami, NY Giants, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay; with Chip Kelly and San Francisco still in the works — and frankly with a lot still to be decided on the offensive side of the ball for the 49ers still). Mularkey replaced Ken Whisenhunt after Week 8 and the “interim” status comes off.

This will mark the third time Mularkey will open a season as a head coach in the NFL – Mularkey’s first head coaching job was with Buffalo in 2004 and 2005 (he was age 43 and 44 at the time), then with Jacksonville in 2012 for a season (Mularkey was 51) and now with the Titans (now age 55). Maybe the third time’s the charm. Really, if anything (and there a lot of variables that go into a team winning and losing) but Mularkey has gotten worse over time. That is certainly true record-wise. In 2004, his first season as the Bills’ head coach he went a promising 9-7. The next season they dropped to 5-11 and he was fired. With Jacksonville, it was a brutal 2-14 season. Last year with the Titans, Mularkey went 2-7. Tennessee fans and players are putting their trust into a head coach whose track record to date is a pretty ugly 18-39 (winning 31.6% of the time). If that form holds, Tennessee would be 5-11 this season.

mikecardIf there is one area where you think Mularkey would have immense impact it would be at tight end. Mularkey played in the NFL as tight end for nine seasons between the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers. That’s also easily his area of strength or at least focus throughout his NFL career as a positional coach as well. Mularkey broke into the NFL as a tight end coach in 1995 with Tampa Bay, and went to Pittsburgh next season in 1996 where he would serve in that capacity for the next five seasons. Mularkey first become an offensive coordinator for the Steelers in 2001, before then being promoted to head coach for the first time with the Bills in 2004. Since then, however, Mularkey has been a tight end coach two other times, once with Miami in 2007 and again with Tennessee in 2014. The funny thing is actually tight ends under Mularkey haven’t been especially good. The Falcons gave Mularkey and the coaching staff team a huge weapon in Tony Gonzalez when the Falcons traded for him in 2009. In the three years with Mularkey as offensive coordinator, Gonzalez averaged 78 receptions, 799 yards and 6.3 TD per season — the very first season without Mularkey in Atlanta in 2012, Gonzalez exploded for 93/930/8!

Initial reactions were that the Tennessee hiring of Mularkey was very uninspiring, not exactly firing up the fan base with a splash hiring. There were some speculation or least buzz and water-cooler scuttle-butt that the Titan’s could bring in Chip Kelly and reunite him with his former protégé from their timeAmyAdamsStrunk2 together at Oregon. However, after a fourth and final interview for the job, the team decided to stick with Mularkey. Titans’ owner Amy Adams Strunk though had this to say on the decision to retain Mularkey: “Mike is a quality coach and an outstanding person who will help us build this team the right way. He has experience as a head coach and a track record for developing young quarterbacks and dynamic offenses, and he also brings continuity for our franchise quarterback.” What is Ms. Adams-Strunk going to say? There is though something (a lot actually) to be said for continuity for Marcus Mariota and allowing him to build off some momentum (although I tend to think that Mariota is so talented he is a bit screw-up-proof). Mularkey is right at his press conference when he said “we won’t be starting from scratch” and that they have the ability to build upon some of their coaches and players to build on some of their successes from last year, particularly building around Mariota.

lebeauMularkey went on to defend his record a bit and the circumstances saying that “this is different than my first two opportunities,” referring to his previous head-coaching jobs with the Bills and Jaguars. “The circumstances are different, the situation is different, and certainly the quarterback is different. There’s a lot going on that is very good here.” That is for sure true — and again Marcus Mariota is a bit fool-proof, and adding DeMarco Murray at running back is huge (and almost next to nothing in terms of what they gave up to Philadelphia to get him, other than having to pay the big salary). That’s a lot of talent in the backfield for Mularkey to have more fun and more success than he’s had in other spots. There certainly a lot of experience running the ship. Between Mularkey, offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie and defensive coordinator (and assistant head coach) Dick LeBeau the Titans top three have a combined 193 years of life and 98 years of NFL coaching experience!

With the draft nearing closer, Tennessee is currently on the clock and it will be interesting to see who they take number one overall, or if they are able to trade down and acquire more picks (which they would like to do, and likely makes sense). — UPDATE: the Titans were able to trade the 1.01 pick and got a haul from the Rams. The Titans swap firsts, plus pick up two 2nds and a 3rd this year, plus the Rams’ 1st round and 3rd round picks next year.

 

FANTASY IMPACT

MariootaMARCUS MARIOTA: Off-season reports from HC Mike Mularkey state that the team will call more designed running plays for quarterback Marcus Mariota. In two words: Giddy up! I don’t know if I could be more bullish on Mariota’s 2016 sleeper odds and his dynasty potential. In fact, I have an idea in mind for a 2016 fantasy article on how “He/She Who Drafts Marcus Mariota Wins Fantasy Football.” By this, especially as his average draft position is 11.06 (REDRAFT) according to FantasyFootballCalculator.Com but that goes to 8.03 according to ADP data on MFL.COM — that sounds more about right to me. Either way, if you would guarantee me Mariota in the 8th round and I can draft seven skill-position players first, that sounds great to me and that is a blueprint for big-time fantasy success this year. In 12 games started (really 11 games played), Mariota uncorked an impressive 19:10 TD/INT ratio on the league. Projecting Mariota’s 2016 passing yards off his 11 games to a full season is a stout 4,052 passing yards with 28 TDs and 15 INTs. Let’s go with that. As for Mariota’s rushing prowess, it’s a leap of faith but I believe he will be a league leader in this area. Surprisingly, in 10 of his full games last year Mariota averaged just 14 yards rushing per game, and then in one other (Week 13), he went off for 112 yards. However, the 2014 Heisman Award winner rushed for 770 yards and 15 TDs at Oregon and he’s a dynamic runner. If you average the top five rushing quarterbacks last year (Cam Newton, Tyrod Taylor, Russell Wilson, Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers) that comes to 520 rushing yards and 4 rushing TDs — let’s also go with that. Put it all together — that is a 375.6 fantasy season for Mariota — that would put Mariota as QB5 this season. I’m in (at his draft price).

demarcoDEMARCO MURRAY: Mularkey’s offense when he was back at Pittsburgh was described as “exotic smashmouth” and that is the approach he wants to have in Tennessee this season. He is going to have balance in his approach and there will be a lot of running opportunities. As Mularkey said this past off-season, “(Opponents) are going to know we are going to be very hard to defend, and it is going to be a physical football game,” he said. “When it is all said and done they are going to know they have been in a fight.” That puts DeMarco Murray as a player who will be a tremendously undervalued weapon this year in fantasy draft strategies. According to ADP (Fantasy Football Calculator as of 4/10/16 going forward in this article), Murray can be had at 3.06 this year. That’s a steal after his 2.01 price tag last year. Not to toot my own horn, and it was a bit weird out how Murray got to be a huge bust last year (Chip Kelly just didn’t play him much), but last year about this time I had an article entitled Prepare For the 49.8% DeMarco Murray Drop. Boy was I close! Murray’s fantasy point totals dropped precisely 47.8% last year! Ooo ahh. Well, I am back in this year (Murray 2016 = fantasy stud). The 2014 NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year will be a major fantasy weapon this year — Murray for 289 carries for 1,340 rushing yards (right at his 4.6 yards per carry career average). Murray is also a major factor historically in the passing game, averaging 43 receptions per season.

DGBTITAN RECEIVERS: At receiver, the team is likely set for 2016 with Kendall Wright (5th year in the NFL, earning $7.3M this season in the final year of his contract with the Titans) and Dorial Green-Beckham (2nd-year in the league) as starters, and recently-acquired via free-agency Rishard Matthews as the #3 receiver (signed to a 3-year, $15M deal) — note that the team will reportedly often (and perhaps generally) play Wright in the slot and Matthews outside as the “Z” receiver as the team will employ a lot of 1RB/3WR sets (with a tight end). At tight end, like Kendall Wright, Delanie Walker is also in the final year of his deal with the Titans. It will be interesting if the Titans draft a wide receiver or a tight end high this year, perhaps foreshadowing that they will let either Wright or Walker walk after this season (and Walker will be 32 years old before the 2016 season). As for 2016, I’ll go something like this for the Titans sure-fire 2016 starting receiving options. Green-Beckham builds off his impressive season and is more consistent as a full-time starter. DGB for a 54/934/7 season (189.4 fantasy points). Wright has the potential to be even more effective in the slot, and remember he once had a 94 reception season (2013); Wright for 75/833/5; and Matthews for 42/555/4. With a 14th-round ADP, Wright might be the better value this year, but Green-Beckham has a lot of upside and I like him a lot at his 9.02 ADP draft price (in fact, I could see getting behind this strategy of stepping up a round to select Mariota a round earlier than ADP in the 7th round to lock him in and then double-dipping on the hookup with Green-Beckham a round earlier in the 8th). With Kendall Wright playing more in the slot this year, that could dampen Delanie Walker’s output a bit and he will be 32 years old this year, but he still seems like a very safe option. Walker, however, hit his ceiling last year with a 94/1088/6 season in my opinion. I’ll pencil Walker in for 62 receptions for 731 yards (his 2014-2015 averages) with 6 TDs.