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2012 Fantasy outlooks: Tennessee Titans

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Chris Johnson was terrible in 2011. He was drafted as a Top 5 overall player but finished as just the No. 17 running back. He finished behind 24 quarterbacks, 10 wide receivers, two tight ends, one kicker and seven DSTs in Fantasy points.

We hope that Johnson's struggles were the result of his contract situation. He signed a six-year deal worth $55 million following a holdout and then managed just eight games with double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league. He only had four games with 100 rushing yards and scored just four touchdowns. It was easily the worst season of his career.

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Coach Mike Munchak blamed Johnson's woes on conditioning and a poor supporting cast, and the Titans seemed to fix both issues. Johnson has been working out with the team in Tennessee this offseason, which is a departure from his normal routine. The Titans also added standout left guard Steve Hutchinson, should get Kenny Britt (torn ACL) back at 100 percent and drafted another receiver in Kendall Wright.

All of these things will help Johnson succeed, and Fantasy owners should still have faith in him as a No. 1 option. He's still worth drafting in Round 1 in all leagues. The best thing about Johnson is he remains a featured running back in a league full of tandems. He is not going to lose carries to the likes of Javon Ringer or Jamie Harper.

As bad as Johnson was in 2011, he still had 319 touches (262 carries and a career-high 57 catches). Only eight running backs had more carries and only four had more total touches. Johnson is going to get his looks, and the production should follow. He has three years of at least 1,480 total yards and 10 touchdowns, and a good barometer for his production this year should be what he did in 2010: 1,609 total yards and 12 touchdowns. Johnson is easily capable of doing that again in a comeback campaign.

Fantasy Value Chart
Player Draft Day value Estimated round
Quarterbacks
Matt Hasselbeck ND
Jake Locker ND
Running Backs
Chris Johnson 1
Javon Ringer ND
Jamie Harper ND
Wide Receivers
Kenny Britt 5
Nate Washington 10
Kendall Wright 12
Damian Williams ND
Lavelle Hawkins ND
Tight Ends
Jared Cook 13
Kickers/Defense
Rob Bironas ND
Titans DST ND
ND -- not expected to get drafted

Breakout ... Jared Cook, tight end
We hope Cook can build off his strong performance to end 2011. He had 36 Fantasy points in his final three games, all against division opponents, with 21 catches for 335 yards and one touchdown. The problem for Cook is consistency, as he scored just three touchdowns for the season and has just four in three years. But he could be headed toward a breakout campaign after catching 49 passes for 759 yards last year. Even if he duplicates those stats with an additional three touchdowns, that would bring him on the cusp of a Top 10 tight end from last year's stats (he finished as the No. 15 tight end with 83 Fantasy points). Cook is worth drafting as a No. 2 tight end with upside with a late-round pick in the majority of leagues, and hopefully this is the season he has a breakout performance.

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Impact rookie ... Kendall Wright, wide receiver
The Titans drafted Wright out of Baylor in the first round of the NFL Draft, and he is expected to earn playing time right away. He could see significant action if Britt is slow in his recovery. Wright was a star at Baylor, where he teamed with fellow first-round pick and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III on 108 catches for 1,663 yards and 14 touchdowns last year. His career total of 4,004 yards receiving is 1,300 yards more than anyone who preceded him. Speed is the name of his game, but he doesn't have great size (5-foot-10), which is why he could see plenty of time in the slot with Britt and Nate Washington outside. Still, Wright has a ton of upside and is worth drafting in seasonal leagues with a late-round pick. There could be a couple of weeks where Wright ends up starting for Fantasy owners, especially in deeper leagues.

Sleeper ... Jake Locker, quarterback
Locker might not open the season as the starter for the Titans, but he has more upside than Matt Hasselbeck. In the two games where Locker attempted at least 19 passes he had at least 18 Fantasy points in a standard league. By comparison, Hasselbeck had just six games with at least 18 Fantasy points despite starting all 16 games. Locker has a lot to prove before Fantasy owners can count on him, but he's someone to keep on your radar. If he starts for the Titans at any point this season he could post quality stats, and you might end up adding him off the waiver wire. We'll find out how Locker does in an open competition against Hasselbeck in training camp, but we like what we saw from Locker in 2011 and hope for more this year.

Schedule breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
NE @SD DET @HOU @MIN PIT @BUF IND CHI @MIA bye @JAC HOU @IND NYJ @GB JAC
We're not sure if a defense will get tested as much as the Titans to start the year since they begin the season with the Patriots, Chargers, Lions and Texans. It should mean some high-scoring games for sure. That trend changes toward the end of the season when the Titans will take on offenses that are more their speed, though that does not include a Week 16 game at Green Bay. And here's hoping Johnson truly rededicates himself to his craft this offseason. The only challenging run defenses in store for him are the Texans, Steelers, Bears and Jets. Maybe he can get to 2,000 total yards again after all.

Training camp topics

The quarterback battle between Hasselbeck and Locker will be interesting, and Fantasy owners will keep an eye on how Johnson does and where Wright lines up. But the focus will be on Britt and his recovery from last year's torn ACL. Britt suffered the injury in Week 3, but prior to going down he was headed toward a third-year breakout campaign. He had 14 catches for 271 yards and three touchdowns in two games, and he could have been a star for Fantasy owners.

2011 Touches Leaders
Player Touches
Chris Johnson 262 carries, 57 catches
Javon Ringer 59 carries, 28 catches
Nate Washington 74 catches, 2 carries
Jared Cook 49 catches
Lavelle Hawkins 47 catches

We hope that Britt shows up again, especially with his knee at 100 percent. Injuries are a concern for Britt since he also missed four games in 2010 with hamstring problems, but he has 15 touchdowns in limited action over three seasons and the size (6-foot-3) and skill to succeed.

If his knee is fully healthy, especially after undergoing a second procedure in May, then Britt should be drafted as a solid No. 2 Fantasy receiver in Round 4 or 5. But we would be cautious and draft him in Round 5 or 6 as a No. 3 option, and hopefully he can outperform his draft value with an outstanding campaign.

Injury update

Britt (knee; questionable for the start of training camp) ... Washington (knee; probable for the start of training camp)

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Jamey at @JameyEisenberg and on Facebook .

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Player News
Ravens WR Steve Smith: 'I will not be playing until I'm 40'
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(10:32 am ET) Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith has other things to do outside of the gridiron, and the 36-year-old has no plans on still being in pads when he's 40, per NFL.com.

Smith was asked this week if he had any desire to play into his 40s like the great Jerry Rice.

"Jerry Rice is obviously the greatest wide receiver to ever play, and I really don't have the family structure to chase 40, to be honest," Smith said. "I have got a lot of things on my to-do list that don't have anything to do with football. I'm going to take it day-by-day, but I will not be playing until I'm 40."

Smith, who's heading into his 15th NFL season, caught 79 passes for 1,065 yards and six touchdowns last season.


Bengals' Jeremy Hill expects balance attack with Giovani Bernard
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(10:20 am ET) The Bengals have weapons at the running back position. With Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, the team has a pair of more than capable rushers at its disposal.

It seems as if the Bengals are going to use both of them as much as possible, per ESPN.com.

"Obviously there's going to be a balanced attack," Hill said. "I don't think he's got to wear either one of us out, so that way we can make it through all 16 games for a playoff push."

Hill rushed for 1,124 yards and nine touchdowns last season as a rookie, while injuries limited Bernard to 680 yards and five touchdowns. The duo plans on coming back even stronger next season.

"We want to lift ourselves to the next level and earn the respect of this league," Hill said. "We have the guys in the [running back] room to do that."


Giants QB Eli Manning is expecting best pro season next year
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(10:06 am ET) Giants quarterback Eli Manning is an accomplished 11-year veteran. There isn't much for the two-time Super Bowl MVP to prove, except that he will have his best season ever as a pro next year, according to NFL.com.

"I am," Manning said when asked if he was expecting his best season ever. "I like the guys we have in the locker room, I like our talent, I like how everybody's approaching this season, I'm looking forward to it."

Manning will certainly have the weapons at his disposal for a fantastic season. Wide receiver Odell Beckham, the 2014 Offensive Rookie of the Year, is as talented a player there is. A healthy Victor Cruz will scare opposing defenses. And Rueben Randle has improved every season in the league. 

"I think he can have a dominant season," Cruz said. "I think that with the type of offense we have, and the way that we all can click come September and all that good stuff, I think it's gonna make for a very, very dominant type of offense where we could go and put up 28, 35 points at a clip, and really do some fun things this year."

Manning will have to try to eclipse last season's performance, when he threw for 4,410 yards and 30 touchdowns.


Packers QB Rodgers could have more control after play-calling change
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(9:44 am ET) Aaron Rodgers was at the helm of the league's highest-scoring offense last season, and he could now have even more control of that offense this season, per ESPN.com.

Rodgers, who won the his second NFL MVP award while helping the Packers score 30.4 points per game, will probably be more involved in every facet of the offense this year -- including some play-calling.

"He has," Packers quarterbacks coach, Alex Van Pelt, said when asked if Rodgers could call plays. "He could. Sure. Definitely."

The official play-calling duties are in the hands of associate head coach Tome Clements, after coach Mike McCarthy passed them down before last season. The switch is what can give Rodgers more freedom than ever when it comes to the play selection.

"I've always had a lot of freedom," Rodgers said. "It's just occasionally the personnel groupings restricts some of the checks you can make. But that's kind of a natural progression for a quarterback who's been in a system for a long time, if they can handle it to do more things. I have always liked a good starting point for a play, and then have the ability to get us in a better play if you can do it quickly and it’s clean."

Rodgers passed for 4,381 yards and 38 touchdowns in 16 games last season.


Falcons DT Jackson hires personal chef to lose weight, fit into defense
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(9:27 am ET) Falcons defensive tackle Tyson Jackson can sit back and relax after signing a five-year, $25 million deal with the team last season, but he's showing more dedication than ever.

Jackson, who currently weighs 318 pounds, hired a personal chef with the goal of slimming down to 305 pounds, per ESPN.com.

"I just started recently, and constantly, week by week, I want to trim down," Jackson said. "I got my personal chef at the end of March. I know Matt Ryan used her, and a couple Falcons in the past have used her, too."

Jackson wants to slime down because the Falcons' defensive schemes will be much different this year. Last season he was encouraged to be as big as possible because the team pictured him as a run-stuffer. This year's defense is a more complex version of last season's 4-3 scheme and it incorporates a lot of 3-4 principles, so Jackson's big frame isn't an ideal fit.

"Playing this 4-3 style of defense, there's no reason to be heavy because you're not two-gapping no more," Jackson said. "Everything is ball, key and get-off. So, that's pretty much the reason for [losing weight]."

Jackson started all 16 games for the Falcons last year and recorded 22 tackles.


Texans' Louis Nix 'trying to move forward' in sophomore season
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/28/2015) Texans nose tackle Louis Nix spoke about his lost rookie season this week in OTAs, the Houston Chronicle reports.

"A lot went on my first year here. It was a lot to deal with," said Nix, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery during the preseason and eventually was placed on season-ending injured reserve. "It was difficult to maintain it with all the issues. But I'm happy about now, and that's what I'm worried about. I'm just trying to move forward and do the best I can."

Coach Bill O'Brien expressed frustration with Nix earlier this offseason.

"Bill is Bill. He challenges everybody," Nix said. "Sometimes you guys make it more than what it is. … He wants guys to be better. I take no offense to it. I know he just wants me to be the best player that I can be. He sees potential, and I see it in myself. I'm starting to get back in a groove of things. I'm just going to keep trying to do the best I can."

Nix is finally healthy and working his way into game shape.

"Make it through a practice, man," Nix said. "That's my goal."


Eagles' Earl Wolff, Marcus Smith limited in OTAs with injuries
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/28/2015) Eagles safety Earl Wolff and linebacker Marcus Smith were limited in OTAs with injuries, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

Wolff is recovering from knee surgery. Coach Chip Kelly said the safety has been cleared to return, and the team is waiting for him to reach full participation in OTAs. Smith has been dealing with a pulled leg muscle.


Packers' Casey Hayward dealing with foot injury
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/28/2015) Packers cornerback Casey Hayward is dealing with a foot injury and doesn't expect to return to action until training camp, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

"I’ll probably take it easy into camp right now," Hayward said. "I have a minor foot thing right now. We’ll probably take it easy into camp."

Hayward said the foot "flared up" on him earlier in the offseason. He finished with 42 tackles and three interceptions last season.


Ravens' Terrence Brooks running, 'doing really well'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/28/2015) Ravens free safety Terrence Brooks is running after suffering ACL and MCL tears in his right knee in December, the Baltimore Sun reports.

"Terrence Brooks is doing really well," coach Jim Harbaugh said. "No predictions right now, but he looks good. He has worked hard."

Brooks is expected to open the season on the PUP list and could make his return this season.

"We're just hoping for the best, trying to get back as soon as possible," Brooks said. "We're taking precautious. We definitely don't want to rush back too fast. If you do get cleared, playing this year is definitely a goal. You don't want to rush it. For the most part, you have to be cautious and take it easy. After we get off of the PUP list, we'll see where we're at. I definitely want to get back into it, but we're taking our time. I have high hopes of being ready."


Report: OT Jake Long visits Giants Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/28/2015) Free-agent offensive tackle Jake Long visited the Giants on Thursday, ESPN reports.

The Giants are having to shuffle their offensive line with Will Beatty expected to miss the first part of the season with a pec injury. Long was scheduled to make $9.25 million in 2015 but was released by the Rams in March.


 
 
 
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