Editor’s Note: As outlined in the Path to WR1 Primer article, The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Season article series will showcase WRs who are currently ranked outside of the top-15 receivers in Andy, Mike, and Jason’s initial PPR rankings. We are identifying players that possibly have a shot at finishing the year as a WR1. We are NOT projecting a WR1 end of the year total but merely giving the high-end range of outcomes for players to show what type of ceiling is in the realm of possibilities.
This sets up to be a make-or-break season for Corey Davis. He’s entering his third NFL season after being drafted 5th overall by the Titans in 2017. That’s some serious draft capital, the only receivers drafted at five or higher since 2011 are A.J. Green, Justin Blackmon, Sammy Watkins, and Amari Cooper. In 2017, he struggled through hamstring injuries that caused him to miss the preseason and much of the regular season. He only played in 11 games during his rookie campaign, posting 34 catches for 375 yards and no touchdowns. He made a splash in the 2017 playoffs when he scored two impressive TDs on the road against New England.
That was enough to garner plenty of buzz surrounding Davis in the fantasy football community headed into 2018. He was being drafted at an ADP of 6.02 and was viewed as a breakout candidate by many.
So what happened?
In 2018 Davis made strides towards becoming a true number one NFL wideout. He played in all 16 games and finished with 65 catches for 891 yards and four touchdowns, good enough to finish WR28 on the season.
Davis’ lack of consistency was aggravating for anybody that owned him last season. He had three massive games, finishing as a WR1 in Weeks 4, 10, and 12. That included a dominant performance against the Patriots and All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) November 12, 2018
Despite his high ceiling, Davis only finished as a Top 24 receiver four times throughout the year, a meager 25%.
His up and down season can be tied, at least in part, to Tennessee’s inconsistent quarterback play. Marcus Mariota only started 13 games and played through a laundry list of injuries that included a cracked vertebra, plantar fascia tear, stinger, broken rib, sprained AC joint, and a nerve issue that caused him to lose feeling in his throwing hand. It should go without saying, but it’s no coincidence that Davis thrived the most when Mariota was healthy and performing like a solid NFL quarterback. When Mariota struggled, or when Blaine Gabbert started in his place, Davis suffered.
The Titans also became extremely run heavy in the second half of 2018. Derrick Henry couldn’t be stopped and given the quarterback situation, it made sense for Tennessee to keep feeding him. In the first nine games of the season, Davis averaged 8.4 targets per game. In the last seven games, that number dropped to just 5.1 targets per game as the Titans leaned on the ground success.
The Path for 2019
The Titans offense hasn’t been completely overhauled compared to teams like the Arizona Cardinals, but there will be plenty of new faces in Tennesse’s offense for 2019. New arrivals in the receiving corps include slot receiver extraordinaire Adam Humphries and rookie A.J. Brown.
Defensive-minded Mike Vrabel will return for his second year as head coach, but Arthur Smith will take over offensive coordinator and play calling duties now that Matt LaFleur has left to take the head job in Green Bay. Smith is actually the longest tenured Titans coach. He’s been on staff since 2011 and has worked all the way from quality control coach to offensive coordinator. His familiarity with offensive players should be a positive thing. He’s stated that he plans to keep the same offensive scheme in place but has admitted that he will add to and tweak the offense as he looks to improve it.
Davis lined up in the slot 27.7% of the time in 2018, but that number is likely to decline in 2019. Adam Humphries has proven to be extremely effective out of the slot, and rookie A.J. Brown also fits the mold of a strong slot receiver. This will give Davis more big play opportunities and a chance to be a true x-receiver, which is where most elite wideouts spend the majority of their time.
Target Share – Davis ate up 25.6% of the Titans targets in 2018. That’s in the same range as Antonio Brown and a higher share than Tyreek Hill and Mike Evans. It didn’t translate to huge success because frankly, the Titans were terrible at passing. They had the second-fewest pass attempts in the NFL and were only able to muster up 16 touchdowns through the air.
While his target share is likely to see a downtick with the new receiver additions and the return of Delanie Walker from injury, he should still lead Tennessee in targets. A slight drop in target share will be a moot point if these additions, and a healthy Marcus Mariota, lead to a more productive passing offense.
Catch Rate –Davis caught 58% of his targets last year, a relatively low number. Part of the reason can be chalked up to poor quarterback play. The number jumps up to 77% when you look at catchable passes, as he only dropped six passes all season. He has the physical size and strength to box out defenders and high-point the football, which led to a 57% success rate on contested targets last season.
Receptions – With only 65 catches in 2018, Davis didn’t exactly overwhelm in the reception department. The number of catches he hauls in for 2019 will ultimately hinge on the Titans offense. If Arthur Smith follows the lead of Matt LaFleur down the stretch last season, Tennessee will be a run-heavy team. That wouldn’t bode well for Davis. On the other hand, if Smith designs his offense to fully utilize all the talents in the passing game, Davis could push for 90 catches in 2019.
Yards – Davis averaged an admirable 13.7 yards per reception in 2018, the exact same as DeAndre Hopkins and Odell Beckham. If he’s able to sustain that rate and attain 90 catches, that would put him at 1,233 yards for the season. Granted that’s his ceiling if everything goes right, but the fact that it’s within his range of outcomes shouldn’t be ignored.
TDs – It’s been said many times in this series, but I’ll say it again; touchdowns are a tremendously difficult statistic to predict. Davis caught four in 2018, which isn’t awful considering the Titans only threw for 16 on the season. Davis has the size and strength that you want in a red zone target. For what it’s worth, he saw 15 red zone targets last year, which equated to 26.8% of all of Tennessee’s red zone targets. If the Titans can improve their mediocre offense in 2019, Davis will have the potential to post double-digit touchdowns.
WR1 Possibility in 2019: Low (Under 25%)
I once again took to Twitter to gauge excitement for Davis headed into 2019. Nearly all of the voters gave him less than a 25% chance to finish as a WR1. His ADP reflects the same sentiment, as he’s being drafted at the end of the 9th Round.
Davis has the skillset to be an elite NFL wideout. His success in 2019 will ultimately be tied to any offensive improvements in Tennessee. If Arthur Smith can craft a balanced offense that utilizes the talented pass catchers and Marcus Mariota can execute it, Davis will have a better chance than most to finish as a WR1. If the Titans rely on Derrick Henry and smash-mouth football, he’ll remain a boom-or-bust option that will drive fantasy owners crazy when it comes to start-sit decisions.