2021 Dynasty/Fantasy Game Analysis Week 8: Titans 34, Colts 31 OT
A big win fir the Titans, but then the giant casualty from this game as well – the loss of the 2021 league MVP (in my book), Derrick Henry. Had the Colts won this game, and Tennessee still lost Henry – we’d all be talking about the Colts as the odds-on favorite to win the AFC South from here, but the Titans got the W, so they take a 3-game lead in the division.
I mean, I could try and talk about this game play/action in detail, but it was really two teams led by top NFL running backs trying to out-do each other with mediocre defenses and mediocre QB play, and the one team (the Colts) having the worse QB and defense among them lost because of their unclutch QB making inexplicable throws for turnovers in key spots.
Really, as I watched this back, the Colts were lucky to be in this…if it wasn’t for Michael Pittman making miracle catches and Henry being hindered (now we know why), the Titans would have cruised to victory. The Titans spotted the Colts a 14-0 lead due to bad, unlucky play early, and they staved off a potential quick 21-0 deficit with a defensive stand, and then Tennessee just marched back in it and won it – the better team won, for sure.
Tennessee is now (6-2), but they go from ‘Is this is the best team in the AFC?’ to ‘Can Tennessee hold on to get to the playoffs and get Henry back?’ The schedule says they will win 10-11 games regardless of the Henry injury, because of any easy schedule.
Indy is now (3-5) with not as easy a schedule ahead. We see them winning their next two (maybe) to get to (5-5), and putting pressure on the Titans, but then finishing with 9 wins and fighting for a wild card.
Fantasy Player Notes…
-- Everything Fantasy from this game revolves around Derrick Henry (28-68-0), so let’s go through his injury and all the contenders to his throne of touches.
Henry broke a bone on the pinky toe side of his foot (a Jones fracture) and it’s in a somewhat precarious position in the foot and what it’s connected to…so, he will need all of the minimum 8-weeks of recovery, and then probably 1-2 weeks of rehab to get back into playing shape – which is just in time for the playoffs.
There’s almost 0% chance he makes a way faster, miracle recovery and gets back like Week 14-15. It’s not totally impossible but with this injury you cannot afford to risk a setback/rebreak…and if the schedule will allow Tennessee to get to the playoffs anyway, there’s no need to rush him back and risk not having him for the playoffs. Tennessee can win it all with a healthy Derrick Henry, so they don’t care if they’re a wild card…they just need Henry healthy.
So, who is going to pick up the slack here in the backfield? My hierarchy of options…
1) Jeremy McNichols
JMN entered the league as a 214-pound back who could run in the 4.4s with sub-7.00 three-cone…and a guy who was a TD machine at Boise State. He projected as a legit NFL RB prospect with nice size and movement, and college production…and he was a 5th-round pick in 2017.
Things didn't go as planned once he hit the NFL. He was deemed immature and football-dumb and was cut his rookie season by Tampa Bay. The 49ers quickly scooped him up and he got to the active roster for a couple of games/touches. The 49ers then cut him before the 2018 season 53-man roster time.
The Colts immediately signed him Sept. 2018 and he was up and off the roster for a few weeks, played some snaps in a game and was cut. Soon after, Denver signed him to their practice squad in Oct. 2018. In Dec. 2018, the Titans poached him off the Broncos practice squad – a mix of desperation and some newfound respect, at least. He never played a snap for the Titans in 2018.
In 2019, McNichols was cut again before the 53-man roster was announced by the Titans. A few months later, the Bears added him to the practice squad, then cut him a month after. Jacksonville then added him a few weeks later…then cut him in May 2020.
August 2020, Tennessee brought him in for a tryout with and he was signed…then cut…then signed back and it’s been a roller coaster for him in Tennessee, but he’s been fully embraced by the Titans since Week 1 of 2020 through to today on their main roster playing snaps in all games.
McNichols has never been a highly sought after ‘answer’ by Tennessee, he’s just always hung around and been ‘available’ and has ingratiated his way with Mike Vrabel enough to stick around – they’ve tried to move away from him with Darrynton Evans, but Evans has failed to live up to the hype (and is on IR the rest of the season). McNichols has carved out a role as ‘pass catcher’ in the hurry up offense.
Watching all McNichols’ plays from 2021 (video below), I see a capable enough guy in a pinch: He’s in great shape, really leaned his muscle (down to 205 from 215 as a rookie)…he's a tough runner willing to smash into would-be tacklers. He’s fast enough, and average in agility/cut-ability. He’s a very reliable pass catcher, an ace in the screen game (he caught 70.6% of his passes last season, and 77.8% this season to date).
I look at this sudden McNichols situation as – if Myles Gaskin can be competent, then McNichols with a similar (or better, I think) body/athleticism can work in a pinch as well. His ceiling is Myles Gaskin…10-15 carries, occasional TD, 3-5 catches a game but sometimes 7+ catches. His floor is = random pass catcher and 1-3 carries a game.
Tennessee will likely lean on Ryan Tannehill more and move away from an interior run game…so, McNichols will likely be (at a minimum) peak James White output…a really nice PPR back for Fantasy.
I’m sure Adrian Peterson or D’Onta Foreman will take short yardage and goal line touches away, but McNichols getting a lot of work between the 20s. McNichols will be a solid RB2 in PPR…more RB3 in non-PPR.
Here’s all his work this season, every touch:
Weeks 1-4: https://youtu.be/tw5JItF7CU0
Weeks 5-8: https://youtu.be/VrgTFY53NT0
2) Adrian Peterson
Peterson was still grinding at age 35 last season for Detroit…604 rush yards, 3.9 ypc, 7 rush TDs. He is a veteran runner and still seems to have the passion. You can never write him off, but this Tennessee O-Line isn’t great with Derrick Henry gone, so AP will likely be a 10 +/- carry a game split with McNichols right away.
An RB3 for PPR, a possible RB2 for non-PPR with a TD surge…maybe.
What we don’t know is…AP’s legs could be fully out-of-juice and he fails fast, and the Titans have to go elsewhere.
3) D’Onta Foreman
If the Titans do fail fast with AP, then Foreman has a chance to come in to play that same role – the big bruiser/Henry-a-like. He’s 6’1/235+ and was taking work/carries over Jeremy McNichols last season for a stretch.
Foreman has all the size and talent of an NFL lead back…good hands for his size too, but he’s never really been able to put it all together. He has history with this coaching staff, and now he’s back with a shot if the door opens up.
Foreman is like if Ronald Jones could catch passes… https://youtu.be/IIjQKhFeUXA
The one guy who could wake up out of this and become a star (of the moment) out of nowhere…is Foreman.
4) Khari Blasingame
Was a big tailback in college and has surprising athleticism for his 240+ pound size. He was undrafted into the league, but then pushed to bulk up to be a fullback and that’s what he’s been in the NFL. But he could take a few power carries if it was needed…but likely AP for sure first chance, and then Foreman most likely are ahead of Blasingame for touches here.
You wouldn’t hate this action: https://youtu.be/1anFw3sMDdQ
5) Dontrell Hilliard
Isn’t a bad little player but is just a warm body behind McNichols in case JMN goes down.
-- Let’s see how good Ryan Tannehill (23-33 for 265 yards, 3 TDs/2 INTs, 2-26-0) really is now…without the Derrick Henry crutch to lean on.
The only time Tannehill has been without Henry was Week 16 of 2019 season, a key game for Tennessee vs. a very good New Orleans team…and Tannehill threw for 272 yards, 3 TDs/0 INT, rushed for 8 yards as Dion Lewis ran the ball 15 times and Dalyn Dawkins ran it 9 times…if that gives you an idea of where Vrabel might go without Henry, at least at first – that being OK with smaller scat backs taking a workload. Only this time, it’s many games without Henry to deal with. So, we might be able to predict Week 9 pretty well with McNichols having to take a lot of touches…but who knows about Week 13-14-15-16 etc.
I’m interested to see how Tannehill does, but I think it will be pretty good…he’s a pretty savvy QB and if Mike White and Cooper Rush are crushing it – Tannehill can outdo them.
-- Marlon Mack (DNP) was thought to be traded by the deadline…but trades don’t usually happen in the NFL. So, he’s ‘stuck’ in Indy.
Before you move on from him, just note… If Jonathan Taylor got hurt like Derrick Henry/gone for the year hurt…then Marlon Mack would be the best waiver wire RB pickup of the last several weeks – the lead guy behind a good run game O-Line.
He’s worth that last roster spot gamble that random RB injury hits Indy.
-- Michael Pittman (10-86-2/15) has become a star right before our eyes…a legit WR1 for FF. It’s literally all Carson Wentz looks for -- and even double and triple covered Pittman makes plays. I hope you jumped on this a few weeks ago when we rang the alarm before he really fully popped, but if not…buy on any weakness…i.e. not this week after a 2 TD event.
Just know this isn’t just good WR in a good spot so FF numbers happen…this guy is going elite action/ability. A star is born.
-- I thought Mo Alie Cox (0-0-0/4) was going to be a TD guy last week…but he didn’t even get a catch. Still 4 TDs in his last five games. He’s gonna be an 8-10 TD guy with low targeting at TE this season. Use in good matchups as needed.
-- The Tennessee Titans-DST is trying to peek through to becoming more plausible. They have a lot of young talent but dealing with injuries and inexperience, but I see some goodness trying to break through. We’re not there yet but be careful getting too excited when you see your opposing WR matched up with them and your FF App declares it a great matchup. It might not be so now. Remember, they held the Chiefs to 3 points two weeks ago.
Snap Counts of Interest:
59 = J Taylor
25 = Hines
50 = Doyle
39 = Alie-Cox
10 = Granson
54 = Henry
17 = McNichols
35 = Pruitt
20 = Firkser
67 = AJ Brown
48 = Marcus Johnson
31 = Rogers
23 = Westbrook-Ikhine
05 = J Reynolds