Dion Lewis Fantasy
Running back Dion Lewis struck gold this offseason when he signed a four-year, $20 million contract with the Tennessee Titans. The deal includes $11.5 million guaranteed. Coming off his best season as a pro with New England, it’s not too surprising he was able to ink a solid deal. A solid team signing no doubt, the Titans now add a dynamic pass-catching running back to fill the void after the team released DeMarco Murray. He will now be paired up with Derrick Henry in the Titans’ backfield to create a formidable one-two punch. With that being said, what does his addition to the Titans’ offense mean for his fantasy value?
Last year, Dion Lewis Fantasy production finished him as RB14 in Half Point PPR leagues despite not receiving more than 10 carries until Week 6. Will this success carry over from last year, or does sharing a backfield with Henry spell bust for Lewis? I’ll address all these questions using some projection analysis to best predict Lewis’s fantasy outlook for the 2018 season.
Titans’ Offense 2018
Time to say goodbye to the “exotic smash mouth” of Mike Mularkey and hello to new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur. With new head coach Mike Vrabel being more defensive-oriented the Titans have assigned offensive duties to LaFleur. LaFleur stems from the Kyle Shanahan tree and finished 2017 as offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams under another Shanahan guy: Sean McVay. We have all seen first-hand how well the Shanahan offenses have performed in the NFL. Especially looking at how quickly their impacts on offenses are felt. Expect to see improvement across the board from the Titans offense in 2018 under this new regime. It’s also worth mentioning that in addition to LaFleur, the Titans also added quarterbacks coach Pat O’Hara. He was with Houston and Deshaun Watson in 2017. He’ll look to help get quarterback Marcus Mariota back to 2016 form.
Mariota regressed from his impressive 2016 campaign where he posted a 5.8% touchdown to interception rate. In 2017, Mariota struggled despite overall team success and posted a 2.9% touchdown to interception rate. With the change at offensive coordinator though, expect to see a much more efficient Mariota in 2018. Positive regression is most likely in store for Mariota as long as he can stay healthy. His career average touchdown rate is 4.6%, so that is a much more realistic expectation of his 2018 output. Especially considering former first-round pick Corey Davis has been healthy so far throughout offseason activities. His emergence in the passing game could really help open things up for the offense alongside Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker.
Despite Mariota’s struggles in 2017, the offensive line and the running game helped push the Titans into the playoffs. The Titans averaged 116.7 yards on the ground and averaged 4.3 yards per carry as a team. Both ranked as 9th best in the league. Their offense also ranked 4th best in rushing touchdown per game (1.1). The ground game led the charge in 2017, and with their current personnel on the offensive line and running back positions they should continue to run the ball effectively in 2018.
Dion Lewis’ History
The real story of Lewis’s football career is very similar to that of many smaller running backs: Injuries. 2017 was the only season in which Lewis played a full 16 games. But in that 16 games, fantasy owners got to basically see the ceiling for Lewis. Lewis showed that he could run between the tackles and be a goalline running back. He scored all of his rushing touchdowns from inside the 10 yard-line. Packaging this all together with his dynamic skills in the passing game and elusiveness in space as a runner we truly saw the best version of Dion Lewis in 2017. Lewis over the entirety of his career actually ranks 1st in elusive rating via Pro Football Focus. Jim Wyatt of TitansOnline.com reported that Lewis looked elusive in space at Titans OTAs.
So what statistic best describes how good Lewis really was? Basically, once the Patriots started to use him he became a must-start RB1 on a weekly basis. He reported that he had the fifth most fantasy points of any running back over the final 9 weeks of the season. He also ranked number one in yards per carry (5.0) and averaged two yards after contact by a defender. Both ranked number one in the league last season.
Dion Lewis Career Stats
Why Dion Lewis Could Succeed
When LaFleur became the offensive coordinator in Tennesse he knew that he had Henry atop his depth chart. But instead of crowning Henry the three-down back, the Titans go out and sign Lewis. As much as fantasy owners would like to see Henry in that three-down role, the fact that Lewis was signed after LaFleur became offensive coordinator supports the idea that LaFleur may see Lewis has his guy and not Henry. LaFleur has zero invested into Henry at this point.
In the offense, Lewis will most definitely see a large role as the pass-catching back. Shanahan offenses have heavily involved targeting receivers in the passing game. To reference statistics specifically, the top two running backs in those offenses have combined to average 112 targets per year with the starting running back handling 74% of those targets. And let’s not forget Todd Gurley under McVay and LaFleur last year. Gurley finished as the RB1 most notably due to his production in the passing game. Gurley ranked second in receiving yards and fifth in receptions out of running backs.
The Titans offense in 2018 will see an uptick in running back targets from 2017 where Murray led the team with 47 targets. This ranked 24th in the league. Lewis would most likely be the biggest beneficiary of this uptick in overall targets. That combined with the fact that he showed proficient ability as a goalline and in between the tackle runner, is why Lewis will succeed in fantasy in 2018. Overall he is a more complete running back than Henry is.
Why Dion Lewis Could Fail
The biggest concern for Lewis will always be his injuries. If he can stay healthy, however, he will fail fantasy owners is because of Henry. Specifically, Henry’s potential to take goal-line carries and touchdown opportunities away from Lewis.
Even though Lewis showed the ability to run between the tackles and work at the goal line last year, Henry could get the first opportunity for that job. Henry at 6-3 and just under 250lbs profiles as a first and second down back. He has the most touchdown upside out of the two running backs. If Henry ultimately ends up scoring the majority of rushing touchdowns then that would significantly hurt the fantasy value of Lewis. Also, in terms of usage, Derrick Henry will receive more touches if the Titans frequently get big leads in games.
Henry can almost certainly handle a workload of 200+ carries. If Dion Lewis cannot handle a similar workload to that in which he received last year he will fail in fantasy in 2018. If he shows any signs of breaking down during the 2018 campaign it will be a backfield dominated by Henry before we know it. Keep in mind Lewis’s 180 carries from last year were more carries than the rest of his entire career combined!
Dion Lewis Fantasy Forecast: My Take
I’m buying Dion Lewis fantasy stock in 2018. I think that at his draft price compared to that of Henry he is the much better option. Considering that Lewis according to Fantasy Football Calculator is going in the middle of the sixth round and Henry is going in the backend of the second, this decision is easy for me to go with Lewis.
Lewis is a more dynamic player than Henry and should thrive in an offense that features a running back that has the superior pass-catching ability. Then throw in the fact that Lewis showed owners last year that he could stay healthy for 16 games and be a threat in the red zone. Of the two backs, owners may be surprised to find that Lewis was better than Henry in the red zone last season. He was more efficient as a runner inside the 10-yard line.
- Lewis Inside the 10: 35 Carries, Yards 142, Yards Per Carry 4.06, 6 TDs, 11 First Downs
- Henry Inside the 10: 27 Carries, Yards 94, Yards Per Carry 3.48, 3 TDs 6 First Downs
Lewis has the most to offer to the Titans’ offense at the running back position in 2018 which is why I believe he will succeed for fantasy owners. In an offense that should be much better than last year and one that is not hugely incorporated by proven playmakers, Lewis could be the biggest fantasy asset in Tennesee.
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