Is Corey Davis Primed for a Breakout?
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Image Credit: Daniel Dunn/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Corey Davis.

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While the Titans may be 3-0 after squeaking out yet another nail-biter this Sunday against the Vikings, they got some less-than-encouraging news regarding second-year star A.J. Brown:

Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown (knee) could wind up missing more time than originally expected. Brown has a “pretty significant knee bruise” and it hasn’t responded as well to treatment as the team had hoped. The original timeline had him listed as week-to-week, though it’s very possible that the team could be without the services of Brown for at least the next couple of weeks. It’s a gloomy outlook for fantasy managers who put their faith in the talented, second-year pro.

Brown’s electrifying finish to his 2019 rookie season turned the heads of drafters this year as he flew off the board early in almost all leagues. Here at RotoViz, we loved Brown all offseason too, with Samuel Wallace declaring him the best second-year receiver in the league. While Brown is by no means a lost cause for the season (he’s simply too talented not to produce), it is time to explore the Titans offense for more fantasy weapons outside of Derrick Henry. Perhaps the most intriguing guy is Corey Davis, the former first-round pick out of Western Michigan. And even though he’s likely let you down in the past, this year could be different.

Newfound Efficiency

Last year, Brown’s breakout season relied almost exclusively on one thing: efficiency. He led all WRs with a massive 76.8 fantasy points over expectation (FPOE), nearly 5 per game. Unfortunately, as strong as Brown was in this category, Davis struggled. In his rookie year, he had -31.2 FPOE in only 11 games, 217th among receivers, and only posted 2.5 last year in his only season in the positives. Even though it’s been a small sample size, things are looking up for Davis so far. He’s posted positive FPOE in every game this year and currently ranks 24th among receivers in the category, much better than his previous career high of 86th.

He’s also shown a strong connection with QB Ryan Tannehill, picking up almost exactly where Brown left off in terms of adjusted yards per attempt (AYA).1 While Jonnu Smith has obviously been the standout in that category, Davis is smashing his previous numbers, where he’s never been above 10.

It’s a small sample size, sure, but if Brown continues to sit and the Titans keep getting into shootouts, the ball has to go somewhere, and Davis has made a strong case that he can produce given opportunities.

Shades of Parker

Last year’s big mid-career breakout, DeVante Parker, has a similar profile to Davis. Both are former first-round picks. Both struggled with efficiency (Parker had -29.8 FPOE in 2017 and -16.2 in 2018). Both had questionable quarterback play throughout their careers. Parker didn’t truly explode until rookie Preston Williams went down. And while Brown is definitely not out for the season, his injury clears the path for Davis in the immediate future.

Davis doesn’t generally follow the pattern for a fourth-year breakout that Shawn Siegele identified, as most were drafted late. But Parker wasn’t necessarily a great candidate for a late breakout in his fifth season last year either. Davis’ targets don’t yet line up with the massive numbers Parker got in 2019, but he’s trending in the right direction, as he does lead the team thus far.

Final Takeaways

While things have gone right for Davis thus far — he is a usable flex option — there are still some major downsides. First, the Titans are passing slightly less than last year, so even if he maintains the lead in targets, it won’t be nearly as many as some of the top receivers in the league. Additionally, the Titans have a tough schedule for the next few weeks: they play the Steelers and the Bills, both of whom have excelled against the pass this season. In those games, he becomes only a borderline starter, even as the likely top option in the passing game.

However, Davis is a former top-ten pick and looks about as good as he ever has. This is the best offense the Titans have had in a long time, and he’s shown flashes before, putting up 185.9 points in his second season. For now, he’s an occasional starter for teams in need of WR help, but he should be owned in all leagues and could function as an above-average flex or WR3 option if he keeps up the efficiency or if Brown keeps missing time.

  1. Brown was at 12.8 last season.  (back)

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