To this point in his career, Corey Davis has been the cucumber water of wide receiver prospects. You bought him because he looked fancy and, dammit, you deserve to treat yourself to a quality wide receiver now and again. But a couple of sips in, you realize you just paid a bunch of money to drink regular tap water with vegetables floating in it. That's what Corey Davis has been so far in his career: Tepid vegetable water.
The question is whether Corey Davis will ever become more than that. Can he even rise up to the level of, say, sparkling pomegranate water? Or, to abandon this poorly-constructed water metaphor, can he rise up to the WR1-level of production so many thought possible back in 2017?
2018 Finish: WR28
In his sophomore season, Corey Davis put up some very respectable stats: 112 targets, 65 receptions, 891 yards, and 4 touchdowns. On a per game basis, he fell to WR38, but his overall finish is perfectly fine for a player that was generally drafted in or around the 6th round. But the fantasy community never expected Davis to be just "fine" for their teams. They wanted him to be a superstar.
We're still waiting to see the Western Michigan 1st round draft pick truly breakout. But is that even on the table at this point?
The Corey Davis Rollercoaster Ride
When a player can see 13 targets in a game and only come away with 6 catches for 62 yards and no touchdowns (against a bottom 5 Miami defense) as Corey Davis did in Week 1, that signals some very bright and very loud warning alarms.
Then again, he was also able to put together 9 receptions for 161 yards and a TD on 15 targets just a few weeks later (against a somewhat respectable Philly defense), so who knows what the true Corey Davis looks like.
Davis finished outside the Top 40 wide receivers 10 out of 16 weeks, or 63% of the time. In 9 of those weeks he had fewer than 50 yards and 5 catches. Only one of those weeks was "saved" by a touchdown.
He also finished as a Top 5 receiver 3 times. In those 3 games, he put up over 95 yards and a touchdown. You were obviously very happy if you decided to slot him into your flex in those weeks, though it's unlikely you put him in against Houston, considering they were a Top 5 defense.
This basically made him Amari Cooper-lite in 2018. He never outright disappeared on his fantasy investors like Cooper, though he came close on far too many occasions. It made him incredibly tough to trust on a weekly basis.
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What Davis Has Working In His Favor
- Draft capital: 5th overall pick in 2017
- Breakout age: 18 (96th percentile)
- College Dominator score: 51.6% (96th percentile)
All the usual analytical measures paint Corey Davis as an ascending talent. Fantasy football investors who believe in him certainly have some compelling arguments to back up that affection.
The success rate for players that have all of these things working in their favor is staggeringly high. Since 2010, we've seen a fair portion of 1st round wide receivers bust. But players like DeVante Parker, Michael Floyd, Kendall Wright, and Josh Doctson all scored significantly lower than Davis in either breakout age or college dominator. None had such high marks across the board.
What this suggests is that eventually, on a long enough timeline, Corey Davis should become a top fantasy asset. The question is whether you can bank on Davis' talent and measurables to transcend the questionable offense around him and allow him to breakout in 2019.
What Davis Had Working Against Him
- Bad quarterback play
Davis has had some tough luck with his hamstrings in his brief NFL career. Through his first two seasons, he's been hampered by hamstring injuries, missing a chunk of time in 2017 and struggling through it in 2018. Soft tissue injuries like that can be a real pain to come back from, so props to Davis for being able to play through it.
Unfortunately, there's always a risk of re-injury, especially in the short term. As ESPN's injury analyst Stephania Bell put it, "The No. 1 risk factor for a hamstring injury is a previous hamstring injury." So until Davis proves he can get through a season without being hamstrung, it has to remain a question mark.
Speaking of injures, his quarterback hasn't been right for the last couple of years, either. That may sound like an easy excuse to make, but it's also a fair one. Marcus Mariota has accumulated injuries like the alien from Predator collected skulls. And that turned Mariota into a liability for Davis, with only three-fourths of his throws being catchable. His target quality was ranked all the way down at #60.
You might hope such a dominant college receiver could manage big numbers even a subpar quarterback, but that expectation is a bit unfair. (Remember DeAndre Hopkins' mediocre season with Brock Osweiler? Anyone?) Davis could only do so much with the poor passes he was given.
Davis' most glaring problem last season, however, can't be placed entirely on his quarterback. And that's the substantial amount of drops he had. According to Player Profiler, Davis registered the 2nd-most drops in the league and the 11th-highest drop percentage. That's not so good.
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Two Sides Of The Same Coin
Here's where things get a little tricky, because there's so much gray area to navigate with Davis. Using a few prominent stats, you could make the case for or against Davis' immediate future.
It may not have felt like it to his fantasy owners, but Corey Davis was hyper-targeted in the Tennessee offense last year. He owned a 26% market share of the team's targets, the 8th-highest in the league among wide receivers. The next closest player in Tennessee received just 15%, and that was Dion Lewis. The next two receivers on the depth chart -- Taywan Taylor and Tajae Sharpe -- didn't match Davis' target totals combined. So it's not as if Davis didn't have opportunities. In fact, he was the 20th-most targeted wide receiver in 2018.
Unfortunately, of his 86 catchable passes, Davis had a 75.5% catch rate. That number may sound good until you realize no Top 12 fantasy receiver put up less than 82%.
Red Zone Targets
He also saw 15 of the team's 59 passing attempts from inside the red zone, which is roughly a 25% market share. That's not too shabby. For reference, Kenny Golladay saw the same number of red zone targets, but that only accounted for 20% market share.
But Golladay came down with twice as many red zone touchdowns. So yes, hooray for opportunity! It bodes well that he's the go-to guy on his team, but that will only get you so far.
Davis didn't play less than 81% of offensive snaps in a week until the last game of the season. Compare that to Chris Godwin, who was on the field for just 64.2% of snaps over the season. Davis and Godwin finished back to back in PPR formats.
Once again, tremendous opportunity, which remain about the same heading into 2019. But it's a shame his production and his opportunity didn't match up.
Offensive Question Marks
We have no idea what Mike Vrabel is capable of doing with a healthy team, because in his only year as a head coach, his quarterback was beyond dinged up. And now he has a new offensive coordinator in So analyzing the numbers of Vrabel's one year as a head coach doesn't really do us much good. What we do know is that his defensive background suggests 2018's emphasis on the run wasn't a fluke.
The bigger question is what can a healthy Marcus Mariota do for this team and, specifically, Corey Davis? We know it's unlikely the Titans throw less than they did in 2018, when they ranked 28th in passing touchdowns and 29th in passing yards. Hypothetically, there's nowhere to go but up. But what's the ceiling with Mariota under center?
Mariota's best season to date -- by far -- was his sophomore outing in 2016, when he threw for 3,426 yards and 26 TDs. Those numbers had him finishing tied for 10th in passing TDs and 23rd in passing yards. That's...fine. Mariota's never been one to rack up yards with his arm, but so long as the team can get into the red zone, he's proven he can deliver. (Hell, he put up those TD numbers with Rishard Matthews as his primary weapon.)
An Impending Quarterback Switch?
This is the final year of Mariota's rookie contract, and the team recently brought over some insurance at the backup QB position. Ryan Tannehill's 1-year, $2 million contract is hardly more than a drop in the bucket, but Tennessee bringing on a starting quarterback to play behind Mariota gives him more real competition for the job than he's ever had.
If Mariota can't stay healthy, or if the coaches decide Tannehill gives them a better chance at winning, a QB change could end up being the best thing for Corey Davis. Maybe.
Over the course of his career, Mariota has only had one receiver finish in the Top 25 (Rishard Matthews in 2016). Meanwhile, Tannehill has had 3 different receivers do so (Brian Hartline in 2013, Mike Wallace in 2014, Jarvis Landry in 2015 and 2016). Does that mean much? After all, that could easily be a difference in offensive scheme.
Looking at the raw numbers tells a different story, in that it tells the exact same story. Let me explain. Mariota and Tannehill have near-identical career averages in completion percentage (63.2, 62.8), TD percentage (4.3, 4.2), and INT percentage (2.6, 2.6). Tannehill tends to put up more yards in a season (3,400 to Mariota's 3,000), but aside from that, they're practically the same person. Well, except that Tannehill has a lower Y/A and a lower overall passer rating.
Who knows, maybe subbing in Tannehill will exorcise some mental block that allows Davis to thrive. Or maybe Tannehill and Davis would have a natural rapport. But from a statistical perspective, there's not much to get excited about with the current QB depth chart.
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No Longer The Only Game In Town
Does 2nd round pick A.J. Brown help or hurt Davis' value in 2019? Does free agent pickup Adam Humphries change the equation? How about the return of Delanie Walker? Last year, Davis' main competition for targets was Dion Lewis. This year, there's a whole flock of competent pass-catchers to contend with.
Hypothetically, having other solid options for Mariota to throw to should open things up for the whole offense to get moving. And that could increase the quality of Davis' targets by taking some coverage away. But in order for Davis to climb up the fantasy ladder, he either has to be hyper-efficient with those targets, or hope the offense sees a significant uptick in overall plays and passes per game.
Now, again, we don't know how Vrabel will operate this offense. But let's just say for argument's sake that the Titans hit 528 passing attempts, which was Mariota's average in his first two healthy years. Who gets the ball?
The last time Delanie Walker was on the field, he saw 22% of the team's targets. In fact, he's seen at least 100 targets in each of his last 4 healthy seasons. Adam Humphries saw 17% of Tampa Bay's passing targets in 2018. We can be fairly sure Dion Lewis will still see close to his 50 target average. Tennessee didn't draft A.J. Brown in the 2nd round to "learn" his first year, so pencil him in for Davis' 13% rookie target share, at least. And the team won't just forget about Taywan Taylor, either. Very quickly, we're eating our way through that target pie.
Maybe Davis eats all the leftovers. Which would be a massive fantasy meal. But nothing about Vrabel's football history -- or the way the offense was run last year -- suggests the Titans will even crack 500 passing attempts. Or come close.
Corey Davis' 2019 Projection
Let's assume the Titans are able to add another 63 passes onto last year's total to crack 500. Using a career high catch percentage of 60%, his career average 12.8 YPC, and assuming a regression in target share down to a more reasonable 20%, Davis would have the following stats: 100 targets, 60 receptions, for 768 yards. We can suppose he'll add a couple of extra touchdowns onto last year's total due to the attention taken away by Walker in the end zone, so give him 6 TDs.
Those 172.8 fantasy points would have put him at WR33 in 2018, just behind Mike Williams. Luckily, he's currently being drafted much lower than that, at WR42 according to Fantasy Football Calculator. So unless the hype train starts rolling again, Davis could provide surprisingly nice value in the 9th round.
Just don't expect him to be elite. And don't expect him to be consistent. Realize that you're taking him as a boom or bust option and be comfortable riding the waves of Corey Davis.