The AFC South appears to be the worst division in the conference heading into the 2023 season. It looks increasingly likely that the Tennessee Titans will finish in second place after they reportedly added five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins on a two-year contract.
Tennessee’s odds to win the AFC South are +350 on DraftKings Sportsbook, while the Jacksonville Jaguars are still the clear favorites at -155. The Titans are listed at +250 to make the playoffs in what looks to be a loaded AFC field this season.
The 2021 division champs are still outside the projected postseason field, but signing Hopkins signals that new Tennessee general manager Ran Carthon and others inside the organization see the division as winnable, and the Titans are neither in tank nor rebuild mode.
Tennessee is only two seasons removed from winning 12 games and retaining Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill were apparent signals that the team still intends to be playoff contenders.
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The acquisition of Hopkins leaves no doubt that Carthon and head coach Mike Vrabel strongly believe that the Titans can point themselves back in the right direction after losing seven consecutive games to finish last season.
The offense was a major problem for the Titans last season, most notably the passing game. Tennessee ranked 30th in total offense and passing yards, 28th in points per game (17.5), and allowed 49 sacks while quarterback Ryan Tannehill ended the season on injured reserve.
In the offseason, the Titans fired offensive coordinator Todd Downing, and Carthon brought in free agent offensive linemen Daniel Brunskill and Andre Dillard and nabbed Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski with the No. 11 pick in the NFL Draft. Despite the drafting of Will Levis in the second round, Tannehill, who is entering a contract year, has hold of the starting QB job entering the season, with improved protection and Hopkins as his new top receiver.
The Levis pick is one for the future, yet it is clear that the Titans want to win this season while also keeping their eyes on the seasons ahead.
Before the Hopkins signing, it was unclear what direction the team was heading in, as Tannehill and Henry were still with the team, while successors were drafted in Levis and third-round running back Tyjae Spears.
Tennessee also had one of the worst-looking wide receiver corps in the NFL before the Hopkins deal. At 31 years old, Hopkins may not be quite the superstar he used to be, but he will provide Tannehill with a highly dependable pass-catcher, which he sorely lacked last year after the regrettable trade that sent A.J. Brown to Philadelphia.
Injuries and a suspension have limited Hopkins to just 19 games over the past two seasons, and in 2022, he tied a career low with 11.2 yards per reception. Yet the former Arizona Cardinal and Houston Texan did have 10 catches for 103 yards in his first game of the 2022 campaign after sitting out six games and followed that performance with 12 receptions for 159 yards in Week 8.
Hopkins averaged 7.1 receptions and 79.7 yards per game last season, so he was still productive. He should combine with second-year wideout Treylon Burks and promising tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo to provide Tannehill with a decent trio of featured pass-catchers.
Tennessee’s receiving playmakers won’t be a fearsome group, yet they should be respectable after adding Hopkins. The offense will still center around Henry, as the Titans ranked second in the league in run/pass ratio in 2021 when they still had Brown.
Tannehill should have a better chance to succeed now with better blocking up front and an adequate receiving corps. If he does not play well in the first few weeks, though, Vrabel may be quick to turn to Levis, who will undoubtedly appreciate being able to lean on a highly proven veteran like Hopkins.
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It is not out of the question that Tennessee could stick close to Jacksonville in the AFC South. Vrabel is still regarded as a quality coach. The Titans have a solid defensive line and more possible concerns among the defensive back seven, but the Jaguars’ defense does not measure up to its offense either.
Ultimately, the Hopkins signing provides the Tennessee offense with a significant presence it lacked, and the move will have a genuine impact on the unit as a whole. His presence will force defenses to respect the passing game more and opens up room for the other top pass-catchers while providing Tannehill with the reliable playmaker that was missing in 2022.
Carthon has made his mark on the Titans’ roster this offseason, and acquiring Hopkins was the finishing touch on returning some stability to an offense that went limp last year. Now, Tennessee has a more legitimate chance to bid for an AFC Wild Card spot in 2023.
Fantasy Football Impact: DeAndre Hopkins To Tennessee
The Game Day’s Frank Ammirante has Hopkins at WR26 in his latest 2023 fantasy football rankings, placing him in high-end WR3 territory. Such a range should reflect his statistical floor for the upcoming season.
Hopkins will command a lot of volume when the Titans throw the ball, and he is much more established than any other pass-catcher on the roster. The days of him being a fantasy WR1 may be over, but I would be delighted to land Hopkins outside the top 20 fantasy WRs.
The arrival of Hopkins in Tennessee bumps Burks down to WR36. Before the move, I viewed him as a rising WR3, but working with Hopkins certainly improves Burks’ long-term outlook as a dynasty player.
I expect inconsistency from Burks this year with a few possible spike outings, though he eventually should at least become a quality fantasy WR2. Okonkwo takes a significant dip to TE17 after being previously viewed as a top-10 player at the position, and Tannehill can be targeted as a decent QB2 type in two-QB and superflex leagues.