Once we found out that DeMarco Murray was released by the Titans, we knew there would be a move that coincided with it. As it turns out, it was a pretty big move as the Titans have agreed to terms with Dion Lewis on a four-year deal worth a reported $20 million, making him the ninth-highest paid running back on an annual basis.
Some out there may be wondering why they made such a big signing with Derrick Henry on the roster, but it all comes down to Henry’s inability to pass-block and contribute consistently in the passing game. The Titans first concern is protecting Marcus Mariota and Henry has graded out as one of the worst pass-blockers in all of football. While most wondered why Murray was getting as many, and often more snaps than Henry, this was the reason.
Lewis is going to go through quite the change here, as the Patriots are a team who’s scored at least 28 points per game while he’s been there, while the Titans averaged just 20.6 points per game in 2017. It’s important because of the research I did last offseason where we often want running backs tied to high-scoring offenses (read it here). It’s not to say that the Titans can’t become one of the high-scoring teams, but they haven’t been as of late.
With the Patriots, Lewis also started to get the goal-line carries as the team moved on from Mike Gillislee, bumping his fantasy numbers significantly. We know that Henry will be the goal-line back for the Titans, which is significant because of the top-12 running backs last year, they all scored a minimum of six rushing touchdowns. And before you say that Lewis’ receiving will make up for that, nine of those top-12 running backs also totaled at least 300 receiving yards. You probably don’t need me to tell you this, but touchdowns mean a lot for a running back’s upside, and Lewis is going to lack that.
Lewis also isn’t the most durable of running backs, and at 5-foot-7 and 193 pounds you shouldn’t really expect him to be. Yes, he handled a massive workload down the stretch for the Patriots, though that was out of necessity with Gillislee inactive and Rex Burkhead banged up. If you believe Lewis takes the starting job from Henry, I would be hesitant to project anything more than a 50/50 split out of this backfield, though I don’t see Lewis even getting there.
Is Lewis a bad signing? Absolutely not. It’s a signing that I thought should happen, and even mentioned it in my free agency primer that predicted landing spots. However, let’s not pretend that a running back who has 329 career carries at 28 years old (will be at the start of the season) is suddenly going to become a workhorse in the NFL, especially when Henry, a player the team used a second-round pick on just two years ago, is showed to be capable of handling more work. In fact, Henry’s 286 carries over the last two years aren’t far behind Lewis’ numbers.
So, how do we project Lewis and what type of fantasy asset will he be? He’s a better at running in-between the tackles than most realize and has solid hands, though he wasn’t used as much as he could’ve been in New England, likely because of James White‘s presence. He’ll be mixed in with Henry in what I’m projecting to be a 65/35 split, similar to the one the Vikings used last year with Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon. Murray was a weekly-RB2 because of his goal-line carries and heavy workload, while McKinnon was more of a splash RB3 who could post RB1/RB2 numbers from time-to-time. The Titans ran the ball 366 times last year, while completing 50 passes to the running back position. I don’t do projections until after the draft, but at this time, I’d expect Lewis to be in the range of 130-150 carries and 35-40 receptions. Running backs don’t change much on a per-touch basis, so this would put him right in the middling RB3 conversation in standard leagues, while teetering on the low-end RB2 conversation in PPR formats, similar to last year’s McKinnon.
Miss any of the other big-name free agent signings? We’ve got you covered with the links below.
Allen Robinson to the Bears
Sammy Watkins to the Chiefs
Kirk Cousins to the Vikings
Case Keenum to the Broncos
Trey Burton to the Bears