As the NFL Draft approaches, there is growing speculation around the league that Philip Rivers will be going to the Titans as part of a package to land the number 2 selection, presumably so that the Chargers could draft Marcus Mariota:
I feel like it is always good to be ahead of the curve for fantasy football, so while a trade doesn’t “appear inevitable” just yet, let’s examine what the ramifications would be should such a move occur.
I’ll start with the only current NFL player involved in the potential deal, and that’s Rivers himself. The fiery quarterback would be reunited with Ken Whisenhunt, who was his offensive coordinator in 2013. Despite being 32 at the time and coming off of a bad year, it is clear that Rivers had one of his best seasons while under the tutelage of the Whiz:
Rivers had his best completion percentage, third most yards, second most TD passes, second best INT %, and third highest adjusted yards per attempt with Whisenhunt. That is very impressive when we consider just how good of a career the former NC State signal-caller has had. The Titans passed the ball 59% of the time last season, but only had 513 total attempts because of how poor their offense was. The 53% passing rate the Chargers had in 2013 is probably more realistic, but should still yield a solid amount of attempts since the offense should be better with Rivers under center. No matter how you slice it, there are plenty of reasons to expect Rivers to maintain the low-end QB1 value he had last season. The best part about this trade, to me, is what it does for everyone else involved.
Call me crazy, but I think the Titans may have better weapons for Rivers to work with than what he had in San Diego. He leaves a team with no real running back talent, an aging star tight end, and a talented young receiver whose talents don’t match his quarterback’s biggest strength for a team with my favorite running back of the 2014 class, a younger and very athletic tight end, and a talented young receiver whose talents are perfect for Rivers. Keenan Allen is a terrific route runner and was the most talented receiver the Chargers had, but he wasn’t a huge threat in the vertical passing game, something Rivers has killed defenses with for a decade. However, in Tennessee, I think Justin Hunter CAN be that player for Fiery Phil.
Hunter has received just 110 targets in 26 games over his first two seasons in the NFL, but has done a lot with them. The former Volunteer has averaged a crazy 18.5 yards per reception and scored 7 touchdowns on just 46 receptions. His 42% catch rate is downright putrid, but when you consider he is a downfield receiver who has been playing with the likes of Zach Mettenberger, Charlie Whitehurst, Jake Locker, and Ryan Fitzpatrick (none of whom produce a particularly good deep ball), that number becomes a little easier to swallow. Rivers is routinely one of the league leaders in yards per attempt and makes his living off of downfield throws that let his receivers make plays. If you have been sitting on Justin Hunter in dynasty leagues, expect to be rewarded handsomely. It wouldn’t shock me in the slightest to see him take a monstrous year 3 leap with Rivers at the helm of the offense.
The Rest of the Titan Skill Players
The addition of Rivers would be an obvious boost to the entire offense. Kendall Wright would probably get to play a hybrid Keenan Allen/Eddie Royal type of role, which would probably be worthy of a slight bump in value. Delanie Walker is already seeing a sizable target load (108 in 2014), but his efficiency could go way up with better quarterback play. Last year’s TE8, Walker could climb even farther up the board. This goes without saying, but my love for Bishop Sankey would only improve with Rivers leading the charge. Teams would no longer be able to stack the box against the young running back, and he would have more space to utilize his elite agility and pick up long gains. I already think he’s a buy-low right now, but if Rivers gets moved to Tennessee, he would make a big jump up my rankings.
Since the end of the college season, there has been plenty of speculation as to the possible landing spots for the Heisman Trophy winner. Most people mention the Eagles as the best destination for Mariota, but I think the opportunity to play for Mike McCoy would be easily one of the top 2 or 3 options for him. This is a coach that has managed to get the best out of every quarterback he’s ever worked with, including Tim Tebow! We may not see the up-tempo blitzkrieg that could potentially come out of reunion with Chip Kelly, but McCoy would get the ball out of Mariota’s hands quickly and maximize his athleticism. He could be a solid QB1 option from the get-go.
Is it possible that this trade makes everyone a fantasy winner? I already mentioned how Allen wasn’t a good fit for Philip Rivers’ skill set. Because of that, a change in quarterback would be welcomed if he could get the ball to Keenan more frequently and in more advantageous spots on the field. As I am a believer in Mariota’s talent, I think that there is a distinct possibility that the former Duck could be just the medicine the doctor ordered. Most rookie quarterbacks lock into their first target or check it down to a back or tight end, meaning the immediate benefits could be tremendous for Allen. Long term, the quarterback and receiver would have the opportunity to grow together in the offense, something Allen would have never had a chance to do with such a hardened veteran in Rivers. The third year player is a strong bounce back candidate this season, and a trade for Mariota would only strengthen that.
The Charger Run Game
It is no secret that a quarterback who can run enhances the running game for the entire offense. In the interest of brevity, defenses would have to account for Mariota’s legs, meaning that run lanes should be bigger and open up more frequently. The issue is determining just for who that will be for. Many current reports state that it is likely the Chargers’ number 17 pick would have to be included in any trade for the Titans’ selection, meaning Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon are probably out of the question. Is it likely that San Diego would trade draft picks for a quarterback AND invest one of their top remaining picks in a quality running back? That remains to be seen, but I would imagine that any rookie runner would have a chance to compete with the likes of Danny Woodhead, Branden Oliver, and Donald Brown. This is a position worth investing in, but would have to be monitored going forward.
I feel as though there are a lot of positives that could occur from a potential Philip Rivers trade for Marcus Mariota. We will find out if it happens in a couple of weeks, but I am surely excited for the possibility. It is already looking like an exciting Draft weekend!
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