The Tennessee Titans blew up their wide receiving corps after last season. They came back with a new receivers’ coach, a free agent, and two drafted receivers. Rishard Matthews was barely mentioned during the preseason or when sports’ talking heads made predictions of the Titans 2017 offense.
But after three weeks, it is still Rishard Matthews leading the team in targets, receptions, and yardage. He is only averaging 0.4 less NFL fantasy points than his 2016 game average, which was the 14th best in the league. He is still quarterback Marcus Mariota’s favorite target. Is all that enough to make him a must-start?
How’s he doing it?
In three games, Mariota has thrown 100 passes. Rishard Matthews was targeted 24 times. Not only is that more targets than the other wide receivers, but his average depth is well ahead of his teammates, too. He has 14 catches for 201 yards and the only touchdown not thrown to backup tight end Jonnu Smith.
When his quarterback needs a deep completion, it would appear Mariota is looking for Matthews. And why not? Matthews was the only wide receiver who was consistently open last season. Tight end Delanie Walker had the underneath covered, as he does this season, too. Walker has fewer targets, but one more reception than Matthews.
Based on completions, it appears Matthews is the only go-to wide receiver on the team this year. None of the other receivers have double-digit receptions or 100 yards. But completions are only half the story.
Will he continue doing it?
You can’t catch a pass if it isn’t thrown to you. In the first game of the season, rookie Corey Davis was targeted ten times to Matthews’ nine. Eric Decker had eight targets and Delanie Walker saw nine, like Matthews. Matthews saw the deepest targets and most difficult targets. In game two, the targets were less but again split rather evenly. Matthews and Decker had five each to set the pace.
It wasn’t until the third week that Matthews became the clear-cut primary target. Thanks to the touchdown, the game accounted for about half his three-game total NFL fantasy points. Is that a sign of things to come? Probably not.
There was a variable in Week 3 that may or may not be repeated in other weeks. Namely, Corey Davis did not play. The same hamstring that limited him during the preseason kept him out of last week’s game. It’s hard to say for sure if we would be talking about Rishard Matthews if he didn’t pick up targets from Davis’ absence.
So… is he a must-start?
Corey Davis will miss Week 4’s game against the Texans Sunday, making Matthews a good start. However, there is no guarantee he will get the same ratio of targets. On the one hand, Mariota said he is not playing favorites and will hit the open receivers as he sees them. On the other hand, we already know Matthews can get open against anybody.
With Houston giving up the tenth-most points to wide receivers, and Corey Davis out of the game, I would make Rishard Matthews a must-start this week. When Davis returns, his value will diminish significantly.
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