Just 10.5 months ago, the biggest news story about Corey Davis was that the Tennessee Titans—the team that invested a top-five pick in him back in the 2017 NFL Draft—was declining his fifth-year option going into Year 4 of his NFL career. It was justified, too. After three unremarkable seasons as Tennessee’s WR1, the “this will finally be the year he breaks out” talk seemed too far-fetched even for the organization that drafted him.
Then, of course, he broke out.
On May 1, 2020, everyone knew Davis would hit the open market following the 2020 season. On Mar. 15, 2021, Davis had a new home and up to 37.5 million extra dollars in his pockets. What happened in between was what Titans fans, Davis fans, fantasy football players, and the Tennessee organization had been waiting for all along.
Davis set new career highs in receiving yards (984), touchdowns (5), and receptions per game (4.64) in 2020, emerging as the true threat he appeared to be coming out of Western Michigan. Serving as the 1B to stud young receiver A.J. Brown, Davis solidified himself as a go-to option for quarterback Ryan Tannehill, even outperforming Brown on several occasions.
For fantasy football players, Davis emerged from the depths of being a perennial fantasy sleeper to an actual fantasy producer. Davis finished tied (with D.J. Moore) for WR25 with an average of 14.0 fantasy points per game. He scored double digits in 10 of his 14 games played, racking up at least 15.5 in six of those 10 games. His struggles at the very tail end of the regular season left many fantasy managers frustrated, but overall, he provided WR2 value for most of the season.
So what does his outlook look like for 2021?
The new team Davis agreed to join is the New York Jets, who will sign him to a three-year, $37.5 million deal with $27 million guaranteed when the new league year opens at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Davis will walk in as their top pass-catching option, with Jamison Crowder serving as the safety blanket slot receiver (for now) and promising soon-to-be sophomore Denzel Mims on the opposite side. What we don’t know for sure is who will be throwing him the ball.
Sam Darnold is currently the Jets’ starter, but he may only be that until April 29, when New York could spend their second overall pick on either BYU’s Zach Wilson or Ohio State’s Justin Fields. What we do know, or at least can reasonably assume, is that Davis will have more opportunities in New York than he had in Tennessee.
The Titans threw the ball just 30.1 times per game last season, the third-lowest mark in the NFL. While the Jets weren’t much better at just 31.2 passing attempts per game (fourth lowest), there’s hope that new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur will open up the offense a bit. With LaFleur serving as the passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach in 2017 and 2018 and as just the passing game coordinator in 2019 and 2020, the San Francisco 49ers averaged 33.7 pass attempts per game (including 35.6 last season). More passing opportunities and not losing targets to Brown could be a nice little boost to Davis’ production and fantasy value.
However, the potential downgrade at quarterback could have the opposite effect. While many aren’t willing to give up on Darnold, there is little reason to believe he’ll match Tannehill’s efficiency from 2019-2020 in 2021. The same goes for whatever rookie the team might fancy, at least at the start. There’s also the matter of how much you buy into a player’s breakout season coming in a contract year. Davis is no doubt talented, but aside from flashes in 2018, we really haven’t seen this level of play from him before.
As we do a way-too-early look-ahead to 2021 fantasy drafts, Davis currently ranks as a top-40 wide receiver who could border on WR3 territory for me in PPR formats. The wide receiver position is incredibly deep and it’s tough to say Davis has a notably high upside when compared to other players expected to go in the WR30-40 range, including incoming rookies. He’s worth a pick as a top bench option, but I can’t buy in if the price reflects his 2020 production. If the Jets wind up with Deshaun Watson somehow, that will be revised.
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