How Mike Mularkey Impacts the Titans' 2016 Fantasy Outlook

How Mike Mularkey Impacts the Titans' 2016 Fantasy Outlook

By TJ Hernandez (Associate Editor), last update Jun 1, 2016

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TJ is a former full-time poker player who has been playing fantasy football for more than a decade. After online poker was outlawed, TJ ended his poker career and dedicated himself to fantasy football. His background in poker statistics and analytics translates to success in both daily and season-long fantasy football.

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Mike Mularkey is up next as I examine the five offensive play callers with past NFL play calling experience that are on new teams in 20161, with the hopes of finding tendencies that might translate into valuable fantasy information. 

For more bite-sized chunks on all 32 play callers, check out Chris Raybon’s 3 Key Fantasy-Relevant Tendencies of Each NFL Offensive Coordinator. To get a general sense for how coaching impacts fantasy football, read this.

With a focus on Mularkey's play-calling tendencies in terms of pass/run splits relative to the league average, and on team splits such as target market share and percentage of backfield touches, this study will concentrate on the parts of the game where the coach has the largest influence.

A Snapshot of Mularkey’s History

The following data only includes full seasons as a play caller. Mularkey served as the interim head coach and primary play caller for the Titans for the final nine games of the 2015 season.  

Pass/Run Splits
Year Team Pass % Run % League AVG Run % Run % vs League Average
2001 Pittsburgh Steelers 45.5% 54.5% 44.0% 10.4%
2002 Pittsburgh Steelers 53.3% 46.7% 43.3% 3.4%
2003 Pittsburgh Steelers 56.3% 43.7% 45.2% -1.5%
2004 Buffalo Bills 50.8% 49.2% 45.1% 4.1%
2005 Buffalo Bills 54.0% 46.0% 44.9% 1.1%
2006 Miami Dolphins 61.1% 38.9% 45.1% -6.3%
2008 Atlanta Falcons 44.6% 55.4% 44.6% 10.8%
2009 Atlanta Falcons 57.0% 43.0% 43.7% -0.7%
2010 Atlanta Falcons 54.7% 45.3% 43.1% 2.2%
2011 Atlanta Falcons 57.8% 42.2% 42.9% -0.7%
2012 Jacksonville Jaguars 64.0% 36.0% 42.3% -6.3%
Rushing Rankings
Year Team Attempts Yds TD
2001 Pittsburgh Steelers 1 1 2
2002 Pittsburgh Steelers 3 9 14
2003 Pittsburgh Steelers 16 31 23
2004 Buffalo Bills 9 13 8
2005 Buffalo Bills 20 20 29
2006 Miami Dolphins 29 22 28
2008 Atlanta Falcons 2 2 3
2009 Atlanta Falcons 11 15 14
2010 Atlanta Falcons 5 12 9
2011 Atlanta Falcons 11 17 12
2012 Jacksonville Jaguars 30 30 29
Passing Rankings
Year Team Att Yds TD
2001 Pittsburgh Steelers 28 21 24
2002 Pittsburgh Steelers 16 7 8
2003 Pittsburgh Steelers 10 14 16
2004 Buffalo Bills 27 27 16
2005 Buffalo Bills 26 29 20
2006 Miami Dolphins 4 13 25
2008 Atlanta Falcons 29 14 22
2009 Atlanta Falcons 7 14 13
2010 Atlanta Falcons 8 15 8
2011 Atlanta Falcons 4 8 6
2012 Jacksonville Jaguars 11 21 23

The narrative surrounding Mularkey is that he’s a run-heavy play caller, and his now infamous “exotic smashmouth” plan for 2016 did little to lift that run-first tag. Going back to 2006, though, Mularkey’s offenses run play percentage has been above the league average just twice in his seven seasons as a play caller, including his nine games as the interim head coach for Tennessee last season. 

One might point to the fact that in his four seasons in Atlanta, Mularkey’s team ranked 11th or higher in rush attempts every year, but those teams also ranked in the top 10 in pass attempts in three of those season, suggesting that the high run volume was a function of an offense with massive play volume, rather than the result of intentional run-heavy play calling. 

A closer look at the positional breakdown of the players that have played in a Mularkey system might offer some insight as to why Mularkey has been pegged as a play caller with a run-heavy offensive philosophy.

Quarterbacks

QB Per Game Averages
Completions Attempts Yards TD Int FP Comp % TD/INT AY/A
19.6 33.0 223.4 1.34 0.97 13.3 59.5% 1.4 6.3
QB Per Game Averages, by Season
Year Player Completions Attempts Yards TD Int FP Comp % TD/INT AY/A
2001 Pittsburgh Steelers 17.1 28.4 205.9 1.00 0.75 15.6 60.4% 1.3 6.8
2002 Pittsburgh Steelers 21.9 34.4 252.3 1.63 1.38 15.5 63.5% 1.2 6.5
2003 Pittsburgh Steelers 19.1 33.3 221.8 1.19 1.06 11.4 57.5% 1.1 5.9
2004 Buffalo Bills 16.4 28.8 189.5 1.31 1.06 10.3 56.8% 1.2 5.8
2005 Buffalo Bills 16.8 28.7 178.3 1.13 1.00 10.0 58.6% 1.1 5.4
2006 Miami Dolphins 21.4 36.9 223.6 1.00 1.19 11.2 57.9% 0.8 5.1
2008 Atlanta Falcons 16.6 27.1 215.0 1.00 0.69 12.1 61.1% 1.5 7.5
2009 Atlanta Falcons 20.8 35.6 231.1 1.63 1.06 14.1 58.2% 1.5 6.1
2010 Atlanta Falcons 22.6 36.1 232.8 1.75 0.56 15.6 62.6% 3.1 6.7
2011 Atlanta Falcons 22.8 37.1 272.8 1.81 0.81 17.4 61.4% 2.2 7.3
2012 Jacksonville Jaguars 20.5 36.6 234.1 1.25 1.06 12.8 56.0% 1.2 5.8

In 11 seasons as the primary play caller, Mularkey has had a quarterback finish in the top 12 at his position in fantasy scoring just twice -- and just once since in his last 10 seasons. As a group, quarterbacks under Mularkey have combined for a touchdown rate of just 4.04 percent, a TD per attempt ratio that would have ranked 25th among quarterbacks in 2015 (minimum 100 attempts). 

Combine the touchdown rate with a completion percentage that would have ranked 31st and an AY/A that would have tied for 30th in 2015, and to say that Mularkey’s quarterbacks have been inefficient would be an understatement. Ultimately, the effectiveness of players, especially quarterbacks, comes down to individual capability, but there’s no evidence that Mularkey has put his signal callers in the best position to optimize their abilities.

Running Backs

Total RB Per Game Averages
Touches Receptions Total Yards PPR FP % of Team Touches
26.8 3.4 120.9 19.5 60.0%
Total RB Per Game Averages, by Season
Year Touches Receptions Total Yards PPR FP % of Team Touches
2001 31.6 2.9 154.3 22.4 59.3%
2002 30.7 4.5 134.5 23.0 57.0%
2003 29.6 4.3 118.5 19.5 63.0%
2004 29.8 2.3 120.9 19.7 63.9%
2005 26.8 3.6 112.6 17.0 61.5%
2006 25.9 3.6 122.6 17.6 55.8%
2008 34.3 3.6 174.4 29.4 66.5%
2009 29.4 4.1 145.4 24.6 60.2%
2010 32.3 4.5 142.9 25.2 60.1%
2011 29.5 4.3 141.1 24.1 57.7%
2012 23.8 3.9 107.8 16.3 55.4%
RB1 Per Games Averages
Touches Receptions Total Yards PPR FP % of RB Touches
19.5 1.3 86.5 13.3 64.4%
RB1 Per Games Averages, by Season
Year Player Touches Receptions Total Yards PPR FP % of RB Touches
2001 Jerome Bettis 21.2 0.7 101.8 12.8 67.0%
2002 Amos Zereoue 14.7 2.6 68.9 10.9 47.9%
2003 Jerome Bettis 16.2 0.8 56.1 8.7 54.6%
2004 Willis McGahee 19.1 1.4 81.1 14.1 64.3%
2005 Willis McGahee 22.1 1.8 89.1 12.5 82.3%
2006 Ronnie Brown 21.1 2.5 98.8 14.4 81.3%
2008 Michael Turner 23.9 0.4 108.8 17.4 69.6%
2009 Michael Turner 16.6 0.5 82.4 13.8 56.5%
2010 Michael Turner 21.6 0.8 91.0 14.2 67.1%
2011 Michael Turner 19.9 1.1 94.3 14.4 67.4%
2012 Maurice Jones-Drew 16.7 2.3 83.3 12.3 50.5%

A look at team touch share and backfield touch share offers some insight as to why Mularkey has been pegged with the run-heavy tag. On average, his running backs have accounted for 60 percent of his team’s total touches, a figure that would have ranked ninth in the league in 2015. That touch share has waned in recent years though, and in 2015 Tennessee backs accounted for just 52.7 percent of the team’s touches with Mularkey in charge.

What really stands out is how heavily Mularkey has leaned on a feature back. The average lead back in a Mularkey offense has accounted for a 64.4 percent of backfield touches, which would have ranked seventh among running backs last season. In the nine games that Mularkey called plays for the Titans last year, no running back accounted for more than 50 percent of the backfield touches -- a trend that could come into play in 2016 given the presence of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry in the same backfield.

Wide Receivers

WR1 Per Game Averages
Targets Receptions Rec Yards Rec TD PPR FP % of Team Targets
9.7 5.6 69.2 0.46 15.5 30.1%
WR1 Per Game Averages, by Season
Year Player Games Targets Receptions Rec Yards Rec TD PPR FP % of Team Targets
2001 Hines Ward 16 9.1 5.9 62.7 0.25 14.2 32.5%
2002 Hines Ward 16 10.0 7.0 83.1 0.75 20.7 29.4%
2003 Hines Ward 16 9.8 5.9 72.7 0.63 17.3 29.7%
2004 Eric Moulds 16 9.5 5.5 65.2 0.31 14.0 34.2%
2005 Eric Moulds 15 8.6 5.4 54.4 0.27 12.4 29.1%
2006 Chris Chambers 16 9.6 3.7 42.3 0.25 10.0 26.5%
2008 Roddy White 16 9.3 5.5 86.4 0.44 16.8 34.7%
2009 Roddy White 16 10.3 5.3 72.1 0.69 16.7 30.2%
2010 Roddy White 16 11.2 7.2 86.8 0.63 19.6 31.2%
2011 Roddy White 16 11.3 6.3 81.0 0.50 17.4 30.9%
2012 Justin Blackmon 16 8.3 4.0 54.1 0.31 11.4 22.8%
WR2 Per Game Averages
Targets Receptions Rec Yards Rec TD PPR FP % of Team Targets
6.7 3.7 56.5 0.33 11.5 19.5%
WR2 Per Game Averages, by Season
Year Player Games Targets Receptions Rec Yards Rec TD PPR FP % of Team Targets
2001 Plaxico Burress 16 7.5 4.1 63.0 0.38 12.7 26.9%
2002 Plaxico Burress 16 9.0 4.9 82.8 0.44 15.8 26.4%
2003 Plaxico Burress 16 7.8 3.8 53.8 0.25 10.6 23.6%
2004 Lee Evans 16 4.6 3.0 52.7 0.56 12.2 16.6%
2005 Lee Evans 16 5.8 3.0 46.4 0.44 10.5 20.8%
2006 Wes Welker 16 6.3 4.2 42.9 0.06 8.9 17.2%
2008 Michael Jenkins 16 5.1 3.1 48.6 0.19 9.1 19.0%
2009 Michael Jenkins 15 6.0 3.3 42.3 0.07 8.0 16.5%
2010 Michael Jenkins 11 6.6 3.7 45.9 0.18 9.4 12.7%
2011 Julio Jones 13 7.3 4.2 73.8 0.62 15.7 16.3%
2012 Cecil Shorts 14 7.5 3.9 69.9 0.50 13.9 18.1%

Rare is it that a coach relies heavily on a particular position across multiple teams and situations, but Mularkey has seemingly made it a point to force feed his number one wide receiver. Just once has the top wide receiver in a Mularkey-led offense accounted for less than a quarter of its targets, and the average market share for Mularkey’s top wideout would have ranked fourth among all wide receivers in 2015.

WR2s under Mularkey have seen a relatively large target market share as well. Their target share of 19.5 percent would have ranked 31st among receivers in 2015, but as is often the case with the second wide receiver, market share depends on available ancillary options, such as the tight end or a pass catching running back. With other mouths to feed in the passing game, a number two wide receiver's numbers can easily suffer. Given the choice between a number two receiver and an effective pass-catching tight end, Mularkey won’t discriminate against his tight end as the secondary receiving option, and in some cases may even make the tight end the primary receiving threat.

Tight Ends

Primary TE Per Game Averages
Targets Receptions Rec Yards Rec TD PPR FP % of Team Targets
4.4 2.8 28.4 0.23 7.0 12.1%
Primary TE Per Game Averages, by Season
Year Player Games Targets Receptions Rec Yards Rec TD PPR FP % of Team Targets
2001 Mark Bruener 9 2.1 1.3 10.9 0.00 2.4 7.6%
2002 Mark Bruener 12 1.5 1.1 5.5 0.08 2.1 4.4%
2003 Jay Riemersma 11 2.1 0.9 12.5 0.09 2.7 6.4%
2004 Mark Campbell 12 2.5 1.4 16.9 0.42 5.6 9.0%
2005 Mark Campbell 14 2.1 1.4 9.9 0.00 2.4 7.5%
2006 Randy McMichael 16 6.0 3.9 40.0 0.19 9.0 16.5%
2008 Justin Peelle 16 1.4 0.9 9.9 0.13 2.7 5.4%
2009 Tony Gonzalez 16 8.4 5.2 54.2 0.38 12.9 24.5%
2010 Tony Gonzalez 16 6.8 4.4 41.0 0.38 10.7 18.8%
2011 Tony Gonzalez 16 7.3 5.0 54.7 0.44 13.1 19.9%
2012 Marcedes Lewis 16 4.8 3.3 33.8 0.25 8.1 13.3%

Early in his play calling career, Mularkey almost completely ignored tight ends in the passing game. Given a dominant receiving threat and a more pass-friendly league, though, Mularkey hasn’t hesitated to make his tight end a dominant force. In three seasons under Mularkey, Tony Gonzalez averaged 21.1 percent of the team’s receiving targets, a target share that would have ranked fourth among tight ends in 2015. Last season, Delanie Walker accounted for 29 percent of Tennessee’s targets with Mularkey calling plays, while no other tight end finished 2015 with more than a quarter of their team’s targets.

What This Means for 2016

Mularkey may prove to be the most curious case of play callers with new landing spots in 2016. His stint in 2015 as the Titans' primary play caller should theoretically provide some understanding of how Tennessee’s offense will look this season. However, his tendencies over a small sample last year went against many of his past trends and the Tennessee depth chart is again expected to be shaken up in 2016.

After playing just 12 games as a rookie, the verdict is still out on Marcus Mariota. Given the depth at quarterback in fantasy football, if Mariota is catapulted into the QB1 ranks it will likely be due to a tremendous season on the ground. Nothing in Mularkey’s past suggests that he will use scheme or play calling to turn an average quarterback into a fantasy stud. 

Besides Mularkey’s seemingly handicapping effect on quarterbacks, maybe the greatest obstacle to Mariota’s growth, as well as to Mularkey’s traditional gameplan, is the lack of a dominant number one wide receiver. If that prominent outside target does emerge, many believe it will be Dorial Green-Beckham

Consider the rest of the Titans’ depth chart at wide receiver:

  • Kendall Wright is now three years removed from his 90-plus catch season and has struggled to stay healthy.
  • Harry Douglas is nothing more than a complementary number three, at best.
  • Justin Hunter has never caught more than 28 balls in his three years in the league.
  • Newly signed Rishard Matthews was targeted just 61 times on a 2015 Dolphins offense that was desperate for a consistent second receiving option.

DGB fits the physical profile of a bona fide number one. He is the only projected starting receiver on the Tennessee roster over six feet tall, and PlayerProfiler.com lists Marques Colston as DGB’s closest NFL comp. Add the fact that Green-Beckham accounted for 17.3 percent of the team targets as a rookie when Mularkey was calling the plays, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to project the second year wideout for well over a fifth of the team’s target market share in an offense where play caller Mularkey likes to focus in on two main targets.

While the wide receiver target share has potential to get a bit muddy in Tennessee, probably the safest bet in this offense is that Delanie Walker will retain his role as one of the most heavily targeted tight ends in the game. As I alluded to earlier, Walker accounted for 29 percent of the team’s targets under Mularkey last season and finished the year with 24.7 percent of the Titans’ total targets. Outside of Greg Olsen, there might not be another tight end besides Walker that comes close to a 25 percent target market share. Given Mularkey’s propensity to favor his best receiving threat, Walker should be drafted as a top five tight end with no reservations.

The puzzle that could leave everyone scratching their heads going into 2016 is how Mularkey will handle the Titans’ backfield. Tennessee traded for DeMarco Murray earlier in the offseason, presumably to be the team’s workhorse, but then spent a second round pick on Derrick Henry, who has arguably the best comp in history.

DeMarco is still expected to carry the load, but given that just six running backs accounted for over 64 percent of their team’s backfield touches in 2015, it’s unlikely that Murray will see the typical touch share of a Mularkey lead back. If Tennessee’s percent of run plays does increase from last season, as expected, then Murray could still approach 300 touches, but that would be an absolute best-case scenario.

The following table highlights various scenrios for Murray's 2016 touches based on projections vs Tennessee's 2015 running back touch totals: 

DeMarco Murray 2016 Range of Outcomes, Total Touches
Tennessee RB Touches
Backfield Touch Share 2015 Total - 392 Touches 10% Increase from 2015 - 431 2015 League Average - 444 15% Increase from 2015 - 451 20% Increase from 2015  - 470
55% 216 237 244 248 259
60% 235 259 266 271 282
65% 255 280 289 293 306

Mularkey is used to a workhorse back, a dominant number one wide receiver, and a consistent secondary receiving option, be it the number two wideout or the tight end. Running the show for Mularkey is usually a serviceable, yet unspectacular, quarterback. For this iteration of Mularkey’s offense to take place in 2016, there will have to be drastic changes in Tennessee this season.

 

Editor's Note: Early bird rates for 4for4's Premium and DFS Subscriptions are available now here.


1. Ten teams will have new full time play callers in 2016, but five of those coaches have never called plays for an entire season in the NFL. 

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