S.W.O.T. Analysis: Running Back

The legal tampering period of free agency starts Monday, March 14. It will be here in no time. So it’s time to take a look at the state of where the Titans’s roster is currently at, and what could be in store for the future.

To do that we are going to use tried and true method of analysis used in business, a S.W.O.T. analysis. For those not familiar with this I will keep it simple a S.W.O.T. analysis analyzes the strength, weakness, opportunities, and threats to either a business, strategy, product, etc. 

For analyzing the Titans position groups, I will be selecting one thing to highlight under each category:

  • Strength: What is the main strength of the position group heading into 2022
  • Weakness: What is the biggest weakness of the position group heading into 2022
  • Opportunity: What’s an area of opportunity that the position group can improve upon, or an opportunity the team can exploit to improve
  • Threat: What is an external or internal threat to the position group that can bring them crashing down

I’ve already covered the quarterback group here.

Today let’s to start with the Running Back group.

Position Review

Including fullbacks, the Tennessee Titans saw eight different running backs get carries this offseason. This was mainly due to the injuries sustained by the starter Derrick Henry and the supposed secure in his role back-up, Darrynton Evans.

At this point everyone knows the story on the season ending injury to Henry. So let’s review the other running backs. Adrian Peterson tried to fill his shoes, but was probably rushed out there too quickly and looked every bit his age.

Journeyman running back,Jeremy McNichols, who saw success catching the ball and some success on the ground, was cut in a surprising move in favor of Dontrell Hilliard and D’Onta Foreman.

Foreman and Hilliard exceeded expectations as fill ins for Henry, but both had their flaws. Foreman’s vision was an issue. Hilliard was the unluckiest running back when it came to screens. On top of that both had ball security issues.

Tory Carter quickly became a fan favorite, and while being a fullback isn’t a sexy position, he was the better of the two when it comes to the fullback room.

Position Preview

  • Positional Spending: $17,049,416
  • Top Cap Hit: Derrick Henry $15,000,000
  • Under Contract
    • Derrick Henry: 2 yrs left
    • Darrynton Evans: 2 yrs left
    • Tory Carter: 1 yr left/ $825k
  • Pending Free Agents
    • D’Onta Foreman
    • Dontrell Hilliard
    • Khari Blasingame – RFA

Obviously Henry is the main guy in the running back room, as he will be as motivated as anyone on any earth in the multiverse to get 2k rushing next year. His contract is very high, but you can fix that easily with a simple restructure.

Evans I think is a guy that can easily be cut, but he costs so very little, I don’t think he will be a cap casualty right away, unless the Titans just hate his mentality for some reason.

D’Onta Foreman is the guy everyone wants to bring back, and a lot of people think he earned the right to start somewhere else. I have a few issues with this, because he’s already bounced around, and obviously this system works for him, and the teams he’s been on, it either doesn’t work out, and he cuts, or they just have better guys.

The other issue is that people aren’t going to pay running backs a lot, and especially not a running back like Foreman, so I think he will be an easy player to either re-sign, or a player you wait out and let him see how cold his market is.

I think Hilliard is your solution to Jeremy McNichols. Hilliard is a bigger threat on the ground, and I don’t think there is an entirely huge gap between him and McNichols. The issue here will be how the Titans feel about Evans and the free agency class.

Strength: The Run Scheme

Obviously getting back a healthy Derrick Henry is a strength, but any fool can gas bag it up about that for a few sentences. However, the biggest strength for the running back room showed up in his absence and that’s the run scheme itself.

I talked about it up there in the review, but I cannot tell you how many wide open holes were missed because all of the running backs, even Henry, were missing wide open holes. Foreman specifically left a lot of yards and potential touchdowns on the field because his vision was so bad.

Running backs not named Derrick Henry rushed for 1,171 rushing yards on this team add in Henry’s total you’re talking about 2,108 rushing yards for all running backs. The entire team ended up 5th in rushing yards in the league and third in rushing touchdowns, again without Henry for most of the year.

That goes to show you that while this isn’t technically a plug and play system, it is a conducive system for running backs of a certain style to come in and be productive where they may not be able to else where.

Weakness: Change of Pace Back

The Titans have a real conundrum of what to do when it comes to their “change of pace back”. They haven’t had a truly different style of running back from Henry sine Dion Lewis, and even he wasn’t that efficient when touching the ball.

But lets pose a question, what if the “change of pace” back is of a similar mold to Henry, and the goal of this position is just to lessen his touches, well then you need to re-sign Foreman and just have a dominant two headed monster in the backfield, and rarely miss a beat.

Does that approach help the offense? I think you need a real change of pace receiving threat kind of back in the backfield if you want to see the offense take that next step. Especially with the amount of passes to running backs we saw. You need a guy that can catch out of the backfield but also line up to the outside.

At this point any faith in Evans to be that guy is unwarranted, and Hilliard can easily be replaced or upgraded. The question becomes how do you fix this? Until we see it fixed, it should be considered a massive glaring weakness.

Opportunity: Free Agents

The way to fix the issues above is through free agency. This year in particular has many free agents that can fit that role and improve this team. What’s great is that when the supply exceeds demand you’re going to be able to grab some players cheaper than you expect.

Top of the list for me is J.D. McKissic. As an Antonio Gibson fantasy owner there has been no bigger threat to my sanity than McKissic, but he can truly do it all. He can catch out of the backfield and line up wide and run routes deep from there. Spotrac has his market value at 2yrs/7.1m. That is an absolute steal to improve your roster exponentially.

A name to look out for that is often overlooked is Jalen Richard. Richard has experience with Downing from their time in Oakland together. Since moving to Vegas he has been slowly phased out of their offense. I think that a change of scenery would do him good.

I think the name on the front of everyone’s mind though is former VAWLS running back, Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson went absolutely nuts in a system similar to the one the Titans run. The question is how much money did he earn himself last year and will the Falcons even be willing to let him go in free agency.

If you’re the Titans you would jump at the chance to sign him for not only his dual threat ability from the offensive side, but he’s a triple threat with his returning ability which they desperately need. But again, how much?

Here are some other names out there just to give you an idea of the market. I am going to go from most talented/highest paid to less talent/really cheap:

  • D’Ernest Johnson
  • Leonard Fournette
  • James Conner
  • Chase Edmonds
  • Melvin Gordon
  • Raheem Mostert – Injury Concerns
  • Sony Michel
  • James Whiite
  • Ronald Jones
  • David Johnson
  • Phillip Lindsay
  • Jeff Wilson
  • Wayne Gallman

There are several more that I could’ve included, but the bottom line is, the market is flush with opportunities to turn your weakness into a strength for the Titans.

Threat: Overcompensation

It’s going to sound like I am contradicting myself but I will try to be clear. The biggest threat to thee Titans running back room is the coaching staff is worrying about Henry’s health and overcompensating by taking him off the field for entire drives during games to try and limit his touches.

Henry should get less touches in 2022, but it should be due in part to the passing game taking that next step under Kelly, not because you feel you need to put Foreman in because you just have to pound the ball incessantly. In fact, give Henry the ball more in space, by spreading to run the ball, and have the appearance the offense now runs through AJ Brown, as it should.

The problem with limiting the rushes of Henry via another running back getting those touches is that you take one of your best players off the field for an extended period of time and lose two things you other wise would have: a fantastic play action decoy, and a guy who can generate explosive plays.

So, the biggest threat the Titans running back group faces in 2022 comes from within, and its overcompensating and over correcting for something that happened in 2021.

Conclusion

I talk about it a little bit above, and will talk more on Friday, but the engine that makes this offense go is AJ Brown. While Derrick Henry is an awesome running back, and arguably the best in the NFL, last year showed that you can very much live without his presence on the team due in part to the strength of this run scheme.

However, as I find myself saying over and over, the passing game and run game need to work independently of each other. So the team needs to take their current weakness of not having a pass catching back and take the opportunity to grab one in free agency.

Thats step one towards run/pass independence. Step 2, is lessen’s Henry touches, but because you’re passing more, taking him off the field for extended periods of time can not only hinder your play action some, but lessens the chance you achieve explosive runs with someone else.

When it comes to the running back room, what do you think the S.W.O.T.’s are? Leave a comment below!

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