In any industry, change brings casualties.
Once Walmart decided to sell everything every human could possibly need at a reasonable price, small businesses died like the bubonic plague had hit them. Once there was a general understanding of the internet’s potential, the newspaper industry took repeated gut punches.
Similarly, the NFL is constantly changing, and with these changes, comes a depreciation of a particular positions value.
For example, from 1991 to 2000, five running backs won league MVP. Since 2001, only three running backs have received that honor, including only one since 2007.
Yet, the debate over a running back’s value props its head up year after year. Analysts continue to say teams must “run to set up the pass” or that offenses have to be “balanced.” However, there is enough data to comfortably claim the following — running backs don’t hold that much value, especially if they’re drafted in the top ten.
Since 2010, six running backs have been drafted in the top ten — CJ Spiller, Trent Richardson, Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette, and Christian McCaffrey. Of the six, two aren’t on an NFL roster (Spiller and Richardson), one is clearly not cut to be an every-down back (McCaffrey), one plays on a team that was undefeated without his services in the regular season (Fournette), and two are All-Pro caliber players with zero playoff victories (Gurley and Elliott).
Clearly, drafting a running back in the top ten isn’t what wins championships. In fact, the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl with a backfield that consisted of a fourth-round pick and a pair of undrafted free agents.
Luckily for the Tennessee Titans, they don’t face a running back dilemma, and they aren’t in a position to overdraft a running back. Derrick Henry — a second-round pick — is a proven workhorse back, while Dion Lewis — a fifth-round pick — is the receiving threat out of the backfield the Titans offense sorely lacked in 2017.
Despite Tennessee’s promising backfield, it never hurts to strengthen a strength. So here are two names the Titans should target in the upcoming draft.
John Kelly – Tennessee
At Tennessee, John Kelly had a knack for “running angry.”
His ability to create yards after contact made him one of the more entertaining running backs in college football. While that ability is certainly an added bonus, Kelly’s biggest asset is his production in the passing game.
Not only was Kelly the Vols’ leading in rushing yards, but he was tied for first in receptions (37) and had a chance at finishing first in receiving yards had he played the entire season.
Aside from his ability to catch passes out of the backfield, Kelly is a solid pass protector, an absolutely vital skill for a running back to have in a modern NFL offense.
Kelly’s versatility is important because his presence in the backfield won’t make the Titans’ offense predictable, which is the Achilles heel of Derrick Henry, who struggles with pass protection.
Nyheim Hines – NC State
Hines isn’t the blocker or ferocious runner that Kelly is, but he has a similar build to Dion Lewis and has the potential to be absolutely lethal in the passing game.
Although he wasn’t utilized often in the passing game during his junior season at NC State, Hines finished with 43 receptions and 525 yards during his sophomore season. If Hines can add that level of production out of the backfield at the professional level, then he would be an absolute steal in the later rounds.
Plus, he adds this dimension in the kickoff return game:
What the Tennessee Titans should do
Kelly should be the team’s top target of the two running backs because of his production at all levels of running back play, but at the end of the day, the Titans should find value at the running back position where the true value is — the later rounds.
Drafting Kelly in the third round or Hines in the fourth/fifth round is the ideal scenario, as it not only saves money in the future, but provides Marcus Mariota with versatile weapons, something he didn’t have in 2017.
Featured images via the Associated Press