The Titans have had one of the most lopsided running back rotations in the league in the past three seasons. Derrick Henry led the NFL in fast carries, yards and TDs in 2019 and 2020 and was able to do it again in 2021.
But now he’s hurt. he is struggling with a broken bone in his right foot which will probably end its season.
Henry has handled 219 carries this season for the Titans. Other running backs who have played for Tennessee have only 11 this season. He has accounted for nearly 80% of the Titans’ yards ran this season and has far outstripped the other backs on the roster.
The question now is who will step up and replace Henry? They have some inside options, but the first pick – Darrynton Evans in the third round of 2020 – landed on the IR for the second time before Sunday’s game and is consequently out for the season.
This is one of the reasons why the Titans immediately brought in outside help. Tennessee signed 36-year-old veteran Adrian Peterson to his training team with the intention of elevating him to the active roster. He will have a chance to compete for the carry in the Titans backfield rotation right away.
Here’s a look at what the Titans have in the running back position with Henry’s season likely over.
Titans RB depth chart
1. Adrian Peterson
He may be new to the Titans, but Tennessee acted very quickly to sign Peterson after working him. The 36-year-old veteran is in his fifteenth season, but has nonetheless proved he can be an effective part of a rotation.
Last season, Peterson scored 604 yards and seven running touchdowns for the Lions. He averaged only 3.9 yards per transport, but most importantly, he was able to average 10 transports per game. He can still be an effective part of a rotation and still retains some of his explosive directing prowess.
At 6-1,220 pounds, Peterson is the largest of Tennessee’s true running backs and will likely be asked to carry a good portion of the workload between tackles. He won’t come close to Henry’s 30 touches per game, but getting close to 15 will likely be his goal as he drives this back-by-commission approach.
2. Jeremy McNichols
McNichols was the only healthy running back on the Titans’ 53-man roster following Henry’s injury prior to Peterson’s signing. The team wore two shoulders on the roster and two on the training team after placing Evans on IR. While Peterson plans to eventually emerge as a starter, McNichols will still play a significant role with Henry out.
Henry played about 71 percent of the Titans shots before his injury. McNichols, a fifth-year pro, ranks second among the team’s running backs and has played just over 25% of snaps. He carried the ball seven times for 38 yards and averaged 4.4 yards per career goal.
That said, McNichols’ most important role is to be an off-court receiver. He has received 21 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown this season. This is good for second yards received on the Titans and this includes an eight-trick and 74-yard exit against the Jets in week 4.
The 5-9, 205-pound back is certainly not the same among Henry’s tackle weapon, but it should give the Titans a more powerful receiving option off the court. It will work as a good support for Peterson and may see more carries early during AP’s first few weeks with the Titans.
3. Dontrell Hilliard
Hilliard signed with the Titans on October 8th. 27. He was originally added to the training team for additional depth following Evans’ injury. He could be promoted to the active roster as number 1 on the team. 3 back after Henry’s injury.
Hilliard (5-11, 202 pounds) joined the NFL in 2018 as a Tulane free agent. The Browns employed him as a backup and returning man during his nearly three-year spell in Cleveland. In 30 games with the Browns, Hilliard amassed 97 yards on the run and two TDs on 22 carries. He also received 22 passes for 199 yards.
For the Titans, Hilliard represents a depth option with years of NFL experience and some gameplay action. This could give him an edge over the other player on the team’s training team, even though Hilliard is the most recent signer.
4. D’Onta Foreman
The Titans initially had Mekhi Sargent as their fourth option on the training team, but decided to add more experience to help replace Henry.
Foreman continues to tour AFC South. He played for the Texans, Colts and Titans throughout his career as well as the Falcons. He actually played six games for Tennessee last season and racked up 95 yards over 22 courses. He’s a big back at 6-1,236lbs, so maybe they brought him back to serve as a reserve power runner.
Foreman may not see much time to play for the Titans, but maybe they will take turns trying him and Hilliard. Foreman has been in the Titans system before, so this could give him an edge over any competition for a third string role. He and Hilliard are very close in the pecking order and could alternate weeks like No. 3 back, depending on the matchup.
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5. Khari Blasingame
Blasingame is a Titans full-back and has been with the team since the middle of the 2019 season, when he was signed on by the Vikings training team. He played in running back at Vanderbilt, but during his pro career he turned into a 6-0, 233-pound block.
Blasingame has never recorded a carry in 27 career games, but he is the biggest remaining back of the Titans. As such, he could see an occasional reach within a short distance of the formation of the I. He also has eight holds for 93 yards in his career, so don’t be surprised if you hear him catch the ball sometimes with the Titans looking to substitute nearly 30 touches per game.