The Titans have had one of the most uneven running back rotations in the league in the last three seasons. Derrick Henry led the NFL in carries, rushing yards and TD rushing in 2019 and 2020 and was on track to do so again in 2021.
But now he’s hurt. He is dealing with a broken right foot that will likely end his season.
Henry has handled 219 carries this season for the Titans. Other running backs who have played for Tennessee have just 11 on the season. He has accounted for nearly 80 percent of the Titans rushing yards this season and has vastly outstripped other running backs on the roster.
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The question now is, who will step up and replace Henry? They have some inside options, but the main one, 2020 third-round pick Darrynton Evans, landed on IR for the second time before Sunday’s game and is out of season as a result.
That’s part of the reason the Titans immediately brought in outside help. Tennessee Adrian Peterson, 36-year veteran to his practice squad with plans to elevate him to the active roster. He will have a chance to compete for the carry right away in the Titans’ backfield rotation.
Here’s a look at what the Titans have at running back with Henry’s season likely over.
Titans RB Depth Chart
1. Adrian Peterson
He may be new to the Titans, but Tennessee was quick to sign Peterson after training him. The 36-year veteran is in his 15th season, but he has still shown that he can be an effective part of a rotation.
Last season, Peterson had 604 yards and seven rushing touchdowns for the Lions. He averaged only 3.9 yards per carry, but more importantly, he was able to average 10 carries per game. He can still be an effective part of a rotation and still retains some of his explosive playmaking ability.
At 6-1, 220 pounds, Peterson is Tennessee’s biggest true running back and will likely be asked to carry a good chunk of the workload between tackles. He won’t get anywhere near Henry’s 30 touches per game, but getting closer to 15 will likely be his goal as he leads this committee 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 had two backs on the roster and two on the practice team after placing Evans on IR. While Peterson envisions he will eventually emerge as a starter, McNichols will continue to play an important role with Henry out.
Henry played about 71 percent of the Titans’ plays before his injury. McNichols, a fifth-year pro, ranks second among the team’s running backs and has played just over 25 percent of plays. He has carried the ball seven times for 38 yards and averages 4.4 yards per carry in his career.
That said, McNichols’ most important role appears to be as a catcher outside the backfield. He has caught 21 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown this season. That’s good for the Titans’ second-most receiving yards and that includes a 74-yard outing with eight receptions against the Jets in Week 4.
The 5-9, 205-pound running back is certainly not the same among tackling weapon as Henry, but it should give the Titans a more potent receiving option outside the backfield. He’ll work as a good complement for Peterson and could see more carries early during AP’s first few weeks with the Titans.
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3. Dontrell Hilliard
Hilliard signed with the Titans on October 27. He was originally added to the practice squad to dig deeper in the wake of Evans’ injury. He could be promoted to the active roster as the team’s third running back after Henry’s injury.
Hilliard (5-11, 202 pounds) came to the NFL in 2018 as a free agent from Tulane. The Browns employed him as a backup and returner during his nearly three years in Cleveland. In 30 games with the Browns, Hilliard had 97 rushing yards and two TDs on 22 carries. He also caught 22 passes for 199 yards.
For the Titans, Hilliard represents a depth option with years of NFL experience and some in-game action. That can give him an advantage over the other player on the team’s practice squad, even if Hilliard is the most recent signer.
4. Mekhi Sargent
Sargent made the Titans’ 53-man roster to start the season as an undrafted free agent in Iowa. He weighs 5-8, 208 pounds and amassed 1,740 rushing yards and 20 TDs in three seasons with the Hawkeyes.
While on the starting 53-man roster, Sargent played in just two games and recorded two offensive plays for the Titans. He totaled four yards on two carries in that span and was suspended Oct. 23 before re-signing with the practice team.
Sargent may have a chance to play something for the Titans down the road, but given that they elevated the recently signed Hilliard ahead of him for the team’s Week 8 game against the Colts, he seems to be a bit behind in the race for No. 3 place, although it might not be much.
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5. Khari Blasingame
Blasingame is a fullback for the Titans and has been with the team since the middle of the 2019 season when he was signed from the Vikings practice team. He played running back for Vanderbilt, but has become a 6-0, 233-pound blocker during his professional career.
Blasingame has never recorded a carry in 27 career games, but he is the best remaining running back the Titans have. As such, he could see an occasional close-range performance of the I formation. He also has eight receptions for 93 yards in his career, so don’t be surprised if you hear him catch the ball every now and then with the Titans looking to replace nearly 30 touches. per game.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.