The consensus of fans and media seem to be that the Titans have a need at running back now that Chris Johnson is officially off the roster. Recent mocks have Tennessee's second- or fourth-rounder going to a running back, but is it really worth selecting a back that high?
Most of you know by now how I feel about the running back position. In my opinion it is imperative that running backs don't fumble often, make the right reads and maximize each play. I would also argue that it isn't that hard to find players that meet those requirements, and as a result, feel strongly that it is in the Titans' best interests to de-value that position. With Shonn Greene and Dexter McCluster on the roster there certainly is a need for another player - I just don't think it has to be a high draft choice.
With that in mind I scouted several late round backs (mostly 5th-6th projections) and found a player that I really like: James White.
Is He Any Good?
The short answer is yes. White excelled at Wisconsin this year, putting up 1444 yards on 221 carries for a stellar 6.5 yard average. He found the endzone 15 times (13 of which were rushes) on top of that. He finished his Wisconsin career with 4015 yards rushing over four years and only fumbled twice in 754 career touches (rush+rec+return). He also chipped in 300 receiving yards in 2013 too.
He doesn't just look good on paper though. There is plenty to like on the game tape too. The first thing that stood out to me was his vision. I loved his reads. He knows where the play is supposed to go and is able to execute well. There were some plays he got stuffed in the backfield, but really had no other option. While those plays were clearly breakdowns for a variety of reasons, he at least wouldn't compound the problem.
He possesses a great first cut and works well between the tackles. White is small (5'9 or 5'10, depending on who you believe) but certainly exceeded my expectations on inside runs. He can hit the hole and make the first guy miss. I thought he did this quite often in the games I watched, though I don't have numbers to back this up.
So What's Dropping His Stock?
Well, he's definitely small and we know NFL teams put a lot of emphasis on measurables. To me his size isn't a big deal. White isn't going to bowl over defenders or drag a safety an extra few yards but then again not a lot of backs do. Its crucial that backs are able to avoid contact effectively anyways.
There are definitely a few more concerns other than his diminutive stature unfortunately. White's never been the feature back in Wisconsin's offense. This in itself isn't a huge deal. Digging deeper though its easy to find questions. His backfield partner this year, Melvin Gordon, also put up outstanding yard totals (1609 yds, 7.8 ypc) and that should at least make us look a little more skeptically at White's solid season too. How much of his success is a result of the Wisconsin O-line?
Perhaps the biggest issue is that its hard to find something that White excels at. He seems to be good at fulfilling his role but doesn't possess superb speed or play extremely physically. He strikes me as average, and this is where scouts, fans and media will knock him. It is perhaps where many of you will sour on him as well.
Why Would We Draft Him Then?
Its going to come down to how you view the running back position. I wasn't looking for someone that special - and frankly, I'm not sure you'll find someone that like in a later round (if you want to see what I've found on the other late round prospects, let me know in the comments and I'll give each their own post). I think the difference between a mid-round or late-round back is smaller than most people believe, and that is why I would be fine with James White as a fifth-round pick. He's worked well in a time-share before and does everything I want in a running back. He's going to be as good as his offensive line (good thing we just took Wisconsin's O-line coach too!). If the Titans want someone to go beyond that, I can almost guarantee that James White won't fit that mold. Still, linking the offensive line and running back play is something we've learned the hard way with the Titans these past few seasons. The team has worked hard to correct the offensive line issues and having a back that can make the right reads should be enough to result in a vastly improved run game. That goal can be accomplished with a pairing of Shonn Greene and James White.