The Oliers / Titans franchise have a rich tradition at the running back position. When you think of the faces of the franchise over the years, the running back position is just as prominent as the quarterback position. As the Titans transition into a new era, a new running back gets to take center stage. Luckily for rookie 2nd round draft pick Bishop Sankey, he will not have the pressure of filling the shoes of his predecessors.
And boy are those some shoes to fill.
It all started with Earl Campbell, the bruising rb that terrorized defenses in the late 70's..early 80's. In 1978, his rookie campaign, Campbell lead the league in rushing. Not only was he Offensive Rookie of the Year, he also earned NFL Offensive Player of the Year as well. Campbell went on to lead the league in rushing his first three seasons, and boasted four 200 yard games...in 1980 alone. Campbell is now a member of the Hall of Fame, and beloved fan favorite.
In 1996, The Oilers drafted rb Eddie George with their first pick. He too, went on to become the Offensive Rookie of the Year that season. George earned four consecutive pro bowl appearances, numerous playoff victories, and the franchise's first Super Bowl appearance, putting on a second half show for the ages with two tds in a heartbreaking near comeback. Along with Jim Brown, George is the only other player in NFL history to amass 10,000 yards without missing a start. But he should be best known for being the face of a franchise in transition. When the Oilers officially became the Titans, Eddie was front and center. He is still a beloved Titans legend, and resides in Nashville to this day.
Shortly after George's retirement, the Titans selected a rb named Chris Johnson with their first pick. Although he wasn't rookie of the year (finished 2nd to Atl qb Matt Ryan), he put over 1,500 total yards and 10 total tds that season...all while splitting time with then starting rb LenDale White. In his second season, and first as a starter, Johnson ran for an NFL leading 2,006 yards...becoming only the 7th player in the history of the league to accomplish that feat. He also earned NFL Offensive Player of the Year honors that year. In six seasons, Johnson became the franchise's third leading rusher (7,965 rush yds, 9,968 total yds, 58 total tds)...behind the above mentioned Campbell and George.
Which brings us to Sankey
. Yes, CJ's last few years in Tennessee were rocky. And yes, he is the only one listed that is not beloved by the city to this day. And yes, he was the face of the franchise (even if by default) the past few years. Even with all that said, Sankey should feel no pressure to replace him...or any of those franchise legends. Because at this point, Titans fans just want to win. Part of the reason that fans grew tired of CJ was because he always seemed satisfied as long as he got his...(money and touches)...even if the team lost. He never seemed too concerned about making the playoffs. We don't care if it's Sankey, Greene, or McCluster carrying the ball, we just want a conversion on third and short...however and whoever gets it done.
Sankey won't be the focal point coming into training camp, the quarterback will. Sankey will also not be the focal point of defenses, at least not right away. And Titans fans would love it that way. Under the last regime, which seemed like the last 30 years, Tennessee stuck with that ground and pound approach, even when it was clearly obvious that the NFL had transitioned into a passing league. We'd prefer to see our young talented receivers take center stage. The only thing we want Sankey to do is to hold on to the ball and to fight for yards on every attempt. If he wants to be remembered as an all time fan favorite, then Sankey just needs to be part of the reason that we make it back to the playoffs on a regular basis again.