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Tennessee Titans 2016 Position Review: Running Back

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Our series continues with a look at the Tennessee Titans Running Backs. The Titans should theoretically have a stacked backfield. They got their man in 2014, selecting the first RB off the board. They added another promising young talent the next year through the draft. And on top of that, they have a veteran guy who can be a versatile role player. That sounds well and good, except that those three players are Bishop Sankey, David Cobb, and Dexter McCluster. And the one who saw the most action? That happens not to be any of these guys, but UDFA Antonio Andrews, who is solid but unspectacular. Due to offensive line chaos and ineffective play-calling, the Titans run game spent most of 2015 in shambles. The lack of support for Mariota and how unbalanced it made the offense was painfully noticeable for a majority of the season.

David Cobb

The rookie didn’t play much in 2015 due to a preseason injury. Landing on the IR-return list sidelined him until late in the year, but during that time he did flash some of the promise he was drafted for. This was most noticeable in the final game of the year against Indianapolis. Cobb looks to be a good bet on landing the starting job next year, barring the introduction of yet more newcomers into the Titans backfield. It would be risky to put all the marbles on any RB, however; let alone one who didn’t really get a ton of exposure in his rookie season. Cobb doesn’t offer much out of the backfield as a pass-catcher, but he is an instinctual runner with a physical streak. Hopefully we get to see him blossom next season.

Bishop Sankey

After being selected high by Tennessee in the 2014 draft, Sankey has played less and less. He was a healthy scratch often in 2014. While Sylvester Croom and the rest of the Titans staff defended him, claiming it was due to game-planning for specific opponents, it was easy to tell that he was not the favored RB in the building. Sankey far too often runs with little authority, and he had his fair share of fumbles. He should also be a far more dangerous weapon out of the backfield than he has been thus far. There’s little telling what the next staff do with Sankey, or whether he will even be a Titan in 2016 at all.

Dexter McCluster

With one more year left on a fairly handsome deal, McCluster gives the Titans offense some flexibility. His speed on outside tosses and off-tackle runs is noticeable. He is a leader, and he gives his all between the sticks. That said he is diminutive, and a complement back as opposed to a feature runner. The next staff should do more to utilize him, as his versatility has been mostly wasted thus far in his Titans career. After saying all the right things in camp each year, the staff proceeded to run him inside into stacked boxes far too often. There was a glaring misunderstanding of how to use McCluster, and it led to a lot of frustration, both on the field and in the stands. He ended the 2015 season early with a broken wrist.

Antonio Andrews

Andrews is a physical runner at his core, and like McCluster, he gives everything he’s got when he gets the ball. Like other plodding bruisers at the position, he lacks a fair amount of flare and will rarely produce big plays. That said, a better offensive line would go a long way in making his reliable forward progress balance this offense. He has polarized fans and analysts like, but it is clear the past Titans staff liked him. I’ll be interested to see if that carries over into the new regime, whoever that may be. As it stands, he is at the top of the depth chart for 2016 along with David Cobb.

The Titans need to fix their backfield, but I would recommend against doing so through the draft. The lack of good running backs in this crop is noticeable, especially considering where the Titans are most likely to be picking. I think the new staff will realize there is more potential in this current RB crop than we have seen due to the struggles of the offensive line and the lack of credible threats at WR. The ability to stack the box and play one-on-one with struggling receivers is a huge asset for opposing DC’s. On top of that, Whisenhunt’s proclivity for stacking the box and running from heavy formations only exacerbated the problem, especially considering the type of running backs at the team’s disposal. Hopefully by the time next year, we are talking about a resurgent Titans running game. Right now, the group is doing little to help Tennessee take the heat off of Mariota, and win football games.

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