While the 2016 was probably the best-case scenario for the Titans, the shift has officially focused to 2017. Jon Robinson has set the franchise up for success, but he absolutely must capitalize on their great position this off-season. With two first round picks, and some of the most cap room in the league, the Titans are poised to take the next step, and quite possibly emerge as a legitimate contender. While there is no linear path to success, I have formed a checklist of things that I personally believe will lead to the Titans' emergence in 2017. Today, we will talk about the possibility of adding a scatback to the offense.
Before diving in, I wanted to quickly address the first item on the checklist--re-signing Matt Cassel. The Titans completed this yesterday, and though some outsiders may question the move, I consider it to be a positive, albeit a small one. Had Marcus Mariota not been injured on Christmas Eve, the dynamics would have completely changed. However, because he will not be available for OTA's, the offense needed someone who knows the system and has something that resembles a rapport with the receivers and the rest of the offense. Plugging in a rookie quarterback who would be just learning the offense, or even Alex Tanney, who has little-to-no reps with the starters, would have slowed the offense down. Bringing Matt Cassel back will keep the offense at 55 on the highway until Mariota takes the wheel. Then, we can talk about switching over to the fast lane.
Now, onto the next item on the checklist--adding a scatback. At this point, the Titans have a rock solid formula at running back with their "Thunder and Thunder" approach. Demarco Murray was one of the best running backs in the league, and Derrick Henry looks to be an incredibly promising back. However, one element is missing, and it's pure speed. Adding a speedy running back could add an entirely new dynamic to what is shaping up to be a very difficult offense to defend. In certain situations, the Titans could use a speedier back that can make plays in space, help dictate coverages, and make plays in the passing game. Consider the element that Tyreek Hill added to Kansas City's offense last year. Though not many touches were taken away from their top running backs, Hill's speed and playmaking ability were utilized in several different ways. The Patriots take a similar approach with Dion Lewis.This would be a way for the Titans to add someone who is simply an overall playmaker to the offense. Considering the head coach of this team, adding a dynamic, multidimensional player to the offense that can be utilized in many different ways seems like a significant add for the offense. There are a number of different options that the Titans can explore this spring:
Rex Burkhead: Burkhead had somewhat of a breakout year in 2016. He emerged as the kind of player that can add real value to an offense. He can make plays when he gets a couple of touches out of the backfield--he averaged 4.6 yards per carry--and he can also line up as a wide receiver. He also can return kicks, which adds a little bit of extra value for the Titans. If the Titans look to add a player at this position, Burkhead would be my personal preference. Bringing Burkhead on would be a very Patriots-like addition.
Danny Woodhead: If you are looking for an older, more established version of Rex Burkhead, then look no further than Danny Woodhead. Everyone knows, and has seen the value and new dynamic that Woodhead can add to an offense, but he is getting up there in age and is coming off of a significant knee injury. However, he may still be worth taking a shot on.
Andre Ellington: Ellington had a quick start to his career, gaining over 1,000 all purpose yards in both of his first two years of his career. Since then, he has been slowed down by injuries and the emergence of David Johnson and other backs in Arizona. This has made Ellington somewhat of a forgotten man, but a change of scenery could be a breath of fresh air for him. Ellington would probably be a cheap addition with potential for big upside.
Russell Shepard: Though Shepard is listed as a wide receiver, he could be used in a similar role as Tyreek Hill in Kansas City. Shepard can function as a serviceable receiver, but can add speed to the backfield if Mularkey uses him in creative ways. He was called the best athlete on the team in Tampa Bay, and adds value on special teams, as he was named the special teams captain with the Buccaneers. Shepard would be a cheap add, but could open things up in new ways for the offense.
Donnel Pumphrey: If the Titans are looking to add some fresh legs to the backfield, they should take a long look at Pumphrey. The small and speedy back from San Diego State will blow up the combine this weekend, as he looked like one of the fastest players in the country, in pads. He was a consistent playmaker for the Aztecs, and will likely be available in the middle rounds of the draft. We can wait on his combine numbers, but Pumphrey looks like he will add some electricity to an NFL backfield in 2017.
The Titans should absolutely explore their options at this position throughout the off-season. None of these players will break the bank or require much capital. This is a tricky position to hit on, but when you look at teams who have successfully added these guys, the payoff has been great. It will be interesting to see if the Titans explore the possibility of adding any of these players, or similar-type players.