One of the Tennessee Titans’ top priorities this off-season is to upgrade an anemic offense by adding players with speed and finding ways to get the ball into those players’ hands with regularity.
The Titans’ needs at wide receiver are well documented, and the position will likely be addressed in this year’s draft.
However, the other area where the Titans might more easily acquire that speedy player in the 2008 NFL Draft is at running back.
The Titans have spent second-round picks on the position in each of the past two drafts, plucking LenDale White with the 45th overall pick in 2006, then grabbing Chris Henry 50th overall a year ago. White has developed into the type of grinding inside runner the Titans had hoped he would be, rushing for 1,110 yards last season, but he is probably never going to give the team the breakaway threat it so desires.
Henry possesses the type of speed the Titans want, but he not only missed four games last year after testing positive for a banned supplement, but sometimes had difficulty finding open space to run in around the line of scrimmage.
So it is certainly not out of the question that the Titans will again spend another draft choice on a running back, and that it could be a relatively high pick once more, especially after Chris Brown’s departure to Houston leaves the team with an opening at the position.
According to TFY Draft Preview’s Tony Pauline, the Titans have picked a good year draft-wise to be in need of a running back with speed and breakaway abilities.
It is a deep group and such a player might be available not only with their first pick at No. 24, but even in round two or three, if they decide to bolster a different position in round one.
Some of the players who could be attractive and perhaps on the board in the first round for the Titans at running back include Arkansas speedster Felix Jones, Oregon running back Jonathan Stewart and Illinois’ Rashard Mendenall.
Jones timed only in the high 4.4s at the NFL Combine, but Pauline said he has good football speed, as opposed to sheer 40-yard dash abilities.
“The one thing is Felix Jones plays fast, but of the four top guys he timed the slowest at the Combine,” Pauline said of Jones’ 4.47 run. “His 40 time at the Combine was nowhere near [his college teammate Darren] McFadden’s [4.33] and slower and than Mendenhall.”
Jones has big-play potential, however, as he rushed for 1,162 yards last season playing second fiddle to McFadden with the Razorbacks and averaged over seven yards per carry. He could be there for the Titans, though the Dallas Cowboys are believed to have interest and have pick No. 22 before Tennessee and No. 28 after them.
Mendenhall, according to some, could be one of the best values in the draft if he slips down the board a bit.
Stewart, who starred at Oregon, became a question mark shortly after the Combine because of toe surgery. If healed, he could be a bargain for some teams.
There will be value in the draft at running back beyond the first few players taken, according to Pauline. Chris Johnson, who ran a 4.24 time in the 40, is a do-everything type of back who could fit Mike Heimerdinger’s system not only as a speed back outlet, but as a slot receiver as well as a return man. According to Pauline, though, there is a bit of a health concern that might drive his price down a bit. He had neck surgery before the 2007 season.
“Chris Johnson does come with some baggage. I don’t think he’s worth a first-round pick,” Pauline said. “He’s not a fast football player. He’s a sprinter trying to become a football player.”
Then, there is Texas’ Jamaal Charles, who like Johnson, has track experience. Pauline isn’t sure their track speed will translate on the football field immediately.
“Jamaal Charles of Texas is moving up draft boards. He was a track and field champion, and is still learning to become a football player,” Pauline said.
Both Johnson and Charles have had pre-draft visits with the Titans.
Other more experienced backs with impact potential after the first round include Rutgers’ standout Ray Rice and West Virginia’s Steve Slaton, who is small but has plenty of big-play potential.
For the Titans, there will be plenty to pick from. The question becomes now how soon to pull the trigger.