The Titans have had one of the most lopsided running back rotations in the league the last three seasons. Derrick Henry led the NFL in carries, rushing yards and rushing TDs in 2019 and 2020 and was on pace to do it again in 2021.
But now, he’s hurt. He is dealing with a broken bone in his right foot that will likely end his season.
Henry has handled 219 carries this season for the Titans. Other running backs that have played for Tennessee have just 11 on the season. He has accounted for nearly 80 percent of the Titans’ rushing yards this season and has vastly outgained other backs on the roster.
The question now is, who will step up and replace Henry? They have some internal options, but the top one — 2020 third-round pick Darrynton Evans — landed on IR for a second time before Sunday’s game and is out for the season as a result.
That’s part of the reason the Titans immediately brought in some external help. Tennessee signed 36-year-old veteran Adrian Peterson to its practice squad with plans to elevate him to the active roster. He will have a chance to compete for carry right away in the Titans’ backfield rotation.
Here’s a look at what the Titans have at the running back position with Henry’s season likely over.
Titans RB depth chart
1. Adrian Peterson
He may be new to the Titans, but Tennessee acted very quickly to sign Peterson after working him out. The 36-year-old veteran is in his 15th season but has still proven that he can be an effective part of a rotation.
Last season, Peterson totaled 604 yards and seven rushing touchdowns for the Lions. He averaged just 3.9 yards per carry, but the more important thing is that he was able to average 10 carries per game. He can still be an effective part of a rotation and still retains some of his explosive playmaking ability.
At 6-1, 220 pounds, Peterson is the largest of Tennessee’s true running backs and will likely be asked to shoulder a good chunk of the workload between the tackles. He won’t come close to Henry’s 30 touches per game, but getting close to 15 will probably be his goal as he leads this back-by-committee approach.
2. Jeremy McNichols
McNichols was the only healthy running back on the Titans’ 53-man roster in wake of Henry’s injury before Peterson’s signing. The team was carrying two backs on the roster and two on the practice squad after placing Evans on IR. While Peterson figures to eventually emerge as a starter, McNichols will still play a significant role with Henry out.
Henry played about 71 percent of the Titans’ snaps before his injury. McNichols, a fifth-year pro, ranks second among the team’s running backs and has played just over 25 percent of the snaps. He has carried the ball seven times for 38 yards and has a career yards per carry average of 4.4.
That said, McNichols’ biggest role figures to be as a receiver out of the backfield. He has caught 21 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown this season. That’s good for the second-most receiving yards on the Titans and that includes an eight-catch, 74-yard outing against the Jets in Week 4.
The 5-9, 205-pound back certainly isn’t the same between the tackles weapon as Henry, but he should give the Titans a more potent receiving option out of the backfield. He’ll work as a good foil to Peterson and could see more carries early during AP’s first weeks with the Titans.
3. Dontrell Hilliard
Hilliard signed with the Titans on Oct. 27. He was originally added to the practice squad for additional depth in wake of Evans’ injury. He could be promoted to the active roster as the team’s No. 3 back after Henry’s injury.
Hilliard (5-11, 202 pounds) came into the NFL in 2018 as a free agent out of Tulane. The Browns employed him as a backup and return man during his nearly three-year stint in Cleveland. In 30 games with the Browns, Hilliard racked up 97 yards rushing and two TDs on 22 carries. He caught 22 passes for 199 yards as well.
For the Titans, Hilliard represents a depth option with years of NFL experience and a bit of in-game action. That may give him the edge over the team’s other practice squad player, even if Hilliard is the more recent signee.
4. D’Onta Foreman
The Titans initially had Mekhi Sargent as their fourth option on the practice squad, but they opted to add more experience to help replace Henry.
Foreman continues to tour the AFC South. He has played for the Texans, Colts and Titans during his career as well as the Falcons. He actually played six games for Tennessee last season and racked up 95 rushing yards on 22 carries. He’s a big back at 6-1, 236 pounds, so perhaps they brought him back to serve as a backup power runner.
Foreman may not see much playing time for the Titans, but perhaps they’ll alternate giving him and Hilliard a try. Foreman has been in the Titans’ system before so that could give him an edge on any competition for a third-string role. He and Hilliard are very close in the pecking order and they could alternate weeks as the No. 3 back, depending on the matchup.
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5. Khari Blasingame
Blasingame is a fullback for the Titans and has been with the team since the midpoint of the 2019 season when he was signed off the Vikings’ practice squad. He played running back at Vanderbilt but has bulked up into a 6-0, 233-pound blocker during his pro career.
Blasingame has never logged a carry in 27 career games, but he is the biggest remaining back that the Titans have. As such, he could see an occasional short-yardage carry out of the I-formation. He has eight catches for 93 yards in his career as well, so don’t be surprised if you hear him get the ball on occasion with the Titans looking to replace nearly 30 touches per game.