The Tennessee Titans are going to need a better running game if they want to succeed in 2015. But it’s unclear whether that can come from options currently on the roster.
Bishop Sankey led the team in rushing as a rookie in 2014 but is still a relative unknown. David Cobb has promise but no NFL experience, and Antonio Andrews enters his second NFL season with a pair of catches and special teams action to his name.
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We’ve looked at a pair of free-agent veterans the Titans could consider to solve their backfield woes, but there’s also a prime young option they could turn to. The problem is, he’s on another roster at the moment.
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With the St. Louis Rams taking Todd Gurley in May’s draft, 2014 draft pick Tre Mason is staring at a decreased workload in 2015 with both Gurley (the likely starter) and Benny Cunningham (a capable third-year backup) in the mix. He’ll be much more valuable to a club that can give him more carries, and the Titans fit that mold.
Trades are far less common in the NFL than in the MLB, NBA or NHL, but most of the trade activity that does occur happens in July and August when teams try and find some value for players that will otherwise get released. While Mason is certainly not a candidate to get released, he does represent a surplus for the Rams and could provide some value via trade in an area they could use more depth: quarterback.
St. Louis went out and flipped longtime starting quarterback (when healthy) Sam Bradford to Philadelphia this offseason for fellow signal-caller Nick Foles. The Rams hope they’ll get the 2013 version of Foles that threw 27 touchdowns and just two picks, but there’s also a chance they’ll get the 2014 version. Foles threw for 13 touchdowns and a much less comforting 10 interceptions last season before hitting the injured/reserved list with a broken collarbone.
Will he still enter the season as the Rams’ starter? More than likely. But does that guarantee that he won’t encounter similar performance or injury struggles in 2015? Absolutely not.
While the Titans don’t have several Pro Bowlers sitting on their own quarterback depth chart, they do have multiple viable options. While he’ll likely be replaced out of the gate this year by Marcus Mariota, Zach Mettenberger showed flashes of quality play in 2014, as did third-stringer Charlie Whitehurst. Neither was consistent enough to convince Tennessee not to draft Mariota, but both were productive enough to at least make the Titans consider going a different direction. That said, either could be an intriguing candidate to have waiting in the wings in the event that Foles should struggle or get hurt again this year.
Nov 30, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Zach Mettenberger (7) looks for an open receiver during the second quarter against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Whitehurst may not be enough to interest the Rams in moving their young running back, but a package around Mettenberger could get the job done. While his name doesn’t jump off the charts to the casual fan, his production last year was comparable to that of Foles. Both quarterbacks completed exactly 59.8% of their passes, averaged between seven and eight yards per attempt and threw interceptions on between three and four percent of their pass attempts. While Foles’ QBR (ESPN’s version of quarterback rating) sat significantly higher than Mettenberger’s (62.21 against 30.11), Mettenberger’s actual quarterback rating sat just higher than Foles’ (83.4 against 81.4).
Entering just his second NFL season, Mettenberger remains under team control for three more seasons. With Foles set to enter the free agent market this coming offseason, the LSU product would also give the Rams a suitable, affordable replacement should he prove too expensive for their liking.
Mason will enter the season as security for the Rams in the event that Gurley is not yet ready to go. But with the first-rounder’s time table seemingly getting pushed up by the day, St. Louis could probably live without Mason for a week or two if need be. He’s desirable, but not irreplaceable, and the Titans also have several running back depth options they could send back to the Rams should they deem it necessary.
The Auburn product won’t even celebrate his 22nd birthday until August 6, and showed serious potential in 12 games last season. In 2014, the 21-year-old rushed for a team-high 765 yards and four touchdowns on 179 carries and also caught 16 passes for another 148 yards and a score. He would immediately become the best running back on the Tennessee roster, with Sankey, Cobb and Andrews all serving as quality potential second- and third-string options behind him.
For as far as the Titans have gone to improve their passing game this offseason, it will only be so successful without a complimentary running game to keep opposing defenses guessing. As things sit today, the rushing attack figures to sit towards the bottom of the league once again, but it doesn’t have to. The Titans have options, but would be wise to consider making a play for Mason.
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