Take notice, the Tennessee Titans are coming to run you over
By Brady Akins
If you didn’t know already, the 2020 NFL Draft made it clear. The Tennessee Titans are going all-in on their run-first mentality.
With the 29th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Tennessee Titans select…
The hulking, colossal, mountain of a football player who’s spent the last two years of his life playing bully-ball against the smaller college defenders tasked with the misfortune of trying to get past him.
Isaiah Wilson. Right tackle. Georgia.
Not only is Wilson entering into the Titans roster at a position of need, but he’s just the kind of player that general manager Jon Robinson has developed a penchant for drafting in his Tennessee tenure, and the kind of player that fits in perfectly with the type of team the Titans are trying to build.
An old school, hard-nosed, power over any and everything else type group of guys who want to run the ball 30 times a game. A group that seeks out contact rather than throwing away from it. A group that wants to control the game by running through you. And if their 2019 season proved that mindset to the world, their 2020 draft etched it in stone.
For better or worse, the 2020 Tennessee Titans will look exactly like the team they have been building to be. A team that flies in the face of the way the rest of the NFL has been setting up their teams over the last decade. The Kansas City Chiefs may run the NFL today with their pass-happy approach to roster building, but the Titans are out to prove that the downhill running offense still has a place in modern football.
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In fact, the Titans are taking their approach a step further. Because not only is Tennessee’s roster built so that Derrick Henry is the best player on the team, but it’s built around Derrick Henry himself. The quarterback might be in control of the offense, but when it comes to the Tennessee Titans, it’s Henry powering the show, not the newly resigned Ryan Tannehill.
Don’t let Tannehill’s pricy new contract fool you, either. Yes, he was one of the most efficient quarterbacks in football last year. Yes, the cost to get him back under center in two-toned blue was steep. But the truth of Tannehill’s role in the Titans offense is that he was brought back to facilitate the run-heavy team that Tennessee wants to be. A skilled passer with talented receivers around him, sure, but Tannehill’s passing attack isn’t meant to steal the show from the throwback offense that the Titans want to be– and their 2020 draft class shows just how committed Tennessee is to the ground and pound approach.
Taking Wilson in the first round of the draft might have been a reach considering his pro-readiness, but it was a pick made with a clear vision in mind. Clear the running lanes and let the Titans running backs get to work. Not just Derrick Henry either, but another Tennessee draft pick, the third-round “give me the ball and let me outrun everybody” speedster out Appalachian State, Darrynton Evans.
With Henry, Evans, and Wilson joining the already-overpowering offensive line group, Tennessee is making a statement to the rest of the league. Their ground-and-pound, 35+ carry a game approach to the NFL playoffs wasn’t an aberration. And with how well it worked last season, why would they change their approach?
Because while NFL offenses have been building towards a faster, more athletic, air raid approach– defenses have been building to counter that with smaller, faster players of their own. The Titans’ commitment to the run game is Jon Robinson betting all the chips on countering what defenses have become. Rather than pitting speed against speed, air raid against air raid, Tennessee is hoping to build a team capable of running over their competition rather than putting the stress on the shoulders of their quarterback.
Whether doubling down on that approach will work or not remains to be seen. It’s said that fortune favors the bold, but it could also be said the Titans approach to team building is less bold and more “stuck in tradition.” After all, Tennessee has almost always been a run-first team. From the golden years of Eddie Geroge and the jaw-dropping days of Chris Johnson to the brief re-emergence of Demarco Murray and the ushering in of the new king Derrick Henry, this is who the Titans are.
But with how 2019 ended, the hope among the Titans organization is that staying true to form is about to pay off big. Tennessee won’t be looking to catch you off guard. Teams know exactly what they want to be, and the Titans are okay with that. Either Jon Robinson’s approach to roster building will end the way he wants it to or it won’t. But regardless, one thing remains true.
The Tennessee Titans are going to run the ball.