The Titans have their RB1 in Derrick Henry, but Darrynton Evans may be the future.
One of the best-kept secrets in the NFL, the one that you won’t see many people talking about outside of Nashville, is that the Tennessee Titans are professional football’s running back factory.
Sure, Derrick Henry has people talking by becoming the national landscapes football infatuation after the Titans’ playoff run — but the success Tennessee has had with their running backs dates back far beyond Henry’s brilliance, and reaches even higher peaks. From Eddie George’s All-Pro year to Chris Johnson’s logic-defying 2,006 rushing yard season, even beyond to names like Demarco Murray who revitalized his career for one magic season in Tennessee, the Titans turn out great running backs like Disney puts out Star Wars movies that nobody asked for.
The aforementioned Henry is the latest in Tennessee’s exceptional running back lineage and looks to be the player set to carry the torch for the Titans — at least through the 2020 season. But while King Henry is poised to rule over defenses one more time next year, his heir apparent might be waiting right behind him, even getting snaps in place of him, Appalachian State rookie Darrynton Evans.
Evans is so much more than a third-round draft pick, and his potential extends far greater than that of a career backup with pass-catching duties. For now, his role with the Titans will more likely than not be relegated to just that. But Tennessee didn’t draft Evans just as high-end depth potential, they drafted him because of the player he could become, a three-down player with blazing straight-line speed that can carry a team on his back.
Evans’ size may bring out some detractors amongst the Titans fan base. After all, his 5’10” 203 lbs frame makes him look like David in the shadow of the 6’3” 247 lbs Goliath that is Derrick Henry. But while Evans might not look the part of a bell-cow in the way that Henry does, Evans is built to play the part and proved so in college.
Appalachian State’s season box scores look close to how the Titans played, with a strong emphasis on running the football. Evans, of course, led the way for the Mountaineers’ running game with 255 carries in his junior season, the 11th most in the NCAA and 30 more carries than Appalachian State’s quarterback had completions. Evans carried a workload that wasn’t just impressive for his own team, but impressive for all of FBS football, and lead his Mountaineers’ to a combined 24-3 record since becoming the lead back.
But more spectacular than the workload Evans was tasked with was what he was able to do with those touches. Because Evans’ game wasn’t all about volume, as he proved en route to nearly 1,700 yards from scrimmage and an impressive 5.8 yards per rushing attempt. And while his yardage numbers are good, his ability to find the endzone in 2019 was even better, finishing sixth in the country in total touchdowns.
Appalachian State had an effective offense last year, even outside of Evans, but the running backs stats were due to far more than just his fit in the Mountaineers’ system. Evans has put together his own stockpile of tape where he simply outclasses defenders on skill alone. While the Sun Belt competition he faced wasn’t quite at the level it will be in the NFL, Evans’ 4.41 top-end speed and lateral quickness can make him a matchup nightmare for professional defenders.
How can Evans become the Titans next star runner behind Derrick Henry?
But if Evans is a nightmare for opposing defenses, he’s a dream come true for the Titans offense, both for the 2020 season as well as into the future. Evans’ game isn’t perfect, not by any stretch. But his skills as a speedy pass-catcher will be all that Tennessee needs from him for the upcoming season while they lean on Henry. But even though Evans won’t be getting the touches he saw in college right away, he’ll have the chance to learn the offense and grow into a franchise cornerstone, the same way that Derrick Henry started his career.
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It can be easy to forget now that Henry is the Titans’ only bonafide megastar, but the Alabama product had to earn the title of “elite” through hard work, and a lot of waiting on the sideline. While Henry was getting a decent amount of work (maybe similar to the load Evans will get his Rookie year) his first two years as a pro, he was stuck playing second-fiddle to Demarco Murray’s career restoration project. It wasn’t until halfway through Henry’s third season that he began to take off — and since then he hasn’t looked back.
Evans’ immediate outlook looks and feels a lot similar to Henry’s at the start of his career. A Day Two draft pick with worlds of potential who will get a few reps here and there, but is ultimately stuck behind an established starter. But the similarities between the Titans’ top two running backs might not end there. Because while Murray was out of Tennessee after Henry’s second year in the league, Evans might be waiting behind Henry for about as long.
Not to say that Henry is out the door in Tennessee, not by any stretch. The NFL’s leading rusher is just months removed from being one of the five best players in the league and might be even better next year with a full sixteen games with Ryan Tannehill under center. But the Titans refrained from signing Henry to a longterm deal for a reason.
Football isn’t kind to its running backs, and for as good as Henry is, he can’t stiff-arm father time the same way he can Earl Thomas. But right behind Henry on the depth chart, the potential successor to his Titans legacy as well as the next to carry the torch of great Titans running backs, Darrynton Evans.
Whether Evans can be the guy that Henry has been, or even get that chance, remains to be seen. But with the roster situation with Tennessee, he’s in, and the talent he has himself, Darrynton Evans can be the NFL running back factory’s next great product.