The Tennessee Titans are mismanaging another young explosive weapon

Atlanta Falcons v Tennessee Titans
Atlanta Falcons v Tennessee Titans / Wesley Hitt/GettyImages

There has been a lot of talk about Derrick Henry's future this week, but in 2024 the Tennessee Titans need to make sure that they are prioritizing their most explosive running back, Tyjae Spears.

The NFL is divided on how they feel about the running back position. While the consensus is that running backs don't win championships, there is a small group that still believes that having a balanced offense is important.

Every Tennessee Titans fan should know that Mike Vrabel is such a firm believer in the running game that he and Todd Downing prioritized running the ball in 2021 despite Derrick Henry being out for more than half of the season.

If Amy Adams Strunk overlooks the 4-15 record over the last 19 games, then Mike Vrabel is going to get another chance to try to fix the same things the team tried to fix last season. More resources don't mean better results, but whoever is heading up the rebuild this offseason is going to have $100 million in cap space and a very high draft pick to solve some issues.

One of the big decisions that needs to be made is whether or not some of that money should go towards a new contract for Derrick Henry. I think there are good arguments for both sides, but one thing needs to be very clear here, Will Levis and Tyjae Spears need to be the focal points of the Tennessee Titans offense in 2024.

While this is true for whoever the head coach is next season, it is doubly true for Mike Vrabel who has always leaned on veterans regardless of the talent behind them. For those who don't remember the first year of Vrabel's career, he had the veteran Dion Lewis splitting carries with Derrick Henry despite the obvious difference in talent.

Back to Spears, who just isn't getting the credit that he deserves and a lot of that is because the Tennessee Titans are doing him a disservice. Because he is a capable pass blocker and a more natural receiver, Spears is the third-down back in this offense.

To balance out the snaps, that means that Henry is getting the vast majority of the first and second down snaps. So while it looks like Spears and Henry are getting similar chances on paper (398 snaps for Henry and 391 for Spears), they aren't getting the same opportunities to run the ball when you look at the context of those snaps.

That is a shame because the Tennessee Titans offense would be much more explosive if Spears was the RB1 instead of Henry.

To be clear, I'm not saying that Derrick Henry is washed up and I know that the idea of Spears being a better option than Henry might be controversial, but just look at the numbers.

Not to go full Merriam-Webster, but in the NFL an explosive run is defined as any run of 10+ yards. Despite Tyjae Spears having just 66 rushing attempts this season, Spears has 11 (!) explosive runs that span over 8 different games.

If the Titans have been looking for more explosive plays, all they have to do is put Spears in and give him some chances. Even when Spears saw his volume increase because he had to carry the load for Henry after he was taken off the field to be evaluated for a concussion, Spears still produced at a high level with 16 attempts for 75 yards including two explosive runs and another one for nine yards.

To put those numbers into perspective, Derrick Henry has 197 attempts his season and only has 16 explosive runs. So while Spears has an explosive run rate of 16.7%, Henry has an explosive run rate of 8.1%.

It is very hard to sustain long drives and to march down the field in the NFL, and if you can hit a few explosive plays on a drive then you are much more likely to score. Despite Mike Vrabel and company prioritizing special teams players over explosive players, doesn't it make more sense to get the ball to your most explosive players as often as you can?

There is no reason for Spears to have less than 100 rushing attempts at this point in the season. How many losses were because the Titans were just missing one more explosive play to get them in position to score points? Probably not enough to get them into the playoffs, but enough to keep them from being one of the laughingstocks of the NFL.

Whether Spears is the lead back next year or if it is a more balanced running game between him and Henry, this lack of usage is a mistake that the Tennessee Titans can't make again next year.

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