Most of the Titans’ efforts to install a quality back behind Derrick Henry have not proven successful. The only back to qualify as a reliable option throughout his tenure has since changed teams twice.
D’Onta Foreman, who belatedly became the team’s top option to replace an injured Henry in 2021, has signed with the Panthers and Bears in consecutive offseasons. The productive fill-in’s departure prompted the Titans to draft Hassan Haskins in the 2022 fourth round, but the Michigan product totaled just 25 carries as a rookie and was arrested on an assault charge last month.
Haskins is expected to vie for the Titans’ third-string job with Jonathan Ward and Julius Chestnut, per Jim Wyatt of the team’s website. This will leave third-round rookie Tyjae Spears as the primary backup to Henry. The Tulane product is on track to “one-two punch” with the accomplished veteran, Wyatt adds.
Foreman and Haskins are just two of the players to be added since DeMarco Murray‘s 2018 exit (and subsequent retirement). Tennessee gave Dion Lewis a four-year, $19.8MM deal in 2018. While the ex-Patriots back operated as a nice Henry complement that season, he struggled to carve out much of a role in 2019. The Titans released Lewis in 2020. They drafted Darrynton Evans in the 2020 third round, but the Appalachian State product struggled with injuries and could not earn much playing time. Tennessee added Adrian Peterson following Henry’s November 2021 foot fracture and also tried Jeremy McNichols. Foreman, whom the team signed to its practice squad shortly after Henry’s injury, ended up playing the lead replacement role.
Spears will be the latest mid-round pick to receive an opportunity. A four-year Tulane contributor, the 201-pound back broke out with a 1,581-yard rushing season in 2022. He concluded his career with a 205-yard, four-touchdown performance in Tulane’s Cotton Bowl win over USC.
The Titans made Spears, the No. 81 overall pick, this year’s fifth running back selected. Spears ran a modest 4.54-second 40-yard dash at the Green Wave’s pro day, after not running at the Combine. An NFL.com report during draft weekend indicated Spears does not have an ACL in his one of his knees, after two tears, and had battled arthritis. He was not on every team’s draft board due to the medical concern, Daniel Jeremiah noted at the time. When asked about the report during Titans offseason workouts, Spears attempted to brush it off by indicating he was healthy.
The elusive rookie was a full participant in OTAs and minicamp. Considering the Titans’ run-oriented offense and lack of proven wide receivers, Spears may be called upon frequently. And he now represents the team’s top option if Henry, 29, goes down. Henry’s four-year, $50MM deal expires after this season.