By Duncan Smith
Now that you’ve all followed my advice and gone out and acquired shares in all of my rookie sleepers… You did, right? I’m back with another rookie running back for you to consider, Tennessee Titans Darrynton Evans, the Appalachian State back who was selected 93rd overall in the third round by Tennessee.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “the Titans, really? Derrick Henry is going to eat and that’s all I need to know.”
Well… is it?
The vast majority of teams split the work in their backfield. They have to if they want to get the most out of their backs and not permanently cripple them by the age of 25. We talk about Ekeler/Jackson/Kelley in LA, Chubb and Hunt in Cleveland, whatever is going on in San Francisco, Carson/Hyde/Penny in Seattle, but when it comes to the Titans, it’s Henry and nothing.
Which is crazy. They had the third most running plays in 2019 and I feel like they’re the only team where we’re not discussing multiple backs on. I mean, people are talking about the fantasy value of Nyheim Hines more than Darrynton Evans! So, I’m going to break down why Evans is at least a stash if not a flex option this year.
To begin, it’s no secret the Titans like to run the ball, and run it they do, 445 times in 2019 for a total of 2223 yards to be exact. They scored 21 touchdowns on the ground, the same as the Lamar Jackson led Ravens and only two less than the multi-headed backfield hydra in San Francisco.
Of those 445 rush attempts, Derrick Henry had 303 for 1540 yards and 16 touchdowns over 15 games for an average of 102.7 yards per game. He also had 5 fumbles for 3 losses which is only 1 fumble behind Chris Carson with 6 for 3.
26 year old Henry has just signed a 4 year $50 million contract in Tennessee with an annual salary of $12,500,000 and $25,500,000 guaranteed.
So far so good, right? Henry has come off of a monster year and is getting paid by his team. Job done, everyone’s happy, no-one else to look at in the backfield, right?
Well not necessarily. Henry is a bruising back, a 6’3” 247lb man mountain who plays a physical game in the trenches, breaking tackles and moving the pile seemingly with ease. However, how long can that last? Henry has been a bellcow his whole career, averaging 201 touches a season in the pros.
Now that Tennessee has paid their star back they’re going to want to protect that investment and hope to get the most out of their player. If Henry lasts the full 4 years of his contract, he will be 30 by the time he reaches the end, and well past the age where the average RB play drops off.
So how to protect your bellcow RB? Easy, get a complimentary back to work alongside him. In 2018 Dion Lewis showed there is value in the Tennessee backfield outside of Henry before his own play dropped off last season.
In 2020 and beyond the Titans will be hoping that Darrynton Evans can be that complimentary player with a potential to take over if and when either Henry goes down or departs the facility (by depart the facility I just mean leave the Titans, not die or anything).
Evans is a 96th percentile running back over 40 yards with a time at the combine of 4.41, and has reportedly run it sub-4.40 before. He is lightning quick, if he finds a hole he is gone. Time and again in college he breaks off a monster run all the way to the end zone. He had 28 carries in college of over 20 yards, only 2 less than Jonathon Taylor, who had 200 more touches to get there. Henry has had 19 career rushes of over 20 yards in 4 seasons and 804 attempts.
Evans has the ability to make defenders miss in the open field. His quick feet and stop-start acceleration allow him to adjust and leave tacklers floundering in his wake. He is used to bellcow work in his own right with 255 carries for 1400 yards and 18 touchdowns last season for the Mountaineers on his way to being Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year.
Evans has never fumbled the ball either. In 482 attempts in college, he has lost the ball zero times, a remarkable statistic that shows body awareness and elite ball protection instincts.
He doesn’t have a huge volume of receiving work to his name, with a 39-319-6 line in college, but what he’s displayed on the field shows ability in the passing game. He has soft, receiver-sized hands (9 1/4”), makes good adjustments to the ball, and has the ability to explode away after the catch.
His pace and ball handling make him an excellent option in the return game, too, and he has taken at least one return to the paint every year of his college career.
Now, he is undersized at 5’10” and 203lbs but that never stopped guys like James White, the aforementioned Dion Lewis, and everyone’s favourite flash in the pan, Phillip Lindsay.
No one is asking him to be a clone of Henry. He has a different skill set that the Titans can utilise as a complement to Henry when they need to protect the big man, raise the tempo or just to keep defenses guessing.
Another plus for Evans is that he’s a real coaches kid, interested in all aspects of the game. His blocking awareness is also well above average for a rookie running back and while NFL level defenses may drive him back fairly easily, he’s much more likely to be getting in the way of an oncoming edge rusher than he is his own quarterback.
So in summary, we have a young guy, who is coming out of college fresh (only played 2 meaningful years), has unbelievable ball security and should immediately move into the RB2 role on a run-first offense.
He should get one of the most important things for rookies to get, and that’s opportunity. His return ability alone will get him on the field early in his career. His speed and receiving ability should get him at least passing down work and there’s a chance, given his distinct skill set, that he has plays schemed for him from the start of his rookie season.
If we break the Titans rushing attempts down from last year we can see they had, as mentioned, 445 attempts to move the ball on the ground, 303 from Derrick Henry. Of the remaining 142, 121 are accounted for by Dion Lewis, Marcus Mariota, and Ryan Tannehill.
Fellow Ride or Dynasty analyst Alex Levin has projected 445 rush attempts again for the Titans in 2020. Even if we don’t expect any regression from Henry, giving him 300 carries again, we can certainly bring Tannehill down to his average for the last 4 years, which is 36 carries a season.
This leaves 109 rushing attempts going spare.
Again, using Alex’s projection of 40 RB receptions this year, and, again, using Henry’s 4 year average of 14 receptions, that leaves us with 26 receptions going spare.
All in all this gives us a rough figure of 109 rush attempts, 26 receptions, and if we predict a similar amount of touchdowns, 5 on the ground and 3 through the air. That’s a solid base for a flex play in a pinch, not to mention the potential for him to rip off a big run on any given play.
So, there we have it. When I’m looking for a team’s RB2 to take a shot on, I’m going to take a talented guy on a running team with a clear path to relevance rather than holding onto Malcolm Brown and hoping he finally gets the chance to shine in a 4-way committee 5 years after he entered the league.
Duncan Smith – Dynasty/IDP
Ride or Dynasty