Titans draft preview: Running backs

In preparation for the NFL draft (Thursday-Saturday), the Nashville Post offers a position-by-position look at the Tennessee Titans’ roster and what it might say about the team’s draft plans.

Tuesday: Tight ends. Wednesday: Running backs.

On the roster (NFL experience in parentheses): Leon Washington (9), Jackie Battle (7), Shonn Greene (6), Quinn Johnson-FB (6), Dexter McCluster (5), Collin Mooney-FB (2).

Last running back drafted: Jamie Harper, fourth round (130th overall), 2011.

Best running back drafted (1999-2013): Chris Johnson, first round, 2008. His time in Tennessee ended with a degree of ignominy this spring but the guy set NFL records for total offense in a season and career touchdown runs of 80 yards or more. He also is one of seven players ever to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season and a multi-time Pro Bowl selection. All in all, he provided a big return, even for a first-round selection.

Worst running back drafted (1999-2013): Chris Henry, second round, 2007. The Titans could be forgiven for taking a chance on someone who failed to rush for 1,000 yards in his college career – let alone a season – but was a workout wonder and a beefy 6-foot-2, 230 pounds. They took that chance in the second round, though, and got virtually nothing to show for it. Specifically, they got 122 rushing yards in 10 games over three seasons. That is unforgivable.

State of the position: With the departure of Chris Johnson, this is truly a time of transition for the run game. Shonn Greene (pictured) provides a reliable and valuable between-the-tackles presence and free agent Dexter McCluster adds someone who can create serious matchup problems for a defense. There is a definite need, though, for someone to share the load with Greene and eventually become the featured back. That’s where the draft comes in.

Degree of need (1-roster is set; 10-send help now): 9

What the mocks say: Among the projections that go beyond the first round, a running back is a popular choice for the Titans in the second. The leading candidates are Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde and Auburn’s Tre Mason, who just happen to be among the top prospects at the position in virtually everyone’s rankings.

Prediction: Even general manager Ruston Webster, who is guarded on most matters, concedes that barring some truly unforeseen circumstances the Titans will draft a running back. The best spot to do so would be the third round, but Webster does not have a third-round pick this year. It’s possible that the move will come in the second round but the guess here is that Tennessee gambles and waits until the fourth or the fifth for someone like Stanford’s Tyler Gaffney, a power back who rushed for more than 1,700 yards last season.