After releasing Chris Johnson, the Tennessee Titans had a glaring need for a running back in the 2014 draft. They were the first to take one: Washington's Bishop Sankey. He is 15/1 on Bovada's NFL odds to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award.
Where Have All The Backs Gone?
Remember when running backs used to be important to NFL teams, and they actually went in the Top-10 picks of every draft?
Those days are long gone in the pass-happy league. Last season was the first time since the AFL-NFL merger that a running back wasn't chosen in the first round. We almost made it through Round 2 this year before Tennessee became the first to take the plunge with Sankey. In the 1970s, running and pass plays were called nearly 50/50. This past season, 58 percent of plays were passes. Running backs also have short careers because they are hit on every play, so that's another reason not to invest a first-round pick in them. Also: Only four of last season's top 10 rushers were first-round choices.
The Titans cut Johnson in April to avoid paying him $8 million. They did have Shonn Greene and Dexter McCluster on the roster. Greene has never been a true featured back, however, and is only truly suited for short-yardage situations. McCluster is essentially a receiver in a back's body. Tennessee originally was slotted to draft at No. 42 overall, but picked up a fourth-rounder from Philadelphia to slide down 12 spots. Sankey was a beast last year, carrying 327 times for 1,870 yards and 20 touchdowns. He also had 28 catches.
The Titans also added someone up front to help open holes for Sankey in Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan. This was clearly a best player available pick instead of need-based. Tennessee appears to have its starting tackles in Michael Roos on the left (although he's heading into the final year of his contract), and Michael Oher on the right side. He was given a four-year, $20 million free-agent deal this offseason. The Titans know Houston now has Jadeveon Clowney opposite of J.J. Watt so Tennessee will need quite the offensive line to deal with those guys twice a year.
Here's guessing that Tennessee would have taken North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron with its first-round pick if he hadn't been selected one pick before by the Lions.
Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker is in the final year of his rookie contract, and if you look at any early 2015 mock drafts they have the Titans taking a QB in the first round. They may not have to if LSU's Zach Mettenberger shows enough as a rookie. Tennessee wanted to take a QB in this draft to challenge Locker, and reportedly was going to jump on Fresno State's Derek Carr before the Raiders grabbed him.
The Titans then traded two late-round picks to move up eight spots in the sixth round to take Mettenberger. He's got the size (6-foot-5, 224 pounds) as well as a huge arm. He's also coming off an ACL tear suffered in LSU's late season win over Arkansas. Mettenberger has had a few off-field issues during his college days as well, but he blossomed last year under LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, a former NFL head coach and offensive coordinator. It's not impossible for him to beat out Charlie Whitehurst as Locker's backup -- and with how injury-prone Locker is, Mettenberger could see the field. He was the 10th of 14 QBs taken in the draft.
Full List Of Draft Picks
Taylor Lewan, offensive tackle, Michigan (Round 1, No. 11 overall); Bishop Sankey, running back, Washington (2, No. 54); DaQuan Jones, defensive tackle, Penn State (4, No. 112); Marqueston Huff, cornerback, Wyoming (4, No. 122); Avery Williamson, inside linebacker, Kentucky (5, No. 151); Zach Mettenberger, quarterback, LSU (2, No. 178).
NFL Free Picks: Regarding your NFL picks, Sankey is worth a shot on the ROY odds, because he should get a lot of carries, and the Titans appear to have a pretty imposing offensive line. Sankey has the shortest odds of any running back on the ROY NFL odds prop.