The Titans (6-2) are the best team in the AFC after Week 8, but that gives them little comfort knowing they could be without running back Derrick Henry — their most indispensable player — for the rest of the 2021 NFL season.
Henry suffered a foot injury in Sunday’s 34-31 overtime win over the Colts that was revealed to be a fracture. That leaves Tennessee scrambling to piece together a viable power running game with a major dropoff in talent from the big, speedy workhorse.
The Titans’ on-roster options are limited to Jeremy McNichols, more of a pace-changing pass-catcher and former Browns backup Dontrell Hilliard. Darrynton Evans was drafted in the second round in 2020 to be Henry’s top backup, but he hasn’t been able to keep his knee healthy and already is on season-ending injured reserve.
Tennessee’s offense is predicated on Henry’s intimidating volume setting up the downfield play-action passing game for Ryan Tannehill. Neither McNichols or Hilliard is good enough to handle feature-like touches. The Titans will need to turn to a committee to keep up at least a solid rushing attack minus the spectacular of Henry.
To that end, they must add a veteran in free agency (Adrian Peterson is already working out for them) or better yet, get aggressive ahead of Tuesday’s NFL midseason trading deadline at 4 p.m. ET. Here’s a look at the backs for which Tennessee GM Jon Robinson should consider a trade:
David Johnson, Texans
The Texans already moved Mark Ingram back to the Saints and could benefit from shipping another member of their veteran committee. Johnson would provide some versatility in the passing game as well as being big enough to handle key touches through the red zone. The question with him is whether Houston would want to easily help a division foe in Tennessee.
Philip Lindsay, Texans
Lindsay doesn’t have the same frame as Henry or Johnson but he has a strong history of production from his Denver days when he gets the touches and a favorable blocking scheme to support him. Like Johnson, he should cost little, given the Texans gave up Ingram for a seventh-rounder three drafts down the line.
Jamaal Williams, Lions
Williams (thigh) was inactive for the Week 8 game for the Eagles but his injury is considered minor. When he was out, rookie seventh-rounder Jermar Jefferson looked pretty good complementing second-year stud D’Andre Swift. Detroit, with zero wins, neeeds to be focused on youth movement and has no reason to keep Williams in a commitee with Swift. He might cost a little more than Johnson or Lindsay, but probably can be had for a fourth-rounder at the most.
David Montgomery, Bears
Now we’re getting more interesting and raising the stakes. While Montgomery (knee) has been on short-term injured reserve, rookie Khailil Herbert has looked terrific taking over the bulk of the fill-in touches with Damien Williams ailing once and again. The Bears should be also thinking more about the future. knowing Montgomery can fetch a potential second-rounder for his services, which were great before the injury. This could be a game-changing move for the Titans given there’s no guarantee Henry will be the same going forward given his mileage before turning 28 in January.
Trey Sermon, 49ers
The 49ers have doghoused their third-round pick and turned over their backfield to rookie sixth-rounder Elijah Mitchell. They tried to give him a wake-up call to show the level of effort that pleases Kyle Shahanan, but there’s plenty of talent in the former Oklahoma and Ohio State back. San Francisco already should have major regret for wasting a pick, but Tennessee can help out to see if a change in scenery creates a change in attitude, given he would be trusted with a key role. The Titans could give them a fourth-rounder back to take Sermon, who’s not seeing the ball at all, off their hands.
Mike Davis, Falcons
Cordarrelle Patterson has taken their backfield by storm as a featured hybrid player. Davis, who was a supersub for Christian McCaffrey in Carolina, last season, hasn’t gotten the key opportunites as expected in former Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith’s scheme. The Titans can probably get him for a fourth-rounder at most, too.
Tevin Coleman, Jets
Rookie Michael Carter is the man in the Jets’ backfield with his running and receiving. Coleman is hurt again with a hamstring injury so he has very low appeal, except for the fact he can be gotten for a seventh-rounder.
Marlon Mack, Colts
Mack is the ideal power back for such needy teams and would like to be traded out of the shadow of Jonathan Taylor given his role has dwindled to the few occasional early-down touches. The problem is he plays for the team that now might think it has a chance in the AFC South again, despite being swept by the Titans, because Henry is out. Indianapolis could help out its rival but would probably raise the draft pick price playing on its desperation.
Carlos Hyde, Jaguars
James Robinson (heel) looks like he avoided long-term injury against the Seahawks and Hyde, other than being a favorite of Urban Meyer, doesn’t offer much value in Jacksonville. But he’s been a good plug-and-play power back when needed on a variety of teams. This the Titans’ alternative to making a cheap intradivision deal with the Texans.
Ty’Son Williams, Ravens
The Ravens loved Williams at first to help replace J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards. But he has missed a lot of little things to help the offense, which tends to happen with otherwise talented young backs. Baltimore has made it work in some combination of DeVonta Freeman and Le’Veon Beil, making Williams expendable. This is another cheap play for the Titans, with the downside being the lack of experience.
Peyton Barber, Raiders
The Raiders can be fine operating their offense with Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake. The question is, given the Raiders are the No. 2 AFC seed at the moment behind the Titans, whether they would want to help a team with the same record and same seeding aspriations.
Melvin Gordon, Broncos
This would be the ultimate get if Denver would only realize a) it’s not really a contender and b) can benefit by letting rookie Javonte Williams loose as a feature back. Gordon is a pending free agent and not in the Broncos’ 2022 plans because of Williams. They might as well accelerate and move him now. They also have some leverage on the Titans and can squeeze a third-round pick out of the desperation given Gordon is back healthy and playing well as a power back.