Can a draft pick match CJ's production?

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
11:29
AM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Prevailing wisdom says investing big dollars or a high pick in a running back is folly.

I tend to latch on to that, and that’s part of the strong case against the Tennessee Titans' keeping Chris Johnson at an $8 million salary in 2014.

Shonn Greene hardly impressed in his first year, but I’ve been one of many who has said that if you paired him with a mid-round draft pick, the team should be just fine at the position.

But Johnson hasn’t missed a game and has rarely missed a practice in his six seasons in Tennessee. That durability is a very valuable trait. And Johnson's team has a poor record drafting running backs.

Just two of those guys other than Johnson produced in a significant way: LenDale White (who always had fitness issues) and Chris Brown (who always had health issues).

The others were all guys who didn’t pan out into a viable option for a role on offense. The Titans will need to do far, far better than Chris Henry or Jamie Harper if they are drafting a guy who’s expected to work in tandem with Greene in a post-CJ backfield. (Though Henry, an absolute bust, averaged 3.8 yards per carry on 32 handoffs that went his way. Johnson averaged 3.9 this season.)

Another significant point to consider in this conversation: The teams in the playoff field are not centered on low-round backs or undrafted free agents in their backfield.

Of the 12 post-season entries, half have at least one first round running back.

Ten of the dozen teams have a first- or second-round back.

And all the playoff teams have at least a third rounder in the backfield.

Indianapolis and Carolina really emphasize the position, with two first-round running backs. Kansas City and San Francisco have spent the least draft capital on backs. The Chiefs have two third-round backs, and the 49ers have a third-rounder and a fourth-rounder.

Yes, there are a lot of good backs in the NFL without tremendous pedigrees. For this year, teams with those guys are finished playing.

Paul Kuharsky | email

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter

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