SELF-PROMOTIONAL ITEM: Football Outsiders Almanac 2014, a.k.a. “the annual Football Outsiders preview” or “that thing that kept me away from here from post-draft until a couple weeks ago,” is available for purchase. You can get the book in PDF form at Football Outsiders, while the print copy is currently available through CreateSpace and on Amazon proper. I did the Broncos and Raiders chapters, while my FO colleague Rivers McCown did the Titans chapter. (As I noted on Twitter, I didn’t do the Titans chapter because I’d done it three of the past four times and we like to switch things up.) /end plug
I noted in the offseason look that with a new staff the question was whether it would even be worth having a specific fullback position analysis. Unfortunately, the answer to this question doesn’t seem to have progressed much from what we knew in February. Ken Whisenhunt still has a long history of having a specific fullback on the roster. Neither he nor Jason Michael seems to have spoken specifically on whether the 2014 Titans will have a fullback, at least that I’ve heard. Reports out of early training camp practice have the Titans using a fullback at least some of the time. Given the depth questions I see at running back and the versatility of both candidates for fullback, plus Whisenhunt’s history, I strongly believe at least one of the two players I profile in this post will make the roster (and my prediction had both of them).
The leading contender, at least based on early practice reps, seems to be Jackie Battle. I didn’t consider him with the fullbacks in the offseason, since he didn’t play there last year, but he has some experience playing from his days in Kansas City. Not a lot, but the Chargers cited that as one of the reasons they added him in 2012. Assuming he does stick at fullback, this would probably be the first time he’s played primarily there. I have no opinion on Battle’s likely performance at fullback, aside from my normal skepticism about veteran players (Battle turns 31 October 1) playing a new position. I had him on the roster not just because of his potential role at fullback but because I think he’s a good fit to be the extra back and take a regular role if Shonn Greene gets hurt again.
With the offseason release of Quinn Johnson, the only other fullback on the roster is Collin Mooney. He’s a perfectly serviceable fullback and a willing special teams player, which is why I had him on the roster. If the Titans don’t plan to use two-back sets that much (Whisenhunt’s fullback in San Diego last year, Le’Ron McClain, played 12% of the time on offense) and/or want an extra roster spot, whether for a true running back or a position elsewhere on the roster, then my guess is there is not a spot for Mooney, who does not have practice squad eligibility.
Delanie Walker and Taylor Thompson can both play H-back, while Craig Stevens has also lined up in the backfield, most notably in full house sets. I will discuss all three of those players in the tight ends positional analysis.
We still don’t know just how much the Titans will actually use a fullback on offense. Regardless of the answer, it seems like Battle has a good shot to make the roster and Mooney may be more of a longshot. Like so many other positional analyses to come (and there’s a reason I don’t plan to write any of the defensive ones until after the first preseason game), there remains a lot of uncertainty about what the bottom-line answers will be, which makes role parsing non-trivial.