While there is no doubt that trade for Ryan Tannehill was Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson’s biggest and most important acquisition, there is one that is swept under the radar but needs to be brought to light. A seemingly innocuous mid-season signing of a running back off the Vikings practice squad, Khari Blasingame.
On the surface, it didn’t seem like much. The team cut Rod Smith and had only two backs on the roster, so they added Blasingame, an undrafted rookie out of Vanderbilt. But that’s when things start getting interesting.
The signing occurred during the Titans’ bye week. Both head coach Mike Vrabel and Robinson scouted Blasingame at Vanderbilt’s Pro Day and invited him to the Titans’ practice facility for a visit. Blasingame wasn’t just a running back, however, he also doubled as a fullback. The Titans’ prior fullback, David Fluellen, was placed on IR after playing in only two games much earlier in the season.
The Titans hadn’t used a fullback on the field in weeks but came out of the bye against the Jaguars and ran a whopping 17 plays with a fullback on the field.
All told, after going 0% two-back sets for weeks, a full third of the Titans’ plays against the Jaguars featured a fullback. Tennessee saw tremendous success in 21 personnel.
- Runs recorded 9.7 YPC, 83% success, and 0.32 EPA/att.
- Passes recorded 14.5 YPA, 100% success, and 0.85 EPA/att.
Robinson, Vrabel, and offensive coordinator Arthur Smith had found something.
After using two-back sets on just 1% of plays the first 10 games of the season, the Titans closed the year using two-back sets on 19% of plays the rest of the season.
With the team thrashing four of their final six opponents to close the regular season, it’s more important to look at first half production in those games.
In the first half of games the rest of the season, the Titans’ most productive rushing grouping by far was 21 personnel (RB and FB on the field together):
21 personnel: 6.3 YPC, 68% success, 0.16 EPA/att
11 personnel: 5.4 YPC, 56% success, 0.04 EPA/att
12 personnel: 4.9 YPC, 49% success, 0.08 EPA/att
And if we look at the full games the rest of the season, the most productive passing grouping was likewise 21 personnel:
21 personnel: 13.3 YPA, 91% success, 0.51 EPA/att
12 personnel: 13.3 YPA, 62% success, 0.43 EPA/att
11 personnel: 7.8 YPA, 52% success, 0.07 EPA/att
13 personnel: 10.9 YPA, 50% success, -0.35 EPA/att
Credit is due here to the general manager and head coach for bringing in a capable fullback, but a significant amount of credit is also due to Smith for seamlessly incorporating him mid-season and doing so to the tune of the most efficient rushing and receiving production the team delivered the rest of the season.
While switching to Ryan Tannehill at QB was the catalyst for the Titans 2020 turnaround and playoff run, no one has discussed the mid-season acquisition of a FB off the Vikings practice squad and his less frequent buy highly valued impact, as the Titans won four of their final six games down the stretch to finish with nine wins on the season and make the playoffs.