I feel like it was only a matter of time before I decided to write an entire article about my infatuation with Derrick Henry. What’s crazy is my love for him sprouted as recently as 14 months ago, when he was coming off a four-game stretch where he totaled nearly 585 yards. I came into the 2019 fantasy draft season claiming he was going to have a Todd Gurley-level rise. From dud to stud in a single off-season. No one believed me. Even the co-hosts on our podcast repeatedly doubted me. So much so that they made a joint slap bet with me – and Derrick Henry granted me the opportunity to slap them. His final 2019 totals before his playoff run read:
303 attempts, 1,540 yards, 5.08 yards per carry, 16 touchdowns, 18 receptions, 206 receiving yards, 2 receiving touchdowns (CBS).
That production amounted to the RB2 in standard formats and RB5 in formats that matter (PPR). Sure, he had his best statistical season to date, but it wasn’t a shock to people who were paying attention. He averaged 4.93 yards per carry in 2018 and rushed for over 1,000 yards. Yes, most of that production came from that four-game stretch I mentioned above. I think it is now safe to say – no, it wasn’t a fluke.
But I’m not here to solely discuss my obsession with Derrick Henry (though, if you watch his high school highlights, it’s easy to join me). I’m mostly here to tell Derrick Henry to stay. Get comfortable. Realize that he probably deserves Ezekiel Elliott money (but won’t get it). Accept that. And re-sign with the Tennessee Titans. Please. For my fantasy teams.
“Christian, if Derrick Henry is so good, he’ll dominate wherever he goes, right?” Well, as much as I would love to think that, there were quite a few factors playing in Henry’s favor in his *perceived* breakout season (I will argue to my grave that he broke out in 2018 and everyone ignored it). Let’s take a look.
Various factors play into the success (or lack thereof) of running backs. From sheer talent to line play to game scripts, there are many different avenues for running back prosperity. Let us first look at the latter.
The Tennessee Titans went 9-7 en route to an AFC Championship appearance and what can be described as an overachieving season. In doing so, they had an average scoring margin of +4.4, good for 8th in the NFL. Traditionally, teams with a higher average scoring margin also have top-tier rushing attacks.
(Image via Team Rankings)
(Image via NFL.com)
That rings true for the 2019 season, as well. Six out of the ten teams with a higher average margin of victory also show up on the NFL’s team rushing leader list. The four teams that didn’t: Green Bay, New Orleans, New England, Kansas City. The Packers and Saints finished in the top-half of the league (15th and 16th, respectively) and the Patriots and Chiefs finished 18th and 23rd.
So what does all of that mean? Well, teams who have the lead more tend to run more. Derrick Henry surely benefited from the Titans ability to take a lead and never give it up. Naysayers of Henry stated that he wouldn’t be on the field in passing downs – and they were ultimately correct. On 3rd and distance (6 or more yards), Henry had just 2 carries for 6 yards to go along with his 0 receptions in such scenarios (ESPN). Staggering statistic for a back that had 1,500 yards, right? The Titans overachieving and actually being a winning football team allowed Henry more snaps, which allowed for him to produce. Will the Titans keep winning? Yes, I would like to think so.
(Image from Tenn Truth)
If that didn’t convince you, let me talk about the Titans’ offensive line: they were good. PFF ranks them as the 8th best offensive line in 2019 and it was easy to see that they were much better than that in the run game. Their Adjusted Line Yards were good for fourth in the NFL at 4.66. Their Power Success, or percentage of runs on third or fourth down with two yards or less to go that achieved a first down or touchdown, ranked fifth in the NFL at 73%. These are all positive statistics, people, I promise.
The Tennessee offensive line did this with an awful right guard in place, one of the more critical offensive line pieces in the running game. The Titans will surely be in the market for a new one of those (I’m sorry Nate Davis), which means that their line will only get better, provided they are able to keep Jack Conklin. Obviously, that will benefit Henry and his ability to sustain some level of success as a fantasy (and NFL) running back.
Alright, if that didn’t convince you.. I’ll keep going. There are only a few teams that would adapt to Henry’s style (old-school, bruiser, lack of hands) that actually need a running back. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Houston Texans, the Los Angeles Chargers, and the New England Patriots all come to mind. Of those teams, only the Patriots and Chargers put together competent offensive lines in 2019. And let’s be completely honest here, Dion Lewis was never going to completely game script Henry out of a game like Austin Ekeler, James White, or Bruce Arians could.
The Tennessee Titans and the beast of a man that is Derrick Henry are essentially Eddie Brock and his symbiote. The Venoms.. er.. Titans are nowhere near the team they came to be without Derrick Henry in 2019, but Henry is probably significantly less productive on another team, as well. They are a match made in heaven for fantasy teams, and while I think the Titans should get a better pass-catching guy to complement Henry (oh my goodness would Clyde Edwards-Helaire be the perfect guy – but that’s a conversation for another day), Derrick Henry should return to Music City, USA for 2020 and beyond.
Until next time!