Tennessee running back Derrick
Henry might be the best runner at his position in the NFL. No,
he’s not the best fantasy running back, just the best runner. Strong
yet elusive and fast enough to get to the end zone when he breaks
past the front seven, Henry is an elite running back choice for
“old school” non-PPR leagues.
After all, Henry rushed a league-high 303 times last season.
He led the league with 1,540 rushing yards and tied with Aaron
Jones with 16 rushing touchdowns. Despite leading the league in
these three primary rushing categories and everything going right,
he finished second in standard fantasy leagues and third in fantasy
points in PPR leagues.
Because Henry leaves fantasy owners wanting in the passing game.
While the top-10 fantasy running backs in 2019 averaged 79.5 targets,
Henry saw 24. The top-10 backs caught an average of 62.5 balls
in 2019, Henry caught just 18. And Henry’s target and reception
totals were his career best.
Meanwhile, the Titans drafted a running back in the third round
this April, Darrynton Evans of Appalachian State, to replace Dion Lewis, who signed with the New York Giants.
Evans has the speed (4.41 at the combine), breakaway ability
and hands to become the Titans new third-down back. He looks natural
as a receiver out of the backfield though he caught only 21 balls
last year. He produced a solid 9.4 yards per catch with five touchdown
receptions in 2019. Over his three-year career at Appalachian
State he was credited with just three drops on 55 career targets
per Pro Football Focus.
Sports Info Solutions’ rookie scouting report calls him
a “third-down difference maker.” Evan will definitely
get on the field (because he’s a coach’s dream at
ball security - no fumbles in 482 carries), as the third-down
back and kick returner.
Given the above facts, there is every reason to believe that
the pass-catching disparity between Henry and the other elite
fantasy running backs will continue.
Which means in 2020 Henry will once again almost exclusively
be dependent on his ability to run the football.
Yes, he will get a heavy workload. Because the Titans success
depends on it. In the Titans nine regular season wins he averaged
22.4 rushing attempts, 128.8 rushing yards and 1.33 rushing touchdowns
(16.8/63.5/0.66 in losses). The disparity is even greater if you
include the playoffs. See below.
Henry Rushing - 2019
Titans playoff wins
Total in all wins
Titans playoff loss
Total in all losses
Can he reproduce at this 2019 level?
In 2019 he rushed a career-high number of attempts. He also set
career highs in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, rushing yards-per-attempt,
yards-per-game, receiving targets, receptions, receiving yards,
receiving touchdowns, yards from scrimmage, total touchdowns and
And still he didn’t lead fantasy running backs!
The number of times a fourth-year veteran running back coming
off a “career year” produces another “career
year” on top of that is very small.
Check all the fifth-year running backs in 2019. None posted a
career year. The most obvious example working against Henry was
former Rams and now Falcons running back Todd Gurley who set “career
numbers” in his fourth season (26.3 FPts/G) and disappointed
fantasy owners everywhere last season (14.8). Other star fifth-year
running backs who were “less-than-stellar” in 2019
included; Melvin Gordon and David Johnson.
posted a career-best 26.5 FPts/G in his fourth season with Pittsburgh
(2016), but dropped 13% in 2017 (23 FPts/G) and 46% from his best
season last year with the Jets (Bell sat out 2018). DeMarco Murray
produced a career-best 22.6 FPts/G in his fourth season in Dallas
and failed in year five with just 12.5 FPts/G (in Philadelphia),
a drop of around 45%.
Will Henry improve on last season? Can he stay healthy? Will
the line in front of him be as good? Will Tannehill produce enough
to keep defenses honest? Those are a lot of questions that all
must be answered yes for the one-dimensional Henry to succeed.
While it is true that Henry has played in 62 of 64 games over
his career, the line in front of him will be hard-pressed to match
last season after All-Pro Jack Conklin left for Cleveland (three-years,
$42 million). Conklin received an 83.7 run-blocking grade from
PFF (ranking No.5 in the league). Tannehill set a career high
of 22.3 FPts/G last season including a 117.5 QB rating after averaging
a 91.9 QB rating in his final four seasons with the Dolphins.
Current FFToday projections have Henry producing 288-1,440-13
and 23-195-1 for 270.5 fantasy points a drop of 30 points from
the 300.6 FPts he posted last season.
History is not on Henry’s side. I feel it’s still
too high to choose a one-dimensional back behind what is likely
to be a declining offensive line and a quarterback who will probably
revert to his “normal” lower production level. Let
someone else take this gamble unless Henry falls to the end of
the first round.