Is Derrick Henry a Top 5 Running Back?

03/10/2018
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I hope you’ve got your ticket to the Henry hype train, because it’s pulling away quick.

On Thursday, March 8th of 2018, the Tennessee Titans parted ways with leading rusher DeMarco Murray.

Coming off of a 2016 season in which Murray totaled over 1,600 yards and 12 scores, he was being projected as a consensus RB1 in 2017. He was being drafted in the top two rounds, whereas his counterpart, Derrick Henry, was being drafted in the sixth.

Many fantasy owners took Murray with their first round pick and were not rewarded.

Murray gained a smidge over 900 total yards and found the endzone a mere (relatively speaking) seven times. Murray’s yards per carry dropped to 3.6, tying his career worst (2015 in Philadelphia). He battled injuries all season but still ground out 15 games. However, the decline in statistical prowess opened a window to see what the sophomore from Alabama could do.

Derrick Henry, patiently waiting for his bell-cow opportunity, amassed just under 900 total yards and six total scores himself, finishing with 45 fewer total yards then Murray on 38 fewer touches. Henry’s 4.2 YPC compared to Murray’s 3.6 was a main factor in Henry getting the nod in the playoffs.

Henry outperformed expectations, helping out immensely in the round one upset over the Kansas City Chiefs.

All season you could tell Mularkey wanted to pay his respects to Murray and show his appreciation by granting the veteran the starting nod. As it apparently stands now, new head coach Mike Vrabel wanted nothing to do with that. The team has now cut ties with Murray and seemingly granted the full load to Henry.

Edit: The team has since signed free agent running back Dion Lewis

For this reason, fantasy owners (especially dynasty owners of Henry) are jumping with joy. The thought of another handcuffed season sickened most of us, but that thought can now be quashed.

Accordingly, Henry has now burst onto the RB1 stage. Debates between Henry, Fournette, Cook, Gordon, and McCoy are sure to be a constant leading up to everyone’s drafts. So let’s dig a little deeper into Henry’s stats to understand more about him.

Let’s start with one major flaw, the elephant in the room: Henry’s inability to demonstrate receiving ability. Having totaled just 24 receptions in his first two seasons and 17 receptions in his three seasons at Alabama, Henry clearly hasn’t been a prolific receiver. Murray, on the other hand, was a great pass catcher who complemented Henry very well in that respect. The Titans will have to either address their lack of a third down back via the draft/free agency or allow Henry the chance to show that he can catch the ball. In the NFL today, not having a great pass catcher coming out of the backfield severely limits your options.

Other than that, Henry has been a very efficient running back, finishing 2017 as the 20th-ranked pass blocker among running backs, according to playerprofiler.com, which is a trait needed to be a starter in the NFL. Henry also finished ninth in the league with 1.81 yards created per carry, which is all yards above and beyond what was blocked per touch. Yards created are generated by the runner after the first evaded tackler. He was also able to create 339 yards (21.2/game), which was finished 17th in the NFL.

Henry is a hard runner and these stats prove it. However, one of the most jaw-dropping stats that I noticed when researching Derrick Henry is the 12.8 ypc against a stacked front. Just let that sink in. Henry ran the ball against seven or more players in the box 8.5% of the time (11th-most in the NFL) and recorded an average of 12.8 yards per rush. That’s inhuman. He honestly might be a robot.

Given these points, it’d be hard not to include Henry as a top-10 RB and round one draftee. His legs are fresh, owing to the carries that Murray amassed, his gigantic stature and balance make him one of the hardest running backs to bring down, and he now has the chance to record 300+ rushing attempts. If Henry stays healthy, and so does his offensive line, then I’m absolutely confident he’ll finish as a top-five running back in all formats.

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