Second-year RB Derrick Henry should be in line for more work in 2017.
When the Tennessee Titans made Derrick Henry the 45th overall pick in the 2016 draft, it was a bit of a surprise. The team had just given up a fourth round pick to trade for DeMarco Murray, and Murray was primed to be the workhorse. Perhaps passing on a Heisman Trophy winner with perplexing athleticism and speed for his size just wasn’t a plausible strategy.
It turns out that Jon Robinson and co. knew what they were doing.
Despite draft analysts attempting to nitpick Henry by pointing out that his footwork left a lot to be desire, Henry enjoyed a rookie season that left no critics of his. Now the only reservations about him that remain aren’t about him as a player. Rather, they are about his usage early in his career.
Henry was coming into his rookie season on the back of a final college season where he got a baffling number of touches (406). Alabama players are notably beat up as they enter the NFL, so Henry’s first pro season was expected to be a somewhat limited one. His play, however, demanded that his workload increase as the season went on.
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The 6’3″, 247 lbs. specimen ended up playing in 15 games in 2016, totaling 490 yards and five touchdowns on 110 rushes. He was also very effective in the passing game, catching 13 passes and racking up 137 yards with them, silencing the analysts that said he wouldn’t be a weapon on the receiving end at the next level. He was also a capable and willing blocker in pass protection.
Henry did it all, but 123 touches left fans wanting more. Considering there were four games last season where he touched the ball four times or less, with one of those being a game where he literally didn’t touch it once, it didn’t seem like the coaches wanted to give him consistent playing time to get cooking. The mystery moment with no touches came against the Indianapolis Colts, in a game where Murray struggled to get anything going on the ground and was stuffed multiple times in short-yardage situations.
It took until midway through the season when Murray picked up a nagging toe injury for Henry to get a bigger workload. Henry received 48 carries over the last five weeks of the season and accumulated 238 yards with them. That’s nearly five yards per carry over a stretch where the Titans were playing must-win games. His performance at Kansas City in the most important win of the season was his coming out party. He moved the chains with 58 yards on just nine carries and scored two rushing touchdowns, the Titans’ only two scores of the game.
I’m well aware of how good Murray was last season. He led the AFC in rushing and was an All-Pro, and his work in the passing game changed the whole offense. But Henry was just as effective on the ground, perhaps even more effective.
Murray is entering his age 29 season. He’s battled injuries in his career and is coming off a year in which he touched the ball 346 times. Keeping Murray fresh for passing downs/situations and sacrificing some of his early-down carries would help the Titans’ offense both in the short-term and long-term.
Giving Henry an expanded workload would allow him to get into a rhythm and punish defenses throughout games. Whether it be early or later in games, Henry needs to be touching the ball in the run game consistently in 2017.