Will Derrick Henry have a breakout year?

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 27: Derrick Henry
CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 27: Derrick Henry /

Is this year the transition to the Derrick Henry era in Tennessee?

Derrick Henry is already a fan favorite thanks to his time at Alabama, but is it actually time for him to breakout already?

This isn’t an easy question because you can’t forget that one of the best running backs in the last five years is sitting in front of him in DeMarco Murray.

Murray was the AFC’s leading rusher and you could make the argument that if Derrick Henry wasn’t there, he would have been at or near the top of the NFL in yards.

So even with Murray in front of Henry, is it time for a breakout from the former 2nd round pick? LaDainian Tomlinson thinks so according to his NFL.com article on breakout running backs. Here is what he had to say:

“We knew what the former Heisman Trophy winner was bringing into the league — and he delivered in 2016, albeit in a limited role. Although the rookie took a backseat to DeMarco Murray, Henry still managed to rack up 110 carries for 490 yards (4.5 yards per carry). Henry’s five touchdowns came in the red zone, an area where Tennessee led the league in scoring last season. His physical presence (6-foot-3, 247 pounds) embodies how the Titans want to play; their smashmouth approach fits Henry’s bruising style. As a running back in Year 2, he’s going to feel more comfortable with the rhythm of the run game and be more in sync with his offensive line. In doing so, Henry will take carries away from Murray and evolve his game.”

All of that sounds great, especially the part about evolving his game. While his “bruising style” fits exactly what the Tennessee Titans want, there has been a lot of talk this offseason about him looking quicker and faster.

If he added initial quickness to his game, there are really no holes in his running ability and the Titans will have to find a way to get him on the field more this year.

One suggestion I have heard that I love is this one from Sigmund Bloom, one of the best NFL Draft follows on Twitter:

You don’t have to have a lead back, you have two capable running backs. They are equally invested in both at this point. One is a highly paid running back, the other is a 2nd round pick in his 2nd year. So you don’t have to worry about feelings getting hurt or anything like that.

Murray has earned the right to take the bulk of the carries early in the season, but if the preseason fits the hype, the split should be 55/45. Here is the key, vary up how you use them.

I’m not knocking Derrick Henry’s ability as a receiver, but I think it is clear after last year that Murray is one of the best passing down RBs in the NFL. So on passing downs put Murray out there.

On downs where you really want to pound the ball, or when you really want to sell the play action you can put Henry out there.

The beauty in this is that with Marcus Mariota at QB, you have a mismatch no matter what you do. If the defense thinks its a run then back up and audible out and make them cover your talented weapons in the passing game.

If they back out and try to play pass go read option or a dive and force them to really commit resources to the middle of the field. There is no reason that this offense should be off balance or predictable.

If the Titans force other teams to respect the run and pass on every down then you neuter their sub-package and force them to play base. That is a nightmare for defensive coordinators because now you just have to let your guys play ball.

That is the type of ability this offense has with these two running backs. You can have a relentless, diverse offense where your rested, two-headed running game, your weapons in the passing game and your intelligent and efficient quarterback can put an absurd amount of pressure on a defense.

That is, if Derrick Henry takes the next step.