King Henry returns
Derrick Henry heads into the 2020 season coming off a career year in virtually every aspect of his game. The former Heisman winner has begun to take the league by storm and has undoubtedly established himself as one of the best running backs in the NFL.
Henry is hitting his prime as healthy and as fresh as a running back could possibly be, prior to receiving a top-dollar extension like the one Henry is eventually going to get.
Prior to the 2019 season in which Henry won the rushing title after carrying the ball for a whopping 386 times in 18 starts (including playoffs), the Florida native’s previous career-high as a pro was just 215 carries. In fact, he only averaged 167 carries over his first three seasons prior to his dominant 2019 campaign.
Even with that total, Henry has only averaged 230.5 carries over his four-year career — a number well below some of the other running backs around the league that have received massive paydays in the past.
For comparison: when fully healthy/active for a 16 game season, Christian McCaffrey has averaged 241 carries for his career, Todd Gurley has averaged 253 carries, Le’Veon Bell has averaged 272 carries, and Ezekiel Elliott has averaged an absurd 292 carries per season (regular season only).
Those totals don’t even include their playoff carries or all of the touches those running backs get in the passing game which is significantly higher than Tennessee’s superstar running back.
The term ‘one of a kind’ is often thrown around loosely when discussing athletes, but that is an accurate depiction of what Derrick Henry is. The king is a unicorn in today’s NFL, he possesses 4.5 speed while standing at 6’3 and tilting the scales at 247 lbs.
Henry is obviously a physical specimen that saw an influx of carries last year, but hearing people say that he’s taken too many hits throughout his career and they are worried he’s going to start falling apart, maybe as soon as next season, seems to be like a real long shot barring any catastrophic injury. Especially when you consider the fact that he is the one dishing out the punishment more than he receives it due to the fact that he is bigger than most defenders on any given Sunday.
As silly as the narrative that he’s taken too many hits in the past is, the concern of him taking too many hits going forward is anything but silly. As dominant as Henry is, if the Titans really want to prolong the prime of his NFL career, he can not come close to the amount of touches he had in 2019 ever again.
The Titans made an obvious effort to ensure that this doesn’t happen by investing a third-round pick in the talented running back from Appalachian State, Darrynton Evans during the 2020 NFL Draft.
Adding someone like Evans to the offense will provide an immediate upgrade on obvious passing situations and gives the team someone who can make a play in the passing game on crucial third downs which is something they often lacked last year.
The Appalachian State product will not only be a fantastic change of pace back for the offense, but he can also relieve Henry for an occasional series or two without the offense becoming one dimensional as they often were last year anytime Henry took a breather.
The combination of Henry’s power and Evans’ speed and elusiveness has the potential to be the most potent and balanced rushing attack the team has possessed since the ‘Smash and Dash’ days of Chris Johnson and Lendale White.
However, as intriguing as Evans’ potential is, make no mistake about it, this is King Henry’s team. Anytime opposing teams see Tennessee on the schedule, you can bet they spend the majority of the week thinking of ways to try and contain the monster known as “El Tractorcito.”
The Alabama product gives defenses a good reason to lose sleep when preparing to stand on the opposite side of No. 22 in two-tone blue. Over his last 22 games, Henry has rushed for 2,571 yards and 25 rushing touchdowns (including playoffs).
Contrary to the popular narrative that suggests he will be slowing down in the near future, the former Heisman winner out of the University of Alabama is evidently aging like fine wine as he has consistently gotten better with the more experience he gets as a true workhorse back.
As if his intrinsic motivation for greatness wasn’t enough, Derrick Henry will also have extrinsic incentives to help keep him focused on ensuring he plays at the level he is accustomed to. Henry will either be playing the 2020 season in hopes of setting himself up for a new deal in 2021, or he will be playing on a lucrative new deal should the team and his representatives reach a long-term extension prior to the July 15th deadline for franchise-tagged players.
Regardless of how that scenario plays out, you can ensure that barring a catastrophic injury, Tennessee will have a motivated, fresh, and arguably the best version of King Henry during a season in which the Titans are seeking to take that next step from contenders, to champions.