Why Henry is an exception
The common issue with paying running backs relates to their value. The teams who like to throw the ball, obviously, are less reliant on their running game– making running backs not named Christian McCaffrey increasingly obsolete in schemes that don’t want to lean on their ground game.
And for the teams that do feature a strong rushing attack, teams like the Ravens and the 49ers, do so with a wide cast of ball carriers. The days of the bell-cow running back are mostly gone, so teams that choose to pay one player that level of bell-cow money are typically making a mistake. But the one running back, ground and pound offensive attack is alive and well in Tennessee. And contrary to popular belief, the one running back, ground and pound offensive attack has been working.
Derrick Henry didn’t get to the NFL’s 2019 rushing crown by mistake. He hasn’t run for a combined 28 touchdowns in two seasons by accident, and those two dominant performances against two of the NFL’s best defenses in the playoffs weren’t a fluke. Henry put those numbers up because he’s worth the $50 million that he’s now due. And with marked improvement in each of his four professional seasons, Henry hasn’t shown a single sign that he’s due to regress past the point of elite.
Where Todd Gurley and David Johnson both had major injury concerns prior to their contract extensions, Henry has none. Where the Cowboys and Panthers have struggled to win with their high-value running backs, Tennessee is fresh off the heels of an AFC Championship appearance. Henry doesn’t show signs of stopping, and his team was one of the final four in the league last year– in large part due to Henry’s effect on the offense, both in the running game as well as the passing attack.
The notion that Derrick Henry doesn’t have an impact on the Titans passing game is due for some debunking. Yes, Henry doesn’t have many catches to his name, but the running back lifts the passing offense to one of the NFL’s best with just the threat of his skill as a ball-carrier.