The Tennessee Titans just pulled off one of the biggest upsets in recent playoff history. Riding the coattails of running back Derrick Henry, Tennessee went into Arrowhead Stadium and beat a Kansas City Chiefs team that had the superstars and electricity to make them the heavy favorites. Henry broke loose for a 35 yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter which gave the Titans more than just hope, but belief. Marcus Mariota finished the Chiefs off later in the fourth with a 22-yard touchdown strike to Eric Decker, sending the Chiefs home and the Titans to Foxborough, for a meeting with the defending World Champion New England Patriots.
As the Titans fans belief turns to anticipation, all the focus will turn to two major players. The third year quarterback, Marcus Mariota, and the second year running back, Derrick Henry. If the Titans want any chance of hanging around with the Patriots, they’ll have to keep Tom Brady off the field. This is where Henry becomes the most vital piece for the Titans. Assuming DeMarco Murray doesn’t play, that is.
This playoff game will show us a big glimpse of how Henry handles the load against a good team. Which, in return, can indicate a major uptick vs downtick in 2018’s fantasy football drafts. The playoffs can make or break a player heading into the following season. A prime example is Chris Hogan, who made a major impact in the Patriots playoff run last season and instantly became sought after in fantasy this year.
Henry has the tools necessary to be an elite running back behind a front line that is very dominant. If all the pieces stay together, Henry should have a big season in 2018. However; one speed bump Henry has to overcome is the coaching staff’s loyalty to DeMarco Murray, who remains under contract for another two seasons. Head coach Mike Mularkey has time and time again fallen back on the faltering legs of Murray, instead of moving forward with the youthful legs of Henry. If this carries over into next season, you’ll find yourself with a splitting headache all season. Again.
— NFL (@NFL) January 7, 2018
If you’re asking yourself why they don’t bench Murray — for good — in favor of Henry, you’re not alone. I, too have been mulling the same thought for a while. The Alabama alum finished the 2017 season ranked ninth in yards created per carry (1.81); which is the yards accumulated after the first evaded tackler. Alongside finishing 17th in total yards created (339). Henry clearly showed his ability to go through, or past, defenders. Henry executed on a lot of runs, ending 2017 as the 20th best running back in carries of 15 yards or more (8) and 21st in breakaway run rate (4.5); which is the percentage of carries that tied or exceeded 15 yards against your total runs. He’s shown he more than has the ability, yet coach Mularkey still ignores the obvious.
Henry capped his sophomore year with some statistical improvements and declines. He did receive 66 more attempts than his rookie year, even if 176 attempts is still about ⅔ of what he should be receiving. Correspondingly, Henry’s yards improved by 254 yards (744). Even though Henry finished 20th in the NFL in yards per carry, he still slipped from 4.5 ypc in 2016 to 4.2 ypc in 2017. His rushing touchdowns stayed still at 5, yet he did haul in his first career receiving touchdown; bringing his total 2017 touchdowns to 6, a slight improvement from 2016 (5). Unfortunately, that was his only highlight in the catching game as his targets increased by two, but catches dropped by two and receiving yards dropping by one.
Henry should be a first or second round fantasy football draft pick in 2018. He’s on a team with an exceptional offensive line and a budding quarterback, which is the perfect formula to create massive holes for the running backs to race through. If Derrick Henry goes into 2018 as the lead back, there will be no doubt he finishes as a top 24 player in fantasy football. At the same time, be aware of how the Titans seem to be leaning at running back. With Mularkey and Murray both expected to return, coupled with Mularkey’s dying love for Murray, if any word gets out that the carries will get divided 50/50, then Henry’s stock will fall to the 70-80’s stretch.