Why I’m Avoiding Derrick Henry (Fantasy Football)
Summer has yet to officially kick off, but the 2018 fantasy football season has been well underway for some time. Dynasty drafts seem to take place earlier and earlier each year as that format continues to grow in popularity, and those preliminary drafters help set the early redraft values for the upcoming season. Time has a way of evening things out, but studying that early ADP allows us to start identifying players that are shaping up to be undervalued sleepers, and which players are unlikely to live up to their initial inflated price tags.
Along with ADP, a player’s ECR can be volatile throughout the offseason, and there may even be a significant discrepancy early on. One of the players that the fantasy football expert community disagrees with the most is third-year Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry, who has seen his perceived value fluctuate all offseason. Even now, as the draft and free agency are well behind us, Henry is a polarizing player. Let’s take a look at Derrick Henry’s 2018 fantasy football value and analyze what we can expect during the 2018 NFL season.
Henry was a highly-productive running back out of Alabama and was a surprise second-round selection by the Titans during the 2016 NFL Draft. At that time, Tennessee already had DeMarco Murray and a promising young quarterback in Marcus Mariota, so there were concerns about Henry’s ability to earn enough touches with the Titans.
Two years into his pro career and that is still a concern. While Henry’s role and touches did increase in his second season, he still had fewer than 12 touches per game and rushed for only five scores.
Still playing second-fiddle to Murray in 2017, Henry played just 41-percent of Tennessee’s snaps, which ranked just 46th among NFL running backs. Henry’s lack of role in the receiving game played a big part in his limited playing time. With just 17 targets in 16 games, Henry took a back seat to Murray in passing situations and will likely continue to do so, even after Murray’s release.
The Departure of DeMarco Murray
The Titans cut Murray on March 8, and Derrick Henry’s ADP immediately began to rise as the fantasy community envisioned his role in Tennessee’s offense growing. Before Murray’s release, Henry’s ADP was well into the third round and immediately shot up into Round Two.
In early May, Henry’s draft stock was high enough that he was being selected ahead of potential three-down backs like Joe Mixon and Jerick McKinnon, and even ahead of proven PPR producers like Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, Doug Baldwin, and T.Y. Hilton.
Five days after releasing Murray, the Titans signed free agent Dion Lewis to a four-year, $20 million deal and the fantasy community had to question if Henry’s inflated ADP could pay off.
Anticipating a 2018 Role
Lewis is a three-down back who is better than Henry in the passing game and a much better fit for the system that new offensive coordinator Matt LeFleur implemented with the Rams last season. The new-look Titans are probably going to continue to use two backs, but Lewis is far more likely to command a larger share of those snaps.
Despite outweighing Lewis by nearly 50 pounds, Henry won’t necessarily command all the goal-line and short-yardage work with the Titans, either. Last year, Lewis was highly effective in that area, ranking seventh in the NFL with 43 red-zone touches, while Henry got 29.
While the Patriots are notoriously hard to predict when it comes to player roles and usage, even the Titans weren’t immune to that trend. While Henry’s 29 red-zone touches last season ranked 19th among NFL running backs, Henry only got four goal-line looks, while Murray got six.
Lewis quietly scored nine touchdowns in 2017 and had performed well in short-yardage situations. We could easily see a similar committee approach out of the Titans, which will continue to limit Henry’s overall opportunities and ultimately, his ability to be a weekly starting option in PPR leagues.
Variance in ECR
Studying the FantasyPros Expert Consensus Rankings is an invaluable tool in the arsenal of the well-prepared fantasy football drafter. But much like how opinions differ from owner to owner in casual football leagues, opinions can vary wildly from the experts and analysts that contribute to those ECR results.
Derrick Henry is one of the player’s whose early-season variance is among the highest of all running backs. While some experts still view Henry as worthy of RB2 consideration in the third round, he’s also viewed as a player who is barely worth a top-100 pick by other analysts.
Chances are that Henry’s stock is going to continue to slide as fantasy draft season arrives, especially if we see Lewis look sharp in LeFleur’s offense. That’s good news for people who like the third-year running back and for other owners who decide to wisely attack wide receivers early in their PPR drafts.
Where to Target Henry in 2018
As with most things that are polarizing, Derrick Henry’s 2018 fantasy value probably lies somewhere in the middle. In his two pro seasons, he’s finished as the RB45 and RB37 in PPR scoring leagues. The arrival of Dion Lewis makes it seem impossible for Henry to take a giant leap and get up into RB2 territory that is current ADP is holding. But Henry has also shown steady improvements as a pass-blocker and runner while seeing his playing time increase and the arrival of an innovative offensive play-caller should bode well for the Tennessee offense as a whole.
While he’s made some strides in the passing game, Lewis’s arrival all but assures that Henry still won’t play much of a role in the passing game, which hurts his PPR value. Even with a modest 25-percent increase across the board in 2018 and Henry would hit 169 PPR points, which would have placed him outside of the top-20 running backs last season.
I view Derrick Henry as a touchdown-dependent borderline RB2/3 in standard scoring leagues, and a running back to avoid in PPR leagues. With an ADP that is in the third or fourth round, there’s much better value in waiting another couple of rounds and targeting backs who will be advantageous in PPR formats. Proven PPR assets like Duke Johnson, Chris Thompson, and even teammate Dion Lewis are all currently being selected well after Henry in early fantasy drafts.
The impressive 2018 rookie class offers up some talented players like Sony Michel, Royce Freeman, Ronald Jones II, and Kerryon Johnson who are all being taken after Henry and are arguably in better positions to out-produce him this season. While I’m intrigued as to what Matt LeFleur can do with Tennessee’s talented skill-position players, I don’t plan on targeting Derrick Henry on many of my 2018 fantasy squads.