Will it be Feast or Famine for Derrick Henry? (2019 Fantasy Football)
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Fresh off his first 1,000-yard rushing campaign, Derrick Henry is an RB rising up draft boards. Concerns over his workload and consistency have made him one of the most polarizing backs in fantasy football, but what can we expect from Henry heading into the new season? I’ll attempt to answer that with a look at Henry’s career stats current backfield situation in this fantasy football profile.
Feast or Famine
Henry has yet to put together a consistent 16-game season, which is part of the reason he’s not ranked more highly than his current ECR (RB16, Overall 30). His efficiency has been lousy, and he’s been far too reliant on big plays. A bad YPC average never hurt a guy like Melvin Gordon, but Gordon’s TD opportunities have been voluminous playing in a loaded Chargers offense. That’s not the case for Henry and the Titans. Let’s look at the numbers to dig into Henry’s efficiency woes in his first three years in the league.
Henry finished with a 176/744/5 rushing line in 2017, good for 4.2 YPC. He scored two meaningless TDs in the final minutes of wins that greatly inflated his true efficiency. Take his runs of 72 yards (Week 6) and 75 yards (Week 13) away, and you’re left with a putrid 174/597/3 season total with 3.4 YPC. Those two runs accounted for 19.8% of his total rushing yards that season. Let that sink in.
Henry started 2018 slow, but came on with some tremendous efforts in the last quarter of the season to end the year with a final 215/1,059/12 rushing line. Many Henry owners cried in vain as they watched the Tennessee back explode for a franchise-record 238 yards and four TDs on their bench in Week 14. If Week 13’s 10/40/1 effort was a raindrop, then Weeks 14-17 were the deluge.
From Weeks 14-17, Henry rushed for an incredible 585 yards and seven rushing TDs (over 55% of his yearly production). After 12 weeks, Henry had rushed for a pitiful 128/474/5 line with a poor 3.7 YPC. He boosted that to 4.9 YPC and finished the season as an RB2 thanks to a tremendous stretch of games that will be extremely difficult to replicate.
— Bob Pompeani (@KDPomp) December 7, 2018
Henry became the second player in NFL history to score a 99-yard rushing TD on this Marshawn Lynch-esque scamper, and it seems he has a penchant for big plays. Those won’t be there consistently, and fantasy owners in season-long formats may get burned if Henry doesn’t rip off a big gain or two on a given week. He’s a big back who can move the chains and get into the end zone, but efficiency is not his game. He’s not involved in the passing game, so his value is higher in standard-scoring formats than it is in PPR formats.
If the Titans elect to finally give him 20+ carries per game, he could be a major fantasy stud. If the workload is split fairly evenly with Dion Lewis, the production will likely be sporadic. Henry needs volume and to get into a rhythm to be an effective rusher. He hasn’t had either thus far, so keep that in mind when selecting him on draft day. He’s a best ball stud, but a season-long prospect who certainly warrants some trepidation.
Dion Lewis’ Role
Lewis’ role is expected to be scaled back this season, but that was the same story the Titans pushed heading into 2018. Lewis’ role should be limited to pass catching and third downs as Henry is the better and more physical pure rusher who lacks in the passing game. Lewis compiled 917 scrimmage yards and two total TDs in 2019, including catching 59 passes.
That production wasn’t far behind Henry’s 1,158 scrimmage yards, though Henry recorded just 15 receptions. Lewis was the second leading receiver on the team in receptions and receiving yards and should be back in the fold in the passing game given Henry’s three-year reception total of just 39. These backs have complementary skill sets, as Lewis is a quality receiver out of the backfield who can make plays in space, and Henry is a bruiser, who excels between the tackles. Keep a close eye on Titans training camp to gauge Henry’s conditioning and skill along with any clarity on the workload split between he and Lewis.
Vote of Confidence from Coaching Staff
Head coach Mike Vrabel has given his full support to Henry this offseason, alluding to giving the RB a featured role in the offense in 2019. In a March statement, Vrabel actually said that he would like to build the offense around Henry, especially if Henry plays like he did at the end of the season. A more run-heavy approach makes a lot of sense for a Titans team with an excellent offensive line and a QB in Marcus Mariota who has struggled mightily since he came into the league. That approach seems to be the plan for new OC Arthur Smith, who plans to “ride” Henry in 2019.
In the final year of his contract, Henry should be motivated by the prospect of a new contract with Tennessee or with another team. This season is a follow-up to last year’s December breakout and an audition for his future. The talent is there, but is the opportunity? The big plays have developed, but can he be a consistent producer from week to week? Henry still has a lot to play for and even more to prove in 2019.
2019 Projections: 230 carries, 980 rushing yards, 17 receptions, 130 receiving yards, nine total touchdowns, RB2 finish