Last season Titans RB, Derrick Henry, finally had the breakout season that fans and analysts were hoping to see. For the first time in his NFL career, Henry emerged as an elite RB after ranking in the top five for standard fantasy leagues. Overall, he finished the season with 303 carries for 1,540 yards, 5.1 yards/carry, and 16 whopping touchdowns.
As a result, he was the fourth-best running back in standard leagues after he totaled 276.6 with an average of 18.4 points per game. Although one area of concern from Henry’s 2019 campaign is that he ranked much lower in PPR leagues due to his below-average production in the receiving game.
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Heading into the new decade, much of the Titans‘ off-season plans hinged upon whether they would extend Derrick Henry or QB Ryan Tannehill. After weeks of negotiating, the team opted to sign Tannehill to a four year, $118 million contract. Henry, on the other hand, was franchise tagged with both sides hoping to agree to a long-term deal before July 15th.
As of right now, Henry has not brought up the possibility of holding out, so it’s doubtful that he won’t return to the Titans in 2020. However, don’t expect Henry to take a discounted deal since he centered his contract demands around Cowboys RB, Ezekiel Elliot’s recent mega-contract.
After their former offensive coordinator, Matt LaFleur became the new head coach for the Green Bay Packers, the Titans hired Arthur Smith as their new OC. In his first season as the Titans OC, Smith oriented his schemearound Derrick Henry, and it paid off in dividends. In 2019, the Titans utilized a run-heavy playbook to open up opportunities in the play-action and bootleg game. This scheme was so successful that it resurrected the career of Ryan Tannehill and carried the Titans all the way to the AFC championship.
In 2019 Derrick Henry was the league’s leading rusher after he ran for 1,540 yards. He also tied with Aaron Jones for the most rushing touchdowns, after he reached the end-zone a whopping 16 times. From an efficiency perspective, Henry ranked sixth amongst all running backs in terms of DYAR on Football Outsiders, indicating that he is an elite/valuable rusher.
Last season marked the second straight year that Henry ran for more than 1,000 rushing yards. Unfortunately, it also marked just the second year overall that Henry eclipsed this benchmark. This indicates that even though Henry could be entering his prime, he has work to do to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke.
In Arthur Smith’s offense, the Titans employ an outside zone scheme that has been incredibly successful for Henry. This offense is historic because the Denver Broncos used it to fuel their team to two championship runs with RB Terrell Davis at the helm. The outside zone also functions well with Derrick Henry, given that nearly 20% of the carries he took to the outside generated 10+ yards.
While most teams tend to refrain from this scheme, Henry excelled in it due to his tough, bruising running style. In fact, he gained the most yards after contactamong all RBs last season. Although it also helps that Henry ran behind the fourth-best run-blocking unit in the NFL. If the Titans offensive line can remain an elite group, Henry has a high likelihood of putting on a spectacular 2020 season in fantasy leagues.
Despite Derrick Henry’s success in the rushing game, he is not much of a threat as a receiving back. Of all the running backs in the NFL, Derrick Henry ranked 40th overall in terms of receiving yardage after he only hauled in 18 catches for 204 yards. This severed limited his value in PPR leagues, where he ranked as the seventh-best RB. While this still classified Henry as a top ten back, it is concerning that the league’s leading rusher failed to be a RB1 candidate in PPR leagues.
Next season Henry could see a modest increase in receptions since the Titans released Dion Lewis this off-season. For the past two seasons, Lewis cut into Henry’s receiving opportunities, especially in the screen game. With Lewis gone, Henry could become the undisputedly featured back in both the receiving and rushing game. However, fantasy owners will need to be cautiously optimistic in case the Titans decide to draft a replacement for Lewis in the later rounds of the 2020 draft. Given the fact that Henry is not known for his speed or agility, this is a likely possibility.
Heading into the next season, Derrick Henry has a lot of factors working in his favor. For instance, the Titans offense will rely on him for the foreseeable future as long as Arthur Smith makes him a staple of his scheme. In fact, Henry’s 81.4% opportunity share indicates that he is one of the five most utilized running backs in the NFL. Therefore, fantasy owners can anticipate Henry to receive a high number of carries and produce elite caliber fantasy stats in standard leagues. However, his yardage might take a step back, considering that the Titans lost OT Jack Conklin in free agency.
Even though Henry is in contention to have RB1 status in standard leagues, he is only a borderline RB1 at most in PPR leagues. Unless he can improve his lackluster receiving production, Henry will not project above running backs like Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffery, and Ezekiel Elliot. If Arthur Smith can find a way to integrate Henry into the screen game, then Henry could surpass his breakout 2019 season. However, until then, fantasy managers should be cautious of selecting him in the first round.
Similar to Saquon Barkley, Derrick Henry’s floor is higher than most running backs of his caliber. Even if defensive coordinators decide to focus their attention on Henry by stacking the box, Henry has shown the ability to produce well against it. As referenced in Titans’ reporter Jim Wyatt’s tweet, the Baltimore Ravens decided to stack the box against Henry on 63% of his carries. Nevertheless, Henry still rushed for 124 yards and an impressive 6.5 yards/carry. Throughout the season, Henry saw a stacked box on 37% of his carries last season. Yet he still ran for the most yards after contact per carry.
Per @NextGenStats, the @Ravens stacked the box (8 or more defenders) on 63% of @KingHenry_2's carries. Normally Henry sees stacked box on 37% of his carries. Henry rushes 19 times for 124 yds in this scenario, the most rush yards vs. a stacked box by any player in 2019.@Titans
— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) January 15, 2020
This signals that Henry likely won’t see regression next season when defenses try to stop him. Plus, this means that Henry’s fantasy success will not be contingent on a successful passing game. Resultantly, he will be a safe option, even if Ryan Tannehill reverts into a lackluster QB. Therefore, he will most likely stay within the RB2 range next season.
Currently, Henry is the ninth-best fantasy player, and sixth-best running back according to Lineups.com. His rushing success, especially in the end zone makes him a quality draft pick in the latter part of the first round for fantasy leagues. However, he is more of a second-round pick for PPR leagues due to his lackluster receiving success. Nevertheless, Henry will probably be a low-risk fantasy option for risk-averse fantasy managers.
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