Tennessee Titans operating again Derrick Henry is the final American muscle automobile. He’s large, quick, highly effective, somewhat intimidating, and undeniably retro-cool. But he’s not very sensible, and regardless of appearances, he’s most likely not constructed to final.
Henry rushed for 2,027 yards this season, the fifth-highest whole in N.F.L.’s historical past. He turned the second operating again to eclipse 2,000 speeding yards since Chris Johnson of the Titans in 2009 and Adrian Peterson in 2012 and is simply the eighth participant in league historical past to achieve that milestone. Henry led or tied for the lead in rushes, yards, and speeding touchdowns for the second consecutive season in 2020.
Henry’s accomplishments develop into much more outstanding on nearer examination. He rushed for 1,268 yards on first downs alone; that manufacturing by itself would have allowed him to complete third within the N.F.L. in whole speeding yards. Henry ran for 710 yards in his remaining 4 video games, together with 250 yards because the Titans clinched the A.F.C. South with a 41-38 victory over the Houston Texans, reinforcing his popularity for getting stronger because the season wears on. Pro Football Focus credit Henry with a league-high 77 eluded tackles on operating performs; Henry “eludes” most tacklers by tossing them out of the saloon just like the hero of a wild West serial, however, that also counts.
Henry rushed for 446 yards in the final yr’s playoffs, propelling the Titans to upset victories over the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots earlier than the Kansas City Chiefs got, here again, to defeat them for the A.F.C. championship. Only 4 different operating backs rushed for extra yards than Henry in a single postseason, and three of them — Terrell Davis in 1997 and 1998, Marcus Allen in 1983, John Riggins in 1982 — at the moment are Hall of Famers, due largely to their playoff and Super Bowl heroics. (Titans nice Eddie George was the opposite, in 1999).
The same efficiency this yr may vault the Titans into the Super Bowl and Henry onto a brief listing of all-time legends.
Unfortunately, strategic traits, analytics precepts, and historical past itself usually are not on Henry’s facet.
Henry’s success flies within the face of contemporary N.F.L. knowledge. He’s a workhorse in a pass-happy league that has decided that sharing carries amongst a committee is extra environment friendly, sustainable, and inexpensive than force-feeding even essentially the most formidable rusher. Henry rushed 378 instances throughout the common season, the best whole since DeMarco Murray rushed 392 instances for the 2014 Dallas Cowboys. Two or three operating backs every season usually earned 350-plus carries from the 1980s by the early 2000s. Only three rushers (Henry, Murray, and Arian Foster in 2012) have crossed that threshold within the final decade.
Henry’s heavy workload makes him a possible sufferer of the dreaded Curse of 370, an analytics precept popularized by Football Outsiders within the mid-aughts. Research means that 370 or extra carries in a single season usually end in accidents or steep decline the next season. Murray, for instance, fell to only 702 yards in 2015 after his high-mileage 2014 season. History is affected by different examples (and scant counterexamples) of rushers whose careers had been curtailed by overuse, a lot of whom had been regarded as exempt from the “curse” given their greatness, fortitude, dedication, and so forth.
(The proven fact that utilization declined at a similar time that the Curse of 370 gained publicity is hardly a coincidence. N.F.L. choice makers act like highschool powerful guys in terms of analytics, shouting “Math is for nerds!” at information conferences, then whispering asks for all of the check solutions.)
Henry’s rugged type solely compounds considerations about his workload. Most trendy operating backs double as receivers, permitting them to work the sidelines and soak up fewer hits towards smaller defenders. Henry hammers the center of the sector like the 1970s operating again, turning each Sunday right into a demolition derby. It’s a refreshing change of tempo in a league that has strayed removed from its muddy roots, and Henry definitely catches some defenders off guard by opting to run straight by them as a substitute for round them. But between the carries and the collisions, Henry has voided the phrases of his service guarantee and is beginning to tempt destiny.
Every era produces one or two operating backs who buck each statistical pattern, shrug off grueling workloads and stay efficient properly after their odometers flip: Adrian Peterson, Frank Gore, LaDainian Tomlinson, Curtis Martin, Eric Dickerson, Allen, Riggins, and some others. Henry might be a kind of back. Then once more, Todd Gurley, Leon Bell, and plenty of different latest rushers gave the impression to be indestructible one yr and their manufacturing fell off the following season, in lots of circumstances quickly after they signed profitable long-term contracts.
The Titans signed Henry for 4 years and a reported $50 million in July. Despite his present excellence, there’s an excessive danger that they may wind up paying to have Henry towed to the scrapyard in a yr or two.
For now, nonetheless, the Titans are relying on Henry too as soon as once more drag them by the playoffs. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s crisp passing reduces Henry’s burden to a level, however, the Titan’s protection completed 24th within the league in factors allowed and 28th in yards allowed.
On Sunday, Tennessee will face a Baltimore Ravens workforce that scored 186 factors in its final 5 video games. They will want Henry to stiff-arm weary defenders and hammer residence touchdowns to win that potential shootout but in addition to having a prayer towards the Kansas City Chiefs and/or the Buffalo Bills in later rounds.
Henry should do no matter what it takes to muscle the Titan’s method into the Super Bowl this yr, as a result of historical past warns that they won’t get many extra probabilities.