It would seem as if those times I mentioned Dion Lewis being a better fit as the Titans RB1 than Derrick Henry did not age well.
Henry had a career year statistically in 2018, getting 215 carries for 1,059 yards, 4.9 yards per carry, and 12 touchdowns. If we take a closer look, however, we can see his season was heavily inflated by a spectacular December.
In Henry’s first 12 games of 2018, he had 128 carries (10.7 carries per game) for 474 yards, 39.5 yards per game, 3.7 yards per carry, and five touchdowns.
In the final four games of the year, He had 87 carries (21.8 carries per game) for 585 yards, 146.25 yards per game, an astounding 6.72 yards per carry, and seven touchdowns.
In other words, Henry had more yards in his last four games (585) than he did in his first 12 games combined (474)!!!
Here’s some more stats that show how good the month of December, 2018 was for Henry. Before then, he had two career games (regular season) of 100 rushing yards or more. In December alone he had two.
In his first 43 career games Henry had three games of at least 90 rushing yards (regular season, again, he had 156 against the Chiefs in the 2017 Wild Card Round). In his last four, that number was three.
In his last four games, Henry had three games of at least two rushing touchdowns. That number was one in his first 43.
Of course, this can be attributed to Henry only averaging 9.6 carries per game in his first 43 regular season games as opposed to 21.8 in his last four. At the same time, however, something clicked for Henry during that final month of 2018, something we had seen in flashes but not to the consistency that stretch showed.
Henry’s total of 625 yards in the month of December were the most for any player in any calendar month in 2018. His games against the Jaguars and Giants broke the franchise record for rushing yards in back-to-back games (408) while the Jacksonville performance is now the team record for most rushing yards in a single game (238 yards in addition to four touchdowns).
This is the potential many people saw when the Titans drafted Henry in the second round of the 2016 draft. In a contract year (depending on if Tennessee believes that running backs matter), he has something he can start pointing to as a reason for Mike Vrabel to keep believing in him.
(NOTE: Normally I do a a film session on certain Titans players whenever I write these pieces, and that will continue this time, but the 99-yard TD run will not be included due to the size constraints on the site’s dashboard. Otherwise I’d include it below.)
As you may have guessed the Titans run blocking improved in the final quarter of the 2018 season. One criticism of Henry from years past was how he would often focus on going toward the sideline instead of taking the yards in front of him. Well during this December stretch he looked much more decisive with his footwork, as seen in the clip above.
Henry’s vision and cutback ability are nothing short of spectacular here. His cuts look impressively quick and he has a great understanding of using patience to allow his blockers to give him that extra gap of space needed to create the second best touchdown run on the night in my opinion.
Henry’s deep cut here is also quite pleasing to watch. He’s probably one of the best backs in the league at turning the corner, and I love the way he’s able to chance the angle he’s running at to give himself a better chance to turn the corner.
Not that it matters since he’s in the final year of his rookie contract, but Henry has a salary cap value of $1.72M in 2019, ranked 37th for the upcoming season. His inconsistency as a runner in the past can be pointed to as skepticism for if he can repeat his gaudy December numbers, but if he keeps that up, that’s an incredible value considering what he costs on the Titans’ cap for this season.
I’m not the biggest fan of a run heavy offense in a pass heavy league, but signs seem to indicate that’s the direction Tennessee is heading towards in 2019. So be it. This will at the very least show if Henry is capable of once again putting up the monster numbers he racked up last December (though it really shouldn’t take a boatload of carries if you have the ability to).
Personally, Henry’s vision was, to me, inconsistent in his first two seasons, but it looked refined in the final stretch of last season. I really enjoy his deep cut ability and lightning quick footwork up the middle, and he can turn the corner as well as the best backs in the league. I think as the RB1 he could sustain his success to a degree, though it may be hard to replicate 585 yards in four games.
Nevertheless, Henry has all that momentum to showcase and I’m looking forward to seeing if he can repeat his December success for a full season.