After being viewed as more of an afterthought to DeMarco Murray since joining the Tennessee Titans in 2016, Derrick Henry is expected to receive the bulk of the team’s carries in 2018 with Murray out of the picture.
The Titans did add former Patriots’ running back Dion Lewis to the mix, but he’s likely to be used more as a change of pace back/a pass-catching option out of the backfield. Regardless, the combination of Henry and Lewis is intriguing to fans of the NFL and fantasy football owners alike as only time will tell how their usage plays out.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the former Heisman Trophy winner out of the University of Alabama in this fantasy football profile.
Finishing the 2017 offseason with an average draft position of 6.06 – the 30th-ranked running back – Henry’s ADP was about as spot-on as you can get as he finished as the 31st-best running back after totaling 744 yards and five touchdowns on 176 carries. He also added 136 yards and a touchdown on 11 receptions.
The combination of playing behind Murray and the fact that the Titans’ offense didn’t live up to preseason expectations hindered the amount of opportunities Henry had to showcase his abilities. He received double-digit carries just eight times and managed to eclipse 100 yards on the ground just twice.
The highlight of Henry’s season actually came in the playoffs – unfortunately for Henry’s fantasy owners when it doesn’t matter anymore – as he helped lead the underdog Titans past the Chiefs with 156 rushing yards and a 35-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown.
Despite not being the featured running back last year, Henry saw his number of carries increase from year one to year two by 66 while increasing his rushing yards by 254 yards. However, there was hardly a difference in his output as a pass catcher as his numbers in this category are not appealing to the fantasy community.
Henry has seen a total of 32 targets and has produced just 273 yards and a lone touchdown in his two seasons in the NFL.
There is also some concern about Henry’s biggest games in 2017. In a week six Monday night performance against the Colts, Henry ran for 131 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. With that being said, 72 of those yards and his touchdown came on a carry with just 47 seconds. If you take that carry away, Henry finished with an 18-59-0 stat line, which equates to just about six fantasy points versus the 19 he ended up with.
In his other 100-yard rushing performance in 2017, a week 13 win against the Texans where Henry finished with 109 yards and a touchdown on just 11 carries, Henry once again took a single carry to the endzone in the final minute of the game. This time Henry scored from 75 yards out, and if you take away this carry, he would have finished the game with just 10 carries for 34 yards. In this example, his nearly 17-point fantasy performance would have been worth just around three points.
It’s unfair to discredit these runs since he was the running back who made them happen and the fantasy points were actually scored, but it’s worth noting the difference in his point production when you dive a little deeper into how his fantasy points were scored.
As stated earlier, 2018 will be the first year Henry won’t have to worry about sharing the bulk of the workload with another big-bodied running back. With that being said, the hype surrounding Henry has cooled down some with adding Lewis in free agency.
One aspect about Lewis that several fantasy analysts seem to be ignoring is the fact that he hasn’t been much of a producer of fantasy points outside the Patriots/Bill Belichick system. In the two seasons Lewis played with the Eagles prior to moving onto New England, he totaled just 192 yards and two touchdowns.
Did Lewis improve as a running back once he landed with the Patriots or did New England’s system prop him up? The answer is likely a combination of the two, but we should get a better idea once we see how he performs in Tennessee after a couple of weeks.
Given the fact that Henry hasn’t produced much as a pass catcher, it’s likely Lewis will be utilized more in this role as he caught 32 passes for 214 yards and three touchdowns in 2017. There’s no doubt Lewis will still see action on the ground, but the most realistic usage pattern seems to be Henry on more conventional running downs and Lewis in more obvious passing situations.
Henry currently has an average draft position of 2.11 – the 15th-ranked running back. As a high-to-mid tier RB2, Henry would need to have a season similar to that of Houston’s Lamar Miller from last year to warrant this draft position. Miller finished 2017 with 176 fantasy points, which came via 1,215 total yards and six touchdowns.
This fantasy output doesn’t seem unrealistic for a player as talented as Henry who seems likely for a nice bump in terms of usage. Keep in mind, two years ago, Henry’s rookie season when the Titans relied heavily on Murray to carry the load in the run game, Murray finished the season as the fifth-ranked fantasy running back totaling over 1,600 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Murray was used more as a pass catcher out of the backfield than Henry is expected to so his total yardage may not reach Murray’s of 2016, but double-digit touchdowns is a realistic expectation for Henry, which would likely warrant his selection at his current ADP.
Not that last year’s statistics tell the entire story, but in the event you’re curious as to how Henry stacks up against the run defenses he’ll be playing in 2018, none of his divisional opponents finished in the top third of the league in rushing yards allowed per game last year.
On top of that, none of his opponents in the final five weeks of the fantasy football season finished in the top 20 in rushing yards allowed per game last season. As an added bonus, if you’re fortunate enough to make it to your championship matchup this season as a Henry owner, you’ll have the opportunity to use him against last season’s worst run defense as the Redskins allowed over 130 rushing yards per game in 2017.
My 2017 rankings were a bit too high on Henry so I’ve tried to temper my expectations for 2018. While the addition of Lewis has helped temper my expectations some, I’m still fairly confident that you can count on Henry as a solid RB2 option this upcoming season.
Henry is my RB16, so I’m valuing him very similar to his current average draft position. An ideal and realistic draft position to land Henry would be if you are the owner of one of the top picks in your draft. This would allow you to grab a running back like Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell, Zeke Elliott or David Johnson in the first round, secure a receiver such as Keenan Allen, A.J. Green or Mike Evans in the second round, and then come back with Henry as your RB2 in the third.
If Henry is able to secure the bulk of the touchdowns produced by Titans’ running backs he has the ceiling of a low-end RB1, whereas his floor bottoms out as a low-end RB2 if Lewis gets off to a fast start and gives the Titans’ coaching staff reason to eat into Henry’s workload.
Be sure to check out the latest episode of the Loaded Box Podcast as the guys are joined by Andrew Erickson of Gridiron Experts to play the Fantasy Football Running Back Edition of “Would You Rather” while also competing in an NFL-themed spelling bee