The NFL is the king of sports, where even offseason months dominate discussion with lists, topics, rankings, rumors and analysis. But many covering the NFL no longer believe Derrick Henry is the king of his position.
Some have suggested a decline in production is imminent. I think it’s just as likely he becomes the first player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 twice in a career. And he can do it this season.
I don’t believe the Tennessee Titans plan to use Henry any less than they did prior to his injury last October, and I don’t expect him to be any less effective. The team’s current uncertainties on offense indicate they need the former NFL rushing leader to be King Henry now more than ever.
During a 2020 season that featured some franchise-best passing numbers from Ryan Tannehill, AJ Brown, Corey Davis, and Jonnu Smith, the offense still went through #22. I seriously doubt that mentality has changed given the way this current starting offense is constructed.
Also important to note: Henry hasn’t been rehabbing over the last six months. He’s been in offseason training mode, just as he was at this time last year and seasons prior. He suffered a Jones fracture to his right foot in the middle of last season and the rehab he put in behind the scenes enabled him to return to the active roster in January.
Another quick playoff exit brought about fair questions regarding the immediate and long-term future of the franchise. While the team’s recent draft selections indicate they’ve started down the path of roster transition, the future isn’t now unless Henry heads back to Injured Reserve for a lengthy period of time.
WHAT HAPPENS TO THE TITANS IF DERRICK HENRY IS UNABLE TO PLAY?
He was the top back in the NFL prior to his injury and it wasn’t close. He came off the 2,000-yard season of 2020 and was on pace for 466 carries,1,991 yards, and 21 touchdowns as that Week 8 game in Indianapolis played out, and that average doesn’t take into account he has typically cranked up production over the final half of regular seasons.
He was legitimately on a course to rush for 2,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, but the Indy injury derailed things quickly.
Yes, of course, he has to stay healthy. But even when he’s healthy there is a perception that Henry is closer to hitting his rushing limit than he is to setting NFL history.
I’m not advocating for a big contract extension in the backfield, but to me it’s also a big leap to suggest this won’t be another productive season in his career.
Much has been made of last year and how he was not only injured, but he was not nearly as effective within the offense in that one game after his injury. It’s true that in each of the last three playoff losses the opposing defense has loaded up and stopped the league’s best rusher.
WHAT DERRICK HENRY’S RETURN MEANS FOR TITANS’ OFFENSE
The Titans haven’t had the appropriate counter after their bell cow is corralled.
It’s that ‘bell cow’ description that worries those who are asked to forecast his future dominance.
A lot has been made of Henry’s workload. Rightfully so. He does have 1,557 carries. That’s second-most in the league since entering the NFL in 2016, but what’s interesting is the workload for his first three seasons was modest at best. He had just 110 carries as a rookie, 176 in year two, and only 215 in year three. The bulk of his production has happened since then. The Titans have produced a ton of success by simply handing him the football. Why would they go away from that now? This is a defensive-minded, run-first football team.
Media and fans can have the annual debate that the Titans’ run-first offense is stuck in an NFL era of yesterday. That’s a fair and intriguing discussion. The issue I have is many observing and analyzing this Titans team remain stuck in neutral about who this offense runs through, not willing to admit Henry is the exception to the rule that an NFL team in 2022 can’t have success with their best player lining up in the backfield.
Every player hits a wall. It’s not worth debating because it’s not a prediction. It’s NFL law. I find the majority of those pointing to this being the beginning of the end for Henry to be the same people who want to lump Henry in with the average NFL back.
He’s been playing on a completely different level, and while the workload will eventually catch up to him, I just don’t buy it has to be this season.
There are several notable players attending mandatory minicamp with their team this week, led by quarterbacks Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray.
Henry is among those who checked in.
NFL minicamp practices are more and more about medical clearances than anything else, especially for the vested veterans. Teams want to be sure players who chose to work out away from team facilities have recovered from 2021 injuries and offseason surgeries.
From there, it’s about getting the younger players a ton of reps, with the other main objective being to keep guys from getting hurt a month before training camp gets rolling.
That’s why it was important for Henry to show up this week. He needed to arrive and let the team know his fractured foot was a 2021 problem, not a 2022 concern.
Well, he’s back and he’s healthy. That means the Titans will call his number. A lot. And I doubt it takes just one defender to bring him down.