Could Derrick Henry Become the Best Titans Running Back Ever?
The Titans running backs over the last 20 years have been impressive. Two of the best donned two-tone blue last season for the first time in Derrick Henry and DeMarco Murray.
The duo combined for 1,777 rushing yards from scrimmage on 403 combined carries. Murray was responsible for 1,287 of those yards – and 293 carries. He wasn’t the best running back on the roster, so how is Henry will he be the best ever?
Henry may have been the best running back on the roster, but Murray’s stellar performance meant Titans’ fans will need to be patient before the 2016 2nd round pick is finally unleashed.
Comparing to the Greatest in Two-Tone Blue
The top four running backs since the 1996 Houston Oilers are Henry, Murray, Chris Johnson, and the legendary Eddie George. There were also productive running backs in between – most notably LenDale White and Chris Brown – but the criteria for this evaluation was backs that had produced multiple 1,000 yard seasons throughout their career.
So why is Henry on this list, you ask? Because I believe a case can be made that at the end of the day, he may be better than – or at least equal to- the best to ever do it for the Titans.
Of the four mentioned above, Henry is the heaviest. George was the tallest. Does that mean anything? Not sure. Murray fits the mold of what I consider to be the prototypical size – but that’s a matter of opinion.
The College Years
Henry – unlike Murray, Johnson, and George – only played 3 years of college football. The stats are telling. Murray led the backs mentioned above in Collegiate Yards and Rushing Touchdowns.
However, Henry recorded the most Rushing Yards in a single season (compared to Murray, Johnson, and George) and ranks 5th in most single season collegiate rushing yards all time. Henry also averaged nearly 6 yards per carry.
What if Henry stayed another year? Truthfully, it could’ve went either way. He could’ve had a down year that affected his draft stock. Or…he could have possibly ran for another 2,000+ yard season. We’ll never know.
So looking at the numbers above – and what can be seen looking over their yearly collegiate production – each running back gradually improved. Murray had two 1,000+ yard seasons in 2 of his last three seasons at Oklahoma. Henry had 3 yards more.
In. One. Season.
Let that sink in.
Welcome to the NFL
Murray was the only back of the four mentioned not drafted into the Titans/Oilers franchise as the Cowboys chose to select the Sooner. Let’s compare how each ball carrier did in their rookie campaign.
George dominated the stat line when comparing rookie seasons – but he was also thrown into the starting role and was the catalyst for the offense.
When looking at the above chart, Henry is not the leader in any category. So how can he potentially be the best?
Henry carried the ball 54 times less than Murray, 141 fewer attempts than Johnson, and 247 fewer touches than George.
If Henry carried it 251 times like Johnson, he has 98 yards less. If he carries the ball 164 times like Murray, he has 159 less. If Henry had carried the ball 357 times his rookie season, he would have had 1,588.65 yards – about 220 yards… more than George.
So how will he be the best Titan?
Henry is built like George in that his production increases the more he touches the ball. He is a starting NFL running back playing backup. But that’s not a bad thing. When you have Murray playing like he did last year, it’s hard to give Henry the opportunity to warm up and get going.
Truly, there is no telling what Henry could have done if he averaged 20 touches a game. He did not touch the ball more than 16 times during the regular season last year. In college – bowl games excluded – when Henry had 20+ touches, he averaged 180 yards/game, 14 total touchdowns, and scored at a rate of 4.89% per touch.
Let’s discuss why that is the key in how Henry could become best Titans back.
More Henry touches = more Henry touchdowns.
Henry scored 5 touchdowns in far fewer attempts. His frequency of scoring is superior to the others – at least when using their rookie season stats as a measuring stick.
Henry’s touchdown/attempt percentage is 4.5%. It’s only one season -yes, I know. But this number is telling of what the future holds.
Who are some running backs that scored at that frequency during their rookie season? Earl Campbell (4.3%), Emmitt Smith (4.5%), Eric Dickerson (4.6%), Adrian Peterson (5%), and Barry Sanders (5%).
They were pretty good, right?
Best Titans Back
How do Henry’s rookie numbers shed light on how he will impact the team in the future? I’ll explain.
Disregard the myth that all running backs from Alabama are doomed in the NFL. Henry will be different. This is why:
- Durability –His legs did not take major damage and go through the typical wear and tear that rookies thrown into the starting role. I anticipate Henry will get more touches this season.
- Conditioning – Henry is a beast and keeps himself in tip-top shape. He’s preparing his body for what it will undergo during his NFL career. Keeping himself conditioned means a longer shelf-life than the average running back.
- No Pressure – Murray performing like he did last season meant no pressure or sense of urgency for Henry to produce. This enables him to get a better feel for the game and become more comfortable within the offense.
- Offensive Line – Henry may enter his prime years playing behind arguably the best offensive line in football. If Tennessee can have continuity, stay healthy and remain consistent in the trenches Henry can really shine.
- Receiving Core –The Titans made strides in the offseason to run one area of weakness into an area of strength – which is exactly how they improved their offensive line from a year prior.
- If this core can develop as expected and the passing game becomes respected and feared, Henry is going to eat. The combination of a solid offensive line and receivers that keep 8 out of the box will mean more chances for him to reach the second level. If you watched him at Alabama, he becomes a steamroller when his acceleration peaks.
- Mariota – the final piece of the puzzle. Mariota is well on his way to becoming one of the Top 10 passers in the league. By the time Henry has the job full time, Mariota will be in his prime. How the receivers help Mariota rise to elite status will determine how many opportunities there will be for Henry to do work.
Henry can be the best Titans running back based on the evidence above. He will benefit from his offensive line, assume the starting role after having mastered the offense, will have reduced damage on his legs and will have learned some tips from productive veteran Murray.
Henry will take over full time just as the young Titans team begins to ascend to one of the top teams in the league. If things work out, he will be a member of this team for longer stretch than Eddie George – who I consider the best Titans running back of all time – so far.
The best running back in Titans (not Oilers) history is not having a 2,000 yard season. It’s not scoring the most touchdowns (although that helps). It’s about being a dependable option that an offense can lean on to consistently produce throughout a lengthy career with the franchise.
George was with the Titans for 8 seasons. Played every single game. Let’s take Henry’s rookie numbers and do some math.
If Henry stays for 8 seasons – here’s what his numbers may look like permitting he manages to touch the ball as much times as George did during his Titans tenure.
12,298.5 total yards/2,289.5 more than George.
123 Touchdowns/59 more than George.
That is just an estimated guess – he may never come close to reaching those numbers. Or – he could exceed those numbers. I’d bet on the latter. Murray will stick with the team as long as he’s healthy and productive. If Henry somehow surpasses Murray in productivity and assumes the feature role, hopefully Murray will want to stick around on the roster to be apart of the great years to come.
So be patient Titans fans. The best of Tennessee Titans football is yet to come.
And #22 will be a big reason for the success.