Derrick Henry finished ninth in the league in rushing last year with 937 yards despite playing in eight of the Tennessee Titans’ 17 regular season games.
After winning the rushing title in both 2019 and 2020, King Henry suffered the first significant injury of his six-year career last season and missed the team’s final nine games.
Initially thought to be out for the season with a broken foot, the 6-3, 250-pound bruiser defied the odds to return for Tennessee’s playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals. However, he clearly wasn’t 100% in that game (averaging just 3.1 per carry), and the Titans fell to the soon-to-be Super Bowl-bound Bengals.
By all accounts, Henry is healthy now and ready to take back the rushing crown that Indianapolis’ Jonathan Taylor currently wears after rushing for 1,811 yards last year.
Will the Titans’ workhorse regain his status as the league’s top running back? Let’s dig in.
Derrick Henry Odds to Lead the NFL in Rushing Yards
Here are the odds for Derrick Henry to lead the NFL in rushing yards at the top Tennessee online sportsbooks.
|Jonathan Taylor, Colts||+400||+450||+375||+400|
|Derrick Henry, Titans||+650||+650||+600||+650|
|Dalvin Cook, Vikings||+1000||+1000||+1000||+1000|
|Nick Chubb, Browns||+1000||+1000||+1000||+850|
|Joe Mixon, Bengals||+1600||+1400||+1600||+1200|
Why Derrick Henry Could Lead the League in Rushing
Since 2017, no NFL player has had more rushing yards than Henry’s 6,307. It’s an amazing feat considering last year’s missed time and the fact that he wasn’t even a starter until 2018 because he began his career as DeMarco Murray’s backup.
The closest RBs to him in that span are Ezekiel Elliott (5,755), Dalvin Cook (4,820), and Nick Chubb (4,816).
There’s no secret to the Titans’ offensive game plan — give the big man the rock. It’s well-documented that Henry gets better as his carries go up, and he routinely single-handedly takes over games in the fourth quarter. Amazingly, his highest yards per carry (YPC) come when he reaches the 31+ territory.
|Range of Carries||Attempts||Yards||Average|
It’s doubtful that the Titans will deviate from their identity as a run-heavy team this season, especially with the departures of WRs A.J. Brown and Julio Jones. While they might want to lighten No. 22’s load a little (900 carries in three years), he’ll still get enough touches to lead the league in rushing yards if he stays healthy.
In Henry’s two rushing title seasons, he averaged 20.2 and 23.6 carries per game. Last year, in eight games, his carries shot up to an incredible 27.4 per game.
The King’s Competition
The days of the Bell Cow running back in the NFL have largely given way to a two-back approach, but there are still a few RBs in the league that teams like to lean on.
Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
One of those players is reigning rushing champ Jonathan Taylor, whose carries increased from 232 to 332 last season. Like Henry, Taylor seems to get better with touches, and his YPC increased from 5.0 to 5.5 last year with the added workload.
The burner averaged 106.5 yards per game last year, and he’ll look to ride his strong offensive line to a repeat performance this season.
Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
Nick Chubb is a beast and, if given enough touches, could have a viable shot at the rushing title. The 26-year-old has averaged 5.3 YPC in his four-year career and has topped the 1,000 mark the last three seasons.
The problem for Chubb is that the Browns like to split their RBs’ time in the backfield. Recent years have seen Kareem Hunt poach many of Chubb’s carries, and Cleveland’s philosophy is unlikely to change. Chubb saw just 228 carries last year – over 100 fewer than the league-leading Taylor.
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals have rebuilt their offensive line, which is great news for Joe Mixon. The Oklahoma product had a career-high 292 carries last season, rushing for over 1,200 yards. His 4.1 YPC was nothing to write home about, but with a vastly improved O-line, that will likely improve this year.
However, Cincinnati has the luxury of a high-octane air attack and can afford to use Mixon more as a complementary piece, making it tough to see a rushing title in Joe’s future.
Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
Dalvin Cook rounds out the top five candidates for this year’s rushing race, but he’s probably the least likely to have a realistic shot.
All indications coming out of Minnesota are that the Vikings are going to throw the ball much more than they have in recent years, and Cook simply won’t have the volume to compete with the 300+-carry guys. He’ll still be an integral part of the offense, but a good portion of his work will come from short passes out of the backfield.
When you boil it down, the rushing yards title should be a two-horse race. Only Henry (117.1) and Taylor (106.5) averaged over 100 YPG last year, and none of the other three even broke 90. If Henry can stay healthy this season, there’s no reason to believe he won’t take home his third rushing title in four years.
Photo by Jeffrey Brown